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America’s Top Beach Boardwalks
Looking for surf, sun and sand—with a side of Americana nostalgia? Plan your next beach getaway to one of America’s best boardwalk destinations.
There’s something distinctly nostalgic about ambling down a sun-warmed beach boardwalk at height of summer. Because they haven’t changed all that much in the last hundred years—most boardwalks offer a mix of tasty treats, laid-back surf shops, fun carnival games and pay-per-ride amusements—a simple stroll can take us back to simpler, more innocent (pre-Jersey Shore) times. From the multi-colored taffy in Atlantic City to the chocolate covered bacon in Santa Cruz, the boardwalks we picked for this hit list offer a salty—and sweet—taste of the season.
Ocean City Maryland Boardwalk, Maryland
After Maryland’s most beloved beach landmark suffered structural damage in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, the Town of Ocean City leapt into action, working quickly to completely reconstruct the boardwalk (and its substructure) from 15th to 27th Street. This summer, expect the waterfront to come alive once again with street performers, kite fliers, carnival games and thrilling rides. Take in the beach and city views from the top of the Ferris wheel, ride the century-old carousel or sample staple menu items at The Original Thrasher’s French Fries (open since 1929) before browsing the offerings in the many t-shirt shops, surf stores and art galleries.
Coney Island Boardwalk, New York
Thanks to hard work and fast action by government officials, locals and business owners, Coney Island’s renowned boardwalk (which also incurred major damage after Sandy hit the East Coast) is ready for summer visitors. On one side of the boardwalk, you’ll find nearly three-miles of sandy beach; one other, you can go flying, spinning and flipping on the rides at Luna Park, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park and Scream Zone. During the summer, visitors can also enjoy entertaining seaside summer concerts. As you stroll along the boardwalk taking in the lively atmosphere, make sure to pop into the beach boutiques and enjoy a plump hot dog at Nathan’s Famous, a brand that opened in Coney Island in 1916.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, California
Operating since 1907, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk boast two amusement park rides that are also National Historic Landmarks—the 1924 Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster and the 1911 Looff Carousel. Nearby, Marini’s Candies has been making homemade saltwater taffy since 1915 in the same location using the same recipe. The treat is even still packaged the old-fashioned way, individually wrapped in wax paper using a 1920s “Model K” Kiss candy machine. Continue your movable feast by sampling unique food fare such as chocolate-covered bacon, deep-fried Twinkies and corn dogs, then make your way over to the arcade (Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk features the largest one in Northern California). Even if you’re not into video games, you can still indulge your inner kid by playing a game of miniature golf, hitting the bowling alley or proving your dominance at lazar tag.
Atlantic City Boardwalk, New Jersey
America’s first and most iconic boardwalk (open since June 26, 1870) is back in business following post-Sandy cleanup and restoration. The four-mile (6.4 km) boardwalk is the backbone of Atlantic City and is lined with resort hotels, casinos, trendy restaurants, swanky clubs, colorful arcades, comedy clubs, stores and entertainment venues. Enjoy the scenic beach views, promenade buskers, vendors selling salt water taffy and ice cream and many unique piers with individual attractions all their own. For example, Garden Pier is where you’ll find the cultural hub of the Atlantic City Art Center, while Steel Pier is home to rides and amusement games. One of the coolest things about the Atlantic City Boardwalk is that it gives you the ability to hop from hotel to hotel, checking out the different forms of entertainment and dining offered by each one.
Kemah Boardwalk, Texas
Located near Galveston along Texas’s gulf coast, the waterfront Kemah Boardwalk is all about family fun. Here, you and your crew can view animatronic safari animals in a “rainforest,” ride a replica of the famous 1863 C.P. Huntington train, pet the backs of friendly stingrays, climb onto a unicorn or sea monster on a double-decker carousel and ride a 51 mile-per-hour (82 kpg) wooden roller coaster. Along with showcasing a range of attractions and animal encounters, the Kemah Boardwalk is home to numerous fun-to-browse t-shirt, surf and souvenir shops, as well as destination restaurants such as the Cadillac Bar, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co, Saltgrass Steak House and RED Sushi & Hibachi Grill. Unlike some of the other boardwalks on our list, the Kemah Boardwalk is lively all year round, with events like car shows, concerts, beer festivals, pageants, fun runs and fireworks taking place monthly.
One of the greatest things about all these boardwalks is their adjacent to great beaches and scenery.
Jessica Festa, a New York native, is a world traveler who is always looking for a new adventure. She stays active through hiking, cycling, and dance and loves nothing more than her backpack. Follow her travels around the world at Jessie on a Journey and at Epicure & Culture.