Santa Cruz Boardwalk CA – Rides, Restaurants and Beaches Galore

Genie Davis October 23, 2010 1 Comment

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What child of any age – including you adults out there – doesn’t love a Ferris Wheel, a meri-go- round or a roller coaster.  Better yet, who doesn’t love coupling these attractions with sea air and a wooden boarding, the smell of the ocean mingling with popcorn, cotton candy, and french fries. In other words, Santa Cruz and it’s old fashioned boardwalk and busy pier is a place that would be hard not to love.

We drove from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, a ninety minute trip;  it’s a destination worth seeing regardless of the distance, the so-called Coney Island of the West.  It’s one hundred and two years old, and has a mix of modern attractions and original, exceedingly well maintained attractions.

The sky chairs on the Santa Cruz boardwalk

We arrived in Santa Cruz at lunch time and hit the Dolphin Restaurant, at the end of the pier adjoining the boardwalk, for crispy fish and chips to go. There are plenty of places to stop for chocolate dipped soft serve ice cream cones, a favorite in our family, along the boardwalk. The kids loved just strolling up and down the boardwalk, surprisingly good fast food in hand, listening to the screams of the roller coaster riders mingling with the sound of the ocean waves hitting the shore line. The boardwalk itself is admission free, which means you can enjoy the experience without going on any rides at all or pick one or two for a la carte enjoyment. Of course for the kids, you’re going to want to buy wrist bands – there’s a lot for children of all ages to do and see, from toddler oriented rides to the bigger kid stuff of roller coasters and laser tag.

Our favorites are the two National Historic Landmarks: the Loof Carousel, built in 1911, and gorgeous in every gilt detail; and the Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster, twelve years younger and still making the riders scream with delight. The kids loved the mini golf – indoors, pirate themed, and open late, when the rest of the rides have shut down for the night. Your youngest travelers will love the circling Bulgy the Whale ride, or the sea serpent cars on the mini-roller coaster. All rides geared toward the smallest park patrons are grouped in one area, and there’s over a dozen of them. Best of all most of them have room for parents to ride along. The entire boardwalk has a comfortable family vibe.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk California

Santa Cruz Boardwalk California

And of course, there’s a tilt a whirl, bumper cars, haunted houses, a swinging pirate ship, and the wonderful family friendly Cave Train Adventure ride. There’s glow in the dark updating to this 1960′s era classic ride. We liked it so much – and since we had unlimited ride wristbands -we rode it three times. At certain times of day – late afternoon and early evening – the rides are very crowded, after a dinner break, you can get on and off the family oriented rides over and over with no trouble at all, even on the weekends.

Another classic ride are the sky chairs that transport you above the boardwalk, giving you a view of all the colored lights and midway barkers while resting your feet. It’s an easy way at the end of the night to make your way back toward your motel or car.

If you stay the night, there are a variety of boardwalk convenient accommodations: the Dream Inn is beach front and upscale; with a pool deck that includes a children’s wading area. The Comfort Inn is extremely utilitarian but just across the street from the boardwalk attractions and reasonably priced.

If you’re in Santa Cruz on the weekends and you want a train ride to the redwoods, the Santa Cruz, Big Trees & Pacific Railway Company travels through the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, crossing historic bridges and sailing through a tunnel before taking travelers on a nostalgic, open air journey back to the boardwalk. This train has been taking the same route since it carried picnickers and tourists to see the redwoods back in 1875. It’s a gentle, fun ride, and you can take a pleasant stroll in the woods before heading back to the shore again.

The beach around the boardwalk is a lot of fun itself, easy to walk on, great for sand castle building. But hearing the jangling music of the boardwalk always lured us off the sand and back to the carousel or in search of some carmel corn.

South of the boardwalk and pier is Pleasure Point, a surfing neighborhood with surf shops and plenty of wave action to watch from the land.

Also near by is Año Nuevo State Park, a good spot for viewing elephant seals and bird watching. And the Wilder Ranch State Park, which gave us the chance to explore life on a dairy ranch in the 1900′s. The farm animal tour is great for toddlers, who learn how farm animals are cared for, their jobs on a ranch, and information about plantings. The ranch tour itself offers information about the ranch history and the Native Americans residing in the area and Santa Cruz mission. Touring the barn, kitchens, wash rooms and living areas and led by a kind, costumed guide, this was a great stop on our trip.

Moss Landing after our artichokes in Castroville

We enjoyed taking a walk near Moss Landing after our artichokes in Castroville

So was Natural Bridges State Park, a busy but pretty coastal area with eroded rock formations creating natural arches.

As we left Santa Cruz, the beach views disappeared along Highway 1. However, Castroville offers another scenic opportunity and a tasty lunch stop. Here in the artichoke capitol of the world you’ll find the tourist -attraction and restaurant known as the Giant Artichoke. For picture taking, there’s the enormous artichoke outside; for eating, the steamed or fried and breaded artichoke hearts are both wonderful, as is the fresh baked artichoke bread.

At nearby Moss Landing, you’ll find the coast again, as well as a scenic, working boat harbor, and the Elkhorn Slough marsh land, if you’d like to take a short walk after all those artichokes.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

Tags: Reviews, Travel Excursions
One Comments to “Santa Cruz Boardwalk CA – Rides, Restaurants and Beaches Galore”
  1. avatar San Mateo Coast Road Trip: Santa Cruz to San Francisco says:

    [...] Santa Cruz is always a fun destination, with its broad beach and kitschy pier and vast boardwalk amusement park. We like to keep the fun going as we head to the urban enticements of San Francisco by taking the San Mateo coastal route – but this drive is fantastic as a day trip or as a short family vacation in its own right. We love road trips with great views! [...]