Direct From SF: San Francisco's Best Arcade Isn't In San Francisco

Santa Cruz Boardwalk ArcadeArcades have, for the most part, gone the way of the Atari Jaguar. Finding an arcade these days, let alone one that's kept up to date, is a difficult proposition.

There weren't any back in the Midwest. The closest thing we had to an arcade was GameWorks, a once exciting Sega/Steven Spielberg collaboration that's fallen way off the map. It's telling when machines that break aren't repaired, just removed.

I'd hoped that San Francisco, which I've previously referred to as gaming's Mecca, would have something to offer. That's not really the case, unfortunately.

But there's hope! You just have to go an hour south, to the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The same one in the movie "The Lost Boys."

There are no vampires on the boardwalk these days. Outside of being the home of b-movie magic, some of the worst food imaginable (warning: don't try the chicken tenders, no matter how hungry you are), roller coasters that may possibly smash your hip and a gorgeous ocean view, it also houses an incredibly large arcade.

The boardwalk actually encompasses several different arcades, including one with and old but functioning "Space Ace" machine, but the true gem is at the far end. I'll let some of the pictures do the talking on this one.

Some of the more modern games

The classics section

A view of the whole arcade

The arcade features a little bit of everything. There are some newer games -- most recently, an arcade adaptation of Ubisoft's "Blazing Angels" -- but it's best known for a larger collection of modern greats -- "Marvel vs. Capcom 2," "Star Wars Arcade," etc. -- and massive amounts of undeniable classics.

And pinball, folks, pinball!

I'd never played the "Super Mario Bros. 3" pinball machine until this arcade. I'm no good at pinball. Physics aren't my thing, but there's something so visceral and engaging about flinging a metal ball and racking up high scores for no discernable reason. The pinball machines only cost a quarter, though, so my lack of skills is moot.

Old School 'Pong'Outside of an area deemed "classics," even though games like "Tetris" and "Q-Bert" are scattered elsewhere, the arcade's layout is fairly random. Games are just laid out everywhere. As was the common in Chuck-E-Cheese-like arcade houses in the 90s, there's also a laser tag setup in one corner.

Driving an hour to an arcade is a trek, which is why it's fortunate Santa Cruz is a phenomenal place to hang out for more than just its arcade. There's a giant (and mostly clean) beach, delicious restaurants in walking distance and many a watering hole to gather in.

It's a funny, relaxing little place very different from San Francisco. Which might explain why I've already been there twice this year -- and can't wait to go back.