Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: Tickets, Rides, Attractions, Tips & Visitor Guide

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Step into a world of nostalgia and excitement at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, California’s iconic seaside amusement park. This historic landmark, nestled along the shores of Monterey Bay, has been thrilling visitors for over a century with its blend of classic charm and modern attractions. From the heart-pounding Giant Dipper roller coaster to the gentle whimsy of the Looff Carousel, the Boardwalk offers an unforgettable experience for thrill-seekers and families.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take you on a journey through the Boardwalks must-see rides, attractions, and insider tips to help you make the most of your visit. Well explore ticketing options, highlight can’t-miss experiences, and share valuable advice to ensure your day at this coastal playground is nothing short of magical.

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Main Attractions and Rides at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Classic Rides

The Giant Dipper

When you think of classic roller coasters, the Giant Dipper at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk immediately comes to mind. Built in 1924, this iconic wooden coaster has thrilled over 66 million riders with its daring dips and breathtaking views of the Monterey Bay.

The Giant Dipper Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
The Giant Dipper Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

The ride was constructed in just 47 days and cost a mere $50,000 at the time. Despite its age, the Giant Dipper remains a favorite, earning accolades as a National Historic Landmark and appearing in several movies like “The Lost Boys” and “Sudden Impact”.

Looff Carousel

The Looff Carousel is another gem, dating back to 1911. This vintage ride features hand-carved wooden horses and a classic ring toss game. It’s not just a ride; it’s a piece of living history, offering a nostalgic experience that delights both kids and adults.

Looff Carousel Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Looff Carousel Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

The carousel was crafted by Charles I.D. Looff, whose family has a long legacy in amusement rides​.

Modern Thrills

Undertow

For those seeking modern excitement, Undertow delivers. As the Boardwalk’s only spinning roller coaster, it offers a unique ride experience with unexpected twists and turns. Each ride is different due to the spinning cars, making it a must-try for thrill-seekers.

Undertow Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Undertow Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Ghost Blasters

Step into a spooky adventure with Ghost Blasters, an interactive dark ride where you shoot at targets to score points. This ride combines fun and competition, perfect for families and friends looking to enjoy a light-hearted scare.

Ghost Blasters Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Ghost Blasters Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Family and Kid-Friendly Rides

Sea Swings

The Sea Swings offer a delightful experience for all ages, letting you swing out over the beach with the ocean breeze in your face. It’s a classic swing ride with a seaside twist, making it a perennial favorite.

Sea Swings Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Sea Swings Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Logger’s Revenge

Hop on Logger’s Revenge for a splash-filled adventure. This log flume ride takes you through twists and drops, ending with a big splash that’s sure to cool you down on a hot day. It’s a family favorite that combines gentle thrills with fun water elements.

Logger’s Revenge Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Logger’s Revenge Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Unique Experiences

Boardwalk Bowl

Boardwalk Bowl lets you enjoy a game of bowling with a stunning beach view. It’s a great way to unwind and have fun, whether you’re a serious bowler or just playing for laughs.

Mini Golf

Seaside mini golf at the Boardwalk offers fun for all ages. The course is designed with creative obstacles and beautiful seaside views, making it a perfect activity for families and groups.

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Entertainment and Events at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Live Performances

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is famous for its live performances, featuring a vibrant mix of music concerts and entertainment shows that cater to all ages. During the summer, the Boardwalk hosts Evenings on the Colonnade, running from June 17 to August 8. Visitors can enjoy live bands, magicians, acrobats, and DJ dance parties right by the beach. It’s an amazing atmosphere where you can grab some food and drinks, relax, and enjoy the shows as the sun sets over Monterey Bay​.

One memorable experience I had was watching a local band play while my kids enjoyed the acrobats. The energy was infectious, and the view was stunning. It’s the perfect way to end a day at the Boardwalk.

Annual Events

The Boardwalk is home to a variety of annual events that bring the community together. Here are some highlights:

  • Clam Chowder Cook-Off: This popular event typically held in February, sees chefs from all over competing to make the best clam chowder. It’s a tasty competition that attracts food lovers from near and far.
  • Boardwalk Blitz: Usually aimed at youth and school groups, this overnight event offers a unique opportunity to enjoy the Boardwalk after hours with special activities and discounts.
  • Holiday Celebrations: The Boardwalk gets decked out for holidays with themed decorations and activities. From Halloween’s spooky Fright Walk to the festive lights and holiday music of the winter season, there’s always something to look forward to.

My personal favorite is the Clam Chowder Cook-Off. There’s nothing like tasting all the different chowders and voting for your favorite. Plus, the atmosphere is buzzing with excitement​.

Fireworks and Night Shows

Fireworks and night shows are a must-see at the Boardwalk, especially during special occasions. One of the standout events is the 4th of July Fireworks, where the sky lights up in a spectacular display. Another highlight is the Giant Dipper’s 100th Anniversary Celebration, which includes fireworks on May 18th, 2024, marking a century of this iconic roller coaster​.

Every Friday night from June 14 to August 9, you can enjoy Free Movies on the Beach. Classics like “The Sandlot” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” are shown, making it a perfect way to unwind after a fun-filled day. Bring a blanket, grab some popcorn, and settle in for a movie night under the stars​.

Dining Options at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Classic Boardwalk Eats

Fried Treats and Cotton Candy

No visit to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is complete without indulging in some classic boardwalk eats. The aroma of fried treats wafts through the air, tempting visitors with funnel cakes, corn dogs, and, of course, cotton candy. These iconic snacks are perfect for a nostalgic taste of the seaside amusement park experience.

Chowder House

If you’re a seafood lover, the Chowder House is a must-visit. Famous for its clam chowder served in a bread bowl, this spot offers a delightful taste of the coast. It’s a great place to warm up after a cool day by the ocean and enjoy some of the best seafood the Boardwalk has to offer​.

Diverse Cuisine

Mexican, Italian, and Asian Options

The Boardwalk isn’t just about classic American snacks; it also boasts a variety of cuisines to satisfy diverse palates. You can savor flavorful Mexican dishes like tacos and burritos, enjoy hearty Italian pastas and pizzas, or dive into Asian cuisine with options like sushi and stir-fry. These varied dining choices ensure there’s something for everyone, no matter what you’re craving​.

Healthy Choices

For those who are health-conscious, the Boardwalk offers several healthy dining options. Look for fresh salads, fruit bowls, and grilled options that provide a lighter alternative to traditional amusement park fare. These choices make it easy to enjoy a fun day out without compromising your dietary preferences​.

Dining Tips

Best Times to Visit and What to Try for First-Timers

To make the most of your dining experience at the Boardwalk, consider visiting during non-peak hours, like early lunch or late afternoon, to avoid long lines. First-timers should definitely try the clam chowder at the Chowder House and a classic funnel cake for dessert. Don’t forget to explore the variety of cuisines available—try a little bit of everything to get the full Boardwalk experience​ .

Visitor Information

Opening Hours: Most food locations open with the ride hours, typically from 11 AM to 10 PM during summer. Hours may vary, so it’s best to check the Boardwalk’s website for current information.

Payment Options: Many food stalls and restaurants now accept cashless payments, including Visa, Mastercard, and Discover, making it convenient to enjoy your meals without the need for cash.

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Tips for Visitors to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Best Time to Visit

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a bustling attraction all year round, but there are optimal times to visit depending on what you’re looking for. For fewer crowds and a more relaxed experience, consider visiting during the spring or fall.

Summer is the busiest season, with long lines and vibrant energy, ideal if you want to soak in the full Boardwalk atmosphere with all rides and attractions open. Try to arrive early, especially on weekends, to avoid the biggest crowds and enjoy more of the Boardwalk’s offerings without long waits.

Opening Hours: The Boardwalk is open year-round, but hours vary by season. During summer, rides and attractions typically open around 11 AM and close at 10 PM. Check the Boardwalk’s website for the most current hours.

Ticket Prices: Admission is free, but ride tickets are required. You can buy individual ride tickets, an all-day wristband, or a season pass. Special discounts are available on select days, such as the “Summer Discount Nights” where you get unlimited rides after 6 PM for just $24.95​.

Transportation: The Boardwalk is located at 400 Beach Street, Santa Cruz, CA. Parking is available but can fill up quickly, especially during events. Public transportation options include local buses, which are a convenient way to reach the Boardwalk without the hassle of parking.

Parking and Transportation

Parking can be a bit of a challenge, especially on busy days. The Boardwalk’s main parking lot fills up quickly, so arriving early is key. Parking rates vary by day: weekends are $30, weekdays are $20, and on limited ride days, it’s $15. For oversized vehicles like RVs and buses, the rates are higher, and parking is usually available in the River Parking Lot.

If you prefer not to drive, consider using the free shuttle service from the Government Center at 701 Ocean Street, available on specific dates. This can save you the hassle of finding a parking spot and is a convenient option during peak times.

Nearby Attractions

Santa Cruz Wharf

The Santa Cruz Wharf is a must-visit for anyone exploring the Boardwalk area. Stretching out over half a mile into the Monterey Bay, this iconic landmark offers breathtaking views and a host of activities. You can enjoy fishing, boat rentals, or simply strolling along the wharf to watch sea lions lounging below.

Santa Cruz Wharf
Santa Cruz Wharf

Dining options abound, from fresh seafood at Gilda’s to Mexican flavors at Olita’s Cantina and Grill. Don’t miss the Riva Fish House for award-winning clam chowder and crispy calamari. For a more casual bite, Woodies Café is perfect for burgers and milkshakes​.

Natural Bridges State Beach

A short drive from the Boardwalk, Natural Bridges State Beach is a haven for nature lovers. Famous for its natural rock bridge formations, this beach is also a fantastic spot for tide pooling and bird watching. In the fall, the park becomes a sanctuary for migrating monarch butterflies.

Natural Bridges State Beach
Natural Bridges State Beach

There are picnic areas and trails, making it an ideal spot for a day trip. The beach is open from 8 AM to sunset, and parking is available for a fee.

Downtown Santa Cruz

Just a few minutes from the Boardwalk, Downtown Santa Cruz offers a vibrant mix of shopping, dining, and cultural experiences. Pacific Avenue is the main thoroughfare, lined with unique boutiques, bookstores, and cafes. The downtown area also features a variety of restaurants, from casual eateries to fine dining. Don’t miss the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History for a dose of local culture. Parking can be found in various garages and lots, with public transportation options available for easy access​.

Visitor Information

  • Santa Cruz Wharf: Open daily with free admission. Parking is available on the wharf, but it can get crowded, so arrive early.
  • Natural Bridges State Beach: Open from 8 AM to sunset. Parking costs $10 per vehicle.
  • Downtown Santa Cruz: Accessible by car with plenty of parking options. Public transportation is also available.

Exploring these nearby attractions can enhance your visit to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, offering a perfect mix of natural beauty, delicious food, and cultural experiences.

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Final Thoughts on Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

As the sun dips below the horizon, casting a warm glow over the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, its clear why this seaside amusement park continues to captivate visitors year after year. From the exhilarating rides that test your courage to the nostalgic attractions that transport you back in time, the Boardwalk offers a unique blend of thrills and charm that’s hard to find elsewhere.

Whether you’ve spent your day conquering the Giant Dipper, indulging in carnival treats, or simply soaking in the vibrant atmosphere, the memories made here will linger long after you’ve left the sandy shores.

As you plan your visit, remember that the Boardwalk isn’t just an amusement park; it’s a California institution that embodies the states laid-back coastal spirit. So grab your sunscreen, bring your sense of adventure, and prepare for a day filled with laughter, excitement, and unforgettable moments. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk awaits, ready to welcome you to it’s magical world where the fun never sets with the sun.

FAQS on Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

How much does each ride cost at Santa Cruz Boardwalk?

Individual rides at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk cost between $3.00 and $5.00. Tickets can be purchased for a single ride or multiple rides at any of the Boardwalk’s ticket booths.

What is a fun fact about Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk?

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is the only major seaside amusement park remaining on the West Coast of the United States. It is also the oldest amusement park in California, located along a scenic mile-long public beach on Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

What movie was filmed on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk?

“Sudden Impact,” the fourth film in the Dirty Harry series, was filmed on location at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk in 1983. Clint Eastwood starred in and directed the film, which features the Boardwalk as a key setting.

Is Santa Cruz Beach swimmable?

Yes, Santa Cruz beach is swimmable. Cowell Beach, located on the west side of the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, is the most popular spot for open water swimming. This small cove is generally protected from the wind by tall cliffs, making it an ideal setting for swimmers.

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