There's something timeless about the old-fashioned Santa Cruz boardwalk, with it's row of funky rides, decadent junk food stands, and low-key, beach bum atmosphere. A true California experience...or maybe, how California used to be.
It's like going back in time, when amusement parks on the beach were innocent and amateurish, but loads of fun. It's the only seaside amusement park on the West Coast.
And bring your bathing suit; the boardwalk has one of the nicest swimming beaches in Northern California.
Surf's Up! Do you feel your inner surfer coming out? If you've ever wanted to try surfing, Santa Cruz is a mellow place for beginners to get their feet wet. They have a 3 hour lesson available for those just starting out (they provide all the gear). See surf lessons for more info and booking.
The Santa Cruz Boardwalk is not a large amusement park, but it has a decent variety of rides. A sampling:
...and lots more: mini golf, arcade games, bowling, climbing wall, etc.
This is an antique (but well-maintained), wooden roller coaster, which opened here in 1924. It's been featured in various films and TV shows over the years, and was named a National Historic Landmark.
Laffing Sal (sister of the one at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco) is here, in all her weirdness.
Hot dogs, pizza, cotton candy, deep-fried Twinkies, burgers, funnel cakes, sno-cones, Italian ice cream, kettle korn....feeling a little nauseated? It's all good, as long as you don't do it too often.
You can get some fun (temporary) tattoos while you're there, too.
Individual tickets are $3 to $6 per ride; it probably makes more sense to get one of the combo tickets, starting at $31.95 (unlimited rides), if you want to go on lots of them.
Hours vary, depending on the season. Generally speaking, open daily all summer, until 11 p.m. Spring, daily but more limited hours and rides. Winter and fall, weekends 11 a.m. till 7 or 8 p.m. Check their website for details: Boardwalk hours.
Santa Cruz has a couple of cool, free entertainment traditions at the boardwalk in summer (June-August):
Santa Cruz is about an hour and twenty minutes from San Francisco. The boardwalk is located at 400 Beach Street, and there's a parking lot across the street. Notice the train tracks in front of the boardwalk? See train info below.
Weirdness Central. Balls roll uphill and the laws of physics are turned upside down. Located on the outskirts of town. Very cool. More info on the Mystery Spot.
Hike, camp and fish in the nearby redwoods. Closest ones are in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Mt. Hermon Road exit off Highway 17, just after you come over the mountains and before you get to Santa Cruz. We had a great experience camping there amongst the big trees.
This is great fun, highly recommended! Ride the Santa Cruz Beach Train, an old steam engine train, from the mountains in Felton (station is right near the HQ for Henry Cowell State Park, above) down to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, or vice versa. 3 hours round trip, start at either end. Daily in summer, weekends spring and fall. My son loved it when he was little, and so did I. See Roaring Camp Railroad.
For a shorter, one hour experience, take the Redwood Forest Steam Train up the mountain on a narrow gauge track, into the Big Trees and across a gorge on a trestle bridge.
This train leaves from Roaring Camp in Felton, near Santa Cruz, off Highway 17. See Redwood Steam Train for more info and booking.
It's back, but only through June 30, 2017.
(But it might become permanent.)