The score is tied 14-14. Only one more point is needed to win the match. The last player up takes a deep breath and gently rolls her bocce ball toward the small palina, the sphere that marks the target during each set. As her bocce ball softly knocks away a rival team's ball and comes to rest mere millimeters from the palina, she finally exhales, raising her arms to accept the onslaught of high-fives from her teammates and the congratulatory handshakes from the other team. Together, both teams adjourn to a local pub for drink and dinner specials that usually end with the construction of a solar-system diorama made from bocce balls and tater tots.
So goes another game of bocce in the Cali Bocce League, a highly social conglomerate of all ages, genders, and athletic abilities. Teams of 5–12 people take to local parks throughout eight-week seasons that conclude with playoff games. In addition to a trophy, gift certificates, and free admission to next season, playoff winners glean a prestigious 2-liter glass known as Das Boot, filled to the brim with beer or liquefied palinas. Occasional game cancellations due to inclement weather are posted online on Cali Bocce League’s Facebook page.
The clatter of toppling pins resounds through the walls of the 89 locations of Bowling Centers of Southern California, which are scattered across Southern California, Nevada, and Hawaii. Each alley abounds with modern lanes and equipment, and many boast concession stands, lounges, and game rooms. The family-friendly centers host regular public bowling sessions and league tournaments. Many of the centers also host private birthday parties, which science has proven to be more fun than birthday parties covered by the paparazzi.
Each week, the 32 lanes at Pinz sparkle beneath the strobe lights and disco balls of Shake, Rattle & Bowl. When they’re not glowing or being incubated by confused chickens, the bowling balls can be hurled by visitors and league bowlers alike, rolling swiftly past the 10-foot video screens that line the alley’s far wall. Behind the scoring table, in the VIP billiard room, plasma TVs help to ensure that guests can play pool without missing critical sports moments or any commercials starring famous cats. And in the on-site arcade, players can enjoy more than 40 games including air hockey, skee-ball, and video bowling.
At Jillian's, a colorful, 10-lane alley, a nightclub ambiance pairs with modern d?cor and ample entertainment to host parties. A restaurant sates between-set hunger pains with a menu of American eats such as hot wings, burgers, and pizzas. On Fridays and Saturdays, Jillian's hosts club nights, during which a sound system pumps music. Four billiard tables draw pool sharks, and guests can also enjoy an arcade of 84 electronic games between songs or bowling frames. For birthday parties, a private suite hosts up to 50 people who can play Wii games on a giant projector screen. The venue itself can accommodate anywhere from ten to 1,200 guests and also provides catering.
A friendly staff mans Pickwick Gardens' pleasant bowlery, where 24 well-maintained synthetic lanes treat clown-shoed families and friends to old-fashioned, no-frills pin punishment. Slap on some bowling shoes ($3 daily, $4 from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday) and challenge a chum to three-fingered skeeball at a time of your choosing (game prices range from $3 to $6, depending on time of day and week), or bust out the automatic bumpers (for ages 7 and under) and treat a wee one to a bout of life-sized pinball. Cosmic bowling lets grounded astronauts put a new spin on asteroid dioramas on Fridays and Saturdays starting at 7 p.m.
All across California, Western Bowling Proprietors Association sends pins scattering at a network of bowling alleys, each with its own personality. In addition to open bowl on automatically scored lanes, many locations host special events that heighten the experience with enhancements such as vibrant lights, lively music, and laser systems that do double duty protecting the alleys' diamond collections. The alleys also house refreshment facilities, pro shops, and diversions that range from arcade games to billiards.