A Guide to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Twilight at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
••• Twilight at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Thomas Hawk/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a thriving American seaside amusement park, one of only about two dozen such places still in operation and the largest on the West Coast. Open since 1907; the entire amusement park is a California Historic Landmark, and the 1911 Looff Carousel and the 1924 Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster are registered National Historic Landmarks on their own.

Don't get the wrong idea, though.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is as popular as ever, and it was named “Best Seaside Amusement Park” in the 2013 Golden Ticket Awards given by Amusement Today magazine.

Most popular among the 35 Boardwalk rides are the Giant Dipper, the Carousel and Double Shot, a tower ride that offers panoramic views before dropping you 125 feet. Their Haunted Castle is an amped-up version of the old-fashioned house of horrors lurking in the basement below the Boardwalk itself.

You'll also find games and arcades, miniature golf, shopping, restaurants and fast food stands. Free Movies on the Beach happen on summer Wednesday nights. Free concerts are held on summer Friday nights.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Tips

  • Some rides have height limits, and on others, small children (under 34 inches tall) can ride free with a paying chaperon.
  • When you're going to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, think of it like you're spending the day at the beach. Bring hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, water and so on.
  • Leave Bowser at home unless he's a service dog. Pets are not allowed on the boardwalk.
  • If you're on a tight budget, bring a picnic and buy as many tickets as you can afford, then let the kids figure out how to budget their fun.
  • We think the boardwalk is especially pretty at night. Instead of trying to get there before everyone else, go out in the early afternoon, stay after sunset and avoid the worst traffic as a bonus.
  • For free movies or concerts, plan to get there early. It is first to come first serve, and spots go pretty quick. Pack a picnic and stake out your spot on the sand.

We rate Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk 3.5 stars out of 4 for its fun vibe and excellent location. We just wish it wasn't so hard to get out there from the Bay Area on the weekend.

What You Need to Know

Hours vary seasonally. Visit their website for current hours.  You can walk on the boardwalk for free, but you'll pay for the rides and amusements. They offer several ticket options, ranging from a single ride ticket to an unlimited all-day or season pass. Allow at least a few hours, and even up to all day long. The best time to visit If you want to avoid crowds is going in spring or fall, but for the maximum fun, summer is the only alternative.

Getting There

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
400 Beach Street
Santa Cruz California, CA
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Website

By automobile, take CA Hwy 17 or CA Hwy 1 to Santa Cruz and follow the street signs to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Traffic on Hwy 17 builds up on weekend mornings; get an early start to avoid inching across the summit.

Street parking in the area is scarce, metered and has short time limits.

You're better off just to park in the big lots (for a fee) nearby. Think of the parking fee as a substitute for admission, and maybe you'll feel better about it.

From downtown San Jose, you can also take the Highway 17 Express bus which connects to Caltrain, making it possible to get all the way to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk from San Francisco.

If You Liked the Boardwalk

You may also like Belmont Park, on San Diego's Mission Bay — or the Santa Monica Pier where you'll find the third of California's three remaining beachside amusement parks.