Like most families, mine loves to visit theme parks in our travels. When we can’t travel far from home, we try to make time for day trips and staycations to some of our local theme parks in the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California. I recently realized that we had one major hole in our NorCal theme park going experience — we had never been to one of the biggest in the area: Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. With a little extra time in our spring break this year, we took the kids for a day of theme park fun finally to check it out.
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom Basics
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is located in Vallejo, California, an East Bay suburb of San Francisco. When there’s no traffic, it’s only about 35 minutes from the city. The I-80 corridor through Berkeley is often jam-packed (even on weekends), so I’d plan on 45-60 minutes or more during certain times of day just to be safe.
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom really is a tale of two theme parks. It features animal attractions and exhibits of its original roots as a zoo and animal park as well as the crazy roller coasters one might expect of any Six Flags. In the mix is also quite a few rides for the younger kid set too, complete with Looney Tunes characters. We found that different families could visit and have a totally different experience. Families with teens might want to do nothing but ride every coaster, and families with little ones might do the animal shows and the kiddie rides.
Tips for Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
When we visit theme parks, I’m always on the hunt to share with readers all the ways to hack your trip: how to save money, how to avoid lines, and how to plan in advance for the best time. Here are my very best tips for making the most of your visit at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.
1. Get the Right Tickets
Six Flags has so many different ticket and package options that might be overwhelming for a newbie. If you just plan to go for one day all season long, the best and simplest way is to pay a la carte for tickets (as well as food, parking, etc.)
Here’s the only catch: just don’t wait until you are at the gate to buy! If you pre-purchase tickets online, you can save quite a bit of money. While gate prices for tickets are $69.99, you can get tickets online as low as $49.99 if you commit to a specific day. Alternatively, Six Flags offers tickets for online purchase for $55.99 that are flexible and can be used any operating day in the season. So plan ahead – even just the morning of your trip by buying online – and save a bundle.
Trips With Tykes Tip: Note that kids 2 and under are free at Six Flags and there is no kids discount for older kids.
2. Consider a Season Pass (for Locals)
If you are a local and think you might go even just a few times during the year, I’d strongly recommend a season pass of some sort. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom offers an slightly overwhelming array of options, from the most expensive Diamond Membership down to what they call the regular season pass.
Six Flags runs limited time sales and deals on a lot of these passes, especially in the spring, so look out for promotions. Right now, for example, the best value is for their Superman Season Pass, which is offered as low as $72.99 per person (for a family of 4 or more). It includes unlimited 2018 season admission plus upgrades to free parking and admission to Hurricane Harbor (a newly-acquired Six Flags water park in nearby Concord, CA). All the details on pass options are here.
3. Plan for Distant Parking
One thing that took me by surprise Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is how far the parking is from the park. Most of the regional theme parks in the Bay Area have parking that is immediately adjacent to the front gates since they are smaller than parks like Disney and Universal. So this was definitely a change for us in terms of planning! Plan for more time to get in and out of the park than you might at other smaller theme parks.
There’s a parking shuttle if you prefer to take it. But if you have a wait or it’s crowded, you may prefer to walk as we did. We found it was a bit too far for our 4 year old, and we were glad we packed his stroller!
Trips With Tykes Tip: Bring a stroller even for older toddlers and preschoolers due to the park’s size. We love our very lightweight gb Pockit travel stroller that we can easily carry down stairs one handed and use to nimbly navigate crowds (full gb Pockit review here).
4. Pick Up the Showtimes Guide
When you enter the park, be sure to pickup a single page guide with the day’s showtimes. We didn’t see showtimes in the park’s official app (but download that too!). The guide is the best way to know when you can see the dolphins, sea lions, or other animals in action. Many shows only run once or twice a day, so this guide is vital to your day’s planning. There are so many shows that you really have to pick and choose if you want to have time for rides too – it’s a good problem to have!
Our favorites? The entire family had a blast at the Sea Lion show. My 4 year old especially loved the all animal show at the Discovery Theater that featured several birds that soared over the crowd and some especially unique animals we didn’t even know existed!
5. Share Meals
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom offers pretty inexpensive admission but pretty expensive food – the food is always where theme parks make their money. Six Flags doesn’t allow outside food and drink into the park, so that means you’ll need to budget for meals and snacks.
We luckily found that although the food was pricey, portions were extremely generous. It was therefore easy to share meals. For example, the $12.49 jumbo slice of pizza from Primo’s Pizzeria in the food court came with three pieces of cheesy bread, making it more than enough food for my 9 year old and 4 year old to share. My husband and I shared the teriyaki chicken bowl from Chop Stix ($13.99).
6. Come with the Right Expectations
I find it is always important to keep all theme park outings in perspective. Too many guests come to their local or regional theme park and expect it to run like the well-oiled machine of Disney. If you are expecting Disney efficiency anywhere but Disney, you will probably be disappointed.
We found at Six Flags, for example, that quite a few rides weren’t open and ready to load right when the park opened. This could be frustrating to those who like to “rope drop” to beat the crowds as we do. We also noticed quite a few kiddie rides closed or open only intermittently through the day (and not marked in the app as closed).
But here is where perspective is so important: tickets to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom can be a third of the price of a day at Disney. That’s a pretty amazing value at that price for what the park has to offer. My husband and I marveled at the impressive number, variety, and challenge of the coasters in particular. I was able to take a ride on Medusa, and it is one of the best coasters I’ve ever experienced. (We might just leave the kids next time and go for a date night to ride them all!)
So, keep your expectations reasonable, and I think most families will find the park more than meets them for the price.
7. Make Time for Free Play With Young Kids
If you are coming with younger kids to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, I highly recommend not just running from ride to ride. There are quite a few fun play areas and nooks and crannies to explore. My kids especially enjoyed the outdoor playground made to look like Bug’s Bunny’s house in the Looney Tunes Seaport and the indoor play zone “Acme Fun Factory.” Also a hit was simply exploring freely in the Sharks Experience and making time to touch sting rays in the touch pools.
There’s also a splash pad (Splashwater Oasis) and a huge playground (Zoe’s Treehouse) over in the Tava’s Jungleland section of the park. The playground was closed during our visit during spring break when everything wasn’t fully open for the season yet, but we’ll be making a beeline there next time.
8. Consider The Flash Pass with Adults/Teens
Since I have young kids not tall or brave enough for the truly jaw-dropping coasters of Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, we didn’t need to use the pay-to-cut-the-line service “THE FLASH Pass.” It’s really only available for the thrill rides so it’s not something you need to consider if you have young children.
But if you have adults or teens who really want to ride until they drop, it could offer a value to you. The regular version ($40) simply allows you skip the line when its your time to ride (you don’t need to actually stand in the queue because it makes a reservation). The gold version ($65) reduces wait times 40%. The platinum version ($100) reduces them 90%. I’d probably opt for the gold version given the prices if my husband and I ever went without our kids to ride coasters only.
Have you been to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom? Leave your tips in the comments!
Disclosure: Six Flags Discovery Kingdom provided my family with complimentary media tickets for our visit. We paid all our food, parking, and additional expenses. All opinions are my own.