Marine World Africa USA: See the old California theme park that had killer whales & dolphins

Vintage 80s Marine World Africa USA

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In 1986, when Marine World Africa USA opened in Vallejo, California, it was big news for the San Francisco Bay Area!

Unlike Southern California, which was home to Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm and Magic Mountain, the only other real amusement park in the northern half of the state was Great America (then owned by Marriott’s) in Santa Clara — which was about an hour and a half south of the new Marine World. (The original, smaller Marine World was located in Redwood City, California, and originally opened in 1968.)

Take a look back to the first year the theme park/zoo now known as Six Flags Discovery Kingdom was open, back in 1986!

YouTube video

Marine World Africa USA grand opening (1986)

Marine World Africa USA - Grand Opening brochure 1986 (4)

Marine World Africa USA: Grand by design

At the very heart of the Marine World Africa USA experience lies interaction between our animals and our visitors.

That’s why our new park was designed to bring you closer to our wildlife than ever before. Closer than at any other wildlife park in the world.

Come. Visit the all-new Marine World Africa USA in Vallejo during this, our grand-opening season. There’s never been a grander time.


Open daily in summer 9:30 am -6:30 pm. Wednesdays through Sundays in spring and fall until 5:30pm. Weekends and holidays in winter until 5:00 pm.


Only 30 miles northeast of San Francisco.Ten miles south of the Napa Valley Wine Country. From San Francisco, take 1-80 East Exit at Marine World Parkway (Hwy. 37). Or take 101 North to Hwy.37 East to Marine World Parkway.


Red & White Fleet offers daily service to Marine World Africa USA from Pier 41 on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Call Red & White Fleet at (415) 546-2896, your travel agent or your local Ticketron outlet.

Marine World Africa USA - Grand Opening brochure 1986 (5)

Marine World Africa USA - Grand Opening brochure 1986 (2)

MORE: Vintage Knott’s Berry Farm: See the Southern California amusement park as it used to be

Marine World Africa USA: Grand by sea

The all-new Marine World Africa USA surprises again. With a grand stadium for killer whales and dolphins. Another for sea lions. And habitats, tidepools, and an aquarium for other forms of aquatic life.

Nowhere in the world can you get closer to marine mammals. And nowhere will you find marine mammal shows as exciting, entertaining, and educational as those we offer.

Marine World Africa USA - Grand Opening brochure 1986 (1)

Marine World Africa USA: Grand by land

Tigers. Chimps. Elephants. And more. Marine World Africa USA’s remarkable land animals. You’ll see them performing in shows. Relaxing in their natural settings. And walking with their trainers throughout the park.

And wherever you see them, you’ll have the opportunity to come safely close to them. Deep, mutual bonds of trust, respect, and affection between our animals and trainers make this possible.

Marine World Africa USA - Grand Opening brochure 1986 (3)

MORE: Disneyland brochure for 1988: More than ever the happiest place

Marine World Africa USA: Grand by air

Another of our grand attractions is our feathered flock A wide and varied collection of over 100 species.

From colorful cockatoos and macaws to land-bound ostriches. From majestic birds of prey to beautiful flamingos and cranes. Many rare and endangered species find a home at Marine World Africa USA.

And here, in shows and natural environments, you can enjoy and come to know them.

Marine World Africa USA - Grand Opening brochure 1986 (7)

Grand opening 1986: Grand all around

Animals and marine mammals are just part of the excitement at the all-new Marine World Africa USA.

Our Waterski and Boat Show is internationally acclaimed.”Whale-of-a-Time-World,” our recreation area for kids, is an innovative, one-of-a-kind playground.

And we have plenty of restaurants, gift shops, games, and other attractions. It’s an incredible new world of fun and adventure for the whole family.

Marine World Africa USA - Grand Opening brochure 1986 (6)

Marine World Africa USA - Grand Opening brochure 1986 (8)

Marine World Africa USA Marine World Foundation Marine World Parkway • Vallejo, CA 94589 For more information call (707) 643-ORCA – A Non-Profit Organization

Hey, hey – We’re Marine World (1989 TV commercial)

This ad used a version of The Monkees theme song.

YouTube video

ALSO SEE: Sea World San Diego in the ’70s & ’80s, when you could see Shamu the killer whale, dolphins & lots more

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Comments on this story

3 Responses

  1. I went and saw this Orca when I was 6 years old. There were lots of great things about that day but the only part I remember and will until the day I die is this. My family and I were seated in the audience when they came to the part of the show that they called on an audience member to volunteer, usually a child. I gleefully raised my hand, so eager for the trainer to see me that I couldn’t hardly contain myself to my seat. Literally bursting out of my chair, her eyes landed on me. And then she called me. I was so excited, but now I had to walk in front of all these people. I hadn’t thought that far through things when my little sister had forced my hand into the air. Well, I had to do it now. I got to the front and was standing on the pool ledge. First, Th yes offered me to pet the whale. I got to pet her. Quickly, I was asked “what does it feel like?” And whiteout missing a beat I murmured “wet rubber.” The audience burst into laughter, which I didn’t understand why. I had given an honest answer. Then I had the chance to feed the whale. At the end they told me they were going to tie my ankles together and let me swim with the whale. Again the audience laughed, and I stood confused. Now, this might sound like a dream come true to some, and a nightmare to others. But for me, those few moments that I was eye to eye with this multi-ton predictor that could have swallowed me whole, I saw love and sadness. I saw depth and empathy far beyond what humans can begin to understand. Those few moments, that whale in this brochure imprinted on me something that will stay with me forever.

  2. Like the commenter above, I too fell in love with those whales. I however was never picked to interact with them, sadly, and am super jealous of her interaction. My family bought tickets every weekend when it was in Redwood City and when they moved to Vallejo we bought season passes every year. We went to planning meetings, took behind the scene classes on how to run an animal park, become a trainer, anything educational they offered, I was the first one signed up. That park was a major part of my life. And it never got old. Even going every week for years on end, there was always something new to experience, some new animal I hadn’t noticed, some trainer to talk to a child about their interest in the animals. When they added the Shark Experience and I walked through that underwater tunnel for the first time with awe and wonder and tiny bit of fear I found my new home. Every moment I could bum a ride, I spent in that building. I’d sit in a corner all day and watch the sharks swim around, study people’s reactions to them, listen as the guides talked about the sharks. Every moment was golden. When Six Flags took over I was old enough to get a summer job. Hostess of shows one summer and bird keeper the next. This park changed me, it influenced my awareness of our place in the world and the animal kingdom, and it fostered a love of nature that has never diminished. Thank you Marine World Africa USA.

  3. Begrudgingly moving from New York to the Bay Area in 1972 with my family at age 9 was pretty upsetting. However, after pulling into the Holiday Inn parking lot (no longer there) in the Redwood Shores area, I looked across the parking lot to see a group of camels running across the street (they had escaped from a newly built Marine World/Africa USA. The fact that California had wild camels that wandered the neighborhoods instantly changed my whole opinion of the state. For years after, our family had “Gold Passes” which allowed for unlimited visits to the park. I hated seeing the park leave for Vallejo.

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