Voted the best seaside park in the world, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk lives up to this title. Between the arcade games, the rides, and the endless carnival food stands, there is no end to the entertainment. We’ve been lucky enough to have visited the boardwalk twice this summer. The first time, we had no idea what to expect but it definitely surpassed anything we could’ve imagined. Soft sandy beach, warmer ocean breeze, and a TON of entertainment.
For those of you that have been to Northern California, the beaches aren’t the biggest selling feature. Cold winds, freezing water, and coarse sandy beaches pretty much sums it up. Santa Cruz is one of the first main beaches that fit the California beach stereotype. The water is still cold and the wind can still be crisp, but the sand is soft and the atmosphere fun. If you want a quiet reprieve, check out Half Moon Bay and one of the many State beaches in the surrounding area. But for fun and a Southern California feel near San Francisco (roughly an hour and a half drive), check out the Boardwalk.
So three things we learned to make the most out our our day:
I cannot emphasize this enough!!! The actual Boardwalk opens at 10am but you can still access the beach. There is a parking lot right across the street and costs $15 for the day. No in and out privileges but you won’t need to leave. The lot fills up quickly and traffic gets a little crazy so arrive early and you’ll get your $15’s worth. You’ll also be against the heaviest flow of traffic on your way home.
Pack a beach picnic
The second time we went, we packed a beach picnic lunch as well as the usual haul of beach day paraphernalia: umbrella, blanket, towels, beach toys, etc. This was fantastic! Our son played in the sand and water to his heart’s content while we got some some relaxing done. We had a healthy lunch and snacks which allowed us to eat some carnival treats guilt free! We did purchase the $10 Slurpee cup that allows us to get free refills all day. Best deal on the boardwalk for a beach day! Again, the ocean water is still cold and there is a crisp breeze that springs up so be prepared for that.
Spend the afternoon cruising the boardwalk and playing arcade games
Once we finished lunch and and the peanut grew tired of playing in the sand, we put our beach gear back in the car, grabbed the stroller, and cruised the boardwalk. It can get very expensive but we stuck to our budget and still had a great time. Our son even participated in some of the games. The biggest surprise of all was when he dragged me to the ghost ride (kid friendly I swear), and then patiently waited in line for his turn. He managed the ride very well – no fear but didn’t want to go again either.
I do want to mention how friendly and accommodating the people who work for the Boardwalk are. They’re not going to give you free prizes but they’re not going to make you pay an arm and a leg either. Our son was allowed a few attempts at a couple of the games where the attendant never charged us for his turn. Although, in retrospect, thanks to the guy that encouraged my two year old to through balls at plates :P.
Our experience of Santa Cruz is limited to the Boardwalk but apparently the Pier is worth a visit too. Maybe a trip in the spring will work out for a Pier visit.
All in all Santa Cruz is definitely worth the trip and the effort. We won’t soon forget how much fun we had!