Seaside’s known for its arcade games and vintage amusements, but only one makes your world turn — the Seaside Carousel. For more than 30 years, it has delighted generations of riders from its protected place indoors in the center of downtown. With tinkly music filling the air and more than two dozen fanciful animals to choose from, it’s easy to see why everyone from kids to grandparents loves this magical experience.
Take a Spin on a Rabbit or a Cat
Today the ride features more than two dozen fancifully painted animals, molded from historic wooden originals that were once housed at the now defunct American Carousel Museum. Among the animals is a rabbit, a cat with a fish in its mouth, ostriches, a pig and a dancing bear. Look for the prancing horses with real horse-hair tails and a pair of deer with real antlers. The pavilion itself is a work of art. It’s decorated with jesters, cornices with flowers and angels, mirrors, and plenty of lights.
Open every day except Christmas and Thanksgiving, the carousel draws more than 250,000 visitors a year, including Santa himself, who is known to take a spin or two during the holidays. Around Halloween animals get into the spirit, donning masks and hats for trick-or-treating, and the music becomes a bit more spooky.
Susan Deshon, general manager of the Seaside Carousel Mall for 30 years, has seen firsthand how beloved the carousel is to residents and visitors alike. There have been proposals and even weddings on the carousel, she says.
What’s the most popular animal? Deshon reveals it’s one that doesn’t exist in nature. Visitors love the hippocampus, a seahorse-like animal from Greek mythology.
But her personal favorite is the cat with the fish. “I always ride the kitty because my kitty doesn’t let me ride her,” she says with a laugh.
How Seaside Got Its Famous Carousel
The story of Seaside’s carousel starts in the 1980s, with the opening of the mall where the ride is located. The mall’s owners, the Dodge family, would periodically have a small, portable carousel set up at the mall, but they longed for a permanent fixture to do their building proud.
To realize their dream, they enlisted the San Francisco-based Barrango Company to build a custom carousel. The world-renowned company had built carousels all over the world, including one for the Sultan of Brunei, and in 1990 they delivered a replica of a classic 30-foot-diameter carousel to Seaside.
While the Seaside Carousel isn’t historic, the location is. It’s built on the site of the former Bungalow Dance Hall — a storied building that helped catapult Seaside to regional renown in the days following World War I. With Seaside’s local population growing fast and tourism booming, the opening of the Bungalow Dance Hall in 1920 was seen as a way to entertain young people and draw tourists from all corners of the state.
Though the building was quite plain, it held a large crowd and drew headliners like Duke Ellington, Bing Crosby and Glenn Miller, as well as other stars of the big-band era. Couples danced the two-step, Charleston, jitterbug and foxtrot while circling the central bandstand and rubbed elbows with celebrities who sometimes dropped by. Clark Gable, who lived in Astoria for a spell in 1922 and later took a summer logging job in Seaside, frequented weekend dances at the Bungalow.
The parking lot was rumored to be the place to go for bootleg liquor during Prohibition, and the dance floor was sprinkled with talcum powder to ensure the most dizzying spins. When bands weren’t playing, the Bungalow’s dance floor transformed into a roller-skating rink.
The Bungalow was in decline by the mid-1960s, perhaps eclipsed by newer attractions like the nearby Gayway Amusement Park with its carnival rides, including not only a roller coaster and a Ferris wheel but also a popular carousel. When the park closed in the early 1980s, Seaside was left without a carousel, but not for long. As they say, what goes around comes around, and soon enough, the town’s current ride was ready for more generations of fun.
What Else You Can Do at Carousel Mall
When you’re in Seaside, be sure to visit the mall and take a spin. While you’re there, save time to explore the shops that fan out around the carousel. Grab a bento-box lunch at New Garden Asian Cuisine. Sip a coffee drink or Italian soda at Caffe Latte, and stop into Seaside Mostly Hats for a souvenir cap. There’s even more fun in the form of laser tag and arcade games, including what they claim is the world’s largest Pac-Man.