Thrills to No End - Page 4

With its mix of fresh, over-the-top rides and perennial crowd-pleasers, homey Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk continues to amaze
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
This spectacular photo captures an equally spectacular Boardwalk evening, with lights ablaze.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
A recent hair-raising addition to the thrill-ride roster is the Undertow—but it's not for the squeamish.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
The Sky Glider.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
The Cliff Hanger.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Sea Swings.

Still, teens loved the Boardwalk back then just as they love it today. “Cruising was a big deal,” Whiting remembers. “On a Saturday night there would be a steady stream of cars from Pacific Avenue to the Boardwalk and back.” The cruising era is commemorated by a 2008 mural across from the Boardwalk on the now-shuttered Anne’s Koffee Shop.

Today, the Boardwalk has become a mecca as well for folks who revel in history, and mid-century nostalgia, with historic plaques throughout, historic photos in the Captain’s Galley, early 20th century arcade games such as the robotic Grandma Fortune Teller, and a Laffing Sal from San Francisco’s late Playland at the Beach.

But the rides attract the most attention.

For little kids, there are delightful rides that also appeal to parents who love mid-century whimsy—the Bulgy, virtually unchanged since the 1950s, with its flying whale-shaped cars; the Rugged Buggies; and the Carousel, which appeals to all ages.

“As far as the Carousel goes, oh my God! It’s one of only three in the world that still allows you to pull the brass ring,” Chesta says.

The Charles Looff-built Carousel, which along with the Giant Dipper is on the National Register of Historic Places, offers joys few children will notice—including the trio of historic organs that provide the soundtrack for the ride, complete with cherubs banging drums, angels playing, and paintings of San Francisco’s gingerbread-style Cliff House.

For rides that recall the 1950s, even if they didn’t originate then, consider the Rock & Roll, especially at night when the neon is glaring and the tiny cars with immense tailfins are snaking round and round the centerpiece, a blaring 1950s jukebox.

Another fun ride in similar neon style is the Tsunami, where a warning sign suggests the care park operators take for their queasier patrons. “Warning, the ride will now go backwards. If you don’t want to go backwards, raise your hand and the operator will assist you.”

Be aware, however, once you’re seated on most of the rides, there’s no getting off till they stop.

When you’re riding the Fire Ball, a pendulum-style ride apparently designed by the Devil, and your head is closer to the ground than your feet and the infernal machine keeps going faster and higher—well, sure, a little praying can’t hurt.

Among the reasons the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has outlasted most of its competitors is its ability to keep things fresh without discarding too much.

The Wild Mouse, which lasted from 1958 through 1977, “was like a miniature roller coaster,” Therese Poletti recalls. “You’d sit in these little cars shaped like mice. It was very precarious. You’re in these little, teeny cars and the track seems really skinny. Yeah, it was a wild ride. It was aptly named. You felt you were going to tip out of it, almost.”