Arcade Nirvana in Los Osos

Written by Theresa-Marie Wilson

Theresa-Maria Wilson has been a journalist covering the North Coast and South County area for over 20 years. She is also the founder of Cat Noir CC and is currently working on a novel.

December 14, 2023

Boss Battles Arcade owner Christian Esparza, his fiancé Valerie Watson and their two children, Olivia and Leonardo.

If you were a teenager between the seventies to early nineties, a roll of quarters and time spent shooting monsters, fleeing from gobbling ghosts or fighting in space with friends was a rite of passage. Boss Battles Arcade in Los Osos is beacon to gamers both old and new alike.

Boss Battles’ origin story is a somewhat romantic one. Owner Christian Esparza and his now faincé, Valerie Watson took a road trip up north to Portland, OR where she showed him one of her favorite arcades and bar combo.

“At the time, I knew I wanted to open a type of business,” said Christian. “I just wasn’t sure what I wanted it to be related to but something that I was very passionate about — it was games. I fell in love with it and thought it was such a great concept. I kind of had that light turning on. I said, ‘This is it; this is what I’d like to do.”

The first game arcade cabinet the budding entrepreneur purchased was Neo Geo, a game platform introducing multiple games on one machine. He repaired that and followed up with a Pac Man cabinet. From there things started to come to life with beeps, explosions and the much-dreaded mournful sound and sight of “game over.”

“I just kept collecting, buying broken games,” Christian said. “Then we found out about auctions that we could participate in. With those, you have to know a little bit about them to know like what you’re going to buy or bid on. We were fortunate enough that a lot of the games that I bid on, were broken so they came at a cheaper price. Because I had the competence to repair them our collection doubled.”

All the planning almost came to an end when COVID hit and stores were closing, not holding grand openings. Christian almost walked away from his dream.

“Then everything started to reopen,” he said. “The support of my family and Valerie convinced me to not give up give up. We were also really fortunate that the landlord here gave us a shot.”

Jump forward a couple years and Boss Battles Arcade officially opened in June. The space at 1240 Los Osos Valley Road, Suite 2 in Los Osos near Beach Hut, boasts 31 game cabinets,  a PlayStation set up and space for trading card game players to set up. The collectable card game packs are also available for purchase along with some snacks, drinks, and t-shirts with the Boss Battles logo on them. 

Boss Battles isn’t only a haven for Gen X players reliving the days when their wrists and thumbs were sore, but seeing their initials next to high score made the pain worth it. The younger generations are in full force often with parents in tow creating new memories. The majority of customers are elementary and middle schoolers, but parents find the experience can be a bonding one with their children.

“Some of the parents’ have this unlocked memory that floods back to them,” Valerie said. “Then the kids ask how it works and a sweet bonding moment happens. I see families creating more memories with each other and just having a good time.”

Nine-year-old Olivia and 3-year-old Leonardo take on the 
X-Files pinball machine

Kids from about sixth grade on are welcome without a parent or guardian, which makes for a perfect excursion for them during breaks from school. Kids four and younger should have supervision with them.

“When we started out, we just had so many parents.” Valerie said. “You know when kids get up early and they’re like, ‘What are we going to do with the kids?’ They can drink a cup of coffee and hang out while the kids play the games — they can kind of Zen out.” 

Many parents, now familiar with the business and the owners, drop the kids off for a couple hours of fun while they hit the grocery store or run an errand.

The bummer about the arcade experience from the days of yore was having to feed so many quarters into the machine — a $10 roll could be gone in half hour depending on the players skill set. 

Christian taught himself how to repair the game systems at the arcade, which allows him to bid on broken machines that others wouldn’t buy.

Say goodbye to pockets weighted down with quarters or flattening dollar bills over and over to get change from the coin machine. Pricing at Boss Battles is $10 and hour or $25 dollars to play from opening to closing. 

“There’s a little bit less of a risk when you come to play,” said Christian of the decision to have a per-hour fee. “You can try out games that maybe you normally wouldn’t. You can press start and have unlimited infinite lives; that risk isn’t there anymore. If they lose, maybe they don’t want to try it again, or they might not have ever known that there was a game they would end up really liking.”

For readers wondering if by the hour payment is really deal when compared to quarter loading, Christian figured it out. He beat a game and only spent $20. It must run in the family, because 9-year-old Olivia has taken down Jurassic Park more than once.

“When my friends came in the first time, they all went over there [to the machine], and we beat the game for the first time in the game,” she said. “We beat it twice already.”

Remember when that was the best feeling in the world?

Christian and Valerie both love to play with their product too. His first draw into the game world was Pokemon played on a GameBoy Advance. Valerie was into Harry Potter and Hamtaro games on the GameBoy Color. Currently the most popular games in the arcade are the classic first-person shooter House of the Dead and the racing game Cruis’n Exotica. A note to readers, the pinball machines are still 50 cents to play based on the hours of maintenance they need to keep playing the silver ball.

Check out Boss Battles Arcade at They arcade is available for private parties, birthdays and other events. Thursday nights are Game Card Night, encouraging people to set up a round or two of trading card play. 

Boss Battles Arcade is open Thursday and Friday from 3 to 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. They are closed Monday – Wednesday.


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