America's Best Beach Boardwalks

  • Coney Island Boardwalk

    Photo: Daniel Avila/NYC Department of Parks & Recreation

    1 of 13

    Savor summer at these family-friendly ocean-side attractions from Maine to California.

    From June 2010 By

    “All the couples take pictures on the Wonder Wheel. We push our heads together so the photo shows the New York City skyline behind us,” says Shani Coleman, a 20-year-old student who likes to snuggle with her boyfriend on the landmark 1920 Ferris wheel on Brooklyn’s Coney Island Boardwalk. Growing up, she spent many summer hours here with her family and still orders marshmallows dipped in bright red candy-apple coating.

    Everyone loves beach boardwalks, with their mix of sea air and easy strolling. Fortunately, you don’t have to travel too far to find one: about 60 U.S. towns have boardwalks, and 25 percent of those include amusement parks that come alive in summer. Visiting one is a quintessentially American summer experience.

    These amusement parks are in a continual state of change. According to Jim Futrell, a historian at the National Amusement Park Historical Association, 16 seaside parks closed in the past decade, but they seem to be making a comeback. Four new boardwalks opened in 2009, and at least two more will open this year.

    One of them is at iconic Coney Island, where the boardwalk amusement park Luna Park—which closed some 60 years ago—is poised for a renaissance. The elephant rides, three-legged men, and Dragon’s Gorge roller coaster may be long gone, but the summer of 2010 will see a shiny new Luna Park, with nearly 20 state-of-the-art rides. The rebirth comes courtesy of the Zamperla Group, a major Italian manufacturer of theme-park attractions, which spent $30 million (re)creating this three-acre playland, including its grand 1903 entrance.In a desire to appeal to families, New York City planners want to expand amusement parks here to 12 acres and return the boardwalk, which has slowly deteriorated over the decades, to its former carnival glory. “It’s the beginning of a new Coney Island for the 21st century,” says Dick Zigun, a longtime resident who runs the nonprofit organization Coney Island USA.

    But not all beachside promenades are neon-lit attractions. On the isolated Long Beach Boardwalk, built over cool, windswept dunes in southwestern Washington, bird-watchers flock to see adorable but endangered snowy plovers in one of the few places in the world where they still nest. Parents wander with their children on paths trod by Captain William Clark in 1805, when members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition explored here.Oregon resident Bonnie Teschner Carey has been visiting Long Beach since she was a child 60 years ago: “It’s still a quiet place, not trendy, not known,” she says, “just like when I was a child.” Only now it has a boardwalk, so even with two knee-replacements she can still enjoy the beach.

    Whether it’s an iconic summertime destination like Coney Island or a seaside oasis like Long Beach, such family retreats and playgrounds can inspire more than lifelong loyalty. Sacramento resident and roller-coaster buff Gerry Watt says, “If there is a heaven, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is there.”

  • Coney Island Boardwalk

    Photo: Daniel Avila/NYC Department of Parks & Recreation

    2 of 13

    Coney Island Boardwalk, Brooklyn, NY

    The iconic 2.7-mile Coney Island Boardwalk will reopen its carnival-style Luna Park amusement park on Memorial Day weekend 2010, with newfangled thrills: a spinning roller coaster called the Tickler, the rider-piloted corkscrew-course Air Race, and 17 other new rides. But some boardwalk crowd-pleasers haven’t changed; many still come for ocean views and fat frankfurters at the original Nathan’s Famous, home of the world-renowned Fourth of July hot dog­–eating contest.

    Don’t Miss: Grabbing a Coney Island Luna Lager at the Freak Bar (named for the next-door “freak show”—formally the Coney Island Circus Sideshow), where old-fashioned sword swallowers, fire-eaters, and snake charmers show off their talents.

  • Santa Cruz Boardwalk

    Photo: Courtesy of Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

    3 of 13

    Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Santa Cruz, CA

    Designed in 1907 to be the “Coney Island of the West,” Santa Cruz’s boardwalk, on Main Beach, is the last remaining major family-oriented carnival-style park on the West Coast. It plays host to the 1924 wooden Giant Dipper roller coaster and the 1911 Looff Carousel, both National Historic Monuments. The carousel is one of few left where riders on outside horses can grab a dangling ring, toss it into the mouth of a clown head painted on the wall, and be rewarded with bells, lights, and cheers.

    Don’t Miss: At Marini’s Candies, watch chocolate dippers make nut clusters, English toffee, and even chocolate-covered bacon.

  • Atlantic City Boardwalk

    Photo: Courtesy of the Atlantic Convention & Visitors Bureau

    4 of 13

    Atlantic City Boardwalk, Atlantic City, NJ

    Originally built in 1870, the godfather of boardwalks started humbly as a barrier to reduce beach sand in hotel lobbies but now stretches for four miles with neon-lit casinos, towering hotels, countless shops, noisy arcade games, and brash musical shows on the street side, while still letting visitors savor the natural beauty of Atlantic City Beach.

    Don’t Miss: Getting pushed along the wooden boardwalk in a cushiony two-person rolling wicker chair—a tradition dating to 1887. You can get to within three blocks of Absecon Lighthouse, the third tallest in America. Climb the lighthouse’s 228 steps and ponder how A.C.’s skyline has changed since the lookout was built in 1857.

  • Hollywood Beach Boardwalk

    5 of 13

    Hollywood Beach Broadwalk, Hollywood, FL

    Begun in 1925, the glamorous 2.5-mile-long terracotta-colored path was always intended to be a broad walk, wide and sweeping for promenading. Today, 98 small independent hotels border the pure white sand of adjacent Hollywood Beach; some, like the Art Deco Walkabout Beach Resort, are painted turquoise to match the sea.

    Don’t Miss: The Sunday organic farmers’ markets, which sell smoothies made from exotic fruits like locally grown mamey sapote (which tastes like maraschino cherries). Then hire bikes at Sun & Fun Cycles and ramble from the north end of the Broadwalk to John U. Lloyd Beach State Park for a glimpse of nature in Old Florida.

  • Ocean Front Boardwalk

    Photo: Courtesy of the San Diego CVB

    6 of 13

    Ocean Front Boardwalk, San Diego, CA

    Outdoor activities are serious business year-round along this three-mile boardwalk that runs along Pacific and Mission beaches. Here you’ll find rental gear for surfing, kayaking, bodyboarding, biking, and beach volleyball, as well as beach toys at Hamel’s Surf Shop. Plus, the Belmont Park amusement park scores with its Big Dipper roller coaster and other stomach-churning rides. Too much SoCal sun? Visit The Plunge, the Olympic-size indoor pool.

    Don’t Miss: Grabbing an outdoor table and Shaka Caesar Salad at Wave House Bar & Grill. Watch the surfers at the adjacent FlowRider, an artificial wave-generating machine for beginners, and the FlowBarrel, a continuous 10-foot barrel-wave for pros.

  • Virginia Beach Boardwalk

    Photo: Mark E. Gibson/Corbis

    7 of 13

    Virginia Beach Boardwalk, Virginia Beach, VA

    This three-mile-long boardwalk celebrates the ocean. It wends its way past a statue of Neptune, god of the sea; the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum and its crafted decoys; and the historic Old Coast Guard Station, which sells fun nautical gifts. Parents and kids love the four-seat surrey bikes, the small family-friendly parks, and the 15th Street Amusement Park, with its wild spinning Skyscraper ride.

    Don’t Miss: Dining on local blue crab at Catch 31 on the boardwalk.

  • Myrtle Beach Oceanfront Boardwalk & Promenade

    Photo: Mike Burton

    8 of 13

    Myrtle Beach Oceanfront Boardwalk & Promenade, Myrtle Beach, SC

    Opened May 15, 2010, the 1.2-mile boardwalk revitalizes downtown. The traditional raised wooden boardwalk in the northern end is lined with shops, while the southern end has a path that undulates between sand dunes. Marvin McHone, owner of Marvin’s Bar & Grill, says, “They did it right—it’s a classic.”

    Don’t Miss: The Gay Dolphin Gift Cove, a labyrinthine souvenir store covering 30,000 square feet on eight levels, has 62,000 different (mostly kitschy) items—from seashells (two for five cents) to a $19,000 bronze dolphin sculpture.

  • Huron Boardwalk

    Photo: Courtesy of St. Ignace CVB

    9 of 13

    Huron Boardwalk, St. Ignace, MI

    Built over the past 30 years, the spruce-and-maple-lined wooden boardwalk curves along the scenic shore for one mile, from Kiwanis Beach Park to American Legion Memorial Park, past small shops on one side and Lake Huron on the other. The nearby Museum of Ojibwa Culture, a National Historic Landmark, features a birch-bark canoe and handmade Native American crafts, and the Mackinac Grille serves fresh local whitefish baked on a maple plank.

    Don’t Miss: Murdick’s Fudge Kitchen stirs up a local favorite: coconut-laced German chocolate fudge.

  • Kemah Boardwalk

    Photo: radcerna

    10 of 13

    Kemah Boardwalk, Kemah, TX

    Designed to capture the energy and vibe of a traditional carnival, this half-mile-long family-oriented boardwalk amusement park (opened in 2001) has a wooden roller coaster; a 65-foot Ferris wheel; a carousel; and a reproduction of an 1863 Central Pacific train. Throw in African elephant and lowland gorilla animatronics in a rainforest exhibit, a stingray petting tank, a 140-passenger open-decked speedboat ride, and an aquarium-themed restaurant, and you have an afternoon’s worth of entertainment.

    Don’t Miss: Cooling off in the Dancing Fountains—75 ground-level water jets that shoot water 10–12 feet up into the air.

  • Long Beach Boardwalk

    Photo: Courtesy of Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau

    11 of 13

    Long Beach Boardwalk, Long Beach, WA

    Nature lovers stroll the half-mile wooden boardwalk across the tops of dunes looking for bald eagles, red-backed sandpipers, and rare snowy plovers. The beach probably hasn’t changed much in the two centuries since the Lewis and Clark Expedition explored here, and the 8.5-mile Discovery Trail that traces part of their route crosses under the boardwalk. Kids love the giant gray whale skeleton. Tip: There’s no snack bar, so pick up sandwiches in town—and then settle at one of the many picnic tables.

    Don’t Miss: The World Kite Museum’s 1,500 kites, including military kites from World War II, Chinese dragon kites, and bird- and horse-shaped Indonesian kites.

  • Old Orchard Beach Pier & Boardwalk

    Photo: August Robyn/Alamy

    12 of 13

    Old Orchard Beach Pier & Boardwalk, Old Orchard Beach, ME

    Palace Playground, the only beachfront amusement park left in New England, has a small boardwalk, but the summertime food and entertainment action continues out in the salt air of the wooden pier. Local favorites are Maine steamers, “lobstah,” and Pier Fries seasoned with malt vinegar. Another seasonal Down East favorite is black raspberry ice cream (although the many French Canadians who visit prefer caramel fudge).

    Don’t Miss: Watching saltwater taffy being pulled at Dickinson’s Candy Factory, which concocts some 27 flavors, including Beachball—a blend of raspberry, blueberry, orange, lemon, and mint.

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    13 of 13

  • Coney Island Boardwalk

    “All the couples take pictures on the Wonder Wheel. We push our heads together so the photo shows the New York City skyline behind us,” says Shani Coleman, a 20-year-old student who likes to snuggle with her boyfriend on the landmark 1920 Ferris wheel on Brooklyn’s Coney Island Boardwalk. Growing up, she spent many summer hours here with her family and still orders marshmallows dipped in bright red candy-apple coating.

    Everyone loves beach boardwalks, with their mix of sea air and easy strolling. Fortunately, you don’t have to travel too far to find one: about 60 U.S. towns have boardwalks, and 25 percent of those include amusement parks that come alive in summer. Visiting one is a quintessentially American summer experience.

    These amusement parks are in a continual state of change. According to Jim Futrell, a historian at the National Amusement Park Historical Association, 16 seaside parks closed in the past decade, but they seem to be making a comeback. Four new boardwalks opened in 2009, and at least two more will open this year.

    One of them is at iconic Coney Island, where the boardwalk amusement park Luna Park—which closed some 60 years ago—is poised for a renaissance. The elephant rides, three-legged men, and Dragon’s Gorge roller coaster may be long gone, but the summer of 2010 will see a shiny new Luna Park, with nearly 20 state-of-the-art rides. The rebirth comes courtesy of the Zamperla Group, a major Italian manufacturer of theme-park attractions, which spent $30 million (re)creating this three-acre playland, including its grand 1903 entrance.In a desire to appeal to families, New York City planners want to expand amusement parks here to 12 acres and return the boardwalk, which has slowly deteriorated over the decades, to its former carnival glory. “It’s the beginning of a new Coney Island for the 21st century,” says Dick Zigun, a longtime resident who runs the nonprofit organization Coney Island USA.

    But not all beachside promenades are neon-lit attractions. On the isolated Long Beach Boardwalk, built over cool, windswept dunes in southwestern Washington, bird-watchers flock to see adorable but endangered snowy plovers in one of the few places in the world where they still nest. Parents wander with their children on paths trod by Captain William Clark in 1805, when members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition explored here.Oregon resident Bonnie Teschner Carey has been visiting Long Beach since she was a child 60 years ago: “It’s still a quiet place, not trendy, not known,” she says, “just like when I was a child.” Only now it has a boardwalk, so even with two knee-replacements she can still enjoy the beach.

    Whether it’s an iconic summertime destination like Coney Island or a seaside oasis like Long Beach, such family retreats and playgrounds can inspire more than lifelong loyalty. Sacramento resident and roller-coaster buff Gerry Watt says, “If there is a heaven, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is there.”

  • Coney Island Boardwalk

    Coney Island Boardwalk, Brooklyn, NY

    The iconic 2.7-mile Coney Island Boardwalk will reopen its carnival-style Luna Park amusement park on Memorial Day weekend 2010, with newfangled thrills: a spinning roller coaster called the Tickler, the rider-piloted corkscrew-course Air Race, and 17 other new rides. But some boardwalk crowd-pleasers haven’t changed; many still come for ocean views and fat frankfurters at the original Nathan’s Famous, home of the world-renowned Fourth of July hot dog­–eating contest.

    Don’t Miss: Grabbing a Coney Island Luna Lager at the Freak Bar (named for the next-door “freak show”—formally the Coney Island Circus Sideshow), where old-fashioned sword swallowers, fire-eaters, and snake charmers show off their talents.

  • Santa Cruz Boardwalk

    Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Santa Cruz, CA

    Designed in 1907 to be the “Coney Island of the West,” Santa Cruz’s boardwalk, on Main Beach, is the last remaining major family-oriented carnival-style park on the West Coast. It plays host to the 1924 wooden Giant Dipper roller coaster and the 1911 Looff Carousel, both National Historic Monuments. The carousel is one of few left where riders on outside horses can grab a dangling ring, toss it into the mouth of a clown head painted on the wall, and be rewarded with bells, lights, and cheers.

    Don’t Miss: At Marini’s Candies, watch chocolate dippers make nut clusters, English toffee, and even chocolate-covered bacon.

  • Atlantic City Boardwalk

    Atlantic City Boardwalk, Atlantic City, NJ

    Originally built in 1870, the godfather of boardwalks started humbly as a barrier to reduce beach sand in hotel lobbies but now stretches for four miles with neon-lit casinos, towering hotels, countless shops, noisy arcade games, and brash musical shows on the street side, while still letting visitors savor the natural beauty of Atlantic City Beach.

    Don’t Miss: Getting pushed along the wooden boardwalk in a cushiony two-person rolling wicker chair—a tradition dating to 1887. You can get to within three blocks of Absecon Lighthouse, the third tallest in America. Climb the lighthouse’s 228 steps and ponder how A.C.’s skyline has changed since the lookout was built in 1857.

  • Hollywood Beach Boardwalk

    Hollywood Beach Broadwalk, Hollywood, FL

    Begun in 1925, the glamorous 2.5-mile-long terracotta-colored path was always intended to be a broad walk, wide and sweeping for promenading. Today, 98 small independent hotels border the pure white sand of adjacent Hollywood Beach; some, like the Art Deco Walkabout Beach Resort, are painted turquoise to match the sea.

    Don’t Miss: The Sunday organic farmers’ markets, which sell smoothies made from exotic fruits like locally grown mamey sapote (which tastes like maraschino cherries). Then hire bikes at Sun & Fun Cycles and ramble from the north end of the Broadwalk to John U. Lloyd Beach State Park for a glimpse of nature in Old Florida.

  • Ocean Front Boardwalk

    Ocean Front Boardwalk, San Diego, CA

    Outdoor activities are serious business year-round along this three-mile boardwalk that runs along Pacific and Mission beaches. Here you’ll find rental gear for surfing, kayaking, bodyboarding, biking, and beach volleyball, as well as beach toys at Hamel’s Surf Shop. Plus, the Belmont Park amusement park scores with its Big Dipper roller coaster and other stomach-churning rides. Too much SoCal sun? Visit The Plunge, the Olympic-size indoor pool.

    Don’t Miss: Grabbing an outdoor table and Shaka Caesar Salad at Wave House Bar & Grill. Watch the surfers at the adjacent FlowRider, an artificial wave-generating machine for beginners, and the FlowBarrel, a continuous 10-foot barrel-wave for pros.

  • Virginia Beach Boardwalk

    Virginia Beach Boardwalk, Virginia Beach, VA

    This three-mile-long boardwalk celebrates the ocean. It wends its way past a statue of Neptune, god of the sea; the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum and its crafted decoys; and the historic Old Coast Guard Station, which sells fun nautical gifts. Parents and kids love the four-seat surrey bikes, the small family-friendly parks, and the 15th Street Amusement Park, with its wild spinning Skyscraper ride.

    Don’t Miss: Dining on local blue crab at Catch 31 on the boardwalk.

  • Myrtle Beach Oceanfront Boardwalk & Promenade

    Myrtle Beach Oceanfront Boardwalk & Promenade, Myrtle Beach, SC

    Opened May 15, 2010, the 1.2-mile boardwalk revitalizes downtown. The traditional raised wooden boardwalk in the northern end is lined with shops, while the southern end has a path that undulates between sand dunes. Marvin McHone, owner of Marvin’s Bar & Grill, says, “They did it right—it’s a classic.”

    Don’t Miss: The Gay Dolphin Gift Cove, a labyrinthine souvenir store covering 30,000 square feet on eight levels, has 62,000 different (mostly kitschy) items—from seashells (two for five cents) to a $19,000 bronze dolphin sculpture.

  • Huron Boardwalk

    Huron Boardwalk, St. Ignace, MI

    Built over the past 30 years, the spruce-and-maple-lined wooden boardwalk curves along the scenic shore for one mile, from Kiwanis Beach Park to American Legion Memorial Park, past small shops on one side and Lake Huron on the other. The nearby Museum of Ojibwa Culture, a National Historic Landmark, features a birch-bark canoe and handmade Native American crafts, and the Mackinac Grille serves fresh local whitefish baked on a maple plank.

    Don’t Miss: Murdick’s Fudge Kitchen stirs up a local favorite: coconut-laced German chocolate fudge.

  • Kemah Boardwalk

    Kemah Boardwalk, Kemah, TX

    Designed to capture the energy and vibe of a traditional carnival, this half-mile-long family-oriented boardwalk amusement park (opened in 2001) has a wooden roller coaster; a 65-foot Ferris wheel; a carousel; and a reproduction of an 1863 Central Pacific train. Throw in African elephant and lowland gorilla animatronics in a rainforest exhibit, a stingray petting tank, a 140-passenger open-decked speedboat ride, and an aquarium-themed restaurant, and you have an afternoon’s worth of entertainment.

    Don’t Miss: Cooling off in the Dancing Fountains—75 ground-level water jets that shoot water 10–12 feet up into the air.

  • Long Beach Boardwalk

    Long Beach Boardwalk, Long Beach, WA

    Nature lovers stroll the half-mile wooden boardwalk across the tops of dunes looking for bald eagles, red-backed sandpipers, and rare snowy plovers. The beach probably hasn’t changed much in the two centuries since the Lewis and Clark Expedition explored here, and the 8.5-mile Discovery Trail that traces part of their route crosses under the boardwalk. Kids love the giant gray whale skeleton. Tip: There’s no snack bar, so pick up sandwiches in town—and then settle at one of the many picnic tables.

    Don’t Miss: The World Kite Museum’s 1,500 kites, including military kites from World War II, Chinese dragon kites, and bird- and horse-shaped Indonesian kites.

  • Old Orchard Beach Pier & Boardwalk

    Old Orchard Beach Pier & Boardwalk, Old Orchard Beach, ME

    Palace Playground, the only beachfront amusement park left in New England, has a small boardwalk, but the summertime food and entertainment action continues out in the salt air of the wooden pier. Local favorites are Maine steamers, “lobstah,” and Pier Fries seasoned with malt vinegar. Another seasonal Down East favorite is black raspberry ice cream (although the many French Canadians who visit prefer caramel fudge).

    Don’t Miss: Watching saltwater taffy being pulled at Dickinson’s Candy Factory, which concocts some 27 flavors, including Beachball—a blend of raspberry, blueberry, orange, lemon, and mint.

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