Atlantic City Boardwalk, New Jersey
The first wooden planks were laid in Atlantic City in 1870 to curb the amount of sand beachcombers tracked into the train and hotel lobbies. Today, the four-mile (six-kilometer) great wooden way—the grandfather of boardwalks—anchors this resort town, winding past flashy casinos, glitzy hotel towers, cavernous arcade halls, and a neon-lit amusement pier.
Coney Island Boardwalk, Brooklyn, New York
Dubbed "Sodom by the Sea" back in the 19th century for its gambling houses and brothels, the Coney Island Boardwalk began a comeback in the 1980s. More recently, the city revitalized the legendary amusement area Luna Park with 19 shiny new rides, including the much-hyped Air Race, a thrill inspired by aerial racing, and an entertainment lineup heavy on magic and juggling shows.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
The launch of the Myrtle Beach Oceanfront Boardwalk & Promenade in summer 2010 breathed new life into the Grand Strand beachfront. From souvenir shops and arcades to an oceanfront park near the 2nd Avenue Pier, the 1.2-mile (1.9-kilometer) walkway is now the town’s hub of activity, with live entertainment each summer evening, including roaming stilt walkers, jugglers, bagpipers, and a weekly fireworks display.
Ocean City Boardwalk, Maryland
The three-mile (five-kilometer) promenade at the southern tip of Ocean City, Maryland, is typically thronged with beachgoers on summer evenings, munching Thrashers French fries (a dousing of vinegar is a must) and queuing up for a spin aboard antique rides, like the Herschel-Spellman carousel built in 1902. Don’t miss the Life-Saving Station Museum for a look at the history of shipwrecks and the rescue teams that came to their aid.
Ocean Front Walk, Venice Beach, California
If California is the land of freewheeling culture, then the Venice Boardwalk is its epicenter. While much of the town’s boutiques have gone upscale and beachfront property has been snapped up by Hollywood A-listers, the three-mile (five-kilometer) beachside stretch of fortune-tellers, tattoo artists, weightlifters, handmade jewelry peddlers, and street performers is a remnant of the town’s turn as a bohemian and surf mecca in the 1960s.
Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk, Delaware
First built in 1873 when the city was established as a site for Methodist camp meetings, the mile-long (1.6-kilometer-long) boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach has recently undergone a facelift. A yellow pine herringbone patterned walkway has replaced concrete, but the vintage feel remains the same, with throwbacks like Funland, Surfside Arcade, and Dolle’s Salt Water Taffy.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, California
Created more than a hundred years ago as the West Coast answer to Coney Island, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is one of the last seaside amusement parks remaining in the U.S. Distinguished by its wooden Giant Dipper roller coaster, circa 1924, and classic Looff carousel, this stretch along Monterey Bay has been designated by California as a historic landmark. Still, the strip is no relic: Summer brings free concerts on Friday nights and the latest ride—the Haunted Castle—opened in 2010.
Sandwich Boardwalk, Massachusetts
Destroyed in 1991 by Hurricane Bob, the 1,350-foot (411-meter) boardwalk in Sandwich—the oldest town on Cape Cod—was rebuilt with support from locals, whose names and messages are inscribed on the planks leading to a broad sandy beach on Cape Cod Bay. But this is no commercial strip. Instead of Ferris wheels and cotton candy, visitors are treated to postcard-worthy views of dunes, marshes, and a creek.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Stretching three miles (five kilometers) along the Atlantic Ocean, the concrete Virginia Beach Boardwalk links live music venues, amusement rides, and bicycle rental shops (a separate bike path runs parallel to the promenade). Scattered along the way is a parade of nautical sculptures, the most famous of which is the 34-foot (10-meter) bronze King Neptune—an iconic photo op.
Wildwoods Boardwalk, New Jersey
The home of Doo-Wop architecture, Wildwoods also hosts one of the kitschiest boardwalks in the country. The two-mile (three-kilometer) stretch of neon packs in all the quintessential shore attractions: funnel cakes, game houses, and more amusement rides than Disneyland, including the Great White, one of the tallest and fastest wooden roller coasters on the East Coast. Three amusement piers and two water parks feature waterslides and a 500-gallon bucket that sporadically douses the crowd.