Visiting California’s Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is even more fun when you arrive via rail.
By Ken Reid
The mission: Find a way for three generations of family members, ages 14 to 68, to spend a long weekend camping together and enjoy all that California’s Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has to offer. Plus, avoid having to tow a car and wrestle the traffic congestion near the beach.
The solution: Set up the motorhome at one of the RV parks within walking distance of Roaring Camp Railroad, and arrive at Santa Cruz Beach in style.
Santa Cruz, California, is approximately 70 miles south of San Francisco, on Monterey Bay. Its famous beach and boardwalk have been open for more than 100 years. During the summer season (early June through mid-August), the Santa Cruz Beach Train makes daily runs to the park from Roaring Camp, a re-created 1880s logging town located in Felton; in spring and fall, it operates on weekends. Roaring Camp Railroads has been transporting passengers through the Santa Cruz Mountains for more than 50 years. The Santa Cruz Beach Train travels a very scenic route to and from the amusement park area as it rambles along the San Lorenzo River.
The weather on the coast is often better during the fall and winter than in the summer. That’s because on many summer days, the marine layer (cool, thick fog, often accompanied by drizzle) covers the coastal areas, sometimes lingering all day. But regardless of the season you visit, it’s a good idea to check the weather reports beforehand.
My wife and I visited the boardwalk as teenagers. At that time, it actually consisted of a wooden boardwalk along the beach side of this wonderful amusement park. When our kids were young, we took them to the amusement park. Now that our grandkids are teenagers, we wanted an opportunity for all three generations to enjoy this unique place together, which presents a mix of long-running and new attractions.
The one aspect that makes it all possible is the Santa Cruz Beach Train. After learning about that, everything else just fell into place. The round-trip train fare was $28 for adults (ages 13 and up) as of this writing.
Utilizing one of the RV parks within easy walking distance of Roaring Camp makes good sense, for a couple of reasons. First, doing so eliminates the $8 daily fee that is charged to use the parking lot at the railroad and adjacent Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Aside from parking, admission to the park is free, with its old-growth redwood trees, hiking trails, nature center, and other highlights.
A campground at the state park offers campsites with a maximum vehicle length of 35 feet. However, we found three very nice options in close proximity (along State Route 9) that can accommodate virtually any size coach. They are Cotillion Gardens RV Park, where we stayed; Santa Cruz Redwoods RV Resort; and Smithwoods RV Park. Cotillion is pet-friendly. It also backs up to a trail leading through the redwood forest to a footbridge across the San Lorenzo River. On the other side is one of many trails through the impressive coastal redwoods on state park property.
From Cotillion Gardens, it was less than a 15-minute walk through a scenic wonderland to Roaring Camp and the Santa Cruz Beach Train.
As it turned out, one of many scheduled weekend events was being held at Roaring Camp during our stay: the annual Redwood Mountain Faire. Several bands and lots of vendor booths were the main attractions, both Saturday and Sunday. Other events this year include living history re-enactments, the Halloween Ghost Train, and the Moonlight Steam Train Dinner Party. The train’s Web site has a complete listing of events for the year.
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has undergone many changes (for the better) since our first visits in the 1950s. Founded in 1907, it is California’s oldest surviving amusement park. A landmark and one of the most well-known wooden roller coasters in the world is the Giant Dipper. This coaster and the Looff Carousel, built in 1911 (and containing an original pipe organ built in 1894) are both National Historic Landmarks.
These are still ready for action today, as are many more rides. In total, the park has 36 rides and attractions and a huge new arcade, Neptune’s Kingdom, with mini golf, laser tag, pool tables, arcade games, and more. The park itself also features a large entertainment stage where live bands often play, and a wide variety of tasty food choices. And the mile-long beach is the focal point for all sorts of activities and events.
Admission to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is free. Fees for individual rides are charged separately. This wonderful amusement park, the adjacent beach, and the Santa Cruz Wharf offer so much, you just can’t help but have a good time. By parking your motorhome and riding the Santa Cruz Beach Train to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, the experience will be enhanced even more.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Roaring Camp Railroads Inc.
The following campgrounds in Felton, California, are conveniently near the Roaring Camp train that travels to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Other area RV parks can be found by using a campground directory or checking the RV Marketplace, published at FMCA.com and in the June and January issues of FMC magazine.
Cotillion Gardens RV Park
Santa Cruz Redwoods RV Resort
Smithwoods RV Park