Every summer needs to fulfill its quota of thrills so if you’re ready to do your part then pack a picnic, slap on the sunblock, grab your beach bag and head South. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a West Coast Coney Island if you will. Get started early if you plan to take full advantage of the day pass or better yet, stay overnight at a beach-side hotel for a real summer time adventure that the kids will be gabbing to their palls about for years.

Photo Credit: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Photo Credit: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Plan Your Day for the Best Deals
The rides are open most weekdays from 11:00 am – 11:00 pm and on weekends 10:00 am -10:00 pm or 11:00 pm. If you plan ahead, ticket packages are slightly cheaper at Costco or online.

Below are two deals we uncovered:

Mondays and Tuesdays after 5:00 pm: Retro Nights

Enjoy old time prices through Aug. 23! There are $1 rides as well as $1 cotton candy, $2 hot dogs, $3 red candy apples and more.


Wednesdays & Thursdays after 5:00 pm: Pepsi Nights
Bring a Pepsi can to exchange for unlimited rides for only $12.95+tax!


Photo Credit: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Photo Credit: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Photo Credit: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

You’ve got a Ticket to Ride
Once you make it to the boardwalk get ready to get your ride on.  There are a number of little kid rides including a carousel, mini roller coaster and a small train. Bigger kids, those over 48 inches tall, can pick and choose from the milder, more pleasant rides to the scarier more thrill seeking attractions. With a spinning roller coaster, a classic 1924 wooden coaster called the Big Dipper and a tower ride, think of the boardwalk as modern amusement park meets old time charm.

If you want to take the kiddos on a pleasant ride, take a spin on the sky glider, which offers a view of the the whole boardwalk and beach and a brisk ocean breeze to cool you off.

Photo Credit: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Photo Credit: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk


In addition to the amusement rides, the boardwalk offers an old school pirate-themed indoor mini-golf course, bowling alley, laser tag and arcade games and much more. Though in our opinion no trek to the boardwalk is complete without several rounds of skeeball and a couple of sessions inside one of the old-fashion photo booths. There is so much to see and do that a quick look at the park map would greatly help your family narrow down your plan of attack!

This Lunch is Sweet
A midday break for lunch is a must. Consider a picnic on the beach as your little ones are sure to want to enjoy some time in the sand. Be sure to bring your bathing suits, towels, sunscreen and hats because the surf is mellow and the temperature cold but bearable. If you ease your way in you can really enjoy swimming or body surfing. Bring a boogie board for an even better experience! If you’re lucky, you’ll even spot a sea lion in the surf. While we agree that lunch is important, so is what comes next. In addition to, say, a famous chocolate-dipped ice cream cone a stop Marini’s is a must. This sweets joint has been serving up classic salt water taffy for decades but if you’re already on sweets overload then a box of these treats is the perfect souvenir to take home.


Photo Credit: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Photo Credit: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Catch a Free Show (or Two)
After catching some rays, take your little ones to enjoy free performances around the Boardwalk. Twice a day through Aug. 14, more than a dozen acts such as Capt’n Jack Spareribs and The Surfing Magician put on world-class performances from wash-board dixieland tunes to comedy, juggling and amazing acrobat performances. The shows take place on two different stages from noon to 6 p.m. near Barbary Coast Restaurant and near the Cave Train ride. Find the full schedule here.

If you’re in town on a Friday night, you won’t want to miss the Friday Night Bands on the Beach. The classic beach concerts are an annual tradition on this beach, and include shows by Blue Oyster Cult, Taylor Dayne, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Smash Mouth and so many more. Pack a picnic dinner and reserve your seat in the sand with a blanket or chair in the early because space fills up quickly. The shows are free and start at 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. and are held every Friday night through Sept. 2.

There are other events this summer that are all worth taking in including free movies, concerts and races. Make a trip to the boardwalk an annual summer family adventure and try something new each year.
Summer Hours through Aug. 28: 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.; 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. Fri.-Sun.
Cost: All day ride wristbands start at $33.95. $15/parking.
Online: beachboardwalk.com

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
400 Beach Street
Santa Cruz, Ca

Courtesy of the Dream Inn, Santa Cruz

Courtesy of the Dream Inn

Crash in Style
While totally exhilarating, a trip to the Boardwalk can wipe the little ones (and their folks) right out. If you’re looking for a great place to rest your head overnight then check out the Dream Inn. These towering beach-front digs have been a fixture in the community since the hotel first opened in 1965. After a long overdue yet totally satisfying modern makeover in 2008 the hotel once again became a go-to spot for families to swim, play, eat and chill after a long day of salt, sand and whirly coasters.

Dreamy indeed, the hotel has an epic pool (and hot tub) surrounded by comfy lounge chairs and a handful of fire pits that stretch along the beach. In the morning you’ll wake the sounds of sea lions barking and the white surf crashing on the beach. When you’re ready to crawl form your snugly bed and tear yourself away from your private terrace then adult-sized beach cruisers are free to borrow as are beach chairs, toys, volleyballs and more. Club Ed Surf pulls its truck right onto the beach offering surf and paddle board rentals for all ages. What’s more, the hotel is about a five minute walk from the Boardwalk so you can go car-free all weekend long.

The Santa Cruz Dream Inn
175 West Cliff Dr.
Santa Cruz, CA

–Darya Mead and Chantal Lamers