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Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Updated on September 11, 2014

On the Boardwalk...

Grab some cotton candy and head on down to ride the Giant Dipper at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk! Founded in 1907, the Boardwalk is home to Looff Carousel and has been featured in The Lost Boys, Sudden Impact, Dangerous Minds, and The Brotherhood of Justice. The Boardwalk is celebrating over 100 years in operation.

History of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk

Before the Boardwalk appeared, the land was the sight of a public bathhouse near the mouth of the San Lorenzo River, built by John Leibrandt. More bathhouses followed as visitors flocked to swim in the salt water, as it was praised as a natural medicine.

But where there are people, they have needs. So concession stands and restaurants popped up, followed by photo and souvenir stands. Because Santa Cruz had become so popular, Fred W. Swanton decided it was time the West had its own version of Coney Island.

The spot originally held a casino but it only lasted 22 months; it was completely destroyed by a fire on June 22nd, 1906. Undaunted, Swanton enlisted famed architect William Weeks to draw plans up, this time for a completely new casino with a ballroom, the Plunge indoor swimming pool, a pleasure pier, and the boardwalk.

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk was opened exactly a year later on June 22nd, 1907. 1200 people attended the ball held for the grand opening.

The Boardwalk hosted its first thrill ride, the L.A. Thompson Scenic Railway, in 1908. The coaster was four minutes on a mile of wooden track and cost $35,000 to build.

European woodcarver Charles I.D. Looff delivered the carousel that bears his name to the Boardwalk in 1911. Its original 342-pipe, 1894 Ruth Und Sohn band organ is still in operation.

Arthur Looff, son of Charles, devised the Giant Dipper, which was built to replace the Scenic Railway. It opened in 1924.

Originally, the first Miss California pageants were held on the Boardwalk, starting in 1924. Even though the Great Depression and World War II saw a decline in business and attendance, the casino, newly christened Coconut Grove fared well. It featured dance concerts with big names; among them were Benny Goodman, Lawrence Welk, Artie Shaw.

The 50s and 60s saw renovation and addition. New rides included the Wild Mouse, Autorama, and the Tilt-a-Whirl. Attractions became more popular and the Plunge indoor pool was replaced with a miniature golf course in 1963. Taking advantage of its scenic views, the Boardwalk built the Sky Glider in 1967, which allowed guests to sail overhead on a ski-lift type gondola.

More rides were added in the 70s: the Red Baron, Bumper Cars, Jet Star, and the Round-Up. Logger's Revenge, a water ride that would 55 feet above the Boardwalk, replaced the Wild Mouse.

1981 saw extensive renovation and restoration. The $10 million dollar project saw updates and modernization as well as the completion of the Sun Room, a 6,000 square foot banquet room with a retractable glass ceiling. The Boardwalk added new clothing and gift shops, as well as a candy store. Free summer concerts began in 1988 on the beach bandstand.

But things came to a halt in 1989 when an earthquake damaged an exterior wall of the Plunge building. $5.2 million was sunk into building the Neptune's Kingdom adventure center, with a two-story miniature gold course. The Hurricane coaster replaced the Jet Star in 1992 and three new attractions opened in 1995: the Sector 7 Laser Tag Arena, Venturer Simulator, and Virtual Reality.

In 1994 the Boardwalk took over operation of the Surf Bowl across the street, renovating it and renaming it the Boardwalk Bowl.

How to Get to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

A markersanta cruz beach boardwalk -
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, 400 Beach Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA
get directions

The Looff Carousel

It was 1911 when Danish woodcarver Charles Looff delivered his carousel, complete with 73 horses and two Roman chariots, to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. It featured a 342-pipe Ruth und Sohn band organ built in 1894, the last of its kind, for the music played during rides. The horses featured real horse hair tails and decorative, jeweled trappings. Every horse was unique from head to tail.

The Looff carousel purchased by the Boardwalk only cost $18,000 in 1911.

Since its installation, the carousel has been subject to much wear and tear. The parts of the horses that have worn down with use have been restored and treated with fiberglass for preservation. In 2007, the Boardwalk purchased a rare Wurlitzer 165 Band Organ from San Francisco's Playland, and in 2009 opened a showcase displaying it along side the Ruth und Sohn band organ.

The carousel is one of only a handful that still features a working ring dispenser. Riders on outside horses can grab rings from a dispenser as they spin, then toss them into a large clown's gaping mouth, rewarded by bells and flashing lights.

In today's money, a pair of Looff horses have been valued at even more then the original cost of the completed carousel itself. The skills and artistry required to build carousel horses has nearly disappeared, so the rarity of the carousel's animals increases every year. Several horses have been lost over the years, due to age and damage, but have been replaced by other horses acquired in 1978 from parks in Myrtle Beach, SD, and Belmont Park in San Diego, CA.

The carousel was added to the U.S. State Park Service's National Historic Landmark register in 1987. In 2009 the Boardwalk's Looff carousel turned 98 years young.

The Giant Dipper Rollercoaster

The Giant Dipper was developed by Arthur Loof. He envisioned the giant wooden coaster as a, quote "combination earthquake, balloon ascension, and aeroplane drop."

Some would say he succeeded.

Built in 47 days at a cost of $50,000, it opened as a replacement to the Scenic Coaster on May 17th, 1924. It cost riders 15 cents a ticket.

The coaster station received a makeover in 1976, giving it a more Victorian-style facade. Two new roller coaster trains replaced the old ones in 1984. The Giant Dipper received a cleaning and paint job in 2001 to the tune of $135,000. Four full-time mechanics are employed by the Boardwalk to maintain and check the ride every day it operates.

To date over over 55 million riders have taken a turn on the wooden coaster. It is designated the 5th oldest coaster continuously operating in its original location and was designated as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. National Park Service in June 1987. The Giant Dipper turned 85 years old in 2009.

"Ride" the Giant Dipper!

The Boardwalk Today

The Boardwalk marked the Millennium with the reopening of the remodeled Cave Train, which featured all the elements of the original ride from 1961 as well as modern technology. In 2001 the Boardwalk Bowl opened, featuring 26 lanes.

As of 2009, the newest ride at the Boardwalk is the Sea Swings, a carousel type ride with swings in place of horses. The Boardwalk offers 34 other rides as well as three arcades, 27 games of skill, 36 food vendors, indoor miniature golf, laser tag, and more than 15 gift stores.

Santa Cruz's Boardwalk is a Historic Landmark, open daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day, most weekends and holidays throughout the year. Admission to the park is free.

Located 35 miles from San Jose, 40 miles north of Monterey, and 70 miles south of San Francisco, take Highway 1 or 17 to Santa Cruz and follow the signs to the beachfront. Take a trip to the Boardwalk and enjoy the sand, sun, and surf!

Let me tell you my memories!

Let me tell you my memories!

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    • anonymous 7 years ago

      We all grew up near santa Cruze. My whole family. Mother and her sisters went to a 2 room schoolhouse in Felton, in the Santa Cruze mts. Mother learned to swim at the beach and boardwalk in what was the heated, indoor, saltwater pool. When I was a kid that space was the funhouse. My favorite ride, to this day, is the carousel. I remember the Organ and the rings you could grab to throw into the clowns mouth. In those days, it you hit the clown in the mouth you got a free extra ride on the carasoul. I also took my own children there for vacation fun. Then the Funhouse was a miniature golf range, but the big wooden slide and the distorting mirrors were still there. I wonder what is in that building now? Does anyone else remember the taffy pulling machine? ~Debs

    • Rhonda Albom 8 years ago from New Zealand

      We took the kids on our trip to the states in 2006, but the rides were closed. The beach was great and the atmosphere fun.

    • Dianne Loomos 8 years ago

      Yes! We took the kids when they were younger. They were all mad because they were told they were too little ride the bumper cars! Lost my camera there. But we all had a good time anyway.

    Movies Filmed at the Boardwalk

    Out (1982)
    Sudden Impact (1983)
    The Sting II (1983)
    The Brotherhood of Justice (1986)
    Back to the Beach (1987)
    The Lost Boys (1987)
    Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)
    Dangerous Minds (1995)
    Thrill (1996)

    Beach and Boardwalk Memories

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        anonymous 5 years ago

        I'm 54 years old. I was raised in Milpitas CA. and even though I have moved far away I will always remember Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The roller coaster was THE BEST on this earth, and still is.. The Merry Go Round ,,, catching the rings and throwing them into the clowns mouth was "THE BEST". I hope to share this with my Grandchildren.

      • WhiteOak50 profile image

        WhiteOak50 6 years ago

        As I was going through your list of lens, I seen this one and thought, WOW-the Lost Boys!

        That movie was based in Santa Cruz (giggles) Anyway, I love Broardwalks there is something very special about walking down a boardwalk and looking out to the ocean while standing about it. Great lens MissBat!!

      • VarietyWriter2 profile image

        VarietyWriter2 7 years ago

        Blessed by a SquidAngel :)

      • profile image

        anonymous 7 years ago

        Santa Cruz Boardwalk is an amazing piece of American seaside amusement history. Even though I live on the East Coast, we go there any time we are in California. Here is a link showing the new Haunted Castle robotic characters coming to the Boardwalk this summer, really neat! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sD0Ub0MGB4g

      • AppalachianCoun profile image

        AppalachianCoun 7 years ago

        Great lens! Sounds like a great place! 5*

      • profile image

        poutine 7 years ago

        Sounds like a fun place to visit with kids.

      • GramaBarb profile image

        GramaBarb 7 years ago from Vancouver

        We (whole family) are going to Disneyland in a couple of weeks but Santa Cruz will have to be another trip another time.

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        anonymous 7 years ago

        Yep, grew up with the Boardwalk, We lived in Campbell then San Jose and went every summer. When I got old enough to drive We would drive ourselves there. Ya, old Hwy 17 over the mountains. The Carousel I remember when they had the occasional brass ring come out of the ring feed to throw at the big clown face. When you nailed his nose, that's when you got the free ride. They also had an aireal tram that went the length of the board walk. My favorite smell was the fresh taffy pulling machine at the taffy store. The warf was cool too. was right there with the Boardwalk. could drive out to the end of it and park. Oh those were the days, truely.

      • RhondaAlbom profile image

        Rhonda Albom 8 years ago from New Zealand

        Great lens on a great place. I wrote above from our trip with the kids, but I have been a few other times. I used to live about an hour north in another beach town.

      • Dianne Loomos profile image

        Dianne Loomos 8 years ago

        Nice lens about the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Only been there once but it was fun.

      • profile image

        anonymous 8 years ago

        I love old carousels!

      • JanieceTobey profile image

        JanieceTobey 8 years ago

        It sounds wonderful! What weekend are we doing this?!

      • lollyj lm profile image

        Laurel Johnson 8 years ago from Washington KS

        I've never been to Santa Cruz or California but sure did enjoy the visit.

        Good job!!

      • SandyMertens profile image

        Sandy Mertens 8 years ago from Frozen Tundra

        Love this. I really would like to visit.

      • Michey LM profile image

        Michey LM 8 years ago

        This lens is so good, relaxing, so real life, I enjoy it immensely

        Thanks

        Michey

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        Joan4 8 years ago

        What fun! I would love to visit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk!

      • OhMe profile image

        Nancy Tate Hellams 8 years ago from Pendleton, SC

        Oh I would love to ride the The Looff Carousel or even see one of the original horses. How wonderful that it has survived all these years. I found it interesting that in 1978 some of the horses were replaced with some from Myrtle Beach. I might have been on one of the horses that went to the Looff Carousel from Myrtle Beach. That is a very pleasant thought!