When was the last time you screamed on a roller coaster, got dizzy on a Tilt-a-Whirl, or drove your bumper car like a speed demon? If it’s been a while, you might want to stop at historic Belmont Park in sunny San Diego, California. Or if your days of vertical drops and upside down carnival rides are behind you, come anyway. It’s fun to take in the sights, sounds, and smells of childhood, stroll the paved ocean front boardwalk with a hotdog and lemonade, or suntan on sandy Mission Beach.
From the park’s beginning in 1925, the star attraction has always been the wooden Giant Dipper roller coaster. The 2,600-foot long, 73-foot high coaster is one of only three remaining examples of the work done by the legendary coaster designers Frederick Church and Thomas Prior. Sugar magnate John D. Spreckels built the Mission Beach Amusement Center to stimulate real estate sales and to promote his electric railway. It remained great family fun through the 1930s and 1940s and was eventually renamed Belmont Park in 1955. By the late 1960s, the park began to fall into disrepair and eventually closed at the end of 1976. The Giant Dipper, which was privately owned at the time, almost met the wrecking ball. But luckily a new company was formed to restore and operate the Giant Dipper. Over $2,000,000 was spent on the restoration and in August 1990 the historic seaside roller coaster was reopened. Its classic features—a tunnel, banked turns, and twisting drops— continue to thrill thousands of riders today.
Other than the Giant Dipper roller coaster, the Natatorium, later known as the Mission Beach Plunge, is the only remaining structure to survive from the original Mission Beach Amusement Center. The 60-foot by 175-foot pool was, at the time, the largest salt-water pool in the world and held 400,000 gallons of water. Over 1 million people learned to swim here, including celebrities Esther Williams and Johnny Weissmuller. Just like the Giant Dipper, the Plunge was closed and restored, and is now a part of WaveHouse Athletic Club, a health and fitness athletic club located in the heart of Belmont Park geared toward the San Diego beach lifestyle. At 12,000 square feet, it’s now the largest indoor heated pool in Southern California and still retains a few of its circa 1925 decorative features.
Whether you’re a coaster enthusiast, a historian, a beach bum, or just want a junk food fix (plenty of healthy fare also available), Belmont Park is a great place to spend an afternoon— just as families have done for nearly 90 years.
In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com