My earliest remembrances of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk are of my family’s annual summer vacations in the mid 1950s.
My mother and little French grandmother would rent connecting rooms at a small motel on Riverside, just a block from the Beach Boardwalk (the motel is still there) and we’d spend each day of our week at the beach, playing on the Boardwalk, getting tan, making sand castles, and trapping sand crabs in our bucket then releasing them. I remember that bubbles would rise from the sand after each wave telling us where to dig to find the sand crabs, which we called sand fleas.
A highlight of a week’s stay would be a ride on the Giant Dipper, which the tallest and most thrilling structure on earth. fun houseMore frequently, we would get a ride in something more sedate like the tunnel of love or some other dark ride which for teens was a chance to make out, but for us kids was a fantasy world. Or, we’d walk through one of the fun houses. The arcade was filled with small souvenir shops and carnival styled games of chance. Popeye was my favorite character, so when we got treated to a souvenir at the end of our annual week, I chose a corn cob pipe to the distress of my mother and the delight of my grandfather who kidded her about how I was sure to turn out.
The early ’50s was the dawn of television. Motels would promote the fact that they had TVs and a heated swimming pool; now considered necessities. So, my mother picked those that had these luxuries. Each Friday night, my father and grandfather – who worked together in the City – would arrive to watch the Friday Night Fights, as the women sat around the kitchen table talking in French so we kids wouldn’t understand (right!) while listening to music on the radio. We would play board games or cards (Old Maid, Fish). I can still hear the play-by-play of the ring announcer, mixed with music, the hushed talk of the women and our arguments over Chutes and Ladders.
Also in my recollections are the sounds of tropical big band music (Hawaii, Cuba,Brazil) that I seemed at the time to be remember wafting from the Cocoanut Grove on Saturday nights. beach 1Occasionally my folks would join others from their fashionable generation to dance or listen to big bands. There was always some sort of exotic cocktail (rum and Coke in an ice-jammed tumbler garnished with mint and a cherry) to precede their annual soiree at the Cocoanut Grove. To settle our distress over their being out for the evening, they’d pour us pre-dance treats of Roy Rogers or Shirley Temples. We reasoned that we’d let them go dancing at the Cocoanut Grove any night, as long as we were treated to sparkling syrupy drinks with cherries in them.
On weekends, the Suntan Special would arrive, filled with beach goers to play at the Boardwalk and listen to bands that would play on the bandstand. Then, the train’s olive-brown coaches would wait for the black engine to huff again, bellow its whistle and carry the cocoa-butter-scented revelers back to the Peninsula. I loved that train and the adventure it conveyed.
We’d buy fresh fish on the Pier and chocolate covered bananas and salt water taffy on the Boardwalk, but memories like these, aren’t for sale. They are, however, still available for free at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.