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Top 10 Boardwalks

iStock InternationalBoardwalks offer up the ideal summer backdrop

The hot sun on your face, ice cream dripping on your hands, the sound of music mingling with the crash of waves . . . they’re all part of a summer day spent strolling the boardwalk. Visit one of our editors’ top 10 American boardwalks and you’ll see why their amusements, live entertainment, people-watching, and nostalgia make them tops for pure, unadulterated summer fun.

Use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights, hotels, packages, and more travel deals. 

Atlantic City, New Jersey

If you love Vegas for its casinos and the Jersey Shore for its boardwalks, you’ll delight in both in Atlantic City, home to the nation’s oldest (dating back to 1870) and longest (5.75 miles, including the portion that extends to nearby Ventnor City) boardwalk. If you can pull yourself away from the attending casinos’ slot machines, you’ll be rewarded with mini-golf, beach bars, amusement rides at historic Steel Pier (www.steelpier.com), and summer concerts. Forget what you’ve heard about A.C.’s sketchy rep: Even before HBO’s hit series Boardwalk Empire gave it retro-chic appeal, this Jersey town had been attracting a hip new crowd of visitors, thanks to new upscale casino resorts and luxe shopping outlets. One of the best ways to take it all in is by Rolling Chair, a canopied pedicab-like contraption built for two (and pedaled by someone else), with salt water taffy in hand.

For more trip-planning information, see our Atlantic City destinatin guide, and use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights, hotels, packages, and more travel deals. 

Coney Island, New York

Today’s most celebrated amusement parks and boardwalks owe their existence to the pioneering rides and spectacles that turned New York’s Coney Island into America’s premier playground in the early 20th century. Saunter along the stroller-friendly Riegelmann Boardwalk (www.nycgovparks.org), which runs 2.7 miles from Coney Island to Brighton Beach, and you’ll see classic attractions like the now-defunct Parachute Jump (originally built for the 1939 World’s Fair, it’s now known as Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower), as well as the colossal Wonder Wheel (www.wonderwheel.com) and the rickety, wooden-railed Cyclone (www.lunaparknyc.com) roller coaster – both date from the 1920s and are still very much in action. Aside from the rides, there’s the kid-friendly New York Aquarium (www.nyaquarium.com), as well as a funky circus sideshow revival, featuring acts like chainsaw juggling and fire eating, as well as Burlesque at the Beach (which demonstrates the stranger side of new vaudeville). Stick around for summer’s Friday night fireworks. 

For more trip-planning information, see our Brooklyn destination guide, then use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights, hotels, packages, and more travel deals. 

Kemah, Texas

The staid South is hardly where you’d expect to find a sprawling beach area teeming with a carnival atmosphere, but that’s just what you’ll find on Kemah Boardwalk (www.kemahboardwalk.com), on Galveston Bay, in Texas. Whether you’re in town to catch a Texaribbean cruise, or just for the fun of it, Kemah’s amusement park rides, marina, beach, and family-friendly activities should factor high on your local agenda. Bunk down at the Boardwalk Inn (www.kemah.com), a beautiful boutique property with water views and proximity to the concerts, restaurants, and shopping that bring visitors back year after year. You’ll be thrilled you came, since, with rides like the Boardwalk Bullet (a terrifying wooden roller coaster that debuted in 2007; www.boardwalkbullet.com) and attractions like Stingray Reef, where you can touch and feed the gentle sea creatures, Kemah Boardwalk is poised to give the old Eastern seaboard boardwalks a run for their money.

For more trip-planning information, see our Texas destination guide, then use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights, hotels, packages, and more travel deals. 

Mission Beach, California

For summer fun in San Diego, head to Mission Beach, where a popular beach strip is paralleled by a 3-mile-long cement boardwalk that stretches from the Mission Bay channel to the north end of Pacific Beach (www.pacificbeach.org). The boardwalk is constantly jam-packed with with joggers, cyclists, skaters, and strollers, thanks to SoCal’s near-perfect weather, and, after participating in a requisite beach-volleyball game, you should take a ride on the Giant Dipper, the old-school roller coaster in Belmont Park (www.belmontpark.com), before grabbing a bite at one of the boardwalk’s restaurants. Like all busy boardwalks, you can amuse yourself with the games and crafts here until the sun sets, but be sure to stick around for the nightly fireworks display, which are set off at SeaWorld (www.seaworld.com), just across the bay.

For more trip-planning information, see our San Diego destination guide, then use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights, hotels, packages, and more travel deals. 

Ocean City, Maryland

One of the East Coast’s most iconic boardwalks always delivers fun family entertainment come summer. Dating back to 1902, the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland, is packed with restaurants, shops, amusements, nightlife, and hotels. The 3-mile stretch is chock-full of historic rides like Trimper’s Carousel, the country’s oldest continuously operating carousel (it’s been running since 1912; www.trimpersrides.com). For some traditional carnival-caliber amusements, check out the Slingshot ride (www.jollyrogerpark.com) that will catapult and bounce you around inside its chambers. And no day on the boardwalk is complete without slurping down an ice-cream cone – get your favorite flavor from one of Ocean City’s many boardwalk vendors.

For more trip-planning information, see our Maryland destination guide, then use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights, hotels, packages, and more travel deals. 

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Slews of visitors trammel the wooden planks of Rehoboth Beach (www.cityofrehoboth.com) each summer, many of them escaping the heat of nearby Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., to bask in the unpretentious vibe of this coastal Delaware town with its pleasant blend of shops, restaurants, amusements, and boardwalk hotels. In 2010, Rehoboth reopened its rehabbed 139-year-old boardwalk, featuring refurbished pavilions and wooden planks in place of crumbling concrete. The to-do list along the mile-long stretch, which has also become known as the gay and lesbian capital of the Mid-Atlantic, is short but sweet: Sample Dolle’s Candyland saltwater taffy; try a Stromboli at Nicola Pizza (www.nicolapizza.com); and play games or hit up the rides at Funland (funlandrehoboth.orbs.com). Bide the rest of your time with all boardwalks’ best activities: sunning on the sand, with an ice-cream cone in hand.

Use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights, hotels, packages, and more travel deals.

Santa Cruz, California

Once promoted as the “Coney Island of the West,” the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (www.beachboardwalk.com) offers some of our top 10 boardwalks’ best variety, with everything from thrill rides and arcade games to bowling and beach volleyball. Set on sparkling Monterrey Bay in Northern California, the mile-long stretch of sand that fronts the 105-year-old boardwalk is just as suited for sizzling summer concerts as it is for quiet seaside strolls. Tops among the boardwalk’s colorful collection of amusement rides are the Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster, built in 1924, and a classic Looff carousel, built in 1911, which features one of the country’s last remaining ring machines (grab one and try to throw it in the clown’s mouth). It’s all fun and games until the fog rolls in at night, when the park can seem as delightfully brooding as it appears in the ’80s vampire flick The Lost Boys.

For more trip-planning information, see our California destination guide, then use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights, hotels, packages, and more travel deals. 

Venice Beach, California

Chances are, you’ll hardly notice the Pacific Ocean when you spot the characters that frequent the Venice Beach boardwalk (www.venicebeach.com) in Los Angeles. Though modeled after its Italian namesake, strolling this famous bit of real estate is a distinctly Californian experience, especially so the Muscle Beach area (www.musclebeachvenice.com), which is rife with musicians and street performers. The scene makes for some of the best people-watching of our top 10 boardwalks, what with ample glimpses of Rollerblading beauties, body-building specimens, and large-scale art installations.

For more trip-planning information, see our Los Angeles destination guide, then use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights, hotels, packages, and more travel deals.

Virginia Beach, Virginia

It may be made of concrete instead of wooden planks, but besides that, Virginia Beach’s 3-mile-long path is as traditional as boardwalks get. For daytime fun, rent a standard bike or a family-friendly contraption built for four and take to the bike path that runs parallel to the beach; come nightfall, the onset of summer welcomes Virginia’s music season, which means live entertainment by big-name music acts – past acts have included the Beach Boys and the Virginia Symphony. Don’t worry, there’s plenty to do after dark during the week as well: Nearly every night you’ll find street performers, musicians, magicians, and more, busking on the boardwalk, free of charge.

For more trip-planning information, see our Virginia Beach destination guide, then use our Travel Search price comparison tool find the lowest rates on flights, hotels, packages, and more travel deals. 

Wildwood, New Jersey

A center for a rebellious rock-and-roll music scene in the 1950s and ’60s (you’ll still see nods to the area’s doo-wop past, from flashy neon signs to poodle-skirt donning waitresses working tables at classic diners), this Jersey Shore town has since settled down to focus wholly on good ole family fun. The 38-block beach-fronted boardwalk boasts more rides than Disneyland and is one of the kid-friendliest boardwalks around, with enormous water parks, world-class roller coasters, arcade- and carnival-style games, extreme-thrill rides, and the tallest Ferris wheel on the East Coast. But it’s not all child’s play – one of the newest boardwalk additions is the adults-oriented Beach Club in Ocean Oasis Waterpark (www.moreyspiers.com), complete with private cabanas, hammocks, lounge areas, live music, and spa services. Be sure to hop on the sightseeing tram for a comprehensive overview of the offerings on hand – and don’t miss the boardwalk’s guilty-pleasure funnel cakes, curly fries, and cotton candy cones, for a true taste of an old-fashioned summer.

For more trip-planning information, see our New Jersey destination guide, then use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights, hotels, packages, and more travel deals. 

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