Best US Boardwalks

From beach shops to salt water taffy, here are the best US boardwalks.
By: K.C. Summers

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A day at the beach just isn't complete without a trip to the boardwalk. Whether you jog, saunter, roller-skate or bike, hanging out on the boardwalk is a time-honored way to experience classic seaside pleasures like vinegar fries, roller coasters and T-shirt shops. Of course, not all US boardwalks are shrines to kitsch. There are also genteel promenades lined with tasteful retail establishments, and rustic paths where the only sounds come from crashing waves. We love them all. Here are 6 of the best.

Some call it the Coney Island of the West, and that's an apt comparison -- if Coney Island had palm trees, balmy breezes and a setting on Monterey Bay. The half-mile-long Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk dates to 1907; its 1924 Giant Dipper roller coaster and 1911 Looff Carousel are National Historic Landmarks. More modern attractions include mini-golf, laser tag, pinball and bowling, as well as plenty of eateries and, of course, the beach. The nearby Municipal Wharf has more restaurants, shops and fishing.

New York City's legendary Coney Island has seen better days, but as long as Nathan's Famous is still serving up hot dogs and the Wonder Wheel still spins, the boardwalk deserves a visit. The 2.7-mile esplanade has been attracting freaks and fans since 1923, and with the 2010 reopening of its fabled Luna Park amusement park, some of the old glory has been restored. Three of its rides -- the 1927 Cyclone roller coaster, the 1918 Wonder Wheel and the now-defunct 1939 Parachute Jump  -- are National Historic Landmarks. With 2 new coasters opening this summer, the place is on a roll.

You didn't think we'd run a best-boardwalk list and leave out New Jersey, did you? Our only problem was deciding which of the state's legendary walks to include. Ocean City's 2.5-mile promenade wins our heart with its family-oriented attractions -- go-karts, movies, a water park, mini-golf and kiddie rides -- plus traditions like Thursday “Family Nights,” with free concerts, dancing and roving magicians.

Boardwalk? What boardwalk? In Hollywood, a vintage Florida beach town 10 miles south of Fort Lauderdale, they call their 2.5-mile coastal path the Broadwalk to emphasize the wide proportions that allow joggers, strollers, skaters and bikers to share the space with ease. The brick-paved promenade winds past dozens of restaurants, shops, hotels and parks. A weekend market features locally grown produce, and trolleys connect the beach to the historic downtown.

The Wailea boardwalk has no shops, arcades or rides -- just a panorama of the Pacific that goes on forever, with stunning sunsets and views of Molokini, Kahoolawe and Lanai islands in the distance. The 2-mile path follows the Pacific coastline past some of the finest resorts on the island, connecting 5 coves where you can stop to swim or snorkel. Save time for the Hawaiian Coastal Gardens along the way, with hiking trails and more than 60 native plant species.

A boardwalk with pedestrian crosswalks and its own bike path? That's what you get when you build a 3-mile-long coastal walkway in Virginia's most-populous city. The concrete path is lined with high-rise hotels, upscale shops, whimsical sculptures, even museums. There's also a fishing pier, and 4 outdoor stages for summer concerts.

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