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Beach Trip

By Kevin Wing
Co-Host, Catch a Wave: A Journey to Californiaís 10 Best Beaches

Kevin Wing(Editorís Note: This monthly column about Americaís best beaches is written exclusively for AARisings by Kevin Wing, an Emmy Award-winning San Francisco Bay Area-based television journalist who co-hosts Catch a Wave: A Journey to Californiaís 10 Best Beaches, a television pilot for The Travel Channel. Kevin is also a feature reporter for the nationally syndicated LatinEyes, produced at KRON-TV in San Francisco. This monthís sandy locale: Californiaís historic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, near the San Francisco Bay Area.)

My penchant for loving any place with water goes back to my days growing up, luckily and appreciatively, with a swimming pool in my backyard. And, trips to Santa Cruz, California.

Santa Cruz is a place where I practically grew up, too. Not that I lived anywhere near it. But, for a long time, in my younger days, I used to love going to the Boardwalk and hopping on all of the rides. The Giant Dipper rollercoaster. The Scrambler. The log ride. The aerial tramway that took you from one side of the Boardwalk to the other. And the food. Cotton candy. Caramel corn. Hot dogs. Cheeseburgers. Sodas. Candy. You can almost smell it. It was, and still is, every northern California kidís dream.

Through the years, Iíve always held a special place in my mind for the Boardwalk. Thereís just something about it: its nostalgia. Its excitement. Its beautiful beach. Its colorful 1907 architecture. The combination of everything, plus the sights, sounds and smells of Californiaís oldest amusement park and the stateís first seaside playground of its kind, make it perfect for young and old alike. The fact that it blends the old with the new is something to behold, as the park continues to reinvent itself to keep up with the times. But, more on that later.

The Boardwalk, as locals call it, is located on an expanse of Santa Cruz Beach on the northeastern shores of Monterey Bay. The two go hand-in-hand, and have since the Boardwalk opened in 1907. The Boardwalk originally opened in 1904, but a fire destroyed the Casino building. Three years later, the Boardwalk reopened and it was better than ever.

When you think of Santa Cruz Beach, you think of the Boardwalk. And vice versa. Itís a great place to spend a sunny summerís day. If youíre a local or just visiting northern California, a trip to Santa Cruz is definitely worth it.

For years, the Beach Boardwalk has been the grande dame of Californiaís seaside amusement parks. For generations, seaside amusement parks dotted the California coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles and San Diego. San Francisco had its famous Playland at the Beach, for example. L.A. had the Pike. There were even one or two spread out around the San Francisco Bay area, not including Playland. It was a much simpler time. Today, many have disappeared to urban progress, but three remain: Belmont Park in San Diego, Pacific Park in Santa Monica, and, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. And luckily, all three are beloved in their communities.

Not only for the rides, it was a place to go for entertainment. The likes of Benny Goodman, Lawrence Welk and the Bay Areaís own Merv Griffin entertained the crowds with their musical talent in what was then known as the Ballroom.

Rather than go into a history lesson about the Beach Boardwalk, letís talk about the beach itself. Please know that the beach is maintained quite well, thank you, and the maintenance staff does a great job of picking up what many urban escapees leave behind on their sojourns to Santa Cruz. Itís a very popular beach. On some days, it looks it. But for as many people that come out to the beach, itís cleaned pretty well. There are times, though, when the beach can be peppered with seaweed and driftwood, especially after a winter rainstorm. Thatís to be expected, given its location on Monterey Bay.

But, during the summer, thatís another story. The sand is in much better condition. There are several beaches in Santa Cruz. The Boardwalk beach stretches for a mile, from the famous Santa Cruz Wharf to the mouth of the San Lorenzo River. The Boardwalk serves as a perfect backdrop to the beach. In fact, so does the beach to the Boardwalk. Itís a perfect melding of whatís so great about this place.

On the beach itself, there are plenty of places to stake your claim in the sand. There are, of course, plenty of lifeguard look-out posts. Volleyball nets are always strung up along the western section of the beach closest to the Santa Cruz Wharf. Itís the perfect beach to go for families, friends and couples. Thereís always something to do here.

Back on the Boardwalk, the allure of its rides and attractions is intoxicating. Many of those rides mentioned earlier are still around, including the signature Giant Dipper coaster. Itís one of the few genuine wooden rollercoasters in existence today. Itís hard to ignore all of the smells of Boardwalk fare, too. Mariniís Candy Shop, along the Promenade just outside the Casino, has been there for generations. It still makes its famous salt water taffy and its own chocolate. For many years, I can remember the same little old lady sitting at her post behind a glass window, quietly making every chocolate confection imaginable.

Joining the Boardwalkís cast of rides this year is the Double Shot, the size and stature of which has totally remade the look of the Boardwalk. The Double Shot is a 125-foot tower that launches riders skyward at more than 3 Gís. They experience a moment of weightlessness before rocketing back down to the ground. Welcome to the 2005 Beach Boardwalk.

But the past is never forgotten here. In fact, the Beach Boardwalk continues to bring back old favorites. Take Laffing Sal, for instance. A towering presence, she is a mechanical creation of a woman with flaming red curls, a clown-like face and an infectious yet terrifying laugh. Youíll either like her, or youíll go home to have nightmares. No kidding. Laffing Sal debuted here this year after spending many years in a San Francisco museum. She was one of the featured attractions at San Franciscoís old Playland at the Beach, and now, sheís back to entertain a new generation in Santa Cruz.

Thereís a reason why Santa Cruz Beach is, by far, northern Californiaís most popular beach. The beach and the Boardwalk combine for an entertaining, fun time, day or night.

See for yourself! Check out the Boardwalkís website at www.beachboardwalk.com.

How to get to the beach: The city of Santa Cruz and the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk are conveniently situated between the San Francisco Bay area and Monterey. From San Francisco, head south on state Highway 1 (in southern California, itís commonly called the Pacific Coast Highway; in these parts, locals call it the Cabrillo Highway) into Santa Cruz. Turn right on Ocean Avenue and follow the signs to the Boardwalk. From San Jose, head south on state Highway 17 through the Santa Cruz Mountains; Highway 17 ends at Highway 1. Follow signs straight ahead to Ocean Avenue, then follow the signs to the Boardwalk. From Monterey, head north on Highway 1 to Ocean Avenue.

Next month from Beach Trip: Weíre heading back to sunny Florida to check out fun and exciting Miami Beach. And coming soon: Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier in southern California.

To learn more about the Catch a Wave television show and Kevin Wing, go to www.catchawavetv.com. You can email Kevin and the Catch a Wave crew at catchawavetvshow@aol.com.

Copyright 2005
All Rights Reserved
Kevin Wing
American Travelers Television
Issue 3 / June 2005

April 2005
February 2005

Photo used by permission courtesy of Kevin Wing. Photo copyright by Kevin Wing.