Beat Boredom at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Tired of the same old beach (or worse, the same old swimming pool)? Try visiting the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Located in sunny Santa Cruz, California, the Boardwalk is part carnival, part amusement park, part shopping mall, and right on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The best part is that it’s admissions free for those who just want to shop or surf. Buy tickets for the rides, or an all-day or season pass.

Most visitors come for the half-mile long stretch of classic amusement park rides at California’s oldest amusement park. The Looff Carousel, built in 1911, and the Giant Dipper, a wooden roller coaster built in 1924, are the most famous attractions, as well as registered national historic landmarks. The Boardwalk also has a more modern assortment of weather-themed thrill rides, from the Hurricane, a coaster with a 4.5 Gs drop and 80 degree turns, to the quick spinning Tornado and Whirlwind. The brand-spanking-new Double Shot shoots riders 125 feet up a tower, then, after a moment of weightlessness, drops them back to earth. Most of the thrill rides also provide a stunning view of the ocean.

More family-friendly rides are the bumper cars (a must-have for any true amusement park), the Haunted Castle, the Cave Train, and the Skyglider, which takes visitors on a tram over the park. For thrill-seeking youngsters, the Sea Serpent is a roller coaster that’s safe for the whole family. And what would any ocean-side amusement park be without water rides? Logger’s Revenge is a quick drop that will cool you off quick.

For those looking for more grounded amusements, the Boardwalk features two arcades, the Casino Arcade and Neptune’s Kingdom, laser tag, mini golf, and the 26-lane Boardwalk Bowl. The midway has a huge assortment of classic and modern carnival games, from the dime toss and darts to Long Shot Basketball. Shops line the Boardwalk, from Boardwalk Bargains (everything $12.99 or less) to O’Neill, and many other ocean-themed stores. For more devoted shoppers, the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf is within walking distance, with a variety of shops and restaurants, and Santa Cruz’s downtown, with movie theaters, bookstores, and art galleries lining Pacific Avenue, is just a few blocks away.

Concerts take place at the Beach Boardwalk every summer, too, with local and cover bands as well as famous performers like the Drifters and Papa Doo Run Run. Yearly events hosted by the park include the Clam Chowder Cook Off, the Big Kahuna Triathlon, the Santa Cruz Wheelchair Bowling Tournament, and Hot Rods on the Beach.

Food booths reminiscent of a county fair line the Boardwalk, selling soft-serve ice cream, funnel cake, tacos, and corn dogs. Restaurants with names like Fisherman’s Galley, Barbary Coast, Barnacle Bill’s, and Surf City Grill dot the landscape, as well as more standard fare, like a Pizza Hut Express. Beach bums can satisfy their sweet tooth at Marini’s Saltwater Taffy, and anyone looking for more healthy food can try California Wraps.

Of course, the most important part of the Beach Boardwalk is the beach. Visitors can step off of the raised wooden sidewalk that gives the Boardwalk its name onto a beautiful, mile-long stretch of hot white sand. The crashing waves attract surfers from the area (those interested can take lessons with several nearby surf shops and schools). For the less adventurous are traditional beach activities, like swimming, tanning, and volleyball. Be sure to bring sunscreen, hats and sunglasses, though; sunburns are almost guaranteed otherwise. Occasionally those sea breezes get chilly, too, especially after dark, so sweaters or sweatshirts are recommended as well.

The Boardwalk is open daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day, from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. (Monday through Saturday) or 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. (Sunday). During the fall and spring, it’s open on holidays and weekends, with a short hiatus each winter for ride and park maintenance. The shops and arcades are open year-round, except on Christmas day. For more information, ride ticket and pass prices, accessibility information, a calendar of events and directions, visit

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