The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is back! With the historic area having resumed operation of attractions at a reduced capacity on April 1st, I was excited to make a visit and see what the experience was like. Without a traditional gate like a theme park, the experience was quite different from visits to other themed entertainment offerings in Northern California operating under state and local health guidelines.

You don’t need a ticket to enter the boardwalk and there are multiple points of entry and exit. However, if you want to ride attractions, making an online reservation is recommended. What this really means is that while the rides themselves will keep their wait times low, the boardwalk itself can get overcrowded fast. It felt very busy, despite being a Thursday and ride wait times averaging around 10 minutes.

With attraction capacity reduced, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk only has select attractions operating and visitors need to get a wristband to be able to ride attractions. If they sell out ahead of the day, they are unable to sell ride tickets day-of.

Signs remind visitors that they need a mask in order to be offered service at any of the locations on the boardwalk, but I didn’t see anyone enforcing mask wearing in public areas, despite seeing boardwalk security walking through the area numerous times. This means as you walk through the boardwalk, you can expect to come in close contact with another party intentionally with their masks off or under their chin.

Spray painted social distancing markers were placed in queues for all open attractions and food locations, all of which had lines that extended beyond the marked areas. With most of the small attractions having just one employee operating them, the queues typically extended beyond these markers and this was another area where compliance was low, despite audio interruptions reminding visitors to stay 6-feet apart. Even within switchbacks with markers, most visitors either didn’t notice or chose to ignore them.

Most of the boardwalk-style games were covered up with arcade games, with an indoor arcade area currently closed. There was just one exception near the main entrance where a game opened later in the day after it got busier.

It was also hit-or-miss for food kiosks being open, most of which had a backed up wait to retrieve orders with no social distancing space for visitors to wait. The boardwalk also has a lack of available tables and benches during the lunch hour rush, which was surprising as it is only going to get busier as we head into the summer months.

The highlight of my visit was riding the Giant Dipper, first built in 1924. The Disney Imagineers were inspired by Boardwalks like Santa Cruz and this coaster was clearly an inspiration for California Screamin’ (now Incredicoaster) right down to the color scheme and the seemingly endless rolling hills it has taken riders through since the Victorian era.

Riding the Giant Dipper is like taking a step back in time with one of the few modifications to the experience being an automated break, replacing one that used to require a strong person at a lever manually bringing the coaster to a halt in the load station.

In the same way that Disney was inspired by the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, there are also several experiences that feel like they came in the wake of the popularity of Disneyland. Take Ghost Blasters, for example, equal parts The Haunted Mansion and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters. Well hidden in a submerged corner of the park, this was one of the few indoor attractions open during my visit.

It’s impossible to forget that this is an actual Boardwalk on the oceanfront with plenty of beach space and photo opportunities. And while the food lines may be long, you’re able to get some tasty snacks, including hand-dipped corn dogs and funnel cakes. When the weather is warmer, I imagine the beach gets packed.

One of my favorite experiences from the day was riding the Sky Glider, which connects most of the boardwalk’s outdoor space. A few of the chairs have cave people riding in them, one of whom is reminding visitors to wear a mask.

And one of the boardwalk’s many curiosities is “Laffing Sal,” one of around 300 Victorian-era amusement figures just like her and one of the last ones still in operation today.

I enjoyed my time at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, but am unlikely to return in the near future based on the low compliance from other visitors with social distancing and mask wearing. While the operators have a stated plan on their website to try and strengthen compliance, there’s little being done on the boardwalk itself. The experience offers some throwback fun mixed with a few modern attractions, unique shopping and dining opportunities and beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. For more information on how to make reservations to ride attractions, visit

I also did a live stream from the Boardwalk, which you can check out below.