Gilroy Gardens and the Tree Circus

Gilroy is the place where garlic comes from and our first interaction with the town was being stuck on the 101 near a car that was burning in full sky-high flames as police, fire, and ambulance watched helplessly. We were on our way back from San Luis Obispo and at the same time, Gilroy was having their annual garlic festival (the garlic festival and car burning were not related).

Gilroy has more than just garlic… we found out later. In a roundabout way, I heard about an “amazing roadside attraction” called Axel Erlandson’s Tree Circus; and, being a sucker for roadside attractions I started to look for more information.

Axel Erlandson was a Swedish Californian who began shaping trees in 1925 to amuse his friends and family. After amassing a large number of “circus trees,” he opened his home to the public for a small fee. His trees became known worldwide and have been featured on Ripley’s Believe it or Not a dozen times.

It seems my information about the trees is severely outdated (or the information of the person who told me). The tree circus hasn’t been in California since the 1960s. However, the trees are not dead… they were simply relocated to Gilroy Gardens where they now sit silently in the background as a secondary attraction in the park.

Gilroy Gardens is a typical California attraction full of overstretched and overheated parents, whiny kids, long lines and bad food. On the kid scale of rating attractions, however, this one is 3rd after Disneyland and Legoland. (That said, we’ve never been to Six Flags or Knott’s Berry Farm). In terms of cost, it is very very expensive and we were lucky enough to find a coupon that allowed us to get in for a fraction of the price.

Here are some tips to making the day progress in an easy-going manner with fewer meltdowns (not that Niña has meltdowns but sometimes lots of people overwhelms both of us):

  • The park is geared for little kids, which means the rides for bigger kids rarely have lineups
  • Find a coupon or some sort of Groupon deal; this helps with gate sticker shock
  • The water park is full of parents ready to gouge each other’s eyes out… but the mist maze and waterfall has way fewer people and is just as fun
  • Seating around the water park is difficult but if you exit the park and go right there are plenty of quiet places to sit and have a meal
  • The Mexican restaurant sells fresh fruit

As a funny aside (to me and probably no one else), Niña gave an ongoing Spanish to English translation of kids who were having meltdowns as we passed by: Oh Mama, he’s upset because he didn’t get french fries… and that little boy is crying because he lost his bucket… she’s mad because they are leaving… those boys want to go on the ride again but their mama is not letting them… It was a reminder of how much Spanish I don’t know.

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