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The Boardwalk will be buzzing this summer.

Fresh ocean air allowed the landmark Santa Cruz beachside park to stay open to thrill seekers, skee-ball players and salt-water taffy eaters for much of the pandemic. But most of the live entertainment that drew large crowds during the summer had to go on hiatus.

This year, after two seasons off, the free movies and concerts are returning.

“We are thrilled to bring free and fun family entertainment back to the Boardwalk,” spokesman Kris Reye said in announcing the lineup. “Our guests come for the rides and can stay for the entertainment.”

Here’s a roundup of what’s on the calendar, along with plans to celebrate National Carousel Day at the Looff Carousel and an advance peek at the fall schedule.

A Wurlitzer 165 Dupler organ provides the tunes for the Looff Carousel at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

‘May-hem’ this month

Look for daily specials through May 31 at the Boardwalk Bowl.

On “Wild Weekdays,” noon to 5 p.m., get two games bowling, shoe rental, hot dog or slider, chips and a soda for $8.62 for adults, $7 for kids. On “Wacky Weekends” you can bowl for $2 per game per person.

Movie night starts at 9 p.m. Wednesdays, with savings on bowling and pizza. On Thursday and Sunday nights, radio station 102.5 KDON hosts “Radioactive Atomic Bowling.”

And on Fridays from 3 to 7 p.m. it’s “Scoops and Strikes,” with two bowling games, shoe rental and two scoops of local favorite Marianne’s ice cream for $12.86 for adults, $10.95 for kids.

Free movies on the beach

When the sun goes down, the screen comes up.

At 9 p.m. Fridays from June 17 through Aug. 12, movies will be the attraction on the Main Beach in front of the Colonnade.

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Bring your Boardwalk snacks and your beach blanket or chairs down to the sand and watch “The Goonies” (June 17); “50 First Dates” (June 24); “Sing 2” (July 1); “Little Shop of Horrors” (July 8); “The Sandlot” (July 15); “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” from 2021 (July 22); “Ironman” (July 29); “Trolls” (Aug. 5); and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (Aug. 12).

Outdoor movies have become a tradition at many city parks, but Santa Cruz’s Movies on the Beach takes the trend to an entirely different level. Watch “The Goonies” and other movies seaside at the boardwalk all summer long. (Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk) Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

What about ‘The Lost Boys’?

Normally scheduled for summer, the 1987 cult favorite that was filmed on location at the Beach Boardwalk will instead be screened this year on Oct. 29, as part of the park’s Halloween festivities.

That may seem to be a more appropriate time of year anyway to feature “The Lost Boys,” the campy flick about vampires disguised as a band of motorcycle-riding punks, but Reyes said the date change was made because of licensing restrictions.

When the Boardwalk hosted the 30th anniversary screening in 2016, more than 7,500 fans packed the Main Beach to watch. Could this year’s Halloween timing top that attendance?

Free Thursday concerts

Bay Area bands will provide this summer’s soundtrack, with free concerts set for 8:30 to 10 p.m. Thursdays, June 16-Aug. 11, on the Boardwalk’s Colonnade Stage.

The nine bands on the schedule are: Extra Large (June 16); Sang Matiz (June 23); The Deadlies (June 30); Man in Black (July 7); Brass Magic (July 14); Pacific Roots (July 21); 4to Prestigio (July 28); Coffee Zombie Collective (Aug. 4); and The Joint Chiefs (Aug. 11).

The popular Friday night concerts by major bands couldn’t make a comeback this year, because the pandemic nixed any hope of year-long advance planning. “Given the uncertainty at that time about future COVID restrictions and regulations, as well as staffing levels, we were unable to plan a traditional summer concert series for 2022,” Reyes said.

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Grab the brass ring

There’s a big anniversary coming up, and everyone’s invited to the party.

The Looff Carousel, a National Historic Landmark, is the oldest ride at the Boardwalk, having been delivered to the amusement park in 1911 — 13 years before the Giant Dipper, the famous wooden roller coaster, opened.

The merry-go-round horses were hand-carved by Danish wood-carver Charles Looff, who made more than 50 carousels in his lifetime, according to Bay Area News Group archives. And while various attractions have sprouted up around it over the years, the Looff Carousel has never changed locations.

The carousel horses at the Looff Carousel at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk are all hand carved. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

Since the birthdate of each carousel horse is lost to history, the 111th anniversary of the whole carousel corral will be celebrated on Monday, July 25, which is National Carousel Day. On that day, the first 100 riders will receive a souvenir brass carousel ring.

Santa Cruz Band Review

On Saturday, Oct. 15, the Boardwalk and Santa Cruz High School will team up to host the Santa Cruz Band Review, a Northern California Band Association event, with 55 high school and junior high school marching bands competing next to the Boardwalk. The students will be judged in the categories of music, showmanship and marching — in sand? You’ll want to arrive early to watch that challenge.

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Boardwalk Chili Cook-Off

The Boardwalk’s Chili Cook-Off took only one year off — 2020 — returning in 2021 to host more than 30 amateur and professional teams competing for cash and bragging rights. Look for the number of teams and attendees to increase this year to something closer to the pre-pandemic figures. That’ll be a lot for chiliheads to sample, but the proceeds from every tasting kit you purchase always go to support a local nonprofit cause. The event date is Saturday, Oct. 22.

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Details: Boardwalk admission is free. Right now, Neptune’s Kingdom and the other arcades and indoor venues are open daily, with nighttime hours; however, the outdoor rides are on a Thursday-Sunday schedule with limited evening hours. Starting May 26, the rides will be open daily, though with varying nighttime hours. For more schedule info, ride/game ticket prices, advance purchases and promotions, go to Most concessions accept cashless payments only. 400 Beach St., Santa Cruz.

The Bay Area boasts near-endless options for outdoor adventures, tasty bites and unexpected day trips. So we created the Bay Area Bucket List, a project that asks our readers to help us find the best activities.

Send us your ideas below. Then we’ll post a sampling so readers can vote and help us pick what cool activities to explore. Be sure to include your contact info, so we can ping you if we select your idea to investigate.

Wondering about those reader votes? Check below for our latest voting round.

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