In Santa Cruz, life really is a beach

The most happening place in Santa Cruz. Photo courtesy of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
The most happening place in Santa Cruz. Photo courtesy of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. – I did get to spend time on the beach while we were in California. I even got see a sunset, from the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

The boardwalk is one of the oldest surviving amusement parks in America, founded in 1865 as a public bathhouse that attracted all manner of business exploiting visitors seeking the healing properties of salt water. It was given new life in the late 1800s and early 1900s when entrepreneur Fred W. Swanton opened a casino at the site and created “the Coney Island of the West.” New York native Swanton was known for swooping in and establishing businesses that he ran with limited success for a few years, and the boardwalk and Santa Cruz – of which he was mayor for a time and which he transformed from a logging town into a resort town – were his legacy. According to Wikipedia, he started the first electric company in the area and developed the Santa Cruz Electric Railway. He also invested in the gold rush … too late. He died nearly penniless in 1940.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Swanton’s boardwalk was packed on a summer Saturday evening and while we generally avoid crowds, it was an adventure to zigzag among the people, parting the way with the stroller. We ate garlic fries and deep-fried Oreos and Trev spent more than an hour at the humongous arcade in a building that has survived at least two big earthquakes. We promised ourselves we’d make Trevor watch The Lost Boys, since parts of it were filmed here.

The sky turned indigo and the pier lights mimicked the stars as the sun lazily dipped away over the water. The temperature dipped, too – dropped, actually. There was another myth busted: California isn’t always warm.

Club Ed's mobile surf school in Santa Cruz, Calif.
Club Ed’s mobile surf school in Santa Cruz, Calif.

Two days later just after dawn, Trevor and I slipped quietly out of our hosts’ home in San Jose and drove an hour south to Aptos City Beach. The beach was nearly deserted … until the mobile surf school pulled up.

The folks at Club Ed were kind enough to take a last-minute reservation so my nearly fully grown water baby could learn to catch some waves. What was billed as a two-hour lesson lasted nearly three and Trev learned quickly in the relaxed atmosphere with instructor Sky.

Santa Cruz surf lesson

“It’s so much easier than I thought!” he told me breathlessly as he adjusted the leash on his board and headed out again.

We’d leave that part of California just a few hours later, but right then it was the best place on earth.

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