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Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk features $1 Giant Dipper rides
Summer Wednesday day trip
1 coaster

SANTA CRUZ — The thrill isn’t gone.

And it can be cheap.

After 100 years — when May 17 rolls around — and almost 67 million riders, the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is still a lot of fun.

Helping mark the iconic wooden roller coaster’s centennial season is a great excuse to head to Santa Cruz.

And because the Boardwalk doesn’t charge admission, leaving you to tailor your visit to how many thrill rides and how much “midway” style food and fun you can stomach, you don’t have to go all in amusement park mode to enjoy the day.

There is a great expansive beach for sunbathing and frolicking literally a step off the Boardwalk.

There are even free movie nights during the summer.

And if you are an empty nester, like day tripping, and love a bargain, then take the car and head to San Jose and keeping going until you reach Santa Cruz.

Just make sure you do it on Wednesdays between May 29 and Aug. 7.

The Boardwalk is charging only $1, as opposed to the usual $8, during that period to ride the Giant Dipper.

The parking is also cheaper than on weekends. It’s $20 compared to $35 on weekends and holidays.

Going sans kids on a Wednesday will spare you from having to cash in your 401k to buy an all-day ride pass that during the week is $54.95 if you buy online.

You can also buy Boardwalk Cards $50 for 55 points and $100 for 115 points.

The card can then be used at rides, to buy food, or play midway games. The points are the equivalent of $1, don’t expire if they aren’t used, and can be used by anyone in your party.

It’s the way to go — especially on Wednesdays this summer — if you want to savor a taste of the Boardwalk instead. But if you plan to go crazy on rides, the all-day ride passes are best.

If you make the trip more of a beach experience you can even forsake having to move your car.

It’s a 0.3-mile stroll to the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf with its restaurants, shops, kayak rentals, fishing, and even whale watching tours.

The Santa Cruz Surfing Museum is a 1.3 mile walk from the Boardwalk.

The route takes you by a world-class surf spot and beautiful coastal views.

You can also take in eclectic Pacific Avenue in downtown with its collection of sidewalk cafes, bookstores, unique stores and restaurants.

There are plenty of UC Santa Cruz influences — their sports team mascot is the Banana Slugs — in the downtown mix.

As for the Boardwalk itself, I honestly thought I was going to die the first time I visited it 28 years ago.

Somehow against my better judgment and fear Cynthia had talked me into going on Chaos.

They strap two of you into a full upper body harness in a “bucket”.

The bucket would randomly flip as the ride rotated up and down.

The ride designer called it a “three-dimensional rocking, rolling, and rotating” ride. I called it insanity.

You’d flip over facing the ground as Chaos spun and then twirl rapidly around as you climbed.

The only time I was more terrified was parasailing midway between Maui and Lana’i when I lost my grip on the harness.

Chaos enjoyed a 13-year run at the Boardwalk before it was replaced with another ride.

The Boardwalk not only has ample thrill rides — 11 at last count— but also 19 family rides, eight kids rides and nine other attractions plus food and shopping.

It also four things that Great America and Marine World will never have — you can walk right onto the beach, you don’t have to pay an admission fee, and ride lines are super reasonable on even the busiest days.

The Boardwalk is the grandfather of California amusement parks having opened in 1907.

Its charm is the fact it blends state-of-the-art thrill rides with century-old classics in an atmosphere that is semi-carnival as well as being on a beach.

The two oldest rides alone — the Giant Dipper rollercoaster and the Looff grand carousel — are worth the drive from the 209.

Why the carousel? Not only are the 73 ornate hand carved wooden horses on the carousel that has been running since 1911 a sight to see, but it is also one of the few carousels remaining in the world that offers a ring dispenser.

Riders on outside horses grab a ring from a dispenser as the carousel spins and then toss them into Aarhus clown’s gaping mouth.

Hit the target and you’re rewarded with bells and flashing lights.

Some opt not to toss the rings but opt to keep them as souvenirs. That’s fine by over 60,000 people a year or one out of every 13 riders.

Then there are the delightful sounds provided by the 342-pipe Ruth and Son organ built in 1894. It has been in use since 1911 with a complete refurbishing in 2009. It was joined in 2007 by another rare organ — the Wurlitzer 165 Band Organ from San Francisco’s now shuttered Playland-at-the-Beach amusement park.

The grand dame of West Coast rollercoasters and the third oldest in the United States, the Giant Dipper built in 1924 is a classic wooden roller coaster.

It has a feel you won’t find on modern versions of the ride. I rank it right up with Space Mountain and the Matterhorn at Disneyland as a classic thrill ride that has character given the wooden construction and glimpses of the unparalleled scenery for an amusement park when you’re not laughing your head off or holding on for dear life.

While I love the Giant Dipper and carousel my favorite ride as a 68-year-old kid without a doubt is the Space Race.

Think the classic bumper cars that the Boardwalk also has but are circular. Maneuver them just right and you can get decent “air” when you ram someone.

Rides are open Thursday through Sunday until late May when they go to seven days a week. The restaurants and midway games are open daily.

You can’t go to the Boardwalk without indulging in saltwater taffy.

There are also other amusement park staples such as cotton candy, kettle corn, churros, funnel cakes and even deep-fried Twinkies to name a few.


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