In times gone by, the boardwalks of America’s coastal cities were the great social stage on which the dramas of life were played out. It was here that the high-society darlings of Atlantic City and Virginia Beach would come to strut their stuff, here that the gaudy joints of New York’s downtown formed the shadowy underbelly of Brooklyn. Put simply, the boardwalks of the past were the beating hearts of a city.
Today, and the famous seaside promenades of America are in the throes of a great renaissance. They are once more establishing themselves as places of fun and frivolity, where families, lovers and lone rangers alike can go to while away their time. They are once more becoming mysterious and magnificent places too, enjoying a mythical reputation in the wake of TV dramas like HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.
So, here are 10 of the top the boardwalk hot spots in the United States; places where visitors can spy out every aspect of this most curious and enthralling of city institutions.
This one spans the whole length of San Diego’s iconic Mission Beach, running from the shady parks of the northern Palisades to the vast sand tracts and volleyball courts of South Mission Beach, where stylish condominiums and beach-side surf huts cluster near the waves. To be in the thick of the action, head straight for Belmont Park, where the boardwalk rollerbladers and BMX-ers weave in and out of the shadows, while the Big Dipper coaster looms overhead. For a spot of relaxation, head for the Harbor Channel opening, where some great views of the Pacific swells can be had from morning until night.
Leaning palm trees, Spanish quarry stone and neat adobe partitions between the boardwalk and the sand set the tone for this, one of America’s most romantic and refined of Oceanside walks. Here, there’s little of the gaudy hubbub of kiosks and carousels, no twirling coasters or amusement arcades. Instead, Tai Chi classes and yoga groups converge on the sand, while honeymooners stroll between the boutique shops and classy cafés, adding a dash of style and sophistication to the place.
The formidable monolith of the sea god Neptune presides over this historic boardwalk from its place near 31st Street. It overlooks the old spots where prohibition smugglers would offload their cargos, and where the boozy speakeasies that bought them were once concealed beneath the façades. Nearby, the Neptune Park plays host to summertime music events and festivals, while the array of classic café joints that runs the length of the promenade makes for some of the best people watching opportunities in all of Virginia Beach.
Unashamedly intended as California’s amusement-heavy rebuke to the great Boardwalks of the eastern seaboard, the Santa Cruz promenade is home to an array of exhilarating roller coasters and top-class attractions. Adrenaline junkies should be sure not to miss a ride on the famous Giant Dipper, or the twirling Undertow, while newer additions have added a spooky direction to the place, with 2010’s Haunted House proving a hit. If that doesn’t sound like your thing, then why not head for a spot of mini golf or some West Coast cuisine, or just kick-back and wait for one of the regular evening events to begin.
The defining feature of Rehoboth’s coastal promenade is the pristine perfection of the beach that runs the full length of its mile-long course. It’s consistently rated as one of America’s cleanest stretches of sand, attracting swimmers and beachcombers to boot. On the boardwalk itself, recent revival efforts have helped to re-establish some of the names that first came here in the early 20th century, with classic sweet joints selling salt water taffy and endless streams of fairground rides dotting the appropriately-named Funland attraction.
Venice Beach: Quirky, cool, sophisticated and stylish; a place where LA’s bohemian youth can be spotted cycling past rough, free-thinking tramps; where break-dancers rub shoulders with BMX-ers, and graffiti artists grace every nook and cranny with their meticulous touch. But aside from being where the self-proclaimed fashionistas strut their stuff, it’s also home to some of the big city’s most iconic sights, from the surfing jetties of Venice Beach itself, to the hallowed meeting spots of the psychedelic rock band The Doors.
Consistently rated as one of the top boardwalk experiences in America, the Ocean City promenade exudes a lively day-to-day energy and plays host to some classic must-see sights. Of these, the 100-year-old carousel of Herschel-Spellman and the well-restored Life-Saving Station are perhaps the most popular, while there’s really no substitute for soaring high above the skyline on the iconic Ocean City Ferris Wheel. For foodies, the classic crab dishes of Maryland are served up on en masse from kiosks and eateries along the way, while there’s also an array of all-American and European dishes to enjoy.
This all-new addition to the most popular seaside resort city in South Carolina has added yet another jewel to its touristic crown. Since its launch in mid-2010 its risen to become one of the focal points of city life; a spot where locals gather to stroll in the seaside sun, and where clusters of seafood eateries, bars and souvenir shops converge to tout their goods. What’s more, in addition to its magnificent ocean views and lively atmosphere, Myrtle Beach’s boardwalk now plays host to some of the city’s most popular festivals and events.
Once the brooding brothel center of New York’s Brooklyn, now a family friendly getaway from the hubbub of the traffic-laden streets, Coney Island’s boardwalk offers up sand stretches, amusement parks and carousels to boot. It’s a great place to come for some springtime beachcombing, or a spot of volleyball in the midsummer sun, while in the winter months the New York Aquarium and famous Abe Stark skating rink take center stage. What’s more, you can be guaranteed to see some of the best street entertainers in New York gracing its planks all year round.
Deservedly occupying the number one spot on this list, the iconic and historically loaded four-mile stretch of Pacific side boardwalk that runs its way from Abescon in the northeast to Longport in the south, still weaves its way past the gaudy hotels, showy clubs and waterfront speakeasies that once made Atlantic City the focal point of 1920s American high-society. Today, guests still enjoy one of the most amusement-heavy promenade walks in all of America, with fairgrounds and grand casinos lining the way, not to mention some of the instantly-recognizable filming spots from HBO’s hit series, Boardwalk Empire.