Thrills to No End

With its mix of fresh, over-the-top rides and perennial crowd-pleasers, homey Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk continues to amaze
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has been a special Northern California attraction for more than 100 years. Its roller coaster (above) is legendary.

 

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce circa 1940s invites the world to their playground at the beach.

Back in the day, the best way to tell local kids from out-of-towners was to follow them into the Fun House—you entered through the toothy jaws of a huge clown’s face—and see how they did on the Spinning Barrel.

“The tourists in the barrel would be falling all over themselves,” recalls Ted Whiting, who grew up on and around the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in the 1950s, “and I would just be walking around them and over them, and walking out feeling like a big shot.”

Whiting, whose family had worked at and helped run the Boardwalk starting in 1927, 20 years after its founding, also loved the Fun House’s Spinning Disk, which kids climbed onto—and tried to remain.

“The secret to the disk was to get into the center,” Whiting says. “Others would just spin right off. You couldn’t [provide] a ride like that today because of liability. You’ll never see something like that again.”

Maybe not. But in many ways, both on the surface and deeper down, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk today is much as it was during what were arguably its most historically important years, the mid-1950s through the 1970s—a fun, easygoing place for families, and with just enough temptations for teenagers and semi-adult thrill-seekers.

“The Giant Dipper is exactly the same,” says Therese Poletti, a writer who grew up in Santa Cruz in the 1960s, of the boardwalk’s iconic roller coaster. “You can still hear the click, click, click noise, the sign that it was going down slowly into the tunnel, then it goes up, then—whip!”