This summer I find myself by the ocean in Santa Cruz once a week. Since a man has to spend his lunch hour somewhere, I’ve been spending mine on the Boardwalk. Yep, the historic old California seaside parks memorialized by Paradise Pier still exists here, and I can think of at least 10 good reasons to stop by for a while.
1)Affordability: One gets a lot for a one day ticket to Disneyland; that’s why it costs more than a year of rides at the Boardwalk. The flip side, of course, is that you can get a full year of rides at the Boardwalk (plus an unlimited 1 day wristband for a friend) for less than the cost of a day at Disneyland. One day of unlimited rides is less than $30. Only want to ride one or 2 things? Rides take 3-5 tickets at a dollar each. Go Mon-Tue night and all are $1 each-hot dogs as well. Unlimited is about 10 bucks with a Pepsi can on Wed-Th. And no rides equals no pay; access to the Boardwalk is free.
2)Quantity: There is nothing here as technically sophisticated as Midway Mania (though you do earn points on Ghost Blasters, a Buzz-type ride). But what they do have, they have a lot of. There are 10 “kiddie” rides alone.
Every Type of ride on PP is represented here, packed neatly into a small space, a few actually under the Boardwalk. It’s a lot of things like you’d expect: many spinners, bumper cars, Ferris wheel, even a mini Maliboomer (who knew Ferris Wheel operator was a hard hat position?).
There are, however, a few worth singling out.
3)Cave Train Adventure: Around the Boardwalk you see these folks that appear to have traveled here from the past.
The Cave Train is a way for us to travel back to their time. After the simple but effective trip through the time tunnel (think Mummy from the USH Tram) riders are at the prehistoric boardwalk complete with food, games and a ball with live music. Plus a few creatures that are now extinct.
4)Haunted Castle: The old spook house was upgraded a few years back, and the results are a clear improvement. There’s no elaborate backstory here, just a trip through a haunted abode. The Haunted Mansion has obviously had an effect on the designers, and some of the illusions from that classic have found their way here. Not only is it a fun ride, but they got rid of that endless loop of the Monster Mash in the line. Praise the Dark Lord!
5)Loof Carousel: For over 100 years these carved steeds have been circling in their seaside enclosure. There are other carousels as old, and many more elaborate, but this one has 2 great features. One is the source of the music. Maybe that should be 3, since that’s how many old organs alternate serenading the riders (all are behind glass, making photo ops limited). This Wurlitzer was in a private collection until recently.
This one, however, spent most of its life at the long gone Playland at the Beach, San Francisco’s contribution to the ocean front amusement craze (and has been heard playing “Hi Diddle Dee Dee”).
But this organ is the original which has been playing at the Boardwalk for more than a century.
The real appeal, though, has got to be the rings. See, this is one of the last remaining Carousels with metal rings that can be snagged and thrown at a clown’s mouth. Maybe the ride just feels faster when you are leaning out to grab the ring, but it’s the only reason that one such as myself has ridden so much. They were going to remove it in the 70s after the ring dispenser broke down one too many times, but ridership dropped so much that the rings quickly returned. And you kids that wait until the end of the ride to run close to the clown to throw your rings: you’re lame. And to your parents: Stop letting your kids be lame!
6)Giant Dipper: The nation’s sixth oldest roller coaster, built in 1924 with 60,000,000 riders as of 2012, starts with a plunge into darkness, unseen turns ahead.
Anticipation mounts for experienced riders as the grease scent fills your nostrils before the reemergence into open air, tilted back, approaching the flags flapping in the ocean breeze above you.
After cresting that hill, it never let’s up. The Dipper isn’t great because it’s old or made of wood. It’s great because it is relentless! This thing was designed with pencils and slide-rules, and there are modern woodies that pale in comparison. Plus you get an earthquake simulation in the station every time a train passes overhead. I’ve driven an hour to Santa Cruz with no real purpose other than riding this coaster.
7)Friday night music: Twice a night on Summer Fridays live music is performed on the beach stage. For years this mostly consisted of the same bands that were on the “state fair circuit”. You know the ones: Herman’s Hermits, Paul Revere & The Raiders, some form of Monkee. The last couple of years have seen more bands popular in the 70s and 80s like Berlin, Blue Oyster Cult and Edgar Winter. You won’t see anyone that can sell out Madison Square Garden here, but the price can’t be beat.
8)Beach: It is called the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for a reason. That is a wide expanse of sand at the bottom of those steps with Monterey Bay stretching in the horizon. That also explains the “Please don’t wash your feet in the sink” signs in the bathroom (footwashers are by the afore mentioned steps). As a California beach, the water is cold of course. The shallows can be tolerable on hot days; you’ll want a wetsuit for any board I’d expect. The other benefit of a warm day is the visual appeal of white sails of boats on blue water under a clear sky, not to mention a decent chance of attractive members of your preferred gender wandering about in swimsuits.
9)Clam Chowder: This will only apply to a single Saturday in February, but if you like clam chowder then watch for the date of the annual Clam Chowder Cookoff. Dozens of cooks prepare and serve their creations along the boardwalk. Prizes are awarded based on judges and tasters choices. Tasting kits were still under $10 this year, and include a cup and spoon, ballot, and 5 tickets for 5 samples. Repeat as needed. This day is very crowded—with hungry people—it’s actually not too bad getting on the rides.
10)Edible Death: Chowder not good enough, huh? Not to worry, because there are fry vats located throughout the boardwalk. Being born in the south I know from fried food, and have made many contributions to the encased sausage and potato industries, not to mention poultry, fish and breaded dairy products. But I personally feel that if I’ve made it this far without consuming fried cheesecake, Twinkies, Oreos and Snickers, I’m cool. But then I went skydiving, so we all take our risks. And if you prefer, they even have churros, fresh caramel apples, plus turkey legs. But, you may say, “None of that matters because I want…….Hold on there-they got that, too.
So there you have it, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, and we didn’t even get to the bowling alley or indoor mini golf. It won’t keep me happy for the better part of a week like Walt’s original Magic Kingdom, but it’s certainly good for a fun day by the water. Walt himself may even agree. Accounts are that he enjoyed his day there in 1963, even turning down the fancy lunch Boardwalk execs had planned in favor of a burger from a counter. Simple pleasures that hearken back to a simpler time, available now on the Central Coast..