September 2023

Iconic Attraction Returns Soon to the Boardwalk

Something has been missing at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for too long, an attraction that is a staple at any seaside amusement park: a Ferris wheel.

Thankfully, that’s about to change.

Plans are in the works to install a new Ferris wheel at the Boardwalk, more than five years after it removed its classic ride due to decades of wear and tear and salty air.

This Ferris wheel, approved by Santa Cruz city planners in August, will stand 68 feet tall, roughly the same size as the previous one, and feature 15 gondolas that can sit up to four adults or six children at a time, according to the plans.

Manufactured by Kansas-based Chance Rides, it will be located across from the Giant Dipper’s first drop, and replace Rock & Roll, the spinning and swinging ‘50s-themed car ride that has been dishing tunes since 2002.

The Ferris wheel last operated at the Boardwalk in 2017, but was removed early the next year after Boardwalk maintenance crews determined its age meant it had spun riders for the last time after nearly six decades.

Everyone that I’ve talked to about the new Ferris is excited to hear that it’s coming back new and improved. Rather than being stuffed in the back corner of the park, the new central location is perfect, and should provide some never-before-seen views of the Giant Dipper.

Also, a fond farewell to Rock & Roll, even though I always thought the ride was a bit of an oddball in the Boardwalk’s lineup. It is too similar in appearance and experience to another ride, Tsunami, which is also within sight of one another. That area of the park has hosted a number of spinning rides throughout the Boardwalk’s history, previously housing Wave Jammer, which I felt was more thrilling than Rock & Roll.

Hit the skies
Speaking of new rides, California’s Great America opened Pacific Gliders in August. Manufactured by Italian company Zamperla, the “Windstarz” attraction, as it is referred to, features 12, two-person “hang gliders” that rotate and allow the rider to control their own movement.

It’s perfect for families, as you can decide how thrilling or calm you’d like to ride. Want to stay low to the ground or soar in the air? It’s all up to you.

Being the thrill-seeker myself, I discovered how to make things a little more exciting. Let’s just say you should stick to the middle and time your glider’s movements to catch the air.

Pacific Gliders is part of a newly renovated area of the park called NorCal County Fair, where the classic car ride attraction, renamed Barney Oldfield’s Redwood Rally, received a number of upgrades and surprises.

The continued investment in Great America, a year after its owners announced it would be closing within the next decade, has given many hope that the park may still have a future after all. The year 2026 will be a big one for Great America. Not only will it be celebrating its 50th anniversary, but its parking lot neighbor, Levi’s Stadium, will be hosting some of the world’s biggest sporting events: the Super Bowl and FIFA World Cup.

Soarin’ over Monterey
In a previous article for Growing Up in Santa Cruz, I wrote about the new Treasure Hunt ride that opened in Monterey’s Cannery Row, a pirate-themed adventure where riders traverse in small vehicles and shoot at targets, à la Ghost Blasters at the Boardwalk.

Turns out, the area is becoming quite a hotbed for amusement rides.

Under construction in a former IMAX theater a couple of blocks away at 640 Wave St. is a “flying theater” ride known as “Encounter.” The moving theater seats, which can hold up to 39 people, will be suspended over a panoramic screen, giving the audience the illusion of flying through various scenes.

The ride is being developed by Dynamic Attractions, the same company behind “Soarin’ Over California” at Disney California Adventure in Anaheim.

No word yet on an opening date. A video that shows off what the ride will look like can be viewed at:

Save the Dates
Fiesta en la Playa: The Boardwalk will celebrate the Latino community with mariachi performances, folklorico dancers and a free beach concert on Sept. 9.

Fall Campout: Set up your tents overnight at the Boardwalk from Sept. 29-30. To register, visit

Boardwalk Fright Flicks: On Wednesday nights from Oct. 4-25, the Boardwalk will screen scary movies in the Cocoanut Grove ballroom, including “Us,” “Child’s Play,” “Zombieland” and “Halloween (2018).”

Tricks & Treats: California’s Great America’s family-friendly Halloween event that debuted last year runs select days from Sept. 22-Oct. 29.

The Great Big BOO: Gilroy Gardens will undergo its annual spooky transformation from Sept. 29 through October.

By Erik Chalhoub

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