Celebrating 100 Years of the Giant Dipper

Nestled along the scenic shores of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk proudly holds the title of California’s oldest seaside amusement park. The Beach Boardwalk has drawn visitors and locals alike to the Santa Cruz area for over a hundred years since its founding in 1907. The Boardwalk, a coastal gem, offers more than just a nostalgic ride. Boasting over 40 attractions, 26 games, two video game arcades, an 18-hole mini-golf course, a laser tag arena, and a plethora of dining and shopping options, it’s a haven for free-spirited fun. From children to adults, there is a special type of magic only the Beach Boardwalk can instill in the hearts and minds of all who visit. Within this treasure trove of fun, possibly the most iconic feature at the Beach Boardwalk is the epic wooden roller coaster right at its heart, the Giant Dipper. This year the Giant Dipper celebrates a major milestone, turning 100 years old! As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Giant Dipper, let’s dive into the history and thrills of this iconic wooden coaster.

From the breathtaking vista at the peak of its initial ascent to the heart-stopping first plunge, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk’s red-and-white landmark, the Giant Dipper roller coaster, remains a cherished attraction 100 years later. With its distinctive red-and-white structure, offering sweeping views of Monterey Bay, and its exhilarating succession of dips and curves, the Giant Dipper continues to captivate both seasoned enthusiasts and new generations alike. This timeless classic has thrilled over 66 million riders since its construction, earning its place among the world’s best wooden coasters.

Since its inauguration on May 17, 1924, the Giant Dipper has maintained its position as the fourth oldest coaster in the U.S. and one of the top ten oldest in the world. The Giant Dipper stands as a testament to enduring craftsmanship, utilizing 327,000 board feet of lumber, 743,000 galvanized nails, 148,000 pounds of concrete, and an array of materials that have contributed to its timeless appeal.[1] Constructed by Arthur Looff in 1924, the coaster’s lineage traces back to Looff’s family, renowned for their contributions to amusement rides. In 1987, the Giant Dipper, along with the antique carousel, earned recognition as National Historic Landmarks, a testament to the enduring legacy of the Looff family’s creations.

Delivering speeds of up to 46 MPH, the Giant Dipper lived up to its creator’s vision and then some. Prior to its debut, the Boardwalk’s attractions were comparatively tame, offering little in the way of adrenaline-pumping thrills. Erected in a mere 47 days at a cost of $50,000, the Giant Dipper has seen considerable changes over the years, with maintenance costs now soaring to an estimated half a million dollars for a paint job. Despite the passage of time, the coaster’s commitment to safety remains unwavering. A team of four full-time mechanics meticulously inspects the ride daily, utilizing advanced techniques like ultrasound scanning to ensure every aspect of the coaster is in top condition. While the Giant Dipper has undergone cosmetic alterations, such as the addition of a Victorian-style facade in 1976 and the introduction of sleek new roller coaster trains in 1984, its essence as a beloved seaside attraction endures. Moreover, its iconic red-and-white tracks have graced screens both big and small in movies like Jordan Peele’s Us and vampire cult classic The Lost Boys, solidifying its status as a cultural icon.

Those wondering what it is like to ride a wooden roller coaster can expect a wild ride with gorgeous views suitable for thriller seeks of all ages. As riders ascend its initial climb, anticipation builds, only to be unleashed in a flurry of twists, turns, and heart-pounding drops. With its meticulously maintained wooden structure and signature “dips” that give the coaster its name, each ride on the Giant Dipper is a nostalgic journey through time, offering riders a blend of adrenaline and nostalgia that keeps them coming back for more. According to Arthur Looff, the Giant Dipper was envisioned as an amalgamation of thrilling experiences—an “earthquake, balloon ascension, and aeroplane drop”[2] all rolled into one. Its towering presence against the backdrop of the California coastline makes it not only a cherished attraction but a symbol of the Boardwalk’s enduring legacy as a premier destination for fun-seekers of all ages.

Admission to the Boardwalk is free, offering visitors a range of options to enjoy this iconic coaster. Whether you prefer individual ride tickets for a single thrill or opt for all-day ride wristbands for unlimited fun, there’s something for everyone. For frequent visitors, season passes offer an excellent value. The Giant Dipper operates daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day, as well as on weekends and holidays during fall and spring. From April 1 to Memorial Day, a selection of rides are also available on weekdays. Despite the change in pricing since its debut in 1924 — from 15 cents to today’s $8.00 — the Giant Dipper continues to deliver timeless excitement for riders.

All year long in 2024, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk will be commemorating the 100th birthday of the Giant Dipper with special merchandise, deals, and different events. Lovers of the Giant Dipper can expect events like a Fan Art Contest and an epic birthday celebration on Saturday, May 18 at 9 pm, to ring in the 100th anniversary of the Giant Dipper with a once-in-a-lifetime fireworks show![3] As we celebrate the Giant Dipper’s centennial, we honor a coastal icon that has brought joy and thrills to generations. Join us in experiencing the enduring magic of this historic coaster at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk – a century of coastal fun captured in every twist and turn.

[1] https://news.beachboardwalk.com/the-giant-dipper-fun-facts/

[2] https://news.beachboardwalk.com/the-boardwalks-most-popular-ride-the-giant-dipper/

[3] https://beachboardwalk.com/giant-dipper-100th-anniversary/

Header Image by Philip Lima; Riders on Giant Dipper by Ben Ingram