Man running in a bounce house. Only he is in focus and his feet are off the ground
The “world’s largest” bounce house, known as The Castle, can hold 300-plus children at once, but on July 14, as the company crew was installing the inflatable, the castle was a mostly deserted land of colors. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

No need to fret if you’ve seen a massive sneaker while driving past the soon-to-close Golden Gate Fields: A giant hasn’t lost his shoe. 

The Orlando-based Big Bounce America, a touring inflatable theme park that claims to have the world’s biggest bounce house, is in town through July 30; the aforementioned sneaker is simply a part of a four-laned obstacle course fittingly named The Giant. 

The park has four bouncy attractions — including a sports complex and a space-themed zone — that together cost roughly $1 million. 

The highlight is “The Castle,” a custom-designed, world-record-holding bounce house that contains a ball pit, donut-topped climbing towers, tulips with soulless smiling faces, and a DJ pit. It covers an area of more than 16,000 square feet and is 32 feet tall at its highest point. Its aesthetic is best be described as a hybrid between Alice-in-Wonderland and the Candy Land board game.

Altogether, over 100 air blowers, plugged into five diesel power generators, keep the park inflated. Co-founder Cameron Craig said he didn’t know how many gallons of fuel are used per day.

Over 100 air blowers running on five diesel generators keep the park inflated. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Medics are onsite at all times and are often kept busy, tending to dehydrated adults and many twisted ankles. Assistant tour manager Billy Jamison recommends attendees stretch before jumping and stay hydrated (you’re allowed to bring in your own food and water, and fair food is available for purchase). 

“Some people come out and don’t realize how big these are and how much of a workout this is,” Jamison said. 

band-aid on a blue vinyl wall
A stray bandage clings to an inflatable climbing wall. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

We spoke with Craig and Jamison last week as their crew drilled stakes into the pavement to keep the inflatables from being swept up by the sea breeze. 

Craig said he and his partner, Grahme Furgeson, came up with the idea of making large bouncy houses in 2017 after seeing a long line of children outside one at a family festival in England. A bigger house, they thought, would make it so that mom and dad can join in on the fun, instead of standing outside waiting. 

After a few years in the biz, the pair decided they wanted to beat the existing world record, which was at the time a modest 4,000-square-foot inflatable in England. 

Multi-colored abstract inflatable shapes
Part of Big Bounce America’s obstacle course as it was being inflated. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Tickets for mixed-age, kid-only and adult-only sessions can be bought on Big Bounce America’s site and range between $22 and $45. They include 3 hours of jumping time, including a 45 minute session in The Castle.

Here are a few other interesting tidbits we learned: 

  • Craig and Furgeson are both former DJs who worked in bars and clubs in Scotland. It’s partly why there’s a DJ pit in the middle of The Castle. (The tour has several DJs on staff.) “That’s the coolest thing about it — it’s like there’s a dance party happening,” Craig said. “If you’ve never seen 300 children do the cha-cha slide on a bouncy house, it’s quite fun, as you can imagine.” 
  • Tears occur roughly once a week. “We have a repair guy on site,” Jamison said. 
  • The fastest time anyone has ever completed the The Giant obstacle course was 2 minutes and 50 seconds. When Big Bounce America visited La Habra in 2022, the course was supposedly a favorite of the rapper Wiz Khalifa, who went through the 900-foot-long obstacle course nine times, according to Jamison. 
  • During our visit, the damp vinyl (it had rained at the last tour stop in Boston) smelled vaguely like a middle school gym when we visited, but hopefully the odor has been eliminated. The house was due to be power-washed after we left. 

See more photos taken by Berkeleyside visual journalist Ximena Natera as the bounce house was being inflated:

Inflated rabbit
An N-shaped inflatable with the rabbit behind
Bunched up plastic in the parking lot
tangle of cords
Close-up of crease in not-quite inflated all the way inflatable
Tons of striped pillars
Inflatable mushrooms

Iris Kwok covers the environment for Berkeleyside through a partnership with Report for America. A former music journalist, her work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, KQED, San Francisco Examiner...