Ah, the boardwalk – a symbol of childhood and innocence, summer fun and romance. Boardwalks are age-old destinations for care-free fun, sinful eating and silliness. Whether you’re riding the Tilt-a-Whirl five times in a row or freaking yourself out in a fun house, you can’t really have a bad time at a boardwalk.
But not all boardwalks are created equal. Some have tradition behind them, timeless charm and quaintness that keeps families coming back year after year. Others simply attract a most interesting cast of people to admire or puzzle over while enjoying an afternoon along the sea.
The following five are among the best boardwalks in the country, worthy of making into your next summer getaway destination.
1. Coney Island, New York
The boardwalk at Coney Island is but a tip of the ice berg when it comes to the eclectic and cultural offerings here. Coney Island USA presents events such as a Mermaid Parade and the Coney Island Circus Sideshow, and touts the area’s history as a cultural and artistic locale.
In addition to the multitude of rides and games found throughout the Coney Island neighborhood, there are alternative attractions, such as the New York Aquarium and the Abe Stark Ice Skating Rink.
2. Seaside Heights Boardwalk, New Jersey
This one has seen its share of serious ups and downs. The Seaside Heights boardwalk, which has long been a premier summer destination on the Jersey Shore, gained nationwide attention with the debut of MTV’s “Jersey Shore”, which was set in the beach town where you’ll find this boardwalk. Despite the unsavory behavior of the show’s stars, the Seaside Boardwalk offers plenty in the way of family-friendly fun, rides, carnival games and artery-clogging, but delicious, boardwalk foods.
The boardwalk was severely damaged during Hurricane Sandy in the fall of 2012, and its iconic roller coaster was swept into the sea. However, much of the boardwalk has been rebuilt, with new rides and a renewed sense of hope in the area. There are bars and restaurants along the boardwalk, and for those who are traveling with children or are not interested in the nightlife scene, Jenkinson’s boardwalk offers rides and attractions geared toward younger children only 20 minutes away.
3. Atlantic City, New Jersey
This iconic boardwalk is an East Coast mainstay for summer travelers, though there is plenty here to attract visitors from around the country. The Atlantic City boardwalk was first built in 1870 and has gone through several iterations since that initial groundbreaking. It has seen generation upon generation of beachgoers and vacationers traipse along it, carried away in the romance of the beachside getaway and the charm of one of New Jersey’s most famous cities. Its place in pop culture was cemented with HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”, which is set in the notorious gambling town.
This is a great getaway spot for those who like to roll the dice, to speak, given the number of casinos in the area. Many A-list performers play in Atlantic City, and there are high-end clubs and restaurants for those looking to splash out for a weekend, while still enjoying the charms of the beach and boardwalk activity.
4. Ocean City, Maryland
The first thing to do upon arriving in Ocean City, Md., is head to the boardwalk and order yourself some Thrasher’s fries. Covered in vinegar and Old Bay seasoning, this is a classic Maryland snack that goes well with a cold beer in the sunshine.
The first permanent section of the Ocean City boardwalk was built in 1910, and stretched a mere five blocks. In the 103 years since, the boardwalk has been expanded to stretch along the OC coastline and become home to a multitude of hotels, eateries and shops. Indulge your sense of nostalgia and take a ride on Trimper’s carousel, which has been operating continuously since 1912 (the longest continuously running carousel in the country, according to the Ocean City Boardwalk site).
5. Ocean Front Walk, Venice Beach
This one makes the list for the interesting characters you’ll see here alone. Discover Los Angeles has called it “one of the best places in Los Angeles for people watching”, thanks to the eclectic scene here. This includes tarot card readers, performance artists and many others – this is worth a visit just to see people from all walks of humanity expressing themselves on the boardwalk.
The Ocean Front Walk is a stark departure from the other boardwalks on this list, but who needs carnival rides and games when you can be entertained all day by the array of talents? Discover Los Angeles also notes that you can swim, surf and play handball here as well, in addition to several other activities.
Whether you’re vacationing with kids, planning a fun weekend with friends, or on a romantic getaway, boardwalks are always great options to travel to. The mix of light-hearted fun with a carnival-esque atmosphere, and options for good food, drinks and nightlife leaves you plenty of choices for how to fill your day. The boardwalks listed above are sure bets for having a great trip, and enjoying the nostalgia of childhood. The added bonus of the boardwalk is that you can spend much of the day lounging on the beach, alternating between boardwalk fun and cooling off in the water.