K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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Who doesn’t love a great boardwalk? Beach boardwalks offer the chance for a leisurely stroll along with the fresh scent of salty sea air, and often much more. Visiting one or more of these great boardwalks is the quintessential American summer experience – though many are just as delightful during other times of the year too. From west to east and north to south, these top boardwalks offer some of America’s very best.
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has been in operation for more than a century, opened in 1907 as the West Coast answer to Coney Island. A top attraction in Santa Cruz, it’s the only remaining oceanfront amusement park on the coast and even features two rides that have been officially recognized as National Historic Landmarks, the 1911 hand-carved Looff carousel, and the 1924 wood-framed Giant Dipper roller coaster. Marini’s Boardwalk, in business since 1915, still cooks up saltwater taffy in copper kettles. When you aren’t enjoying all the rides and games, the wharf is just a short stroll away, ideal for casual as well as upscale dining with spectacular ocean views and a popular spot for watching sea lions frolic in the water and lounge on the rafters below.
The four-mile “great wooden way,” often referred to as the “grandfather of boardwalks,” dates back to 1870 and is one of the best things to do in Atlantic City. When the first wooden planks were laid down, it was to curb the amount of sand that beachgoers tracked into the trains and hotel lobbies. Today, it offers a ton of action, winding past glitzy hotels, massive arcade halls, flashy casinos, and the neon-lit pier, as well as offering the chance to enjoy the sun and the surf. You’ll have your pick of stores and restaurants with ocean views along with outstanding people watching too.
The 5.5-mile-long Rockaway Boardwalk and its 170 acres of sandy beaches that are fully accessible by subway have made it a popular day trip for New York City residents for decades. While several unconnected sections were first built at the end of the 19th century, the entire length was completed in the 1930s. In 2012, much of it was obliterated by Hurricane Sandy, but since then, the parks department has invested millions in restoring and re-open the beloved boardwalk. Sometimes referred to as the “anti-Hamptons,” it’s frequented by young, artsy types for the surf culture as well as the burgeoning food scene. The entire stretch offers the chance to go from concession to concession to get a taste of what everyone has to offer, from frozen treats to burgers and everything in between.
The “Sodom by the Sea,” as it was called in the 19th century for its brothels and gambling houses, is likely the most famous boardwalk in the country. Coney began to flourish as a popular resort just after the Civil War, with a spate of hotels popping up along the beach, often including eateries and facilities for renting bathing attire. The first rollercoaster ever built in the U.S., LaMarcus Thompson’s Switchback Gravity Railway was opened here in 1884, followed by the construction of other rides like an aerial slide, carousels, and toboggan rides. A number of amusement parks rose on this site, including Luna Park and Dreamland, though Coney Island, as it is known today, was built in 1923. While it was in decline for a number of years, it began a comeback in the ‘80s and was recently revitalized, adding a multitude of shiny new rides, like the Air Race, a thrill inspired by aerial racing as well as a lengthy entertainment lineup. The boardwalk hosts fireworks, dances, and movies on the beach all summer long, as well as housing Nathan’s Famous signature hot dogs.
It may not be oceanfront, but the Navy Pier sits adjacent to Lake Michigan and features a 150-foot-high Ferris wheel that lets riders take in the lake and skyline. A top area to explore in Chicago, it’s packed with all sorts of other attractions too, including a carousel, wave swinger, mini-golf, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, an outdoor stage, and the Chicago Children’s Museum. Don’t miss one of the crisp, warm chocolate-covered churros from the Churro Factory booth, or grab an America’s Dog Chicago hot dog with all the fixings, including relish, celery salt, mustard, sport peppers, tomato, pickle, and onion. If you need a cold one to go with it, the Miller Lite Beer Garden Grove offers plenty of microbrews.
This boardwalk was launched in the summer of 2010, breathing new life into the Grand Strand beachfront. It stretches for over a mile and features a carnival-like atmosphere with souvenir shops, arcades, and rides like the 187-foot-tall Myrtle Beach SkyWheel. With its opening came a host of new restaurants too, though the favorite is still overwhelmingly Peaches Corner, an institution in Myrtle Beach since 1937, beloved for its root beer floats and foot-long hot dogs that are first deep-fried and then grilled. The walkway has become the town’s hub of activity, hosting live entertainment on summer nights, like bagpipers, stilt walkers, and jugglers, as well as a weekly fireworks display.
This three-mile-long boardwalk sitting at the southern tip of Ocean City in Maryland dates all the way back to 1902. One of the city’s top attractions, it features games, rides, eateries, and shops, including the 1902 Herschel-Spellman carousel. Don’t miss the Life-Saving Station Museum, which explores the history of shipwrecks and the rescue teams which came to their aid, or the Inlet Indian sculpture, carved from a century-year-old oak and gifted to the state in 1976. There are lots of other things packed along the wooden boardwalk too, including outdoor movies, Beach Olympics, and free concerts on select evenings in July and August. You can also dine on classic Maryland blue crabs by the bucket at Mug & Mallet and hand-dipped doughnuts at Fractured Prune.
The Venice Boardwalk, technically known as the Ocean Front Walk, may best be known as a mecca for eccentric characters. This world-renowned spot is also one of the best on the planet for people watching and a place to see and be seen. The three-mile beachside stretch is filled with tattoo artists, fortune tellers, joggers, rollerbladers, cyclists, weight lifters, handmade jewelry peddlers, and an array of street performers, including everything from musicians to jugglers, mimes, and break dancers. If you’re looking for a bite to eat, there are plenty of restaurants with indoor and outdoor spaces to enjoy the view.
The world-famous Wildwood Boardwalk has to be one of the kitschiest boardwalks it America. The two-mile-long boardwalk holds four massive piers filled with thrill rides and amusements, including three of the best rollercoasters on the east coast, countless stores, games, eateries, and even action-filled waterparks. It offers all of the quintessential seashore attractions, with even more amusement rides than Disneyland, including the Great White, renowned as one of the fastest and tallest wooden rollercoasters in the eastern U.S. There is truly someone for everyone, both on the boardwalk and the beach, with its stretches of sand offering lots of room for all types of activities from tossing a Frisbee to surfing, boogie boarding and just soaking up the sunshine. The five-mile stretch of powdery, white sands also hosts a number of events like Sand Sculpture Festivals, headline concerts, Monster Truck Races, the Wildwoods International Kite festival, and more.
This 60-acre boardwalk amusement park that overlooks Trinity Bay opened in 1996 and is home to the only rollercoaster on the Texas Gulf, the enormous Boardwalk Bullet – a 96-foot-tall coaster that reaches speeds of more than 51 mph along a 3,236-foot-long track. It also hosts a wide range of other rides, attractions, midway games, a charter yacht, a 400-slip marina, a long list of restaurants, and multiple shops.
This three-mile stretch of concrete boardwalk along the Atlantic is lined with live music venues, hotels, restaurants, amusement rides, bike rental shops, souvenir shops, attractions, and more. Scattered throughout is a parade of nautical sculptures, including the famous 34-foot bronze King Neptune. Other highlights include the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum, Grommet Island, and the Old Coast Guard Station. You can also enjoy fishing off the pier, areas for paddle boarding, parasailing, and kayaking, as well as cycling along the bike path that runs alongside the boardwalk. Events like theatrical productions and live music are hosted every night during the summer too.
In a place where sunshine reigns year-round, it’s no surprise that San Diego is home to a beautiful three-mile boardwalk that offers the chance for all sorts of outdoor activities, running along Pacific and Mission beaches. The boardwalk is packed with all sorts of active enthusiasts, from joggers and rollerbladers to bodyboarders who ride the endless simulated waves at the Wave House. At Belmont Park amusement park, you can ride the Giant Dipper rollercoaster along with other heart-pounding thrill rides, and if you get too warm with all that fun in the sun, just head to The Plunge, an Olympic-sized indoor pool.
Visitors at this picturesque boardwalk on the mid-Atlantic coast enjoy a more relaxing experience. While it isn’t enormous, flashy or packed with thrill rides, it links the more than half-century-old Funland amusement park with other relics from the past, including Dolle’s, serving caramel corn, saltwater taffy and chocolate-covered pretzels since 1926. You can also enjoy more modern concoctions at Greenman Juice Bar, featuring smoothies like the Healthy Elvis, made up of frozen yogurt with organic peanut butter, raspberry, and banana. This year-round vacation destination which hosts visitors from around the world, is also home to clean, pristine beaches.
The Ferris wheel that sits on Santa Monica’s pier is a favorite with many, as it’s so close to the ocean that it almost feels as if it will dip you right into the glistening waters of the Pacific. The pier, which is located at the end of Route 66 just outside of Los Angeles, also hosts more gentle rides for little ones, including the beautifully carved and painted carousel that was featured in Robert Redford and Paul Newman’s Academy Award-winning film, “The Sting.” You can eat, ride, bike, and shop, all with the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean in a nostalgic carnival atmosphere. Be sure to stay for a sunset, which is best viewed from the end of the pier with a view of the city as you look back over your shoulder.
New England is best known for its tranquil stretches of beach, but in Old Orchard Beach, you’ll find a boardwalk with an amusement park, Palace Playland, right next to the ocean. The only beachfront amusement park that remains in New England, while it has just a small boardwalk, the food, and entertainment continue out onto the wooden pier. Enjoy Pier Fries seasoned with malt vinegar, Maine steamers, and black raspberry ice cream, and don’t miss watching the saltwater taffy being pulled at Dickinson’s Candy, where you can taste a wide variety of flavors, like Beachball, a combination of orange, lemon, blueberry, raspberry, and mint.