Soak Up Summer at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has been welcoming guests since 1907.

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. – If you had your druthers, what would you want: a day at the beach or a day at the amusement park? In Santa Cruz, there’s no need to choose; you can have both!

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk—which has been compared by some to Coney Island—offers seaside amusement park rides. Many of the rides have water-related names. This means you can climb aboard the Tsunami, the WipeOut or the Shockwave. For some old-school roller coaster excitement, be sure to take a trip on the Giant Dipper. This classic Boardwalk icon has been providing high-speed thrills since 1924.

The Giant Dipper, the Boardwalk’s historic wooden roller coaster, climbs 70 feet and reaches speeds of 55 mph.

If roller coasters aren’t your thing, non-daredevils can try the less adrenaline-producing Sea Swings or Ferris Wheel. Both offer amazing views of the beach. There are also plenty of kiddie rides for small children.

Riders enjoy 360 degree views from the Sea Swings at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

The Boardwalk features arcade-style games, mini golf and free entertainment daily, including weekly free-admission concerts and movies. And, of course, there’s always the best amusement of all: people watching!

Salt water taffy and other candies are available for purchase at Boardwalk shops.

Directly in front of the Boardwalk is Main Beach, where you can catch some waves or sun. It is also a hot spot for volleyball.

Cowell Beach is on the opposite side of the Wharf. It’s less touristy than Main Beach; therefore, often less crowded. It’s also a prime spot for beginning surfers (or for non-surfers like me, it’s a great place to watch other people ride the waves). Later in the day, the beach can become crowded. If you can’t find a good spot for your beach umbrella and towel right when you walk in, keep going, as the beach loops around past the rocks (although you might have to walk a little further and/or get your feet wet). This is also an excellent spot for finding sand crabs. You’ll see them burrowing in the soft sand as the water recedes. Just dig your hands down in the sand and you’re almost guaranteed to scoop some up.

Dividing Main Beach and Cowell Beach is the Santa Cruz Wharf, which stretches half a mile out to sea. There are a variety of restaurants along the Wharf for you to dine, or you can catch your own meal, as fishing is permitted from the pier. There are also shops along the Wharf, where you can pick up a snack, a drink or a beach trinket.

If you just want a place to stretch your legs and admire the views, the Wharf is a great place to take in the scenery. You’ll be able to see the catch of the day or watch kayakers below you. According to the locals, the end of the Wharf is the best place to view sea lions.

Driving, biking and walking are all permitted on the Wharf. Street parking can be tight, so you may want to park at the Wharf and use that as your starting point.

If you go: The Santa Cruz Wharf Headquarters is located at 21 Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz. For more information, go to On the Boardwalk, admission is free. Individual rides cost between $4-7 or you can purchase multi-ride passes (prices start at $36.95). For more details, visit

Photos courtesy of Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

Your Town Daycations is a series featured in the print edition of Your Town Monthly. This article was originally published in the August 2017 issues.