The wide beach and splashable waves of Santa Cruz are always inviting, but add a colorful boardwalk with rides, games, and music—and how can you say no? Not many do. The popular Santa Cruz Boardwalk has been a summertime ritual for families since it debuted in 1907. Today, the entire boardwalk is a California Historic Landmark—and two rides here have attained the status of National Historic Landmarks on their own.
One of those rides is still the big star of the show here: the Giant Dipper, a burly wooden coaster that first opened in 1924 and has continued to generate screams, squeals, and squinched-shut eyes for decades.
But these days, it’s not the only thrill ride. The boardwalk also features the 125-foot Double Shot tower for heart-in-throat adrenaline lovers. For little kids and folks who like tamer rides, there’s the painstakingly restored 1911 Looff carousel (with real horse hair in the tails of the painted steeds). The indoor arcade offers laser tag, mini-golf, skee-ball and countless video games, while the dining options span funnel cakes and corn dogs, along with regional craft beers at Brews on the Beach.
Don’t miss the overhead Sky Glider funicular, with its sweeping views of the beach, rides, and Santa Cruz Mountains. Check the events page for fun special activities, such as free movies or concerts on the beach. To make a longer stay of it, book a hotel that’s just a few blocks from the fun, such as the Hotel Paradox in downtown Santa Cruz or the Sea & Sand Inn, where every room has an ocean view.