The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: A Look Back in Time

A nostalgic look back at the West Coast’s oldest amusement park

Since its opening in 1907 as the “Coney Island of the West,” the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has been the backdrop for scores of noteworthy cultural events through the years, from Duke Kahanamoku’s historic 1913 surfing exhibit to the Miss California pageant to major motion pictures, including Lost Boys and the Dirty Harry vehicle Sudden Impact.

Read on to learn about these historical nuggets from yesteryear at this iconic seaside amusement park. If you are visiting the Boardwalk today, be sure to take the self-guided historical walking tour.

The history of the Boardwalk itself is equally lively, telling the tale of a growing seaside town and a freewheeling spirit of fun and innovation that powered the amusement park through the 20th century and into the 21st. We recently took a tour through some old photos and enjoyed them so much we thought we’d share.

SC Boardwalk black and white image of Turnover Pies store front

From 1917 to 1968, you could always get a turnover pie at the Boardwalk. Flaky pastry wrapped around chicken or maybe a nice warm huckleberry or apple filling made for an inexpensive snack (precisely 15 cents in 1933, when this picture was taken). Plus you could “See ‘em made”! And get buttermilk! So the thrills didn’t have to stop just because you got off the Giant Dipper.

SC Boardwalk black and white image in 1941 of Fred Quadros & Shirley Wightman on the Trapeze

For almost 20 years, between 1927 and 1945, the Boardwalk staged Water Carnivals in the Plunge, the heated saltwater natatorium built-in 1907. Pictured in this 1941 photo are young Fred Quadros, Jr. and Shirley Wightman, an “aquabrat” and “aquabelle” (as carnival kids were affectionately known) who thrilled audiences with their aerial feats of derring-do.

SC Boardwalk black and white image of miss california contest, large crowd on beach

The Miss California contest was held at the Boardwalk every year between 1947 and 1966. In this 1951 photo, the contestants are seated on the dais waiting their turns to answer the judges’ questions. The contest eventually moved to downtown Santa Cruz until protesters shut it down in 1985. Today it’s held in Fresno.

SC Boardwalk black and white image of fun house entrance, clown with mouth open

The Palace of Fun, with its goofy mirrors, giant slide, rotating barrel, and hijinks galore, opened in 1925, but it wasn’t until the 1940s that the famous clown mouth entrance to the Fun House appeared. Inside the funny man’s grinning gullet, on the ticket booth, is a sign informing patrons of a strict rule: no wet bathing suits allowed inside.

SC Boardwalk black and white image of rotating barrel attraction, man and woman

In this 1958 publicity shoot for Southern Pacific, models navigate the rotating barrel of the Fun House as a crowd looks on.

SC Boardwalk black and white image of cave train ride, two cave people have dinner

This handsome couple enjoyed dinner, drinks, and the jazzy strains of “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” from 1962 until 1998 as part of the campy Cave Train to the Lost World. While goofy dinosaurs hatched and menaced riders on the train, their fellow cavepeople cheated at cards, tried to open boxes of dynamite, and otherwise created mayhem to the delight of Boardwalk visitors during those happy decades.

SC Boardwalk black and white image of wild mouse ride, man & child on the ride

In 1958 the Boardwalk opened the Wild Mouse, a small but mighty German-made roller coaster with a reputation that dwarfed its cute little two-passenger cars. With unbanked 90-degree turns, quick drops, and rapid-fire zig-zags, the Wild Mouse was untamed indeed. In 1975 it was removed to make way for the Logger’s Revenge, the classic log flume ride.

SC Boardwalk black and white image of Marini Candy store front, three men

In 1980, Marini’s had already been on the job making and selling saltwater taffy at the Boardwalk for 65 years. In this photo, Joe Jr., Joe Sr., and Joel Marini show off their sweet inventory.

The Boardwalk is still making history. Find out what’s new and start planning your next visit on our Boardwalk page. As the Boardwalk’s old slogan promises, it’s “never a dull moment!”