Insider’s Guide to America’s Top 10 Beach Boardwalks

As summer begins to sizzle, one way to beat the heat is with a trip to the ocean and a stroll down a beachfront boardwalk. Here are 10 of America’s best, where you can go to enjoy a cool breeze perched atop a Ferris wheel, quench your thirst with lemonade accompanied by the obligatory corn dog, or just walk along the promenade to enjoy an American tradition of carnival games, people watching, and a day at the shore.

Coney Island, N.Y.


It doesn’t get much more classic than Coney Island. (Photo: Getty Images)

The granddaddy of American boardwalks, Coney Island, on the southern end of Brooklyn, began as a destination for high-end beach hotels in the 1820s and expanded into a full-scale boardwalk scene by the 1860s. Nowadays Coney Island combines a nostalgic trip into old Americana and carnival games with the thrills of modern amusement parks and the lingering weirdness of some re-created circus freak shows and eating contests.

Eat this: Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand hosts the annual binge-eating contest, but you can stop by its original 1916 location along the boardwalk and enjoy just one.

Best ride: Inspired by the original 1903 amusement park, Luna Park was rebuilt in 2010, now featuring the high-tech thrills of the Thunderbolt roller coaster.

Where to stay: Coney Island is more of a day-tripping destination, but if you want to stay nearby in Brooklyn, the highly rated Lorelei B&B (built in 1904) will put you in the spirit of Coney Island’s history.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Calif.


The Giant Dipper wooden coaster and other rides on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. (Photo: Doug Jones/Flickr)

About 70 miles south of San Francisco, this vintage boardwalk and seaside amusement park was built in 1907 with a goal to become the “Coney Island of the West.” But locals would say it far surpasses its East Coast rival, with nearby world-class surf spots, white-sand beaches, and a raucous band of sea lions barking their welcome to visitors. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk itself offers 35 rides and attractions, including everything from a traditional ball-at-a-milk-jug carnival game to laser tag and “atomic bowling” across the street, as well as live concerts on Friday nights.

Best ride: The 1924 Giant Dipper roller coaster. The wooden ride may look rickety, but they say 60 million visitors have survived it, so hop aboard and scream like your great-grandparents did when they rode it as kids.

Related: Speed Demons: the Fastest Roller Coasters in the U.S.

Eat this: Clam chowder in a bread bowl at Surf City Grill to keep with the S.F. connection; if you want to go carnival, get a fresh-dipped corn dog to dip in it.

Where to stay: The Sea and Sand. That’s why you came, right? Perched right over the ocean with fine views of the water and the boardwalk just a few blocks away.

Navy Pier, Chicago


Chicago’s Navy Pier. (Photo: Richard Cummins/CORBIS)

Yes, there are beaches in Chicago, fine ones at that. You don’t need an ocean to have a good boardwalk — just a Great Lake. Chicago’s Navy Pier, once a military training facility, is now refurbished as a major entertainment center that juts out into Lake Michigan, supporting an array of amusement park rides, attractions (including a Shakespeare theater), and dining options.

Related: Thursday Night: Chicago

Best ride: Chicago hosted the world’s original Ferris wheel at its 1893 World’s Fair, so Navy Pier’s 150-foot-tall modern version is both a cool ride (with great views of the city’s skyline) and a nod to the past.

Eat this: You’re in Chicago, so by all means have some deep-dish pizza at Giordano’s on the Pier.

Where to stay: The W Lakeshore overlooks both Navy Pier and a small beach to give you a waterfront feel.

Santa Monica Pier to Venice Beach, Calif.


The iconic Santa Monica Pier. (Photo: rmorrisonm/Twenty20)

Located at the far western end of Route 66 (with a store to prove it), Santa Monica Pier is a festive conclusion to any cross-country trip, with free live concerts, restaurants, bars, and a long expanse of beach below it. Follow the boardwalk from the pier a few miles down through Venice Beach for a scenic and very colorful trip past Muscle Beach, skate parks, all manner of shops, and the circus-level freak show that can emerge from Los Angeles on a hot summer day.

Best ride: Santa Monica Pier features an old-timey 1920s carousel that made an appearance with Robert Redford and Paul Newman in The Sting.

Eat this: Crack some crab legs and suck down some fresh oysters at the Albright on the pier.

Where to stay: The beachfront Casa Del Mar hotel, a newly refurbished posh spot dating to 1929 that will make you feel Hollywood elite, is just a short walk from the pier and Venice Beach.

Rehoboth Beach, Del.


No trip to Rehoboth Beach is complete without stopping and picking up some saltwater taffy. (Photo: ralphnuss/Flickr)

A classic weekend retreat from Washington, D.C., on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in Delaware, Rehoboth Beach’s boardwalk has been a popular spot to catch some cool ocean breezes and munch on saltwater taffy since the 1920s. Catch a summer show at the bandstand, do some shopping, dine on fresh seafood washed down with an adult beverage, or just chill on the beach and fly a kite.

Best rides: Kids will love to play games and ride the small rides at Fun Land, while adults can air it out on Paratrooper, FreeFall, and SuperFlip.

Eat this: They’ve been making saltwater taffy at Candy Kitchen along the boardwalk for more than 75 years, so it’s got to be good.

Where to stay: The beachfront Boardwalk Plaza Hotel has a Victorian-era theme but all the latest amenities.

Best of the rest


The AC boardwalk’s got rides, casinos, eateries, arcades, and shops. (Photo:Do AC)

Atlantic City, N.J.: Notable for being the Boardwalk of Monopoly game fame, the Jersey Shore boardwalk has survived hurricane damage and casino bankruptcies to remain a popular tourist destination.

Related: Atlantic City, Down But Not Out: the Real-Life Boardwalk Empire


Myrtle Beach is a dream combo of beautiful beach and fantastic boardwalk. (Photo: litratu777/Twenty20)

Myrtle Beach, S.C.: A new addition to the boardwalk scene, this 2010 construction created an instant destination attraction with a Ferris wheel and other rides to go along with dining and entertainment.


The Hollywood Broadwalk is perfect for a bike ride with dazzling ocean views. (Photo: Walter Bibikow/JAI/Corbis)

Hollywood Beach Broadwalk, Fla.: It’s more of a “brickwalk” than a boardwalk (hence the spelling), but this oceanfront promenade features some of the nicest beaches in the U.S., a wide path for strolling or biking, and plenty of food and beverage options along the way.


Rides, fries, and more in Ocean City. (Photo: David Clow/Flickr)

Ocean City Boardwalk, Md.: Three miles of beachfront food, fun, and festivities, featuring some classic rides (like two carousels that date back to the boardwalk’s beginning at the turn of the 20th century) and some classic foods like burgers and vinegar-soaked French fries.


Kemah features classic boardwalk rides including a wooden coaster, Ferris wheel, and observation tower. (Photo: Kemah Boardwalk/Facebook)

Kemah Boardwalk, Texas: More of an amusement park with a retro-boardwalk theme, this 60-acre entertainment island on the Gulf Coast offers a fun escape from nearby Houston with a variety of rides, restaurants, and family-friendly shows.

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