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Scream If You Want to Go Faster

Five roller coasters to thrill your pants off all summer.


Though we come from many creeds and walks of life, we all share a basic human desire to be strapped onto a steel track and catapulted into giddy terror. Get your adrenaline fix with our picks for the best coasters in Northern California, all of which are just a few hours away.


1) The Giant Dipper (Santa Cruz Boardwalk)
Don’t be deceived by the mom-and-pop look of the Giant Dipper, perched on the Santa Cruz boardwalk since 1924. This red and white coaster is the fifth oldest still operating in the U.S., and it packs a real punch. Catch your breath at the top of the second loop and you’ll see incredible views of Monterey Bay before plunging back towards the sand. $6 buys one ride, or a day ticket (from $32.95) gets access to all the other rides. Do the Dipper before the lines build up and leave time to enjoy the beach.
2) Dare Devil Chaos Coaster (Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Vallejo)
Roller coasters abound at Six Flags, up the road in Vallejo, but we're partial to the newest manic contraption, the subtly named Dare Devil Chaos Coaster. It fires you through seven “full inversions" inside a 70-foot tall loop. Embrace your inner six-year-old and grab a hotdog from the Dare Devil Grill next door—but do everyone a solid and wait until after the ride.

3) The Gold Striker (California's Great America)
Head south to Santa Clara and California’s Great America, home of the fastest wooden roller coaster in Northern California. The Gold Striker's wood frame looks like it might be made of matchsticks, and the ride is two and a half minutes of high-speed twists and drops. Afterward, bypass Planet Snoopy in favor of the waterpark, where adults can rent cabanas while younger visitors splash to their heart's content.

4) The Timber Twister (Gilroy Gardens, Gilroy)
If you’ve got younger kids, Gilroy Gardens is a more sedate daytrip destination. Set in a beautifully green park, tiny thrillseekers will be delighted by the rattlesnake-shaped Timber Twister Coaster. The park was originally founded as a tree sanctuary to protect the Circus Trees, sycamores that can be grafted to one another to create astonishing shapes—make sure you stop by the center of the park to see the Basket Tree.

5) Bombs Away (Raging Waters, San Jose)
The Bombs Away might not be a roller coaster in the strict sense of the word, but when you're plummeting through a trap door down an enclosed flume for over 200 feet you don't have time to split hairs. The park has over 23 acres of water rides and stays open until 7pm on Saturdays in July, so you can max out on good times and be back in time for dinner.


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