What makes Magic Mountain the No. 1 theme park in the country?

Kids from the Boys & Girls Club take the first official ride on Six Flags Magic Mountain's newest ride, CraZanity. PHOTO BY CORY RUBIN
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It’s no coincidence roller coaster lover Sean Verheijen traveled thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean to live in Valencia, just down the street from Six Flags Magic Mountain.

“I lived in Europe for most my life. My first visit to Six Flags Magic Mountain was in 2007 on vacation to the United States,” he said. “The place we decided to live was certainly influenced by the fact that Six Flags Magic Mountain was right down the street. Ever since, it’s been a weekly visit!”

He isn’t the only one to visit that frequently, either — and perhaps not the only one with a leg tattoo of Viper, one of the park’s highly recognized, classic looping coasters.

It’s evident Magic Mountain has acquired some of the most dedicated fans. Many have said it’s hard not to become a fan because it lives up to its tagline: the “Thrill Capital of the World.”  

With a reputation as such, the park has also earned the title of being the country’s No. 1 theme park for the second time in four years, as voted by 10Best.com, a USA TODAY travel website.

Besides motivating Verheijen to live closer to the park, Magic Mountain has brought millions more people to the site throughout the decades, helping grow and establish the Santa Clarita Valley as a thriving tourist destination.

Something to boast about

With many well-known theme parks across the country and a strong collection of parks in the Southland — like Disneyland and Universal Studios, to name a few — Magic Mountain has a lot to compete with these days. But it has remained high in the rankings thanks to its record-breaking roller coasters and competitive offers, theme park experts say.

Six Flags Entertainment Corp., the largest amusement park company in the world and the largest operator of waterparks in North America, offers more than 800 attractions and 120 coasters across 18 parks in the U.S. Magic Mountain boasts 19 of those, the world’s largest lineup of coasters.

USA TODAY wrote of the park, “Stars of the heart-pumping ride list include The New Revolution Galactic Attack, the first giant looping mixed reality roller coaster in the world, and Twisted Colossus, the world’s longest hybrid coaster.”

Attendees can experience a series of “world’s first” rides including the first 4D coaster X2, the tallest and fastest looping coaster Full Throttle and the first looping coaster the Great American Revolution, as it was known in its early years, which opened in 1976. The latest, CraZanity, broke a record as the world’s tallest pendulum ride, reaching as high as 17 stories in the air.

Besides offering its original collection of coasters, Magic Mountain is now open 365 days a year, making the Santa Clarita Valley site the only Six Flags park open daily year-round.

Experts agree

Theme park industry experts agree Magic Mountain deserves its Top 10 honors, but there’s one other feature to which they attribute its success besides its impressive share of coasters: its location.

Magic Mountain spans 262 acres, surrounded by golden hills, just 35 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. That’s an essential factor to consider, according to Tim Baldwin, editor of RollerCoaster! Magazine.

“I think they have to separate themselves from ‘the pack,’” he said, referring to parks south of Magic Mountain like Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. “Because they are north of L.A., Magic Mountain knows they have to up their game to get people to travel the extra distance, and they have.”  

It may be away from the populated density of Hollywood or the Orange County where other Southern California theme parks sit, but Magic Mountain’s location in the Santa Clarita Valley offers a variety of accommodations for its travelers, including hotels and restaurants just outside the park’s perimeter. This only becomes more necessary as the park grows, said Duane Marden, who started Roller Coaster DataBase, an archive that features statistics on thousands of roller coasters from all over the world.

“If you’ve never been to the park, it starts to become a multi-day park,” he said. “If you compare it to Six Flags in St. Louis, you can go and ride all the rides and move on. But at Magic Mountain, it’s going to keep you in the area for an extra day. You have to stay at a hotel and find a place to eat.”

Baldwin said the park’s location, for its size and what the Santa Clarita Valley offers just outside, is worth the travel and worth the purchase of a season pass for those nearby. “A tourist will have a great time at any place, but Magic Mountain offers so much more that it can bring people back,” he said.

There’s also a sense of discovery, Baldwin added, thanks to its typography. “The hills of the Santa Clarita Valley add flavor and character. You can’t see the whole valley and the backside until you’re on a ride. You have to go out and discover.”

Twisted Colossus. PHOTO BY DAN WATSON

What Magic Mountain means to the Santa Clarita Valley

Growth. Simply put, that’s what economic experts and city officials believe the widely known park has brought to the SCV.

“Magic Mountain is iconic to the area,” said Holly Schroeder, executive director of the SCV Economic Development Corp. “It is the most identifiable landmark when we talk about the Santa Clarita Valley.”

From an economic standpoint, she added, the park brings a tremendous amount of tourism. Last year, there were an estimated 3.4 million visitors, bringing more people to spend dollars locally not only in hotels and eateries but also other nearby happenings like sports-related events. Those numbers are expected to rise partly because of its new year-round schedule.

This feature is also one the city of Santa Clarita is excited about, said Evan Thomason, an economic development associate who oversees the tourism office for the city. “We are thrilled that it’s open more days and it’s a selling point when we do our advertising and marketing campaigns. We look to sell SCV as a destination and Magic Mountain is a huge attraction to visitors.”

Magic Mountain is also the SCV’s largest employer, with about 3,200 employees, most of whom are residents.

With tourism and tax revenue up, what would the SCV look like without Magic Mountain?

“Hypothetically speaking, that’s hard to answer,” said Schroeder. “But it would be pretty hard to envision this area without it.”

What keeps them coming

Whether a super fan like Verheijen or not, thrill seekers return mainly for the new rides, something Magic Mountain has delivered year after year.

Resident Kurt Dahlin, also known as Coaster Guy, said he had visited theme parks all over the world and Magic Mountain is one that delivers consecutively with the “wow factor.” He added, “It’s exciting to see it grow with more rides. This draws people within and around the area, especially when there’s not a lot of thrill parks in California.”

While the park recently opened CraZanity in July, a teaser campaign has already launched for at least one new attraction coming in 2019.

Then there are fans like Gabriel Montoya, who hosts the Theme Park Duo podcast with his wife. Although the corporation tends to target teens and an older crowd, he said, Six Flags can still involve the whole family as it offers attractions and entertainment for all ages.

“To me, theme parks are about making memories with my family, no matter what age,” said Montoya, who will soon be a father for the first time. “I have been looking at everything from a different perspective and thinking about theme parks. It’s about building special moments.”


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