The beachfront Giant Dipper roller coaster – one of San Diego’s most recognizable attractions – turns 94 years old Thursday and, looking back at its history, one could say the landmark’s life has been full of ups and downs.
The wooden coaster, which offers views of the Pacific Ocean as it dips and zips, shares its birthday with America on July 4. Located at Belmont Park on the corner of Mission Boulevard and West Mission Bay Drive, the Giant Dipper is one of only two remaining antique wooden coasters in California.
The Giant Dipper opened to the public on July 4, 1925. It was meant to be the key attraction for the 33-acre Mission Beach Amusement Center that had opened just a few weeks prior.
The beachfront coaster and amusement park was a project of business magnate John D. Spreckels, an influential figure in San Diego’s development. Back then, it cost $150,000 to build the roller coaster, including two 18-passenger trains.
The Mission Beach Amusement Center was popular through the 1930s and 1940s. It was later renamed Belmont Park. By the late 1960s, Belmont Park fell into disrepair and the park and Giant Dipper closed in December 1976.
Then came another low point for the Giant Dipper.
In the 1980s, the roller coaster became an eyesore in the heart of Mission Beach. It survived several fires and became a home for transients. Feeling pressure to get rid of the roller coaster once and for all, its owner set a date to tear it down.
But the Giant Dipper would rise again.
According to a spokesperson with Belmont Park, a group concerned San Diegans established the “Save the Coaster Committee” and worked to save the Giant Dipper from being demolished.
The group succeeded in having the coaster designated as a National Landmark and requested ownership be transferred to the committee. The San Diego Coaster Company was established in 1990 and $2 million was poured into restoring the ride. Restoration included all elements of the track and track bed, 11,000 new bolts, thousands of feet of new lumber, and two new passenger trains featuring six 4-person cars with a modern restraint system.
On August 11, 1990, the newly restored roller coaster reopened to the public and finally rode again.
Today, the Giant Dipper is both a National and State Historic Landmark (No. 1044). It is also an iconic part of San Diego beach culture.
Now well into its golden years, the attraction enjoys an active life, welcoming patrons daily who dare to take its dips, twists and turns. The top of the coaster, as always, still offers breathtaking views of Mission Beach and the ocean.
If you’re taking a stroll along the boardwalk near Belmont Park, you can often hear the enthusiastic shrieks of thrill-seekers enjoying the ride. Spectators are known to stop along the sidewalk and look up at the Giant Dipper, contemplating whether to hop on.
According to the Roller Coaster Database, the coaster is 2,600 feet in length and ride lasts a little more than two minutes. The Belmont Park website said the Giant Dipper travels at speeds up to 48 mph and reaches a maximum height of 75 feet.
Riders must be at least 50 inches tall to enjoy the Giant Dipper. A single ride costs $7, although some Belmont Park ticket packages – including the $31 Ride Pass – do include unlimited rides on the iconic coaster.
As the Giant Dipper celebrates its birthday on the Fourth of July, it’ll also share the spotlight with another historic attraction at Belmont Park where one can take a dip: the indoor swimming pool, Plunge.
After many years of being closed for a multimillion-dollar renovation, Plunge reopens on July 4.
Belmont Park is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on the Fourth of July and daily, except for Saturday, when the park stays open until midnight.
Mission Beach, the longtime home of the Giant Dipper, spans nearly two miles of oceanfront views and boasts a boardwalk frequented bicyclists, joggers and casual strollers. Along the boardwalk, dozens of eateries and small shops offer snacks and trinkets, and a wall offers a relaxing place to rest and gaze out at the ocean.