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Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Trip Report For 25 May 2013

By on 05/30/2013

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

For Memorial Day weekend, we drove up to Santa Cruz, CA so that my son could check out the local university.  While we were there, we thought it would be fun to spend some time at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Located right on the sands of Monterey Bay, against the mighty Pacific Ocean, it’s been voted World’s Best Seaside Amusement Park multiple times over the years. I had been there once, but it was a very long time ago.

The first thing we saw as we pulled into the parking lot was a beautiful old building labeled Neptune’s Kingdom. The colors were bright and vibrant and I loved the sea creatures that tied into the Neptune theme. We learned later that this this building was originally called The Plunge and housed a very large community swimming pool:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

The entire back of the Neptune’s Kingdom building is a covered breezeway with shops, restaurants, and steps right down onto the sandy beach:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

The building seems even bigger when you step inside. It’s a little overwhelming how much there is to see and do. There are pool tables, air hockey, pinball machines, arcade games, and even some old fortune teller-type machines. One end of the building is the Buccaneer Bay miniature golf course. It has a heavy pirate theme, a second floor complete with canons, and an amazing mural on the entire back wall:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

The actual Boardwalk was pretty empty when we arrived because we got there a little before they opened. There’s no admission fee and the beach is public access, so everybody is welcome to just show up and check it out at no cost:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

There is a performance stage setup on the beach facing the Boardwalk. I was surprised to learn that they provide free concerts on Friday night throughout the summer. The 2013 lineup features well known bands such as Gin Blossoms, The Tubes, Blue Öyster Cult, Berlin, Foghat, and Eddie Money. They also show free movies every Wednesday night:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

With the rides starting to open up, we figured it was time to get tickets. Each ride takes from 3-6 tickets, with tickets costing $1.00 each. If there’s only a couple of rides you want to try, this is a good way to go. However, we wanted to ride everything we possibly could, so we opted for the Rides+Attractions Combo wristband. For $38.95/person, we got unlimited rides on everything, plus tickets for our choice of any two attractions. More on the attractions later. There are a couple of different ticket booths spread across the Boardwalk. Here’s my wife getting her wristband applied at one of the ticket booths:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

As the very first roller coaster that I ever rode, the Giant Dipper was by far the one thing that I was most looking forward to riding that day:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

As the signature ride of Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, I decided to cover the Giant Dipper roller coaster in a little more depth. You can read my overview of it here.

The first ride we came across after getting our wristbands was the Speed Bumps bumper cars. Unfortunately it wasn’t open yet and we never made it back there later in the day:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

The first ride we actually got on was Rock & Roll. If I’m not mistaken, and based on the theming, this is a Music Express ride. Each car is themed to a car from the 50’s and it played music from that era as well. An unexpected bonus was that it not only went forward, but we also got to go backwards, which I hadn’t done in a very long time:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Next up was Riptide, a classic Tilt-a-Whirl ride. I honestly couldn’t tell you how long it’s been since I’ve been on one of these, but the whole family enjoyed it:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

I was very excited to see a Rock-O-Plane ride. I used to go on these all the time at our annual county fair where I grew up in Oregon. My 14 year old son was brave enough to ride it with me, even though he knows how much I like things to spin. Sure enough, if we weren’t spinning, we were locked upside-down! This brought back great memories:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

As we reached the end of the Boardwalk, we were surprised with a Himalaya ride called Tsunami, just like the one at my local park back home. It was very colorful, well themed, and went both forward and backwards. I hate to admit it, but this ride is way better than the one back home:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Just as I thought we had reached the end of the Boardwalk, I looked down and saw a whole other section with even more rides:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

We walked by a kids ride called Convoy. I’ve seen product placement on rides before, but never to the extent that the entire ride was themed to the product:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

The Tornado was our next ride. I’ve seen these but have never been on one before. My 17 year old son wisely sat this one out. The base unit spins at a fairly slow RPM and then you control the direction and speed of spin on your four person pod that hangs off of each arm by turning a wheel located in the center of the pod. I never get sick on any rides, but I am so glad that we did this one before lunch! I had our pod spinning so fast that I started to get nauseous. I stopped the spinning and kept it as neutral as possible until the ride finally came to a stop. This one is a stomach churner for sure:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

As The Coaster Guy, I surely had to get a ride in on the family roller coaster known as the Sea Serpent. My kids were too embarrassed to get on it with me, but my wife wasn’t. I even let her sit in the front car, because that’s the kind of guy I am:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Next up was a ride on the Cave Train Adventure. This was a nice dark ride on a train through Caverock Junction (is that right?). There were a variety of whimsical scenes set in the stone age, with characters that reminded me a lot of the Flintstones:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Ghost Blasters was a very fun interactive dark ride by Sally Corporation in which you use handheld blasters to shoot ghost targets and score points. It’s very much like Astro Blasters at Disneyland, if you’re familiar with that ride. Everyone enjoyed this ride:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

We were starting to get hungry, so we decided to take the Sky Glider back to the other side of the Boardwalk to grab some lunch. The Sky Glider is a gondola ride that soars high over the Boardwalk, giving you a great view of everything below:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

The Boardwalk is literally built right along an absolutely beautiful stretch of beach:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

The Fire Ball is an extreme thrill ride that I wanted to try, but it was closed for the day:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

As the day progressed, it started to get busier, but it never got too crowded. It was nice:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

I just loved the little whimsical touches that popped up every now and then. This guy is like the cast of characters that were seen in the Cave Train Adventure:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

I was really hoping that the brand new Undertow spinning roller coaster was going to be open by Memorial Day weekend so I could ride it, but it wasn’t meant to be. However, the ride looks fantastic! I had no idea that it was being built on top of a building. This just gives me an excuse to drive back up to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk later this summer:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

I had mentioned the attractions earlier. These aren’t rides, but rather other activities that you can do for an additional fee. They include Miniature Golf, Laser Tag, Fright Walk, Climb ‘N Conquer, Vault Laser Maze, Boardwalk Bowl, or Arcade Tokens. For the first of our two attractions, we decided to take a stroll through the haunted maze Fright Walk:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

If you’re a fan of haunted mazes, you’ll like this one. It was pitch black from the moment we stepped into it. There were no live scare actors, but it was plenty scary. I was constantly running into a mirrored wall or scaring myself with my own reflection as I rounded a corner. Add in the animatronics and sound effects and it was great!

After a good scare, we decided to eat lunch. We headed back to the restaurant in Neptune’s Kingdom. I had a smoked turkey leg and garlic fries. They were delicious:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Based on people’s recommendation, I decided to try the deep fried cheesecake. It was so good! Of course, all this yummy food didn’t do my diet any favors, but it was worth it:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

I couldn’t help but notice the refillable cups. They look awfully familiar:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

After lunch, my youngest and I decided to take a ride on the pirate ship. I just love the airtime you get on these. I liked this model a bit better than the one at my local park because there was no mast in the middle of the ship blocking your view:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

See me? I never pass up the opportunity to take my own photo in security mirrors:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

They have a 125′ S&S Double Shot right next to the pirate ship. I waited until the end of the day to go on it because the line was always a little long. Unfortunately, by the time I got back to it they had closed it down for some reason:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

In addition to the Giant Dipper, a trip to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk would not be complete without riding the antique Looff carousel. It was built by Charles Looff in 1911, an early pioneer in carousels, who also happened to build the very first carousel at Coney Island in 1876. It features 73 hand-carved wooden horses. Music for the carousel is provided by two band organs; a 342-pipe Ruth & Sohn built in 1894, and a Wurlitzer 165, both of which can be seen behind protective glass. This carousel was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

One of the things that makes this carousel so unique is that it has an operational ring dispenser. From the outside row of horses, you can reach out and grab a ring as you pass the dispenser. You then try and throw the ring into a clown’s mouth located on the far wall. If successful, lights will flicker and you’ll hear some bells go off:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

It’s much harder than it sounds, but it’s so much fun! In case you didn’t know, this is where the expression “reach for the brass ring” comes from. Although now they just dispense steel rings, there used to be a few brass rings thrown into the mix. If you were lucky enough to grab a brass ring, you would hold onto it and cash it in for a prize at the end of the ride, which was usually a free ride on the carousel. This particular carousel is one of only a handful in the entire world that still have operational ring dispensers.

Next up was a trip through the Haunted Castle. This was a fun dark ride that drops you underground and through a dark maze, much like Disney’s Haunted Mansion:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

My wife’s favorite carnival ride is the chair swings, so we had to go on the Sea Swings. I was mesmerized by how colorful and pretty this swing was. I would love to see it at night because I can tell by how many lights are on it that it must be amazing all lit up:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

As much as I like a good Round-Up ride, we didn’t make it onto the Cyclone this trip:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

It didn’t look like much from the ground, but I decided to try out the Crazy Surf ride anyways. Wow! It’s basically just a long bench seat that holds roughly 20 people. It’s attached to two arms that just spins the seat around in circles, both directions. The ride is a lot faster and way more intense than it looks. I found Crazy Surf to be crazy fun:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

We were going to use our second attraction ticket to play miniature golf, but we were getting tired as the day wore on. We decided to cash them in for arcade tokens instead. We walked into the Casino Arcade on the far side of Neptune’s Kingdom and were blown away. That place is huge! In addition to having just about every video game imaginable, they also had pinball, air hockey, skeeball, laser tag, and a small restaurant. I scored big when I found the Classic Corner tucked into the back of the building with all the ancient video games that I grew up with, like Asteroids, Battlezone, and PacMan:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

There are quite a few retail shops sprinkled around the boardwalk as well with some very unique souvenirs. When we were done playing video games, we did a bit of shopping. I thought this was a very cool retail display in one of the shops:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

As a family, we had an absolute blast during our visit to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. It had been so long since I had been there, I didn’t really remember it and wasn’t sure what to expect. With only two roller coasters, I honestly didn’t think we’d end up being there very long. As it turns out, we needed more time! There’s more than enough there to keep an entire family busy all day long. We had a very fun time on all of the different rides, enjoying the food and snacks, and playing in the arcade. I’m not sure how people squeeze in time to play on the beach as well, but it’s there for you. I can’t wait to go back and ride Undertow, as well as some of the other rides that I missed.

Have you ever been to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk? If so, tell me about your experience there. If not, be sure to stop by te next time you’re in the area. You’ll love it!

8 Comments

  1. Gregg

    05/30/2013 at 9:50 am

    Love SCBB. So looking forward to getting back there when I’m up for the SF Marathon in 2 weeks. Hopefully Undertow will be open by then. Also looking forward to the new Haunted Mansion ride since the last time I was there it was the last season for the old ride.

    • The Coaster Guy

      05/30/2013 at 10:03 pm

      I didn’t realize the Haunted Castle was new, but that explains why the Google image shows construction equipment on bare dirt. What was there before?

  2. Eric

    05/30/2013 at 10:50 am

    The few times I’ve been to the Boardwalk, it wasn’t for more than an hour or two, which is not enough time to really explore the place. At some point, I’m planning to get up to the Bay Area to ride Gold Striker at Great America, so I’ll definitely include a stop at the Boardwalk.

  3. Ezra

    05/30/2013 at 11:27 am

    Did you know that before the spinning ride was there, there was a not here coaster called Hurricane? It was really fun and had a really steep drop-turn( much like Flashback). It was awesome, until I heard it got torn down. 🙁 I was glad to be one of the last riders on it. Hurricane you will be missed.

    • XYZ

      05/30/2013 at 2:44 pm

      Honestly, the last few seasons on Hurricane weren’t that good. It was very rattly and the diving portion was really the only intense part, in my opinion.

      • Eric

        05/30/2013 at 8:25 pm

        That diving drop was my favorite part of the ride.

  4. XYZ

    05/30/2013 at 2:43 pm

    I’ve been to SCBB hundreds of times throughout my lifetime. When I lived in Northern California, I used to go there on most of my weekends.

    Also, it seems like SCBB removed their mast from Jack Flint’s Pirate Ship as I always remember a mast on it.

  5. Pingback: Undertow Roller Coaster: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk - The Coaster Guy - The Coaster Guy

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