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Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Trip Report
August 3, 2008

If you're looking for a little piece of heaven, this place is it.

Oooh, heaven is a place on earth!

Located about 300 miles north of Los Angeles, and about 70 south of San Francisco, is the charmingly funky seaside town of Santa Cruz, California. I'd guess there are plenty of other reasons to visit, but the only one we need is the legendary beachside amusement park, now into its second centennial of existence.

The town had started to become a destination way back in 1865, when the first public bathhouse opened near the San Lorenzo River, a waterway that originates in the Santa Cruz mountains and flows down to the Pacific Ocean's Monterey Bay, right where the boardwalk stands. More bathhouses soon followed and as tourism grew, plans were afoot to create the "Coney Island of the West."

Fred W. Swanton was the man responsible for spearheading the first seaside Casino, which opened in 1904. A fire destroyed that structure in 1906, but Swanton was undeterred. Work to design a replacement began immediately and by June 22, 1907, the new Casino, an indoor swimming pool, and the boardwalk opened to the public. (An unincorporated area and local road about 15 miles north of Santa Cruz are named for Swanton, in recognition of his contribution to the region.)

Today, the boardwalk is a nearly perfect combination of old and new: The Giant Dipper, one of the nation's landmark woodies; classic and modern spin 'n' spew machines; a log flume; the Hurricane, a peppy little steel coaster; and three - three! - dark rides. Plus, arcades galore, an indoor mini golf, a walk-through haunt, and much, much more. It may not quite have the historical importance or hipster "edge" that Coney Island boasts, but it's a well-preserved jewel that's adapted to the times far better than its East Coast predecessor.

There's no admission price to enter the boardwalk, and all-day parking is $10.00, a pretty fair deal in today's marketplace. You can purchase individual tickets at 75 cents a pop (big rides are four to six to ride, kiddie rides are three), or grab a full day's POP wristband for $29.95, or $37.95 for the "Attractions Plus" option which also gets you two upchargers, too. Again, great deals.

Pretty...

Here's the view looking down the boardwalk with the seahorse-capped Merry-Go-Round building on the left and the Sky Glider overhead. The carousel was designed by Charles I.D. Looff in 1911, making it one of the park's oldest and most revered attractions. And Charles' son, Arthur, of course, constructed the Giant Dipper in 1924. Mad props to the Looff family! (You can read a full history of the carousel at the park's web site.)

Victorian goodness

Here's another view in the opposite direction, with the gorgeous Giant Dipper station on the right, happy peeps everywhere. Really, on my visit, the place was filled with all sorts of folks, young and old, from all over the place: Latin, Asian, European, Middle Eastern, a real melting pot. And all of 'em in great spirits. That's heaven in my book.

Hey, baby!

Another of the park's signature attractions is the Cave Train Adventure, and when some of the cave folks need a break, they can be seen riding the Sky Glider.

If there was any disappointment at all, it was only to see that the new-for-2008 Sea Swings are likely to be delayed until next season. Here's what it looked like on August 3rd:

Wave Swingers, now available with "Inviso-Paint!"

Yeah, that's just not happening right now.

Dark ride one, soon to be replaced

Here's another view that will soon change; the ol' Haunted Castle is due for a major upgrade for next year. This is still kinda fun, though, so if you want to take a final spin, do so quickly.

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© Robert Coker
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