Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
The Boardwalk was built in 1907 and is open all summer. It is about 1/2 mile long and contains 34 rides including a famous carousel from 1911, two roller coasters, and a skyride along the beach. Entrance to the boardwalk is free, you only pay if you ride the rides. Beside the old boardwalk is a newer Boardwalk Arcade that is open year around with a variety of indoor games. I was surprised to see that recent reports showed this park was the sixth most visited amusement park in California with some 3,000,000 annual visitors, and it actually ranked ahead of the nearby Monterey Bay Aquarium.
We visited in May 2008 and I was surprised that the boardwalk was better maintained and much more fun than I ever expected. We started at the arcade and played a few games of skiball, then wandered through a small hall of mirrors into a crazy pirate ship themed mini golf course and arcade. Later we walked along the rides that were nearly deserted on this Thursday in May before the tourist season really began.
Overall this place pales in comparison to real amusement parks throughout the country. Furthermore, who would bring their kids to this town with its massive drug and homeless problems that center around the boardwalk area? It seems like a bad place for kids unless you strictly stick to the boardwalk itslef and you can keep a close eye on the children...
Old Fashioned Fun
There is a yesteryear charm about the Boardwalk. When this place was build, bathing suits covered you down to your knees and were made of wool.
The Giant Dipper, the Carousel and the ferris wheel are some of the finest "antique" rides in the country. If you are expecting the latest in roller coaster whoopdie rides, this is not it. If you want to see pinball machines, play PacMan, ride in a sky bucket, ram a bumper car, or play mini-golf, then this is the place.
I live close to here and have never been bothered/approached by anyone who was homeless or gang-related. I suppose if I looked like trouble, I'd find it anywhere I went. The Boardwalk has plenty of rent-a-cops to discourage trouble.
Unique Suggestions: During the summer on Monday and Tuesday evenings, the rides are only a dollar. Parking is $10 ($5 in the winter).
Friday nights (during summer) there is a FREE concert featuring a well-known band from the past - everything from Herman's Hermits to the Tubes. Shows at 6:30pm and 8:30pm. Bring lawn chairs or a blanket and arrive early to get seating - this is a VERY popular event!
The Boardwalk and Main Beach are NOT dog-friendly, so you will need to park pooch with a sitter when going here. Try Bed & Biscuits or any number of pet sitters.
The food is typical carnival food - expensive and not exactly health food... for instance, deep fried Twinkies. Pack a picnic lunch and eat on the beach.
The train trestle at the south end of the Boardwalk was in the movie "Lost Boys". It's fun to walk across.
The Roaring Camp train departs from in front of the carousel a couple of times a day for a 3-hour trip into the redwoods. Ride in an open gondola car and enjoy beautiful scenery. The train IS dog-friendly and they welcome your pooch. It is about $22-24 for adults.
- Family Travel
- Travel with Pets
No one is 'fooled' by this place, no one goes there expecting that there is no gravity
people go there because it is sweet, and fun
your going to think it is lame if you are looking for a way to prove it doesn't actually defy gravity and also you are a total idiot
Unique Suggestions: Have fun and dont try to figure it out just play around
The Mystery Spot - there's no mystery; it's a joke
The Mystery Spot bills itself as a place where the laws of physics and gravity don't apply. However, there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING mysterious about the place. It is just like any other redwood forest (and redwoods are beautiful), only the buildings were constructed square but not level. The place is a hoax, and anyone who falls for it is incredibly gullible.
I lived in Santa Cruz for most of my life and avoided going to the Mystery Spot until some friends from out of town pleaded to go. What a joke. There was nothing different or mysterious about the place, and my friends and I were baffled that anyone was, well, baffled. One of my friends was a geotechnical engineer, and he saw nothing that was out of the ordinary. There are optical illusions due to how the buildings were constructed, but sneak in a laser level and you can see for yourself that this place is a tourist trap. Save your money.
Unique Suggestions: If you want to enjoy the experience and get the bumper sticker, just go with the realization that the only mystery is why people continue to spend money to visit this place.
Fun Alternatives: To see redwoods, go for a hike in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in Felton or through the forests of the University of California, Santa Cruz.
For quintessential Santa Cruz experiences, take a surfing class at Cowell Beach; walk through the Pacific Garden Mall (newbies just know it as Pacific Avenue); hang out at one of the older cafes/bakeries: Pergolesi, Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Co., Kelly's French Pastry, the Saturn Cafe; walk along West Cliff Drive.
And for those of you not familiar with SC, the area around the Boardwalk, known as Beach Flats, has the highest crime rate in Santa Cruz. Although most of the tourist hotels are safe areas during the day time, I would avoid any hotel in the area circumscribed by 3rd street, Riverside Avenue and Beach Street.
- Family Travel
Surf and Bikini Shop Hype
Santa Cruz has a local industry of surfboard and swimwear manufacture and sale. Some boards sold here are really unique, and for those with deep pockets a relative bargain for what can be bought elsewhere. But, it's also easy to spend a ton of money on a bikini that will never be worn or a surfboard that will never be ridden. Don't be afraid to rent or wear what you have until you know what you are doing. These sorts of items are typically sold with a no-money back guarantee.
Unique Suggestions: If you must buy a surfboard, consider doing your homework on-line and plan to visit the workshop where it's made. This is the time to talk with the local experts to be sure the board you buy will be worth it's price in enjoyment on the waves. If you can't arrange this, and must buy on impulse, cruise around town and fine the dingy storefront with the teenagers hanging around outside. The real surfers don't go downtown nor to the beachfront to buy their equipment. The same goes for the bikini. Some of the Goodwill Stores in the back corners of town will have the swimwear you want at a real bargain price. Fashions seem to come and go, but this isn't really true at the beach.
- Women's Travel
The Mystery Spot
This is a hard one for me. After a lot of comments saying that the Mystery Spot should be a Must See Activity or a Tourist Trap, I have kept with my original stance. Having lived in the Santa Cruz County for 22 years, I think I can say with some certainty that this indeed is a Tourist Trap.
I can also say that the Mystery Spot is one of the most known landmarks in Santa Cruz. Located just outside of town in one of the nearby forests, this is one of those places where you leave it with a headache. The story goes that something strange landed underneath the spot where a house was built in the early 20th century, causing it to sloop over at a crazy angle.
Once inside the house, everything feels like they're defying gravity. You walk down straight...you throw balls and they come back at you...you feel like you're going to lose balance, but you don't.
The Mystery Spot simply put is one hell of an illusion.
Unique Suggestions: Buy one of its famous yellow bumper stickers and try to walk around straight. It's simply too hard to do.
- Theme Park Trips
Great for young and old. During the summer they have amusement rides and games. Fast food and all kinds of snacks. Friday nights are free shows by popular artists like Davy Jones of the Monkee's and Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits.
Unique Suggestions: Make sure you see the merry-go-round with it's original horses and music.
Fun Alternatives: If the junk food is too much, stroll out onto the street or onto the warf and there are a number of good restaurants.
- Theme Park Trips
Capitola is a quaint but touristy village just south of Santa Cruz. Many families rent a summer cottage, but I find it's always too crowded during the summer. It can be a fun place for a weekend, though.