Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
May 17, 2012
Forget all your troubles, the lights are brighter in Santa Cruz. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk may reek of the vilest junk foods ever to fry at an amusement park but the rides are truckloads of fun, you can cruise by in flip-flops and the location can’t be beat. Pacific Ocean sunset with your Giant Dipper ride all lit up, kids? Sandcastles play during your sister’s scary ride? Beach Boys-inspired concerts on the beach? Oh yes please mom – and while we’re at it, can we get a season pass? And we did. We have a season pass for the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk because both my 8-year old and my 6-year old girls love going there.
Maybe I’ve watched The Lost Boys one time too many, but to me the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has a timeless summer vacation feel. People screaming their heads off on scary rides, kids running around on sugar high, tattooed surfer dudes and teen babes, it’s a quintessential amusement park that – thank god – doesn’t know the 20th century is history. Even the wharf with its tourist-trap restaurants is a sight to behold when day turns to night and the twinkling lights of the jetty reflect in the water. For all these reasons and despite the fact that it’s tacky, loud and pricey, we love this park and never go through Santa Cruz without stopping there.
We started taking our junior crew to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk when they were 3 and 5 years old. On a clear winter day, our girls discovered Neptune Kingdom’s indoor pirate minigolf with animated figures and thunderstorms (they freaked out when the lights blinked). They asked for 4 turns each at the Looff Carousel, a 1911 National Landmark where kids and adults ride hand-carved figures and can play at ring toss. They ate their first corn dog, the first of a corn dog love story that continues to this day. It was love at first ride.
This visit sealed our Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk fate. Every other year we came back, the girls got bigger, and last year my 8-year old asked for her birthday to be a full day at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk with 7 friends. Here’s the plan for your next day trip.
My girls’ favorite rides
Well, there’s always the corn dog option and corn dogs are easy to find, as well as funnel cakes, garlic fries, saltwater taffy, hot dawgs, popcorn (very tasty at that), all forms of ice cream and the ultimate in amusement park heart-clogging junk food – deep fried Twinkies. You can read A Little Yumminess’ Junky Food Adventure for a first-hand mom account of the food options.
For “real” food within walking distance, you may want to check out the Wharf and its tourist-trap overpriced restaurants. We had dinner at Gilda’s Family Restaurant where we got the full diner experience. Diner menu, diner-quality food, kid-friendly and group-friendly. Not exceptional but edible (except the industrial olives on the salad – eeek). I hear that the other restaurants have all revamped their menus and remodeled their dining rooms. I’m looking forward to trying a “real” non-Wharf non-Boardwalk restaurant next time.
We usually try to find free street parking sand that’s perfectly do-able if you’re willing to walk 4 or 5 blocks. Otherwise there’s a big flat-fee parking lot behind the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. If you intend to have dinner on the Wharf later, I’d suggest parking on the Wharf directly. It’s a quick scenic walk to the Boardwalk.
Getting There by Train
You read well. You can get to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk by train if you board one of the steam engines at Roaring Camp Railroads in Felton. Their Santa Cruz Beach Train travels through Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, down the San Lorenzo River Gorge, across a 1909 steel truss bridge and through a tunnel before dropping you right in front of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Take the morning train, have fun at the beach, come back by the 4.15pm train. And camp at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park while you’re at it. It’s a beautiful redwood forest.
What’s your favorite Boardwalk experience?