Things I Miss: Playland-at-the-Beach

At Playland, on San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, you could be a king for a dollar. You could hear the latest music. You could play ancient arcade games. You could ride a rotting old wooden roller coaster, take a ride in a diving bell, visit a creepy-wild fun house. You could eat things you couldn’t find anywhere else – It’s Its, for example, two oatmeal cookies pressed on either side of a slab of vanilla ice cream and dipped in chocolate (the ones you get these days in stores simply don’t compare). Or Mexican food at The Hot House. Later, after Playland fell, The Hot House moved to Balboa Street. Never the same.

All kinds of people went there. All kinds. Every time I went to Playland, every single time, and I must have gone there a thousand times, mind you, my mom told me to watch out for myself.

In the summer, my dad used to come home from work when it was still light out. He’d grab my brother and me, and a cigar or two, and out we’d go to Playland, just ten blocks west of our house. We’d always run into guys he’d known growing up. They’d be cops now, or bus drivers, or short-order cooks, but in the old days, they would’ve been my pop’s running buddies. Learned a lot about the old days in the city (and about who my dad had been as a kid) from listening to their stories.

In the really old days, way before I was even born, Playland had a wild nightlife, including a place called Topsy’s Roost, a sort of mash-up of chicken coop and big band club. Think you could find something like that these days? Don’t bother trying. You can’t.

People would go out to Playland as a quick escape, a hit of fresh sea air, a few laughs, a little fun, maybe forget their troubles for a little while. During the Great Depression, not the little-assed depression we’re having now, I’ve heard Playland kept a lot of people going when they were down at their lowest; I believe it.

It closed forever in 1972 to make room for condos, because that’s what our city needed, alright, was more condos. Here’s the plaque, beloved and irreplaceable Playland’s headstone.

There aren’t places like it anymore. I wish there were; we’d all be happier and better off. Damn condos are ugly as hell, by the way.

13 thoughts on “Things I Miss: Playland-at-the-Beach”

  1. What I miss from my youth: fishing with my father, body surfing and tide pooling near Santa Cruz, sleeping on warm concrete pool decks after swim workouts, and picking (and then eating) Cupertino apricots. So mostly water sports. I was born in Minnesota but we moved to Fairfield when I was three and Cupertino when I was ten. Fun memories.

      1. I can taste it right now. I have such fond memories of Playland but none so vivid as the taste of the enchiladas. Would die for the recipe.

    1. What a great memory. Those Enchiladas were the best I’ve ever had. I think they cost about .15c ea. They were wrapped in a soft carboard like paper. I believe that it was around 1946. We lived on 40th Ave between Anza and Balboa – about twice a week my brother and I would walk 9 blocks to beach to get 2 or 3 of those fantastic enchiladas at the “BULL PUPP”. Now, everytime I order Enchiladas in a restaurant – I can never find one that could compare. I do miss “Playland at the Beach”

      1. I can still taste them. My boyfriend and I lived in Morgan Hill and would drive to San Francisco just for these. As I recall, they were wrapped in brown paper, and I was in heaven just walking around eating one. These were definitely “the good old day.”

  2. Hi there,

    Do you know what year the picture above with the group of boys was taken? I’ve been looking at old pictures with my dad and it’s possible that he is the kid in the picture with the big hair. Or any names of the kids would be really awesome. My dad would really like to know.

    Thank you so much!

    1. Jasmin,
      Sorry but I don’t know. It looks really familiar to me and the styles say 1960s, or maybe very early 1970s, when I was a wayward schoolkid who spent too much time hanging out there. (Sound like your dad?)

      1. Thanks Brent! My dad said he was 11 in 1970 and he used to hang out there with his big hair haha. He said he was really talented with pinball and lots of people would watch him. He loved going there-it’s quite possibly him. That would be amazing if we could find out.

        Thanks again!

        Jasmin Sanchez

        Thanks again! We loved looking at

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