From Santa Monica to Santa Cruz and the San Diego area, boardwalk amusement parks are a popular place to play in Southern California. There are four such parks in the state: Pacific Park located on the Santa Monica Pier; the extensive Santa Cruz Boardwalk south of San Francisco; the diminutive Balboa Fun Zone in Newport Beach; and Belmont Park in San Diego.
Pacific Park is the west coast’s only amusement park on a pier. With a dozen rides, a variety of midway games, and restaurants offering fried sea food, the admission-free park offers an iconic location that’s been featured in a myriad of feature films and TV shows.
One of the park’s most popular rides, according to public relations staff, is the world’s first and only solar powered Ferris Wheel. Offering an expansive view of the Pacific Ocean and coast line, it’s a smooth ride with beautiful, color-changing LED night lighting. It rises more than 130 feet above the pier.
The park has plenty of history: in 1916 Charles I. D. Looff, who built Coney Island's first carousel, constructed what was then called the Pleasure Pier which included the Santa Monica Looff Hippodrome building. Today that building holds the park’s current carousel. The pier was closed during the Depression, and decades passed before the city acquired ownership of the pier and restored it.
Besides the Ferris Wheel, the park also houses the West Coaster, a steel roller coaster that reaches speeds of 35 miles per hour, and runs around the edge of the park; the Sea Dragon pirate ship swing ride; and family fun rides such as Sig Alert EV, a bumper car ride named for SoCal’s traffic alert system. The ride has easy to maneuver dual joy stick levers and neoprene bumper tubes that avoid bumping shock. Children’s rides include the Frog Hopper, a low-height, bouncing drop tower.
380 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA 90401
On the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, admission is also free at a park that’s been operating continuously since 1907. Two of the park’s rides are National Historic Landmarks: the 1924 Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster, which still makes riders thrill to its dips and turns; and the intricately detailed Looff Carousel. The park is also known for an extensive selection of arcade games from video to redemption, pinball, and vintage games; a laser tag arena, bowling center, and a two-storied mini-golf attraction.
The park runs along the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary 35 miles south of San Jose, and 70 miles from San Francisco. A new addition to the boardwalk arrived this year, the Crazy Surf; last year two other rides were added, Typhoon and Shockwave; and the popular walk-through attraction Fright Walk was completely revamped. A new crepe restaurant – Cruzin’ Crepes, was a finalist for a Brass Ring Award at IAAPA last year.
Typhoon is a thrill ride that launches guests six stories above the boardwalk and creates scream-worthy upside down thrills, while Shockwave acts as a rocking wave. The park’s main entrance was also revamped.
Other popular rides include the spinning roller coaster Undertow; Double Shot, a drop ride that offers an expansive ocean view with its thrills; and the hang-gliding aerodynamics of Cliff Hanger. While not as historic as the carousel or Giant Dipper, the circa-1961 Cave Train ride takes families on a glow-in-the-dark train ride under the boardwalk. In all, the park features over 40 rides and attractions, 26 midway games, gift and specialty shops, and 31 restaurant and food outlets.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
400 Beach St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
The Balboa Fun Zone is a small amusement area along Newport Bay, adjoining the Balboa Island Ferry. This Orange County park has a small Ferris Wheel that has one of the longest rides on a wheel around. There’s an arcade filled with redemption and video games, too. The Fun Zone was built in 1936 by Al Anderson; over the years it languished, was revamped, and changed hands many times. The boardwalk itself, with its fast food and ice cream, game arcade, and Ferris Wheel are the classic attractions. In 2013, three new rides opened, Ocean Motion, Fish Pipe, and Burt the Bull Shark.
Ocean Motion is an 18’ tall bungee ride; Fish Pipe gets riders wet while sliding inside a giant, rapidly rotating transparent plastic sphere. Burt the Bull Shark is 12’ long, weighs 2,000 pounds and tries to buck riders off his back.
The Balboa Fun Zone also features a raised patio with attractive bay views, and is home to the Balboa Auto Ferry which carries passengers and cars 900 feet from nearby Balboa Island to the Balboa Fun Zone, operating the 3-minute trip during summer months.
Last but not least, the Balboa Fun Zone is also home to ExplorOcean, a non-profit, marine educational attraction that allows guests to build and pilot advanced underwater submarines in the boardwalk aquarium, touch tide pool creatures, and lets visiting children take on immersive adventures as a navigator, engineer, or first mate. A rain forest adventure, and the Dinosaurs Around the World exhibition are examples of rotating experiences in an attraction which fuses science learning with hands-on fun.
Balboa Fun Zone
600 E Bay Ave, Newport Beach, CA 92661
Located on Mission Beach in San Diego, Belmont Park features amusement park rides, a zip-line, climbing wall, mini-golf, laser tag, fast food, and a beach-front location. The park offers free admission and sells unlimited ride wristbands that include rides on the renowned Giant Dipper roller coaster. Also located here is the Escapology escape room, with a choice of 60-minute escape adventures. The historic park was originally built by sugar magnate John D. Spreckles in 1925.
Like the park itself, the wooden coaster The Giant Dipper was built in 1925, and still thrills with dips, turns, and high speeds. Less historic but still popular is the Beach Blaster, which swings passengers up to 60 feet in the air going 120-degrees in both directions – while spinning. Overdrive Bumper Cars and Krazy Cars for younger children are also top attractions. Classic rides such as the Tilt-a-Whirl and the Liberty Carousel are family favorites. And little kids love the Belmont Express, a four-car train ride that ferries passengers along the park’s midway. Enjoy food treats such as Dole Whip or a classic Italian espresso at Draft Coffee. The game arcade is packed with cutting edge games and traditional fun like Frogger and Pac-Man.
3146 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109