The amazing thing about the West Coast is that it is still mostly wild, open, and astoundingly beautiful country, where you can drive for miles and miles and have the scenery all to yourself.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
The bayfront Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (400 Beach St., 831/423-5590, daily in summer, weekends the rest of the year, free, rides vary in cost, all-day ride pass around $30) should really be your main stop. Besides the dozens of thrill rides and midway games, it boasts the art deco Cocoanut Grove ballroom and two rides that are such classics of the genre they’ve been listed as a National Historic Landmark. The biggest thrill is the Giant Dipper roller coaster ($6), open since 1924, a senior citizen compared to modern rides but still one of the top coasters in the country—the clattering, half-mile-long tracks make it seem far faster than the 55 mph maximum it reaches.
Near the roller coaster is the beautiful Charles Looff carousel, one of only six left in the country, with 73 hand-carved wooden horses doing the same circuit they’ve followed since 1911; grab for the brass rings while listening to music pumped out by the 342-pipe organ, imported from Germany and over 100 years old.
Along with these and many other vintage arcade attractions, the amusement park also features a log flume ride, a sky ride, a two-story miniature-golf course installed inside the old bathhouse, plus a bowling alley and all the shooting galleries, laser tag, and virtual reality machines you could want. The Boardwalk has a concrete concourse but retains a great deal of charm and character.
(400 Beach Street)