Gilroy Gardens – A unique family horticultural theme park

Gilroy Gardens

Gilroy Gardens

Gilroy Gardens – formerly known as “Bonfante Gardens”, is a unique horticultural family-oriented theme park. The 536 acre park features many rides, exhibits and unique features such as Axel Erlandson’s highly imaginative “circus trees”.

Waterfalls at the Gilroy Gardens theme parkBonfante Falls at the Gilroy Gardens, Photo by “Fastily” – view original

Gilroy Gardens is more than just a botanical garden, though surely it is that. There are a score of different rides which puts it squarely in the realm of “theme parks”. And it is unique among all of California’s amusement parks by reason of the horticultural emphasis.

This is a great shot of the waterfalls at the Gardens. Besides watching the falls from the outside, there is a walkway that allows you to walk behind the falls and enjoy them from that perspective. A nice reprieve from the heat on a summer day.

Behind the waterfall at Gilroy GardensBehind the falls

The Gardens began life as the brainchild of Michael Bonfante and started its life as a plant nursery, then as a recreational facility for his company’s employees and finally as an amusement park in 2001 under the name of “Bonfante Gardens”. It was re-named “Gilroy Gardens” in 2007.

Gilroy Gardens Quick Facts:

Address: 3050 Hecker Pass Highway, Gilroy, CA (west of Highway 101)

Coordinates: 37.0116, -121.62941

Size: 536 acres


Hours: vary by season, check the website.

Parking: $10 per vehicle, no overnight RV parking.

Special Events: Holiday Lights – Most of the month of December with millions of lights illuminating the park.

The main sign at Gilroy Gardens

At the park there are numerous rides for the kids (and adults), water features like the waterfalls and a lake, learning stations for children to discover the wonders of the natural world and of course, the varied trees and plantings.

There is a nice 20,000 square foot greenhouse with tropical and sub-tropical plantings as well as displays of monarch butterflies.

The Monarch Garden greenhouse at Gilroy Gardens

The Monarch Garden greenhouse

I’ve always enjoyed botanical gardens. They provide a refreshing and peaceful place as well as providing ideas for what I might want to do in my own home garden.

Since there are plenty of rides and diversions for children here, it is a wonderful family place to take the kids or grandkids while enjoying the pleasant environment.

The mushroom ride at Gilroy Gardens

The Mushroom ride

Gilroy is in Central California’s agricultural heartland is known as the “garlic capitol” of the world and holds a yearly garlic festival which is devoted to all things garlic (including garlic ice cream if you can believe it).

So it’s no wonder that one of the rides here is the “Garlic spin”. Another is a mushroom ride which will centrifuge your kids. Whether it will improve behavior is another thing.

The Gilroy garlic spin ride

The Garlic Spin ride (pretty big cloves there, probably “elephant” garlic)

Fascinating woven

One of the two dozen “Circus” trees lovingly fashioned by Axel Erlandson

Mr. Bonfante, back in the 1980’s, was able to rescue a number of “circus” trees which had been fashioned over many years by an area farmer named Axel Erlandson.

Mr. Erlandson painstakingly and patiently “wove” trees together into fascinating shapes. He was featured in Ripley’s “Believe it or not” and other publications during the 1930’s through the 1950’s.

After Erlandson’s death in 1964, there was no interest on the part of his heirs in preserving his amazingly unique legacy. Many of his specimens died. Eventually, thanks to several intrepid people and Mr. Bonfante, the remainder of the trees were transported and transplanted at what would become the Gardens.

They remain here now and most of them are on exhibit. The Garden’s website has a very interesting page on these trees with some great pictures.

The Pinnacles rock maze at Gilroy Gardens

The Pinnacles Rock Maze

Gilroy is only about 40 miles north of Monterey and is conveniently located right on Highway 101. It is the northernmost outpost of Central California before you start to enter into the domain of Silicon Valley and the Bay Area.

If you crave adrenalin thrills and can’t get enough excitement in your life, then this is definitely NOT the place for you. However, if you like to walk at a leisurely pace while enjoying a great display of horticultural wonders, then you’ll like it here.

A view of the Gilroy Gardens lake

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