The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is the red ‘60s chevy convertible of amusement parks — it’s vintage, cool, stylish, colorful.
It’s great for a date, family, or friends. It looks good right by the ocean, and it still runs great.
There’s only one real difference: the Boardwalk opened way before those convertibles came out. It was founded in 1907, making it the oldest amusement park operating in California today. As it was then, admission remains free today, and attractions are comparatively affordable.
There’s so much to see, hear, taste, smell, and touch at the Boardwalk that you may need to make several visits during the summer season — Mondays and Tuesdays are dollar ride nights, making it a perfect time to splurge on all your favorite rides and that deep-fried twinkie you’ve been eyeing.
Here’s a guide to the Boardwalk basics, and beyond.
It wouldn’t be an amusement park without rides, and the Boardwalk has a great offering of vintage and newer rides for cautious young kids and their daredevil older siblings.
Built in 1924, the Giant Dipper is a wooden-track roller coaster that’s impressive for any decade. Over 60 million people have ridden the Dipper since it opened, and once you ride it yourself, you’ll see why it’s a can’t-miss.
For the more adventurous set, twisty-turny rides like the Fireball will get your heart rate elevated in no time, and on the Fright Walk you’ll scream more than you have in years. Rides like the serene Sky Glider and stomach-dropping Double Shot both offer great views on the city and the ocean, as do the Sea Swings.
Video Credit: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
The boardwalk has a range of game choices — from an arcade with miniature golf, laser tags, and video games to the usual fairway carnival games, like Break-a-Plate and skee ball.
Arcade games award tickets to save up for big prizes, and some of the outdoor games offer prizes for participation, though not all do. If you’re bringing kids and looking to avoid disappointment or throwing too much money away, miniature golf is something the whole family can have fun doing together.
The Boardwalk has the usual corn dogs and deep-fried desserts, and it also has California-inspired treats like garlic fries and seafood. For dessert, Marini’s fudge is hard to beat, unless it’s hot out and you’d rather have a Santa Cruz Sno Cone.
If you’re looking for somewhere with a bit more ambiance near the Boardwalk, there are a variety of quality restaurants on the Wharf serving fresh seafood, Italian, and Mexican food. There’s also the Penny Ice Creamery’s sister restaurant, The Picnic Basket, which serves delicious artisan sandwiches and salads for lunch along with their famous ice cream.
The Boardwalk doesn’t have costumed performers every time you turn around like at Disneyland, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any live entertainment there. Every Friday night from June through August features a live band, with many popular acts from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Blue Oyster Cult has played a couple times, and War and Eddie Money are both scheduled for this August.
The most striking of the beachfront hotels is the Dream Inn, the closest thing to a high-rise on the water. It’s upscale and offers Wi Fi, a heated pool, and room service, along with stunning views — if you stay here, you may never even make it to the Boardwalk.
More economical options near the Boardwalk are in abundance — the Aqua Breeze, Comfort Inn, Casablanca, and West Cliff Inn are just a few options that frequently have deals on hotel websites.
For a special experience that’s just a little ways away from the beach, try Chaminade, a gorgeous resort in the middle of Santa Cruz’s illustrious redwoods, or Hotel Paradox, a recently-opened upscale hotel that uses innovative techniques to makes its outside look like the inside (hence the hotel’s name).
No matter where you end up staying, or if you enjoy living in Santa Cruz all the time, everyone can come together to enjoy the Boardwalk, an amusement park with character and a whole lot to offer.
Photo Credit: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk