Six Flags Magic Mountain in the Santa Clarita Valley community of Valencia turned 50 years old in May 2021.
And while it's now known as the "Thrill Capital of the World" — and, in the early 1980s, was the largest amusement park in Southern California (yes, even bigger than Disneyland) — it had more humble beginnings, with only 70 acres in its original $20 million complex.
Building the amusement park on the 44,000-acre Rancho San Francisco — renamed Newhall Ranch after its purchase by Henry Mayo Newhall in 1875 — was a feat that the original director of engineering likened to "building an entire city."
It was a joint project of Sea World, Inc. and The Newhall Land and Farming Company — one that included $1 million worth of thousands of trees, shrubs, bushes and flowers (thanks to landscape architect George Devault, who brought in many of the trees from a nearby riverbed above Castaic Dam) and, as an early brochure touted "blue, smog-free skies."
On Memorial Day Weekend 1971, families could experience the "magic of the mountain" for the first time — for only $5 for adults and $3.50 for children.
According to a Los Angeles Times supplement (digitized by the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society), it began with 500 employees and 33 attractions — and over 90 buildings, no two of which were alike.
And it put Valencia on the map.
Newhall Land and Farming company sold the park in 1979 to a company that actually knew how to operate amusement parks — Six Flags, then a Pennsylvania Railroad subsidiary.
In the decades that followed, Six Flags changed hands multiple times and even declared bankruptcy. But through it all, Magic Mountain has survived — and boy, has it grown.
To 260 acres, in fact.
A canopy of mature sycamores, live oaks and California Toyon now enshroud the rides (and provide some desperately needed shade during hot summer months). And rollercoasters themed to DC Comics characters dominate the new ride openings and headlines.
You might even think that Colossus (er, rather, Twisted Colossus) is the only historical ride left at Six Flags Magic Mountain.
But keep your eyes peeled, and you just might spot some original — or, at least, very old — signs of that ol' "mountain magic." (Hint: Start with the tower sign that's visible from the 5 Freeway, next to a Wendy's parking lot).
In fact, you don't have to invert yourself — or brave a free fall or a staggeringly speedy loop-de-loop — in order to enjoy Six Flags Magic Mountain today. Because believe it or not, there are still original rides from Magic Mountain's opening 50 years ago. And the park has lots of other vintage surprises in store, too.
One thing is for sure: Six Flags Magic Mountain will continue to make itself over. And some of these remnants may not stick around for the long haul.
So here are nine areas of "old school" Magic Mountain that you can visit today for a true throwback Southern California theme park adventure — all year round.
Given the quickly evolving situation surrounding COVID-19, please check with the park regarding face covering requirements, proof of vaccination, and other current policies, safety protocols, and closures.
1. Jet Stream
Although not original to Magic Mountain's 1971 opening, the Jet Stream flume ride opened the following year, in 1972 — and it's only one of two "water rides" left in the park (and the only flume). When it was built, it was the first of only seven "Hydro Flumes" built by ride manufacturer Arrow Development, so named because of the "hydro jump" experienced during splashdown after a six-story nosedive in a fiberglass race boat.
Known from 2001 to 2006 as the Arrowhead Splashdown, the Six Flags website describes the Jet Stream as "a modern water coaster that glides on a river instead of a track." The thrill level is now considered "Moderate" (children must be at least 42 inches tall to ride alone) — but when it opened, it was one of the park's "white-knuckler" rides. It feels a bit bumpy these days, but you can hop on at the turntable loading station without worrying too much about getting scared (or soaked).
Today, you can find it in "The Underground" section — previously known as "Cyclone Bay," which opened in 1991 where the olde tyme craft fair Spillikin Corners stood since 1978. The Underground has been anchored by West Coast Customs since 2019 — but for now, there's still a relic from The Dragon car ride (1974-1981). Its lower station platform is still located next to the boarding for Jet Stream, although it's currently unused (and inaccessible to the public).
2. Gold Rusher
Then considered a "white-knuckler" (and one of two rollercoasters at the park opening), these days the Gold Rusher is one of the tamer rides at Six Flags Magic Mountain — themed for the 1849 California Gold Rush and whose "runaway" mine car is somewhat reminiscent of the "Old West" style rides you might find at Knott's Berry Farm.
According to the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, it was built by the now-defunct Mountainview-based Arrow Development Company (known as Arrow Dynamics after 1986), which Walt Disney had discovered in 1953 and actually invested in — contracting them to create six of the opening day rides at Disneyland (like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and Snow White's Scary Adventures) and, later, the Matterhorn Bobsleds.
Arrow custom built the Gold Rusher for the terrain of Magic Mountain (a.k.a. the "treacherous hills of the frontier") — and with all its twists and turns, it still manages to reach a maximum speed of 35 mph (though it no longer travels over the open water of the Lagoon). The minimum height for this moderate intensity ride is 48 inches tall. You can find it in the Metropolis section of the park (formerly known as The Movie District and Monterey Landings) next to the Studio 6F souvenir shop, just beyond the Boardwalk themed "land."