ActivitiesTravel & Day Trips

Is the Santa Cruz Boardwalk Crowded? Local’s Advice

Planning a visit to the iconic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk? You may be wondering just how crowded it can get. The answer, as it often is, depends on a number of factors. Let’s dive into these details and help you plan your perfect visit.

First, a little about me. I’ve lived in the Bay Area for 10 years, and I’ve gone to the boardwalk several times. I can share my advice and some photos from my recent visits to clue you in on the crowds.

Firstly, let’s explore how the season can affect the crowd levels at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

SeasonCrowd Level
Spring (March-May)Moderate
Summer (June-August)High
Fall (September-November)Low
Winter (December-February)Low

The summer season, especially from mid-June to mid-August, is the busiest time at the boardwalk. The warmer weather and school holidays bring a lot of tourists and locals to the park.

The off-peak seasons, fall and winter, see lower crowd levels, with a slight uptick in Spring as the weather starts to warm up.

Keep in mind that the Boardwalk isn’t fully open every day all year round. The rides and other elements often close during the week in the off-peak Winter season. Check the Boardwalk’s website for a list of what’s open.

When the rides are closed, the Boardwalk is way less crowded!

The Boardwalk can get crowded!

2. Day of the Week

The day of the week also plays a significant role in crowd levels. Weekends, as expected, are busier than weekdays. The busiest day is typically Saturday.

You can visit on a Summer day early in the week if you want to still access the rides and games, but cut down on crowds.

DayCrowd Level
SaturdayVery High

3. Special Events

Special events can also draw larger crowds to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Concerts, holiday celebrations, and annual events like the Chili Cook-Off, or the Clam Chowder Cook-Off can attract thousands of extra visitors.

Keep these events in mind if you’re visiting the Boardwalk. You don’t want to drop in just to see the beach, but find that there’s a big concert in town and massive crowds!

4. Time of Day

Afternoons tend to be the most crowded time

The time of day that you visit makes a big impact, too.

I recently visited on a busy Sunday, but I arrived very early in the day. Before the boardwalk opens, the beach area is mostly deserted! If you’re visiting for a walk or run, or just want to see the beach itself, this is a beautiful time to stop by.

When the rides and games first open (in my case around 10am), the crowds don’t ramp up right away either. Around 10:30am on my last visit, there were still very few people on the boardwalk. This is a nice time to visit with kids since you can get in a lot of rides before it gets busy.

By the late afternoon, around 3pm, the boardwalk was mobbed!

Here’s how it looked at 9:30am:

Santa Cruz boardwalk at 9:30am before the crowds arrive and the rides/games open

And at around 3pm, at the same spot (see the green candy stand and pole for the aerial ride for reference).

The same scene at around 3:30pm

For fun, here’s a slider you can try. Slide it around to see what the boardwalk looks like before and after the crowds arrive!

Slide to compare before/after the crowds

5. Tips for Visiting During Peak Times

If you do decide to visit during the busier periods, here are some tips to help manage the crowds:

  • Arrive early: The boardwalk typically gets busier as the day goes on. Arriving early can give you a head start. If you don’t want to do the rides or games, arriving before 10am is a great way to take a super relaxing walk on the boardwalk before people show up. The bathrooms are open even that early.
  • Plan your visit: Decide in advance which attractions you want to visit and in what order to avoid unnecessary wandering in crowds.
  • Take a break during peak hours: Consider scheduling a lunch break or downtime during the busiest hours (usually mid-afternoon). I got a lunch at the indoor colonnade section during the peak afternoon hours, which provides a nice indoor place to sit.
  • Stay hydrated and protected: Carry water and use sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun, especially during summer. Remember that water at the boardwalk costs about $5 per bottle, so bring your own bottled water if you wat to save.
  • Practice patience: Remember, everyone is there to have fun, just like you!

While the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk can get crowded, especially during the summer season and on weekends, it remains a beloved destination for its fun-filled atmosphere and stunning coastal views. So go ahead, plan your trip, and enjoy everything this iconic spot has to offer!

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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