Photo: OlegMemo/Shutterstock

California's Wild Rivers Waterpark

Budget Travel
by Sarah Park Aug 1, 2011
Budget Traveler recently selected their picks for 5 US budget theme parks, and I was disappointed to see the park I most recently visited omitted.

Their list highlights some spot-on picks for regional amusement parks, including another childhood favorite of mine, Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California. But if you’re anywhere in the US right now, you’ve probably noticed the excessive heat outside your front door.

In this weather, I have absolutely zero interest in standing in line for anything that doesn’t drop me face-first into a 9-foot-deep pool of disturbingly salty water. So, in a desperate attempt to lower my body’s core temperature, some friends and I headed to Wild Rivers in Irvine, California early last week — a theme park under-appreciated enough to NOT be included on Budget Traveler’s list.

Heeding the advice on Yelp, I walked in with my pre-purchased tickets to avoid the (nonexistent) lines at the ticket window and braced myself for the mounds of garbage on the ground, pre-teen debauchery, and hepatitis in the locker room that I was warned about by negative reviewers.

Boy, am I glad I ignored those fun-spoiling snobs.

Wild Rivers is, at least on the day of my visit, a hell of a lot cleaner than most public pools. The lines were either, as in the case of the ticket window, empty or they were quick and orderly. Best of all, there are deals out there generous enough to make admission cheaper than dinner and a movie.

Here are some quick tips to help you enjoy your visit:


…the age of the staff. They’re teenagers — of course they don’t care about your feelings. While mildly disaffected, they were pretty damn good at their jobs. I’ve never felt more comfortable putting my life in the hands of a 15-year-old chewing bubble-gum.

…that band-aid on the ground. I am struggling to imagine anything grosser to find stuck to my wet bare foot in the middle of an amusement park. But luckily, the bulk of the band-aids I encountered during the day were discretely swept to the side of the walkways, noticeable only to my germaphobic eagle-eyes.

…your pride. Just humor the kid in you on your trip to Wild Rivers. The rides aren’t over-the-top terrifying, but they’re enough to elicit a scream or two (or ten, if you’re me on The Abyss — it was really dark). Ditch the sun-tanning grown-ups, run from ride to ride, and giggle like the 6-year-olds in front of you in line.


…the Costco up the street. On a tip from some helpful Yelpers, we made sure to stop at the Costco located just a few blocks away for discounted admission tickets. For Costco members, they offer 2 adult tickets for $41, making this the cheapest date I’ve been on in years. Plus, we bought a mega-cheap and delicious pizza to devour at…

…the outdoor picnic area. You can’t bring food into the waterpark, but luckily Wild Rivers understands most people are too cheap to pay for $900 Dippin’ Dots. They’ve graciously provided a shaded area just outside the park’s gates for penny-pinchers like us, complete with picnic tables and lockers to store your wet belongings.

…the end of an era. Wild Rivers will be CLOSING ITS DOORS at the end of this summer for good. Come and enjoy this childhood favorite of mine before it turns into another really necessary new development of cookie-cutter apartment homes.

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