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Santa Monica Pier
Photograph: Courtesy Unsplash/Matthew LeJune

The most iconic (and best) boardwalks in the US

The sweetest summertime strolls are on the wooden planks of the best boardwalks in the US.

Written by Lauren Mack
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What started as a straightforward solution for beachgoers to admire the ocean without getting all sandy or wet have turned into whimsical wooden-planked beachfront walkways and pedestrian pathways perched over water that are destinations in their own right: The best boardwalks in the US. 

There are dozens of boardwalks and piers dotting the American coastline from sea to shining sea. From the first boardwalk in the US, Atlantic City Boardwalk, to the historic Navy Pier in Chicago to the public utility-turned-tourist attraction Santa Monica Pier, take an old school stroll at America’s most iconic boardwalks and piers for funnel cakes, midway rides, and seaside fun in the sun.

Best boardwalks in the US

Venice Beach Boardwalk | Venice Beach, CA
Photograph: View Apart / Shutterstock.com

1. Venice Beach Boardwalk | Venice Beach, CA

The two-mile Venice Beach Boardwalk, also known as Ocean Front Walk, is flanked by the beach on one side and restaurants and storefronts on the other side. Hundreds of vendors and street performers populate the iconic paved boardwalk, which is anchored by the Venice Beach Recreation Center, which offers basketball, paddle tennis, and handball tournaments, and Muscle Beach Venice outdoor gym famous for its body builders.

Navy Pier | Chicago, IL
Photograph: Courtesy Navy Pier

2. Navy Pier | Chicago, IL

More than a century after architect Daniel Burnham envisioned the People’s Pier, the lakefront Navy Pier continues to entertain Chicagoans and visitors. Opened in 1916, the 292-foot-wide Navy Pier was the first to combine the shipping business with leisure and entertainment. Stretching 3,040ft into Lake Michigan, Navy Pier remains the longest public pier in the world. Navy Pier has been revitalized several times and now boasts the Centennial Wheel, Wave Wall steps that connect the South Dock to Pier Park, restaurants, shops, and entertainment.

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Santa Monica Pier | Santa Monica, CA
Photograph: Courtesy Unsplash/Matthew LeJune

3. Santa Monica Pier | Santa Monica, CA

Originally built in 1909, the Santa Monica Pier has transformed during the last century from a 1,600ft concrete pier with a pipeline used to get rid of treated sewage into a famous oceanfront gathering spot. Located at the endpoint of Route 66, the Santa Monica Pier is home to funky shops, restaurants, bars, boardwalk performers, Pacific Park amusement park, an historic merry-go-round, a trapeze school, and Playland Arcade. The pier is also a popular place to go fishing.

Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk | Rehoboth Beach, DE
Photograph: Courtesy City of Rehoboth

4. Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk | Rehoboth Beach, DE

Originally built on high ground between the beach and Surf Avenue, the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk once stretched along the entire oceanfront. Many storms since the boardwalk’s construction in 1873 have changed the boardwalk’s configuration. Today, the one-mile-long Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk is lined with restaurants, beach shops, and old fashioned amusements. If you go early in the day in the summer, rent a bike or surrey to explore this charming oceanfront boardwalk.

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Atlantic City Boardwalk | Atlantic City, NJ

5. Atlantic City Boardwalk | Atlantic City, NJ

Atlantic City Boardwalk, the first boardwalk in the US, was built in the 19th century to keep sand out of the hotels and train cars in New Jersey’s Absecon Island. The four-mile boardwalk passes by the Absecon Lighthouse, Atlantic City Historical Museum, Boardwalk Beach, and casinos galore. There’s also the iconic Steel Pier, a 300-year-old pier filled with nostalgic amusement rides. No trip is complete without sampling saltwater taffy.

Ocean City Boardwalk | Ocean City, MD
Photograph: Courtesy Ocean City, Maryland

6. Ocean City Boardwalk | Ocean City, MD

The Ocean City Boardwalk was originally created by several hoteliers in 1902 as a removable wooden walkway for guests to walk easily between oceanfront businesses. A five-block permanent boardwalk was erected in 1910 and extended a decade later. After a storm destroyed the boardwalk in 1962, it was rebuilt as the present-day three-mile-long Ocean City Boardwalk, which runs from the inlet to 27th Street. From amusement rides, including a Ferris Wheel, rollercoaster, and Trimper’s Carousel from 1912, to arcades filled with games to food like Maryland crab cakes, boardwalk fries, and funnel cakes, this oceanfront boardwalk is fun from end to end.

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Riegelmann Boardwalk | Brooklyn, NY
Photograph: Shutterstock

7. Riegelmann Boardwalk | Brooklyn, NY

'Coney Island's Fifth Avenue' has welcomed beach-goers to the southwestern shore of Brooklyn since 1923. Made of Bethabara, Ekki, and Cumaru hardwoods, the boardwalk stretches 2.7 miles from West 37th Street to Corbin Place. In the last century, Riegelmann Boardwalk has been rebuilt several times, including adding an extension east to Brighton Beach, but has retained much of its original charm, including the Deno’s Wonder Wheel, the defunct Parachute Jump, and Luna Park.

Myrtle Beach Boardwalk | Myrtle Beach, SC
Shutterstock

8. Myrtle Beach Boardwalk | Myrtle Beach, SC

Completed in May 2010, the $6.5 million Myrtle Beach Boardwalk is made of 800,000ft of lumber and boasts beautiful oceanfront views. The 1.2-mile boardwalk runs north to south, from the 14th Avenue North Pier to the 2nd Avenue Pier. Along the way, stop for beachfront dining, shopping, carnival amusements, including the 200ft SkyWheel Myrtle Beach and a stroll through a beautifully manicured park.

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Old Orchard Beach Pier | Old Orchard Beach, ME
Photograph: Courtesy Old Orchard Beach Pier

9. Old Orchard Beach Pier | Old Orchard Beach, ME

Located on the seven-mile Old Orchard Beach on Maine’s southeast coast, this New England summertime hotspot is populated with restaurants, bars, shops, and Palace Playland, a beachfront amusement park that has been in business since 1902. Stroll along the pier, which juts out 500ft from the center of Old Orchard Beach into the Atlantic Ocean, and stop for lobster rolls, drinks, and other treats at the businesses perched on this old-school pier.

Virginia Beach Boardwalk | Virginia Beach, VA
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Nick HobgoodSchuminWeb

10. Virginia Beach Boardwalk | Virginia Beach, VA

Originally built in 1888, the Virginia Beach Boardwalk has been rebuilt several times, evolving from a five-block wooden walkway to a 28ft-wide, three-mile-long concrete boardwalk extending from 2nd Street to 40th Street. The oceanfront boardwalk includes a separate bike path, making for less chaotic strolls along the shore. The lively boardwalk includes four oceanfront stages, a massive 24ft-tall bronze statue of King Neptune, and dozens of restaurants, bars, and shops.

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