Boardwalks are bastions of American culture and consumption, where prime beachside properties are used to cram in as many thrill rides, midway games, fast-food stands, and other attractions as physically possible. Take a stroll through our list to see what makes each of these boardwalks unique.
New Jersey boasts the most boardwalks of any state by a long shot, and it all started with Atlantic City, which erected the nation's first boardwalk in 1870. One of America's most iconic attractions, the boardwalk has become the main thoroughfare for many of Atlantic City's most popular resorts and tourist attractions, including the Boardwalk Hall convention center. Here a favorite pastime is riding the boardwalk's 4-mile length (one of which is now branded as “North Beach") on a wicker-canopied rickshaw.
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With its neon-lit Ferris wheel hanging over the ocean, the Santa Monica Pier is a bustling L.A. landmark. Aside from the roller coaster and other thrilling attractions of Pacific Park, the wooden pier is also home to an aquarium, pubs, food and ice cream shops, and a tackle shop for anglers fishing off the docks.
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The other obvious choice for most iconic West Coast boardwalk, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk extends along California's Monterey Bay coast and is dominated by the state's oldest surviving theme park. With a pay-as-you-go boardwalk card, visitors can enjoy a sandy beach, three roller coasters, and 35 total rides, two of which are on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
A newer contender for the nation's best boardwalk, Myrtle Beach finished its 1.2-mile oceanfront promenade in 2010 at a cost of more than $6 million. The northern portion is a prototypical boardwalk, featuring bars, restaurants, and arcades along a raised wooden pathway, while the southern is more park-like, meandering through verdant landscaping and sand dunes.
Ocean City is one of the mid-Atlantic's most renowned seaside destinations, and the town's 3-mile boardwalk is at the heart of its shopping and entertainment offerings. Visitors here encounter all forms of iconic boardwalk attractions, from street performers and amusement park rides to saltwater taffy stands and a Life Saving Station Museum devoted to the people who once patrolled these Atlantic shores to rescue shipwreck survivors.
Though not as popular as Ocean City to the south, Rehoboth Beach is another summer vacation hot spot centered around its beach-facing wooden boardwalk, first built in 1873. The vintage shops and general old-timey atmosphere will charm families, while Poodle Beach at the boardwalk's southern end is now a popular LGBT destination.
The rare Gulf Coast entry, Kemah Boardwalk near Houston is a 60-acre theme park on Galveston Bay that's grown since 1988 into a worthy weekend destination. It's free to walk through and peruse the half-mile of carnival rides, restaurants, midway games, steam train replicas, and shops.
Walking, jogging, bicycling, and rollerblading are all popular along this 3½-mile stretch, spanning two of San Diego's best metropolitan beach communities, from South Mission to North Pacific. There are the requisite amusement park rides and carnival games at Belmont Park, which also offers an Olympic-size indoor pool for when the saltwater doesn't suit you.
Not a boardwalk but a broadwalk, this 2.5-mile, terracotta-paved path was built ultrawide to accommodate more pedestrians, plus a bike lane and public trolley that runs during daytime. Dine on the restaurants' outdoor patios to enjoy the sea breeze and evening performers, or come for the Sunday organic farmers market to sample exotic fruit smoothies.
As you might expect on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, the lakeside Huron Boardwalk is not as lively as other entries on this list, but it is most certainly scenic. The tree-lined wooden boardwalk follows between the rocky shoreline and independent shops of downtown St. Ignace, also featuring tasty seafood restaurants and attractions such as the Museum of Ojibwa Culture.
One of the Midwest's most popular and by all accounts best attractions, Navy Pier extends 3,300 feet into Lake Michigan, to encompass more than 50 acres that include hot dog stands, water taxi takeoff points, mini-golf holes, an IMAX theater, a 150-foot high Ferris wheel, a carousel, a funhouse maze, and the botanical garden event venue Crystal Gardens. The pier is also home to a 36,000-square-foot bar called Offshore where you can relax and watch over the boardwalk action with some 1,000 friends — it's the largest rooftop deck in the country.
Coney Island was home to three of the nation's most iconic theme parks around the turn of the century, and a new iteration of one – Luna Park – reopened in 2010. The Wonder Wheel, Cyclone, and Parachute Jump are all designated New York City landmarks, while newer attractions include the looping, corkscrewing Thunderbolt coaster, art displays, skeeball stands, and Nathan's Hot Dogs.
Traditionally not as flashy as nearby Coney Island, this far-East Queens neighborhood draws lots of beachgoers in the warm season for the scenery, concessions, and the city's only legal surfing — and is reportedly going upscale fast. The 5.5-mile boardwalk winding along it all was heavily affected by Hurricane Sandy, but fully reopened to the public, with sturdier materials, on Memorial Day 2017.
Going a tad farther north on Long Island, this boardwalk offers more of the same winning recipe, with miles of wooden pathway and park benches facing powder-white sand and Atlantic Ocean. There are also surf schools, sunbathers, ice cream shops, and diverse dining options a few blocks removed on E Park Avenue.
Like most oceanside scenery in the Pacific Northwest, this boardwalk in Washington state offers something more rugged and remote than its counterparts in California. The elevated pathway runs a half-mile over coastal wetlands and a trail originally traced by Lewis and Clark, featuring picnic areas and interpretive displays within walking distance of downtown Long Beach.
Though not technically a boardwalk, this concrete promenade running parallel to Venice Beach ranks as one of L.A.'s liveliest areas for people-watching. This isn't the place for crystal clear waters or old-timey atmosphere, but a bustling metropolitan thoroughfare brimming with outrageous performers, art vendors, fast-food stands, and pot dispensaries.
Old Orchard Beach is like the Coney Island of Maine, with kitschy souvenir shops and fatty fast-food purveyors leading the way to Palace Playland, New England's last remaining oceanfront theme park. The wooden pier features saltwater taffy stands, carnival games, delicious seafood, and expansive views of the Atlantic.
Also called Wailea Beach Path, this palm-lined wooden pathway encompasses in 3 miles five white sand beaches, eight oceanfront resorts, and numerous chances for spotting wildlife such as sea turtles or breaching humpbacks. It's a great resource for enjoying Maui's typically gorgeous scenery within one of its more appealing resort districts.
Three miles long and 28 feet wide, the Virginia Beach Boardwalk pays tribute to marine environments such as the adjacent Atlantic with a 12-ton statue of King Neptune, a historic Coast Guard Station, and the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum. Of course, there's also the Atlantic Fun Park, numerous resort hotels, dining options, and bike rental stations featuring four-seat surreys as a way for families to leisurely travel the extra-broad pathway.
The population of Wildwood swells by the thousands in summertime, and the main draw is its classic Jersey Shore-style boardwalk featuring Morey's Piers amusement park and twin water parks. A tramcar runs along its 1.8-mile length, which boasts flashy carnival games and great street food, from pizza to gyros. While the century-old boardwalk is in line for a refresh, Morey's Piers already has a family-friendly roller coaster that climbs 40 feet in the air before twisting along 922 feet of track.
Rocking wooden benches line the Carolina Beach boardwalk, bustling with live music, fireworks and out-of-towners in the warm seasons. All the standard beachside entertainment options are present, from bars and ice cream shops to surf schools and a seasonal amusement park.
Often called the best beach in its state, Hampton Beach is served by a 1.3-mile boardwalk along Ocean Boulevard, running between the North Atlantic coast and a host of seafood stands and casino resorts. Some beachgoers get competitive about volleyball tournaments and ornate sand-sculpting, while up to 100 free concerts are held at the waterfront Seashell Stage in season.
More a nature walk than a metropolitan experience, this boardwalk begins in sleepy downtown Sandwich — near the start of the Cape Cod peninsula — and crosses over dunes and marshes to reach the north-facing town beach, where ice cream trucks are a regular fixture in summertime. The boardwalk's planks are also engraved with the names of local donors who helped fund the last repair.
Aside from the beaches themselves, the boardwalk businesses are the main visitor draw in this Jersey town, as in many others. Two lengthy piers — one home to combo amusement-and-water park Casino Pier — bookend a 1-mile promenade of arcades, souvenir shops, pizzerias, ice cream parlors, and other sweets purveyors.
Point Pleasant Beach is another Jersey Shore town that packs a lot of kitsch and family fun into just 1 mile of beachfront property. Jenkinson's Boardwalk is the amusement complex at the center of it all, managing thrill rides, mini golf courses, an aquarium, multiple arcades, and the Adventure Lookout ropes course.
This boardwalk won't take you through the trendy shops and vibrant nightlife scene of South Beach. Instead, it runs 2.5 miles through Mid-Beach, boasting a more secluded place for a morning jog or afternoon stroll, squarely between shimmering blue waters and palm-fringed resort towers.
The Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier is a recreation of the original, destroyed in 1961 by Hurricane Carla, which extends more than a 1,000 feet over the Gulf of Mexico. Since opening in 2012, the pier has expanded to include a steel roller coaster and 14 additional thrill rides, plus the carnival games and fried-food offerings to rival its peers on either coast.
From two hours before sunset until two hours after, artisans, street performers, shoppers, and more all come out to enjoy Sunsets at Pier 60, a year-round marketplace and event series also featuring select film screenings in summer. With a concession stand, children's playground, and bungee outfitter, Pier 60 recreational park gives way to a 1,080-foot fishing pier renowned for its bounty of trout, redfish, and snapper depending on the season.
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Ferries take off regularly for remote Puget Sound islands from the southern end of Seattle's downtown waterfront, where the city's gold rush history shines through souvenir shops such as Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe and old-fashioned midway games at Miner's Landing. A stroll northward will take you past multiple wooden piers, seafood eateries, a giant Ferris wheel and the city aquarium before ending at the striking Olympic Sculpture Park. But get ready for even more: Seattle has undertaken a $668 million revitalization project and the waterfront will be under construction until 2024.
Constructed extra-wide and using concrete rather than wood, this "broadwalk" features all the usual amenities for visitors to enjoy, including an amusement park with Ferris Wheel and go-carts, two arcades, gift shops, and snack bars (after a refresh costing nearly $5 million, Screamer's Park still has the Vomatron, called “the ride the astronauts feared”).
Brick pathways for walking and biking follow along the north shore of Lake Charles for a more laid-back, freshwater take on the boardwalk.
You're just as likely to hear sea lions as tourists while walking along the harbor in Newport, one of the Oregon coast's most trafficked towns. Sailboats and commercial fisheries still dominate the waterfront side of Bay Boulevard, while bars, restaurants, galleries, and artisan souvenir shops dominate the opposite side.
Pier 39 is perhaps the most touristy part of San Francisco's visitor-clogged Fisherman's Wharf, and with good reason. Sea lions lounge on docks over the side, while shops, restaurants, street performers, a two-story carousel, and an arcade featuring virtual 3D rides occupy much of the wooden pier itself.
Rent fishing equipment and cast off up to 800 feet out in the Atlantic waters off Cocoa Beach Pier, the centerpiece of the town's sandy beachfront — aided by an $18 million, federally funded restoration of sand to 3.5 miles of beaches. There's also an arcade, volleyball courts, souvenir and boutique shops, and several casual eateries right atop the pier.
The nearby beach has its share of bars and restaurants, but you won't find many businesses aside from a lone concession stand on the Naples Pier itself. Rather, the real attractions here are the spectacular Gulf Coast sunsets and frolicking dolphin pods often visible from the pier's end. Visitors may not be surprised to hear that WalletHub called Naples the best beach town in America for 2021.
Far from any sort of beach, this relatively new raised boardwalk runs 1 mile through a portion of the largest peat bog in the lower 48 states, so now even wheelchair-bound visitors to Big Bog State Recreation Area can travel among the spruce forests and open wetlands.
A concrete boardwalk follows the Grand River out to Lake Michigan on Grand Haven's historic harbor lined with shops, restaurants, and charter fishing boats. From the fishing outfitter and mini golf holes near the Wharf Marina, it's a pleasant, 1.5-mile walk to the Grand Haven Lighthouse, at the end of a long pier where swimmers jump in the lake come summertime. A $1 million town effort brought back a catwalk over the pier — there for 100 years but gone in 2016 during a pier reconstruction.
Kayak Lake Michigan in summer or marvel at its imposing ice shelves in winter from Algoma's modest boardwalk, running a half-mile and made from recycled plastic lumber. Crescent Beach has its fair share of sandy shoreline leading toward a pierhead lighthouse and many options for drinking and dining near downtown Algoma.
A 3-mile concrete boardwalk takes walkers, bikers, skaters, and rollerblader along the length of Newport Beach's Balboa Peninsula, home to some of southern California's most famous piers and beachside attractions, such as the frozen bananas at Balboa Bar. Children will love the old-fashioned Fun Zone's timeless thrill rides, while families can rent kayaks, paddleboards, and powerboats to see the beach from another vantage point.
The lack of ocean nearby didn't stop Disney from building its own boardwalk at their theme park complex in Orlando. Outside the Boardwalk Inn, their version offers a quarter-mile of Coney Island-style wooden plankway through shops, restaurants, midway games, street performers, and nightlife spots.