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.
Note: I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase through the link below, at no extra cost to you. This helps me provide all the free information I post on this website.
See Redwood Steam Train for more info and booking.
COVID-19 Status: at midnight on Monday, March 16, San Francisco was placed under a "shelter-in-place order.
All residents were ordered to stay home, except for necessary trips to grocery stores and essential medical visits, and solo outdoor activities like hiking.
The city was gradually reopening of many businesses and activities, but in December, came under a strict, stay-at-home directive, due to a sudden increase in infection and hospitalization rates.
Since then, Covid numbers had dropped significantly, but recently started rising again.
Big changes arrived June 15, 2021: California is "fully reopened", meaning all business sectors will reopen to full or almost full capacity, including concerts, stadium sports and festivals. SF is basically open, though somewhat more cautious in some regards.
As of June 15, 2021, about 70% of SF residents had been fully vaccinated.
Some bars and restaurants are now requiring vaccination proof for entry.
Public transportation options had been cut back, but are expanding again. See SF transit for more info.
The cable cars are expected to resume running in September, starting with the Powell-Hyde Line, and the other 2 lines to follow after.
See COVID rules for current SF status.
Mask rules: another change, starting August 3, 2021. Everyone is now required to wear a mask indoors in SF, whether vaccinated or not. People may go without masks outdoors unless the area is densely populated. Hospitals, schools, nursing homes and public transit, still require masks./p>
What is open? Muir Woods, the Botanic Gardens, Golden Gate Park, Japanese Tea Garden, Pier 39, SF beaches, Golden Gate Bridge, and Twin Peaks (car access on Portola, main parking lot open) are all open.
Parking lots for SF beaches, Twin Peaks, and the Golden Gate Bridge are open, including the Welcome Center lot.
Restaurants can now be open to full capacity for indoor and outdoor dining, and many restaurants are open for take-out or delivery.
Bars that serve food can serve customers indoors.
Businesses can allow customers inside, up to full capacity. Malls are open.The SF Zoo is open again.
Offices can reopen up to full capacity.
Alcatraz is open. The Day Tours are running on a reduced basis. The Cell Block is open also. See Alcatraz.
Hair salons, and open air tour buses and boat cruises can now operate.
Indoor museums are open, including the CA Academy of Sciences.
Travel to SF. Per the California Dept. of Public Health: non-essential travel to SF from outside California is discouraged but the quarantine requirements are no longer in effect.
Unvaccinated travelers are urged to get tested before and after arrival, and to self-quarantine for 7 days, but this isn't mandatory.
"Non-essential travel" basically means tourism.
Hotels are accepting reservations, but travelers are urged to limit contact with others in the hotel.
Indoor swimming pools are open to fullcapacity.
Schools: many private schools are open. SF public schools started in-person learning for elementary students April 12. Older grades: negotiations are ongoing. Hopefully all grade levels will be open for in-person fall classes. Masks will be required for students in SF public schools in the fall.
Indoor gyms and indoor movie theaters are open to full capacity.
Indoor concerts, live theater, and sporting events, may open at full capacity. For indoor gatherings of >5,000, proof of vaccination or negative Covid test will be required.
Outdoor events for >10,000: may require proof of vaccination or negative test, but aren't required to.
Check individual events for requirements.
Napa and Sonoma county wineries are open.
For a handy list of what's open or closed, in California, see California reopening schedules.
See coronavirus news in the SF Chronicle for details and updates.
Also see site and parking lot closures for the National Park Service (Alcatraz, Muir Woods, etc.)
Plus helpful info on which parks and hiking trails are open in the Bay Area.
Get the latest tips on visiting San Francisco.