1. Wildwood, Jersey Shore, New Jersey
Wildwood is one of the most popular and kitschiest boardwalks in the country. The Doo-Wop architecture evokes a nostalgic, honky-tonk atmosphere along the five-mile, free beach -- rated the top beach in New Jersey. The two-mile stretch of boardwalk has everything you could want, from funnel cakes to game houses, and enough amusement rides to rival Disneyland. Great White, one of the more popular rides, is among the tallest and fastest wooden roller coasters on the East Coast. The boardwalk features three amusement piers and two water parks with waterslides and 500-gallon bucket dumping. A festive strip of arcades, shops and restaurants is also along the boardwalk, and kite-flying abounds at Wildwood: the beach holds the International Kite Festival over Memorial Day weekend.
Recommended Hotels: Adventurer Oceanfront Inn or The Starlux Hotel
2. Coney Island Boardwalk, New York
One of the country's most famed boardwalks with over 50 rides and attractions is one of the country's oldest: Coney Island. The 2.7-mile beach gives New Yorkers respite from the confines of a concrete city. Coney Island hosts a carnival-style boardwalk with the Tickler (a spinning roller coaster), Air Race (a corkscrew thrill-ride), and 17 other rides. Freak-show performances feature sword swallowers, fire-eaters and snake charmers. The Coney Island Museum teaches visitors about the history of the boardwalk and the ever-evolving American popular culture. For lunch, stop at Nathan's Famous and taste some of the most popular hot dogs in the nation.
Recommended New York Hotels: Hotel Elysee or Casablanca Hotel
3. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, California
Santa Cruz Beach, deemed the "Coney Island of the West," offers a carnival-style boardwalk with Giant Dipper roller coaster (circa 1924) and Looff Carousel, a National Historic Landmark and one of the only remaining carousels with a ring dispenser. Newer rides are also at the boardwalk like the Double Shot, a free-fall ride, and the Haunted Castle. Families can grab chocolate-dipped foods (even bacon!), make nut clusters, and munch on English toffee at Marini's Candies. In the summer evenings, visitors enjoy free concerts on Friday nights.
Recommended Hotels: Sunset Inn or Hampton Inn Santa Cruz
4. Chicago Navy Pier, Illinois
Not all beaches are on the ocean; Chicago enjoys a lakefront location on Lake Michigan -- a body of water so big it seems like an ocean missing only the huge waves. Baby waves are perfect for young children, and older children can engage in sailing, kayaking or swimming. Built in the early 1900s, and the largest pier of its time, Navy Pier has 50 acres of parks, promenades and attractions. Family-friendly events and entertainment are always happening on the Pier. Pier Park is on the upper deck with a 150-foot high Ferris wheel, a 36-animal musical carousel, an old-fashioned Wave Swinger, and a miniature golf course. Kids can walk through a funhouse maze and play miniature golf, too; there's something for everyone! If you need to get out of the sun, break for a movie in the IMAX Theater or see live performers at the Family Pavilion Stage. Make sure to visit on a Wednesday or Saturday night during the summer to witness a larger-than-life fireworks show.
Recommended Hotels: Four Seasons Hotel Chicago or The James Chicago
5. Old Orchard Beach Pier & Boardwalk, near Portland, Maine
Old Orchard hosts the only beachfront amusement park left in New England in Maine's famed coastal region. Palace Playland offers a huge arcade, a carousel and Kiddieland for young ones. Thrill-seeking children can ride the Galaxi Coaster or Gondola Ferris Wheel. The boardwalk's summertime entertainment continues onto a wooden pier where local lobster and fries are served with a splash of malt vinegar, followed by black-raspberry ice cream. Families can watch taffy in the making at Dickinson's Candy Factory, offering 26 festive flavors. During the summertime, family friendly events are put on by the town, such as fairs, fireworks and free concerts, and more family fun can be found nearby at Funtown/Splashtown U.S.A., an amusement and water park for families featuring Maine's only wooden roller coaster; the theme park has many rides, slides, pools and arcades. Kids may also enjoy Maine Indoor Karting, offering a premier go-kart course for ages 8 to 15 and a miniature-golf course.
Recommended Hotels Hidden Pond or Bar Harbor Inn
6. Kemah Boardwalk, near Galveston, Texas
Families at Kemah, near Galveston, Tex., step into the old world of carnivals, riding on wooden roller coasters, a 65-foot Ferris wheel, a double-decker carousel, a reproduced 1863 Central Pacific Huntington Train, and a dozen more free-swinging, spinning and dropping rides. Animatronics of elephants and gorillas live in the rainforest exhibit, and a tank allows children to pet stingrays and ride in a 140-passenger open speedboat. Young kids especially like riding the Red Baron airplane ride and playing in the Dancing Water Fountains, 75 water jets that shoot water 10 to 12 feet in the air. The summer fair atmosphere runs all-year-long. When hunger strikes, head to Aquarium -- a theme restaurant that serves high-quality seafood amid large fish tanks.
Recommended Galveston Hotels: Moody Gardens Hotel, Spa & Convention Center or Hotel Galvez & Spa
7. Virginia Beach Boardwalk, Virginia
Virginia Beach is home to a three-mile boardwalk that evokes a nautical theme with an Old Coast Guard Station, the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum and sea-centric sculptures like a 34-foot statue of King Neptune (God of the Sea). Right across from the pier, the small 15th Street Amusement Park offers a carnival atmosphere with rides like the wild, spinning Skyscraper that shoots you up into the air. Kids also gravitate toward the Hurricane, Music Express, Comic Storm and Inverter. Families love the four-seat surrey bikes, which can be ridden along a bike path parallel to the promenade to small, peaceful parks off the beach. When you need a bite to eat, sample the local blue crab at Catch 31 Fish House and Bar. Live music venues are also along the boardwalk and beach.
Recommended Hotels: Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront or Ocean Beach Club Resort
8. Mission Beach Boardwalk, San Diego
Like the city of San Diego, the Mission Beach Boardwalk caters to outdoorsy people, with Hamel's Surf Shop offering kayaks, surfboards, bikes and beach toys. A few minutes from the boardwalk, Belmont Park is an amusement park featuring the Giant Dipper roller coaster, a carousel and arcades. Surfers will find an alternative here at FlowRider, a man-made wave generator machine that is easier for beginners to learn on, and FlowBarrel, with 10-foot waves for pros. Sometimes, after a long day at the beach, you just want to get out of the sun! This is where the Plunge, an Olympic-size indoor pool, comes in handy.
Recommended Hotels: Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad or Loews Coronado Bay Resort
9.Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Myrtle Beach has a 1.2-mile long boardwalk in the center of its 60-mile stretch of beach, and is chock full of golf courses and mini-golf amid high-rise hotels. A renovated 11-acre section of the boardwalk hosts fun events like the Pacific BeachFest. A Kids Carnival on Monday nights typically includes inflatable bounce houses, face painters, jugglers, stilt artists and balloon artists. Live concerts and strolling musicians or bands are often on the boardwalk, too. Pier House Restaurant offers oceanfront dining and a kids' menu with games and tasty comfort food. Set off the boardwalk, Family Kingdom amusement park is the area's only seaside theme park, offering more than 30 rides including a wooden roller coaster, a log flume and a 110-foot freefall drop. Oceanfront Waterpark is across the street, showcasing waterslides, pools, kiddie slides, waterfalls and a lazy river.
Recommended Hotels: Holiday Shores Motel or Harbourgate Marina Club
10. Long Beach Boardwalk, near Seattle, Oregon
Away from the hustle and bustle of Seattle is a quiet coastal area filled with rugged beaches. Two centuries ago, the Lewis and Clark Expedition explored this beach. Visitors can take the exact 8.2-mile Discovery Trail -- part of which crosses beneath the almost half-mile boardwalk. Like the age-old explorers, nature-loving families will be happiest at this boardwalk; it offers a quiet, subdued atmosphere with bald eagles, red-backed sandpipers and snowy plovers flying overhead. A giant gray-whale skeleton is on display, often flocked by curious kids. The World Kite Museum showcases 1,500 kites, including military kites from World War II, Chinese dragon kites and horse-shaped Indonesian kites. With no snack bar on the beach, it's important to pick up sandwiches in town before you visit the boardwalk.
Recommended Hotels: Inn at Cannon BeachHoliday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Astoria
11. Ocean City, Maryland
The three-mile Ocean City boardwalk is a popular destination for families who want games, arcades, rides and more. Antique rides on the boardwalk include the Herschel-Spellman carousel built in 1902. The Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum lets guests peak into the history of rescue teams and shipwrecks. Families can ride trams up and down the boardwalk. During the evenings, the beach comes alive with performers. Monday and Friday nights, families can watch free movies on the beach in the summertime. Also in the summer, the beach hosts a Family Beach Olympics event on Tuesday evenings. Make sure to try the famous fries at Thrasher's French Fries, with a splash of malt vinegar.
Recommended Hotels: Francis Scott Key Resort or Park Place Hotel
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