A First-Timer’s Guide to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk

The Santa Cruz Boardwalk is a fantastic place to visit. Whether you plan to include the destination in an upcoming road trip along the California coast or you’re in town simply to see a national historic landmark, you’ll have a lot of fun visiting the Boardwalk.

Getting here from San Francisco takes just over an hour, making it an easy day trip to Santa Cruz County. As one of the most popular places to visit on the west coast, it’ll surely be worth the drive!

You’ll discover a wide range of unique activities, sightseeing, and dining options all within the Boardwalk. It’s the ideal place to spend with the family or take a day’s break between other attractions.

From kiddie rides to adult entertainment, there’s plenty to see and do at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Let’s dive into our favorite things on the Boardwalk and in the nearby area.

The Boardwalk Amusement Park

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Are you ready to enjoy a day at the Boardwalk with the family? The theme park offers great thrills with spectacular views of the beach and coastline. Family-friendly thrill rides, a wave rider, and boardwalk racers are among the most popular activities to enjoy, weather permitting. 

The Boardwalk itself is free to enter. You can walk around, watch the rides, and get great views of Monterey Bay. If you’d like to take part in the fun, you can purchase a rides wristband.

The park features a few family rides, including a wooden roller coaster, the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, Looff Carousel, Neptune’s Kingdom, the Sky Glider, and the CliffHanger, among other rides providing a thrill for kids and adults alike.

Boardwalk Games

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The Boardwalk games are a fun way to test your skills to win a few prizes. You’ll find traditionally popular games such as dime toss and bushel baskets to local favorites such as break-a-plate and bazooka. It’s a great way to enjoy the day with the kids!

Boardwalk Racers

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This attraction is fun for children aged three and up. The Boardwalk Racers are equipped with pedals and feature a path right next to the Main Entrance Plaza. Open weekends it’s a great way to start the day at the beach with the family.

Drive-in Movies

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If you’re looking to relax after a day spent on the beach, the Boardwalk’s Drive-in is the perfect way to unwind with an action-adventure or comedy. The theater offers a selection of “flash-back” classic films and showtimes listed on the drive-in’s website. Ticket fees are based on vehicles, and spaces are filled on a first-come-first-served basis.

Indoor Attractions Along the Boardwalk

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If you’re looking for some fun, interactive activities, you’ll find some challenging and team-building games such as Laser Maze, Laser Tag, Boardwalk Bowl, and more. If you enjoy something with a spooky theme, you may want to visit the Fright Walk.

Boardwalk Vendors and Farmer’s Market

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Shopping along the Boardwalk provides the best ocean views and thirty booths of unique shops and artisan vendors. You’ll find lots of souvenirs and one-of-a-kind products, from cosmetics, candles, and accessories to clothing and natural, DIY items. 

The farmers’ market features an incredible cuisine and flavors to tempt your inner foodie and sense of culinary adventure. During the summer, the market features top chefs and culinary events for locals and visitors.

Boardwalk Shopping for Surfing, Swimming Wear, and More

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If you need a new swimsuit and sunscreen for the beach, you’ll find everything you need in many of the shops along the Boardwalk. Sun Shops offers a great selection of t-shirts, beach supplies, and swimwear. 

Locally inspired clothing and fashions are featured at the Octopus’ Garden. You’ll find everything you need to enjoy the beach. For more shops, we recommend you head into downtown Santa Cruz.

Surfing at the Boardwalk Beach

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One of the top sports and features of California’s beaches is surfing. Whether you enjoy watching the sport in action or would like to learn how to ride the waves, you’ll find everything you need to begin at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. 

Many surfers can be spotted riding the waves in the Santa Cruz area, including near the Boardwalk at Main Beach (Cowell Beach). The coastline in this region offers classic breaks and ideal conditions for all surfing levels, from beginner to professional.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can sign up for a beginner surfing lesson at a local surf school. Are you looking for a complete outdoor excursion with paddling, surfing, and more? Adventure Out is your optimal outfitter to schedule your unique adventure when you visit Santa Cruz. 

The outdoor excursion company also features mountain biking, survival camp, and other adrenaline-rich activities. Are you looking for more on surfing in and around the Santa Cruz Boardwalk? 

Steamer Lane, or “the Lane,” is one of the premier state parks to enjoy amazing surfing views in action. 

These views are easy to enjoy from a waterfront railing overlooking the coast, where you’ll see the best of professional surfing in comfort. The Santa Cruz Surfing Museum is a fantastic place to explore the sport further, close to delicious cuisine and perfect views for taking pictures.

Schedule your activities at Adventure Out

Picture-Perfect Scenery

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Do you enjoy taking pictures for Instagram and social media? Santa Cruz’s Boardwalk and nearby Santa Cruz Wharf offers fantastic opportunities for professional photography or with your smartphone. From sunrise to the area’s nightlife, you’ll find many views to capture without filters, from vibrant, sunny waves and surfing in action, to boardwalk shops and entertainment.

Impress your followers on social media with everything from the simplicity of a Santa Cruz sunset to colorful boardwalk spectacles. Santa Cruz is a great spot to capture mountain and coastal scenes from mountain biking and paddling excursions. Fantastic photos provide for excellent memories and conversations with fellow travelers.

Ocean-View Firepits

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For many people visiting the Boardwalk, keeping it simple and relaxing is key. From Monday to Friday, the Boardwalk provides evening fire pits for couples or groups of up to eight. It’s the ideal way to unwind after a busy day. Larger groups of up to 15 people, with snacks and beverages, are also available for special occasions.

Delicious Food and Fine Dining

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Whether you’re looking for a quick treat along the Boardwalk, or a full, dine-in experience, you’ll discover a lot of options close to the beach. With so many great Santa Cruz restaurants, your belly will be happy the entire time you’re in town.

Barbary Coast Restaurant is terrific for a large breakfast to start the day, complete with an espresso bar and brunch options. Barbary’s offers a wide range of comfort foods and craft beer throughout the day.

Along the Boardwalk, you’ll find delicious crepes, boba tea, and specialty cuisine for every taste. There are plenty of order counters offering hotdogs and fries for the beach, such as Handout and lounges to enjoy later into the evening, such as Boardwalk Brews at the Beach.

Unique Eats on the Boardwalk

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If you’re looking for something unique and tasty to enjoy on the Boardwalk, you’ll enjoy deep-fried artichokes at the Surf City Grill. They are made to order and served right off the grill with delicious ranch dipping sauce. 

It’s a tasty alternative to traditional corn dogs and hotdogs offered at fantastic spots such as Hot Dog on a Stick.

Tater Twists offers a delicious serving of spuds on a stick, and you can satisfy your sweet craving at Carousel Cones with soft-serve ice cream. You’ll find a lot of unique treats on the Boardwalk, from chocolate-coated bacon, funnel cakes, deep-fried Oreos, and tasty crepes to spiced, blended teas and fresh smoothies.  

Take a Trip to the Vineyards

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The Nicholson Vineyards Winery is a short trip from the Boardwalk, located in Aptos, and offers excellent hand-crafted wines you can savor while you take in the beautiful landscape of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The winery provides a beautiful picnic space with large oak trees and natural scenery to enjoy. 

Nicholson Vineyards features small batch production in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and other wines made locally from the central coast of California.

Business Amenities and Trade Shows

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The Boardwalk features an excellent conference space for business events and trade shows. Whether you’re booking a stay to attend a weekend event or plan to participate in a trade show, you’ll find the Boardwalk’s Cocoanut Grove provides all the amenities and spectacular ocean views to make your next show a success.

The Cocoanut Grove is the first choice for private parties, high school graduations, company retreats, and weddings. The venue is historic-themed with modern features and offers a ballroom, glass-enclosed sunroom, and a bay view room. On-site equipment for presentations, high-speed internet, and on-site catering is available.

Enjoying Your Trip to Santa Cruz’s Boardwalk Beach

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There’s a lot to explore and enjoy during your brief or extended stay at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. You’ll find everything you need for your upcoming visit. Your stay is easy to customize, based on what you prefer to enjoy in and around the Boardwalk. 

From keeping it simple with relaxing walks on the beach and sipping drinks to maximizing your experience in Santa Cruz with the best outdoor adventures and delicious cuisine, Santa Cruz has it all.