Yes, we're talking about roller derby, a 'sport' that's "like a cross between the World Wrestling Federation, Jerry Springer, and a Mexican soap," according to one Yelp fan from San Francisco. Roller derby, devised by promoter Leo 'Bromo' Seltzer during the Depression, was so popular during the early 1950s, it was televised several nights a week. Still, it rolled out of sight during the 1970s, before returning in a big way in the mid-1990s.
Today, fans throughout the country have their choice of teams and leagues, who perform everywhere from civic auditoriums to high school gyms.
In San Francisco, the venue of choice is Kezar Pavilion, a classic place itself, where the Bay City Bombers (shades of S.F.'s '50s-era Bay Area Bombers) take on all comers.
Some find it tacky, others boring. But fans don't care. Whole families come out, hipsters and gays, even folks who can recall when roller derby was young.
• Bay City Bombers: baycitybombers.com
There's something about boardwalks that never goes out of style, from Coney Island on the Atlantic to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, by far the hottest boardwalk remaining on the Pacific.
The Santa Cruz boardwalk has it all—clean, crystalline sand, a 'casino' filled with the latest arcade games, Neptune's Kingdom with its Buccaneer Bay miniature golf, and a plethora of beachside rides. Try to visit the grand ballroom of the Cocoanut Grove, today used for weddings and such, but in the '50s a rock 'n' roll and big-band mecca.
Still, the high point remains the Giant Dipper rollercoaster, more than 80 years old and a national landmark. Herb Caen, the San Francisco Chronicle's legendary columnist, was among its fans, calling it "a tooth-loosener, eyeball-popper, and one long shriek."
• Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: beachboardwalk.com
Forget jogging, and toss those tickets to your favorite rock-climbing gym. Back in the day, those inclined to active participation in sports enjoyed simpler pleasures.
"What would the '50s be without bowling?" Adriene Biondo asks. And Heather David reminds us of another vintage pastime—miniature golf. Fortunately for today's time travelers, many of today's bowling alleys and mini-golf courses evoke the '50s with surprising verisimilitude.
It helps if you follow a few rules. "Scrap the overpriced sushi and the cocktails," David warns. "Bowling isn't bowling without the beer and the snack bar food."
In Southern California, Biondo suggests the Brunswick Covina Bowl, which she calls "a 1955 gem of Egyptian style architecture." Up north, David's list includes the Bel Mateo Bowl, which fans refer to as 'retro mod.' Sacramento has another winner, Country Club Lanes, with exterior rock walls beneath a super-space age parabolic concrete-shell roof.
Prefer golf? Charles Phoenix calls the miniature golf course at Arroyo Seco in South Pasadena "the best retro mini-golf in Southern California. It's sort of like a folk art environment—very homespun.
"But, actually, there's no miniature golf course I don't love."
In the Bay Area, Heather David enjoys Sunnyvale's Golfland, a treat for the eyes with tikis and an immense sea serpent winding through the course with an insane grin and bulging eyes.
• Brunswick Covina Bowl (1060 West San Bernardino Rd., Covina): bowlbrunswick.com
• Bel Mateo Bowl (4330 Olympic Ave., San Mateo): fun2spare.2gobowl.com/?page=Bel_Mateo_Bowl
• Country Club Lanes (2600 Watt Ave., Sacramento): countryclublanes.com
• Arroyo Seco (1055 Lohman Ln., South Pasadena): golflink.com/miniature-golf/course
• Golfland USA (855 East El Camino Real, Sunnyvale): golfland.com/sunnyvale