Our visitors guide to the famous Santa Cruz boardwalk

Published Date: January 5, 2023

Picture a classic California boardwalk: A towering wooden roller coaster, brightly colored amusement park rides and a humming arcade — all set against a backdrop of palm trees and the blue ocean. You’ve just conjured up the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, an icon of the central California coast since 1907. Thinking of taking a trip to this postcard-perfect family destination? Here are five things you need to know. 

Getting there 

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is just 10 minutes from downtown Santa Cruz, a beach town of 62,000 located 70 miles south of San Francisco and 35 miles north of Monterey that's known for sandy beaches, redwood forests and great surfing. But the boardwalk is an anchor of waterfront fun. Especially in the summer months and on weekends, the boardwalk area can get crowded and finding parking can be a challenge, so plan to arrive early in the day.  


The boardwalk is home to two National Historic Landmarks: the 1911 Looff Carousel and the 1924 Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster. These two attractions are a great place to start your day of fun. After you’ve crossed those two classic rides off your list, you’ll find a wide range of rides for everyone from little kids to serious thrill-seekers. Favorites include the Sea Swings, Sky Glider, bumper cards, Wave Rider slide and the Cyclone. The rides are just the beginning, though. There are two on-site arcades, miniature golf, laser tag, bowling and a spooky Fright Walk, which takes brave visitors under the Boardwalk for some haunting fun. Be sure to save time to test your luck on a few classic carnival games on the Midway. Try long-shot basketball, knock down some clowns, bust some balloons or knock over a stack of milk bottles in pursuit of stuffed animal prizes. Admission to the boardwalk itself is free, but you’ll have to pay for the rides and other attractions. Savvy visitors and those who enjoy the attractions regularly may want to opt for the unlimited wristbands or even a season pass.

The food

It’s always best to arrive at the boardwalk hungry, as the classic carnival fare is almost impossible to resist. Treat yourself to corn dogs, garlic fries, turkey legs or pizza. Ready to indulge your sweet tooth? Choose from saltwater taffy, churros, funnel cakes, deep-fried Twinkies, ice cream in freshly made waffle cones, and more. You’ll also find espresso, fresh-squeezed lemonade and local craft beers. 

Special events 

No matter the time of year you visit, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk offers plenty of special events. Choose from fun runs, cultural events, outdoor concerts, movie nights, food and drink-related events, and holiday celebrations. Visiting during non-peak times can mean great discounts and perks, such as discounted arcade games on weekdays and Monday night football specials. In the winter months, you can reserve a private fire pit so you can stay warm while enjoying your favorite snacks and treats. 

The beach

Despite its proximity to the action-packed boardwalk, the beach here is delightfully clean and primed for family fun. Enjoy a wide sandy shoreline, warmer-than-expected water and ample space for recreation like boogie boarding and beach volleyball. If you’re traveling with young kids, head for the area where the San Lorenzo River meets Monterey Bay. It’s a great place for the youngest of beach lovers to splash around in small pools of calm water. Beach facilities include public restrooms and lifeguards in the busy summer months. 

Enjoy life on the California coast 

Santa Cruz makes the perfect home base for enjoying everything Central California has to offer. With a luxury Pacaso second home in Santa Cruz, you’ll have ample time to enjoy the fun and dynamic scene on the boardwalk, plus explore nearby coastal towns, historical sites and the rugged natural beauty that makes the region so special.

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Jen Lyons

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