There is just so much to do at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk! From amusement park rides to boardwalk games and arcade games, plus miniature golf, laser tag, and bowling, not to mention the beautiful beach and so much delicious, over-the-top food to eat! If you’re planning a trip to Santa Cruz, be sure to include a visit to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for some fun! Keep reading to learn about 15 Fun Things to Do at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk!
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What to Do at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
History at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
If you love history, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has tons of it! 115 years of history!
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is California’s oldest amusement park. In 1865, a bathhouse was opened in the area and then more bathhouses cropped up around it. Tourists came to soak in the salt water at the bathhouses and soon concessions cropped up around them including restaurants, photo stands, and curio shops.
Plans were then made to build a boardwalk and casino similar to Coney Island and in June of 1907 the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and Coconut Grove ballroom opened.
In 1911, the Looff Carousel was added. The carousel was manufactured in the Charles I.D. Looff factory in Long Beach, California and is considered a “pure” carousel since all 73 horses were carved by one master carver. It also features a working brass ring dispenser! Riders on the outside horses can try to grab a ring from the dispenser as they pass by and then attempt to throw the ring into a target which is a large clown’s mouth. It is one of only 20 ring dispensers still operating in the world. Steel rings are used today, but commemorative brass rings are used for special occasions. Fun fact: the horses all have real horse hair tails.
The Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster was built in 1924 by Charles Looff’s son, Arthur Looff. His team built it in 47 days! It has a height of 70 feet and a top speed of 55 mph. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1987 and has become the crown jewel of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
Visit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Historium
If you want to learn more, be sure to visit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Historium museum. It’s a free exhibit located on the second floor of Neptune’s Kingdom that includes photographs and memorabilia including some antique arcade games.
Take a Historic Walking Tour
Or you can take the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Historic Walking Tour!
Download the Historic Walking Tour Brochure and start at Neptune’s Kingdom. Follow along in the brochure as it guides you through the Boardwalk and tells you about the Boardwalk’s past. It also guides you to the 18 interpretive signs located throughout the park printed with even more history information and photos.
See Laffing Sal or Get Your Fortune at a Fortune Teller Machine
Step back in time and watch Laffing Sal laugh maniacally. Or get your fortune read at one of the three fortune teller machines including Ye Olde Pirate, Grandma Fortune Teller, or Estrella.
Rides at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is one of the few places where you can enjoy amusement park rides right along the beach.
Ride the Giant Dipper
The Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster was built in 1924 and has thrilled over 60 million riders to this day.
I rode the Giant Dipper for the first time as a freshman at UC Santa Cruz and most recently with my husband on a trip to show him around Santa Cruz. If you’re used to more modern rides, I guarantee you that this old wooden roller coaster is still thrilling!
Ride the Looff Carousel
The Looff Carousel is a must-ride, gorgeous merry-go-round. See the history information about the carousel that I mentioned above to learn more about the ring dispenser!
Ride the Sea Swings
The Sea Swings are just absolutely gorgeous! The paint job and design makes it look old, but it’s only been operating since 2008. Be sure to jump on for a swing ride by the sea!
Ride the Sky Glider
I’m not going to lie, the Sky Glider might be the scariest ride on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Every time it passes through one of the pylons and drops down on the other side, you think it’s going to snap and you’ll fall to your death. But you still have to take a ride on them! The view from the Sky Glider is gorgeous!
And of course the many more thrill rides that are offered at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk!
Play Some Games at the Beach!
From carnival-style games to arcade games to a two-story miniature golf course, laser tag, and bowling, there is something for everyone to enjoy!
Boardwalk Games on the Beach
Grab some tickets and play carnival games on the boardwalk including Break-A-Plate, Dime Toss, Balloon Bust, Milk Bottle, Ring Toss, Roll-A-Ball, and various water squirting games!
Or play some games inside the Casino Arcade including Skee-Ball, Pinball, Air Hockey, and more arcade-style games. Collect tickets to redeem for a prize!
Neptune’s Kingdom includes Buccaneer Bay Miniature Golf which is a two-story, 18-hole mini-golf course.
Neptune’s Kingdom also offers laser tag, Smuggler’s Arcade which features a variety of class arcade games, and the Captain’s Game Deck which offers air hockey, foosball, pool, and ping pong.
Go Bowling at the Boardwalk Bowl
Lace up your bowling shoes and roll a strike at the Boardwalk Bowl! A bowling alley has existed at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk since 1909. It began as a 4-lane “duckpin” alley (using smaller pins) and has changed locations over the years and is now named the Boardwalk Bowl and features a bowling alley, arcade, restaurant, karaoke club, and lounge.
Enjoy the Beach at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Don’t forget about the beautiful beach at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk! Go for a stroll on the sand or wear your swimsuit and enjoy the water! Just don’t forget a towel and some sunscreen!
Eat Delicious, Over-the-Top Food
Hot dogs, corn dogs, french fries, pizza, tacos, deep-fried Twinkies, funnel cakes, soft-serve ice cream, cotton candy, boba, churros, and more!
Be sure to stop by Marini’s for saltwater taffy, caramel apples, cotton candy, and handmade chocolates. Marini’s has been a Santa Cruz institution since 1915!
Shop for Souvenirs
Shop for some beachy souvenirs along the boardwalk!
My pick for best souvenir: an iconic “Santa Cruz” tee-shirt.
I already owned a “Santa Cruz” sweatshirt from when I went to college in Santa Cruz, so my husband and I got matching airbrushed shirts the last time we were there. They feel very 80s or 90s! And in fact, we saw nearly the exact same shirts being made in the opening for The Lost Boys movie which premiered in 1987!
Other souvenir ideas include some saltwater taffy from Marini’s or win a prize at one of the carnival games!
Free Concerts and Movies in the Summer
During the summer, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk offers free concerts and movies on the beach! Be sure to check the schedule to see which bands and movies are playing.
For the movies, bring a blanket or low-back chairs.
And, of course, The Lost Boys vampire movie which was filmed at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and other locations in Santa Cruz will be shown in October for Halloween.
Tips for Visiting the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is located at 400 Beach St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060.
Take Highway 17 or scenic Highway 1 to Santa Cruz and follow the street signs to Santa Cruz Beach.
The Boardwalk offers all-day parking in a parking lot near the Boardwalk entrance; however, the parking rates change if it’s a weekend, weekday, limited-ride day, or rides are closed.
Parking also fills up on busy weekends and holidays, so an additional parking lot located at Government Center at 701 Ocean Street, Santa Cruz is offered for $10 with a shuttle ride. This is limited to certain dates, so check the website before parking.
Hours for the rides, games, and food stands vary at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Be sure to check the website for accurate, up-to-date information.
Does it cost to go to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk?
Admission to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is free. Even when the rides are closed, the boardwalk is still open to the public if you would like to walk along and enjoy the colorful scenery.
However, games and rides cost tickets and tickets can be purchased for individual rides or you can purchase an All-Day Ride Wristband. I highly recommend looking up the costs before heading out so you can plan and budget accordingly.
I hope you have an awesome day at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk!
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Golden State Getaways wants to acknowledge that we live, operate, gather, and benefit everyday on the traditional stolen lands of several Indigenous peoples and nations including the Tongva (Gabrieleno), Kizh (Gabrieleno), Chumash, Popeloutchom (Amah Mutsun), Ohlone, Awaswas, and Fernandeño Tataviam peoples who have stewarded the lands and waterways throughout their many generations in what is now the state of California.
I wanted to personally acknowledge these Indigenous people and nations and both their commitment and current contributions to the land with a donation to the American Indian College Fund because acknowledgment without action does not begin to address the systemic issues facing Indigenous people. If you feel as though you benefit from the land you’re living on or traveling to and you have the means, I kindly ask that you donate at least $1 to a Native-led organization such as the Native American Rights Fund or the American Indian College Fund.
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is located in Santa Cruz which is located on Popeloutchom (Amah Mutsun), Ohlone, and Awaswas land. You can learn more about the Indigenous land you’re living on or traveling to by visiting the Native Lands website.