7 Classic Boardwalks to Visit This Summer

June 25, 2014 by

North America, Places to Go, Things to Do

Atlantic City's Steel Pier1

People enjoying Atlantic City’s Steel Pier

If you build it they will come. In droves — armed with bathing suits, a good metabolism and hopefully sunscreen. Maybe it has to do with the surf, sand and sea air. It could be the thrill that comes as the wooden roller coaster climbs to crazy heights, or the sugar high compliments of funnel cakes and salt water taffy. Whatever the reason, boardwalks have a magnetic effect, attracting visitors of all ages looking for a taste of seaside Americana.

Boardwalks are found on the East and West Coasts of the United States, and though popular on both coasts, an argument could be made the East Coast versions enjoy an elevated status of sorts. Winter essentially shuts them down for months on end, so when the first sunny day of spring arrives the pilgrimage to the beach begins.

Atlantic City Boardwalk, New Jersey

Dancing water show at The Pier Shops at Caesars1

Fantastic show

Atlantic City, N.J. stakes claim to the first and longest boardwalk. In the late 1800s, a wooden walk was built to keep sand on the beach and out of fancy hotels, restaurants and trains. The idea stuck and the concept caught on along other beachfront locales. Legend also says Atlantic City is where Salt Water Taffy was born. Contrary to its name, the taffy contains no salty sea water.

Possibly best known for casinos, the Atlantic City Boardwalk offers various forms of entertainment. There’s high-end shopping and a dancing water show at The Pier Shops at Caesars. Cheese steak shops and soft-serve ice cream stands come with an ocean view. Those oh so hard-to-win games, with often even harder-to-carry monster-sized prizes, line the boardwalk. Steel Pier is home to rides for thrill seekers and scaredy cats.

Lucy the Elephant1

Cute little (or not so little) elephant

Not part of the boardwalk, but a must see when you’re in the neighborhood is Lucy the Elephant. Lucy is a six-story beach front building, shaped like a pachyderm.  You enter and exit through stairways in the hind legs. Take a tour, enjoy her ocean view, then take a few steps and put your feet in the sand.

You can get out and walk the Atlantic City Boardwalk all year round, but many businesses close or have limited operating hours in the winter months. Prime season runs Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Ocean City Boardwalk, New Jersey

Ocean City Boardwalk1

Ocean City Boardwalk

The Garden State’s love for boardwalks grows clearer, the more time you spend along the Jersey Shore. Less than half an hour from Atlantic City, and only about five miles south of Lucy, is Ocean City. This family-friendly beach resort town has eight miles of beaches that are packed on a daily basis throughout the summer until the sun sets and the crowds move from the sand to the boards. Spanning two and a half miles, the Ocean City Boardwalk serves as the evening gathering spot to eat, stroll, shop or be amused. An assortment of stores sell souvenir t-shirts, beach toys and all sorts of nautical themed tchotchkes. Gillian’s Wonderland Pier, at Sixth Street and the Boardwalk, has 31 different rides and attractions. Playland’s Castaway Cove at the Boardwalk and 10th Street is Ocean City’s oldest amusement park, offering more than 32 rides. Do the math; that’s plenty to have folks jumping for joy or screaming in terror.

Fralinger’s (which got its start in the late 1800s on the Atlantic City Boardwalk) will be packed with people and an amazing number of flavors of salt water taffy. It’s okay if you get distracted here, but whatever you do, don’t leave the Boardwalk without stopping at Johnson’s Popcorn. With three locations on the Ocean City Boardwalk, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a good excuse for missing it. The caramel corn is mixed by hand in large copper kettles and the smell has a way of attracting crowds. Regulars come back day after day (and year after year – Johnson’s has been popping strong since 1940) armed with their refillable plastic tub.

Just like Atlantic City, you can get out on the Ocean City Boardwalk all year round, but many businesses close up shop or have limited operating hours during the winter months. Prime season runs Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Coney Island Beach & Boardwalk, New York

Even if you’ve never been to New York’s Coney Island, you’ve heard about. When the city heats up, Coney Island is a great place to cool off and eat hot dogs of course! Located in Brooklyn, visitors swarm the nearly three miles of beaches and surf during the summer. The Cyclone roller coaster enjoys a legendary status of sorts. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Time Magazine reportedly quoted Charles Lindbergh saying a ride on the Cyclone was more thrilling than his historic first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. You’ll find even more rides at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park and Luna Park.

The beach is open Memorial Day through Labor Day, but the Amusement Parks are open select weekends and holidays throughout the year.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, California

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (2)1

Excellent food options on Santa Cruz Boardwalk

California is known for stretches of sunny coast, and though there was a time when boardwalks were common sights along the sand, today the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is the only major seaside amusement park on the West Coast. Opened for business in 1907, it looks and feels exactly how a boardwalk should. The home of two National Historic Landmarks, its long history is part of the fun. In 1911, the Looff Carousel, complete with three rows of hand-carved horses started spinning. 1924 brought the scream-inducing Giant Dipper. Both are still operating today. There are 34 rides and attractions perched along a mile stretch of sand. Four arcades offer the latest games, along with some more vintage names like Space Invaders, Pac Man and Centipede. And remember Skee-Ball?

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk1

Make sure to visit the amusement park

Just like other boardwalks the food is fabulous and fattening. Just keep walking and breathing in the sea air. It’ll lessen the blow of the deep-friend Twinkies and cotton candy.

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is open daily Memorial Day to Labor Day and most weekends and holidays during the year.

Santa Monica Pier, California

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier, Courtesy Pacific Park1

The lovely Santa Monica Pier

Technically it’s not a boardwalk, but Southern California’s Santa Monica Pier still enjoys the perks of living seaside. Pacific Park® is the West Coast’s only amusement park located on a pier. There are a dozen rides including the Pacific Wheel, the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel. At nine stories high, it’s quick to grab attention, lifting riders more than 130 feet above the Pacific Ocean. The amusement park is just one part of the Santa Monica Pier. Fly through the air in trapeze school, visit the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, ride a historic carousel or rent bikes to make your seaside day complete.

The Pier is open year-round, but individual business operating times can vary.

Wildwoods Boardwalk, New Jersey

“Watch the Tram Car, Please.”

For 60 years the Sightseer Tram Cars have been transporting visitors from one end of the two-mile Wildwoods Boardwalk to the other. Built for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City, they were moved to the boardwalk 10 years later, to ease folk’s sore feet.

And there are plenty of those sore feet; nearly nine million folks visit every year. Morey’s Piers offer more than 100 rides and attractions ranging from roller coasters to beachfront waterparks.

Just like the other New Jersey Boardwalks prime season runs Memorial Day through Labor Day. Many businesses on the Wildwoods Boardwalk close or cut operating hours in the winter.

Jenkinson’s Boardwalk, Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey

All of the expected dietary indulgences are offered along the mile-long Boardwalk. Dozens of rides and games thrill folks too. But it’s the unexpected that scores points in Point Pleasant Beach. Open year round, Jenkinson’s Aquarium is the perfect place to get a break from the sun or fill a rainy summer day. From sharks to penguins, alligators and seals, it’s a wild place.

The aquarium, arcades and sweet shop at Jenkinson’s Boardwalk are open daily year round. Prime season for the Boardwalk is Memorial Day through Labor Day.

                                                                                            -Dana Rebmann

All photos courtesy of Dana Rebmann unless otherwise noted.

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