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On the Boardwalk, Santa Cruz, California


Every resort, every beach, every park has its loyalists, so you may not quite agree with the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk's claim that it "is recognized as the best seaside park in the world." But even on a chilly evening in a spring dampened by Covid it certainly had 'fun' written all over it.


And it can claim quite a bit of history, too, tracing its roots to 1865 when the first public bathhouse opened where the San Lorenzo river meets Monterey Bay. It was followed by others and became quite popular—especially when a fad grew touting salt water bathing as a cure for nearly everything.


The growing popularity brought restaurants, boarding houses and hotels, souvenir shops and even a railroad connection directly to the beach. By the 1890s, Fred Swanton, a serial entrepreneur and promoter who had built the train connection, drew up plans for a full-scale amusement park at the beach; it opened in 1907 and has been operating since; Swanton called it the "Coney Island of the West."


In addition to the outdoor rides and, duh, the beach, there are plenty of indoor amusements as well, along a covered arcade, including Skee-Ball, my favorite from the Jersey Shore. The version here is gussied up with (literally) bells and whistles and bright lights.


No beach resort is complete without food you wouldn't necessarily eat elsewhere, except maybe at a ballpark. Come on, not everything has to be all healthy! These were the only choices the day I visited, but in full operation there's much more. Even salad.


There's a variety of rides available, including an overhead gondola ride and a variety of things that move in more dimensions at once than I care for and a cart-race layout featuring an extensive maze of hay bales to keep the distance between spectators and drivers.



And for those who frighten easily or like to pretend that they do, there's a fright walk that uses space under the boardwalk.


Name to the contrary, the Boardwalk casino is not for gamblers; its big indoor space is an amusement arcade, as is Neptune's Kingdom, only with a nautical theme and a two-story miniature golf course that includes some holes played in black light.



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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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