The smell of the sea, cotton candy, and popcorn. The screams of happy kids – and adults – on ocean-front rides. Indoor mini-golf and outdoor rollercoasters. That’s the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, well-known for its iconic rides, long history, and of course, the beachfront setting. With free admission, live summer concerts, and rides aimed at everyone from small children to excitement-craving adults, it’s no wonder the park has been continuously operating 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. Also a part of the park: a large selection of arcade games from video to redemption, pinball, and vintage games, a laser tag arena, bowling center, and the aforementioned mini-golf which offers two stories of tee-time fun.
Spanning the wide beach along the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the popular park is just 35 miles south of San Jose, and 70 miles from San Francisco, attracting patrons from throughout the state.
According to Kris Reyes, park director, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk works hard to keep things exciting. “This year we’re replacing our Crazy Surf Ride with a similar but new ride we’re calling New Crazy Surf, called Super Miami by the manufacturer, Technical Park; ours will have a surf theme,” Reyes attests. “2017 was a big year for us, we created a brand new main entrance, added 2 new rides – Typhoon and Shockwave, completely remodeled and expanded our popular walk-through attraction Fright Walk, and added a new crepe restaurant – Cruzin’ Crepes, which was a finalist for a Brass Ring Award at IAAPA last year.” The Vault Laser Maze was also expanded to cut wait times and add an even more immersive experience. A new birthday party room was also added.
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 main entrance project cost $14 million dollars, and was completed by local contractor Slatter Construction after nine months of work, and decades of planning. Fright Night has a new “under the boardwalk” location that includes creatively daunting sea-serpent gargoyles made by Daniels Wood Land. And the Vault Laser Maze will accommodate more thrill seekers than before, cutting the wait time for the attraction.
But some of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk’s most popular attractions are historic. “The Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster is our most popular ride. Built in 1924, it’s a National Historic Landmark and has provided a lot of special memories for generations of Northern Californians,” Reyes relates. Over 60 million riders have enjoyed the twist and turns of the Giant Dipper. “The Looff Carousel is our oldest ride and also a National Historic Landmark,” he adds. “It was built in 1911, and is one of the few left in the country with a working ring machine. The element of skill attracts kids of all ages who love to see if they can get a brass ring in the clown’s mouth. It’s somewhat difficult, and makes the ride a lot more interesting,” Reyes explains. “Our new ride from 2017, Shockwave, is a really fun family ride and already a big hit in our park.”
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 these are thrill rides, tamer family rides are also popular attractions, including the Space Race bumper car ride with a glow-in-the-dark outer space theme, and the Sea Serpent family coaster in bright chartreuse. While not as historic as the carousel or Giant Dipper, the circa-1961 sweetness of the Cave Train ride takes families on a glow-in-the-dark train ride under the boardwalk while featuring its 60s era characters. The littlest riders will enjoy bouncing in the Bouncin’ Buggies or on the Bulgy the Whale ride. There’s a Sea Dragon ride too, which also accommodates parents.
All in all, the park features over 40 rides and attractions, along with 26 midway games, gift and specialty shops, and a whopping 31 restaurant and food outlets. Indeed, the food selections are a real crowd pleasing part of the fun, including such distinctive treats as corn dogs made from a secret family recipe, deep fried artichokes, chocolate covered bacon, and deep fried Twinkies. In 2018, the park switched from Pepsi beverage products to Coca Cola, Reyes notes.
Boardwalk admission is free, with individual ride tickets, all-day ride wristbands, group discounts, and season passes all available. The park operates from Memorial Day through Labor Day for all rides, with a more limited selection available April 1st to Memorial Day. Arcades and bowling are open year ‘round.
Reyes says that the Casino Arcade is the largest in Northern California. And, along with the rides, arcade offerings, and foodie fun, the boardwalk is also one of the region’s top entertainment venues, featuring free Friday Night Bands on the Beach and Free Movies on the Beach. And off-season, in February, the annual Clam Chowder Cook Off is held at the park, benefitting the City of Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation Department.
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has been a favorite destination for San Francisco Bay Area families for over a century, and to keep family attendees coming, Reyes says “We advertise on radio and TV stations throughout the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, including Silicon Valley. Increasingly, social media allows us to go directly to our guests to inform them about special events, and keep them thinking about our beautiful park.” A free monthly newsletter for guests who sign up to join the park’s Big Kahuna Club, and a season pass holders newsletter, are also a part of the promotional mix, offering the latest park news as well as discounts and special event information.