Trip Report: Belmont Park

San Diego, CA

June 23, 2006

Note: This TR is an excerpt from my California Mega-TR, available here.

We were driving through an oceanside village, and while stopped at a light, I saw an unmistakable wooden structure ahead of me. It was a white wooden structure with green and pink trim, we were driving past Belmont Park. Or are we? I could not have asked for more when the bus came to a stop alongside Belmont Park, and it was announced that here at Mission Beach, CA would be a 45 minute stop for those who wanted to take a dip in the ocean. Sorry ocean, I am much more interested in the Giant Dipper roller coaster that is mere feet from me.

Mon and Rhonda would join the group headed towards the beach, so that me alone to head to Belmont Park. Mike commented that it looked like the Giant Dipper was down for repairs as there were stacks of pre painted wood and other work equipment sitting under one of the turns of the coaster. I didn't have to wait long before I heard and saw the reassuring sign of a trainload of happy riders come zooming around the track. It's off the Belmont Park for me.

I walked through the parking lot and headed through the park entrance located about in the middle of the roller coaster structure. I then turned away from the coaster and headed to the gift shop, as that is where tickets are sold. I looked over my options, it looked to be either $5 a ride or $20 for the ride all day wristband. Hmm, what a dilemma, I knew I had time for more than one ride, but could I make good on the $20 wristband? Is the coaster worth $20 to me? I didn't deliberate long before I was purchasing a $20 wristband.

Belmont Park has an interesting story, it started out as one of many oceanfront amusement parks. As is common with oceanfront amusement parks, this one fell out of fad in the 1970's and a developer bought the park and closed it to make way for a touristy shopping area. So Belmont Park closed at the end of 1976, but the new owner made a couple important decisions, one was to keep the park's indoor pool, the Plunge, open as a membership pool, The other decision was, even though he didn't want to operate the rides, he kept the Giant Dipper standing as a tribute to the park that once was. So the roller coaster sat dormant for about 15 years, and fell into disrepair. Then in the late 1980's, early 1990's a group got together to restore the Giant Dipper to service, a group that would become known as the San Diego Coaster Company. The group acquired the ride, restored it, purchased new trains for it, and in 1991 returned the ride to service. The ride has been a regular attraction at Belmont Park since, and now the coaster is lined with other amusement rides. You might say Belmont Park came back to life.

I headed out of the gift shop and over to the Giant Dipper. The ride has a classic station with a highly polished hardwood floor. I waited in the short line behind the turnstile for the train to return to the station and unload. Then I was admitted and took a seat in the back car. Giant Dipper uses Morgan wood coaster trains, sometimes referred to as "California Style Trains" because there was a time, not too long ago when most if not all the wood coasters in California used these new style trains. Coaster enthusiasts in general dislike this brand of coaster train. Reasons for disliking them include the cars having a fiberglass instead of a wood or metal body, and the hard molded plastic seats with little or no cushioning. Those things don't bother me as much, and I really don't see why these trains get the dislike they do.

I sit down, and the attendant comes around and lowers the lap bars, yep that's a bit tight. We soon take off on our ride, we take a left hand turn out of the station to pass by the park entrance, then we go into the tunnel. The Giant Dipper still has a long lift approach tunnel, a feature that is not seen much these days. The official stated reason for these tunnels is to disorient the riders , but I have to wonder if they also afforded young coupled the change at a kiss. In this case the tunnel makes an elongated S so that you are now on the side of the coaster that runs along the street, but heading the same direction you were when you left the station, The tunnel exits out directly onto the lift hill. You notice the trim is done in what the park has called emerald green and cotton candy pink, on a white structure. The train is mostly white with teal/green trim. We reach the top of the lift hill, and there is not big steep first drop, instead the first drop is a swooping furst drop that also incorporates a turnaround, you start the first pass of the coaster over several hills that make a crossover so when its time to make the next curve, you are again curing from the street side, around to the park side. For the second trip you travel alongside the perimeter of the coaster. The ride has a classic series of hills and valleys all the way around. You then pull into the final brakes, then one more turn into the station. The Giant Dipper might be referred to as a Gentle Giant, because there isn't any strong airtime or laterals, yet it has the classic looks of a vintage wood coaster and a ride experience that is pure fun and a joy to ride.

So ride I did, a total of 6 times. Most of my rides were in the back car, and many of those in the back seat, but I did get a ride or two up front. I was careful to watch my time, since I had went off alone away from the group. He said 45 minutes, so I made it 35 in my mind to make sure I got back to the bus on time. I did take another look in the museum to look at the scale model of the Giant Dipper and an original Giant Dipper car, I also spotted some t-shirts that were left over from the rides 80th anniversary (2005) that were on sale, so I bought one of those. I then headed out to where the bus dropped us off, and just stepped out of the Belmont Park parking lot just as Mom and Rhonda were returning from the beach. We crossed the street and boarded the bus.

BONUS FEATURE: Loof Carousel at Seaport Village, San Diego, CA (6/23/06)

After a brief glimpse of the city, we headed to Seaport Village for a lunch stop. Seaport Village is a touristy shopping village. We had some hamburgers there at a hamburger stand, then looked around the shops. Set in the center of the village is a vintage carousel. The carousel pavilion building was easily recognized, and when looked inside the doors, I saw a magnificent Loof carsouel. Hand carved wood horses that had what looked like real horsehair tails. Several white horses, and the ride had a patriotic theme to it. I liked the use of hitching posts along the outer perimeter of the ride, and the downspouts that looked like horse heads. Signs around the carousel tell the story of Loof carousels, and another details where all the ride has been since it was built in 1895. I originally wasn't going to ride it, but then the children of the choir wanted to ride, as well as a few adults, so I joined them for the ride, The ride was a good value, with a 5 minute ride costing $2.


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