12 Popular Old-School Boardwalks In America

In today's modern world, there's nothing like a summer afternoon having some old-school fun on a waterside boardwalk. That's why on every corner of the country — whether a bay in Michigan or a beach in California — those looking for a bit of the glory days can find them at America's old-school boardwalks. On these wood planks that often date back more than a century, visitors can find classic seaside comfort eats like corn dogs, burgers, salt water taffy, and ice cream, as well as rides that appease both the young and the young at heart like roller coasters, carousels, Ferris wheels, bumper cars, and log flumes. 

We rounded up 12 of the most popular and well-known old-school boardwalks in the country by checking out which boardwalks had the best and most things to do. We also considered each boardwalk's unique flair and history, so visitors can experience a taste of the town's past during their boardwalk visit. To learn more about how we assembled this list, continue reading until the end of this article. 

Jenkinson's Boardwalk, Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey

Jenkinson's Boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach isn't one of the most famous boardwalks in the Tri-state Area for nothing. With a list of things to do that's as long as its wood-planked boardwalk, it has something for everyone, including an aquarium, amusement park, arcade games, miniature golf, shops, restaurants, and more. It's been a destination for family fun for nearly a century. Charles Jenkinson, once a soda fountain owner, opened Jenkinson's Pavilion and changed Point Pleasant Beach from a quiet beach hangout into a bustling, colorful destination that only grew as the years went on, even amid the Great Depression. Despite Jenkinson's storied history, it's always evolving. For example, the boardwalk added a ropes course that overlooks the beach and boardwalk from high above, as well as integrated a cashless payment system.

If you're heading to Jenkinson's Boardwalk for a weekend at the Jersey Shore, be sure to visit the aquarium, which showcases sharks, penguins, seals, and a touch tank. Visitors can see the marine mammals that live in the ocean steps away from the aquarium. And, of course, it isn't a day on the boardwalk without a few screams on amusement park rides, such as the giant swings, bumper cars, Ferris wheel, roller coaster, and Tilt-a-Whirl. Finish the day off with a visit to the iconic Jenkinson's Sweet Shop, which offers salt water taffy, chocolate-dipped apples, fudge, cake pops, chocolate-dipped Oreos, and more.

Coney Island Boardwalk, Brooklyn, New York

Whether you're from Queens or Qatar, you've heard of the Coney Island Boardwalk, which is perhaps the most well-known boardwalk on the planet. Since the boardwalk is also a designated Scenic Landmark, it's also a protected one. Otherwise known as the Riegelmann Boardwalk named for Brooklyn Borough President Edward Riegelmann, the Coney Island Boardwalk dates back to 1923, and many of its rides are also historic. The 250-foot-tall Parachute Jump has been an icon of the Coney Island Boardwalk since 1941, and the Cyclone roller coaster has been at the boardwalk nearly since its beginning. Both rides are part of Luna Park, which is one of the best amusement parks in the Northeast.

Today, the Coney Island Boardwalk is as popular as ever, partly due to its ability to keep up with the times and continually update its historic features while maintaining its original charm. The Childs Restaurant building is more than a century old, but it was renovated in 2017 and now hosts an array of events in its amphitheater. But you don't need to wait for a show or even the summer to visit Coney Island Boardwalk, as it hosts a robust events calendar, featuring events like a sand sculpture competition, fireworks on select Fridays, and movies showcased on the dunes. For a more low-key way to see the Coney Island Boardwalk, take a stroll on its 1,000-foot Steeplechase Pier, which is the sole remaining pier at this beach and dates back nearly 120 years.

Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, California

Santa Monica, which is just a few miles from Los Angeles, is a celebrity hotspot where plenty of big names own big beach homes. But the Santa Monica Pier remains the peoples' escape, although it didn't seem that way when it was built in 1909 as a way to dump sewage in the ocean. Today, the pier has come a long way, as it is one of the most popular places for photographs on the planet and boasts an endless list of activity offerings. Street performers fill the pier with entertainment, while shops like Oatman Rockshop sell vintage goods and Santa Monica souvenirs. To work off a milkshake from Soda Jerks or kettle corn from Candy Carousel, you can even swing high above the pier at the Santa Monica Trapeze School or rent a bicycle from Perry's Café and Beach Rentals.

It's all a far cry from the Santa Monica Pier's spotty past, which after being used as a sewage dump, fell victim to the Great Depression by 1930. However, like a phoenix rising from the Pacific Ocean, the Santa Monica Pier later found new life thanks to a banker who installed a carousel and helped the former La Monica Ballroom get back in business. After more ups and downs, the Santa Monica Pier eventually found its footing again, and by 1996, it was home to an amusement park, aquarium, and events, attracting families looking for fun in SoCal.

Venice Beach Boardwalk, Los Angeles, California

Los Angeles is known as the city of glitz and glam, but the Venice Beach Boardwalk, part of the Los Angeles neighborhood of Venice, is all about culture, art, and individuality. Perhaps that's what makes the boardwalk at this beach — which includes one mile of street performers, artisan vendors, public artwork, and activists on the Ocean Front Walk — the second-most popular place to visit in all of SoCal, attracting a whopping 10 million people annually. It got its start when Abbot Kinney purchased the land that the boardwalk sits atop in 1891. Like many other boardwalks, though, the Venice Beach Boardwalk went through periods of trial and tribulation as it battled fire, bankruptcy, and more to eventually reach the success that it enjoys today.

You'll know you've reached the famous boardwalk when you spot the legendary "Venice" sign on Windward Avenue and from there, you can stroll the goods from everchanging vendor tables offering everything from typical beach garb to artist-made jewelry. Look out for the countless street performers here, ranging from contortionists to musicians and everything in between. You'll also pass plenty of public artwork, only adding to the creative appeal of the boardwalk, like the Venice Art Walls where local artists constantly put new works atop the last for a one-of-a-kind public art project. Another favorite art piece is the "Touch of Venice" mural, which can be found on the façade of the Samesun Backpacker's Hostel.

Wildwood Boardwalk, New Jersey

Due to its '50s-styled architecture, history, and range of rides, Wildwood Boardwalk is both a blast from the past and a bustling seaside carnival packed with action. Dating back to 1895, it continues to be an epicenter for family fun on the banks of the free Wildwood beaches. The wide boardwalk has over 100 amusement park rides spread across three piers, such as favorites like a nostalgic carousel, several roller coasters, a log flume, bumper cars, and a Ferris wheel overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and surrounding Wildwoods. For those who can't get enough of the water, there are also three water parks on the boardwalk.

But if you just want to peruse and people-watch down the 38 blocks of the boardwalk — which began with just 150 yards of planks more than a century ago — the Wildwood Boardwalk is still the perfect place to do it. It has seemingly endless rows of shops and restaurants, many with their own storied histories, such as Kohr Bros Frozen Custard, which has been a staple of boardwalks everywhere since 1919, as well as Mack's Pizza, which has been serving cheesy pies for three generations. And, if you get tired of walking, no need to worry — there's always the yellow tramcar that continually glides along the boardwalk. Be prepared to fall asleep at your Wildwood hotel hearing, "Watch the tram car, please."

Ocean City Boardwalk, Ocean City, Maryland

Ocean City hotels had the right idea when more than a century ago, they laid wood planks along the sand for guests to walk atop. It worked so well that by 1910, the Ocean City Boardwalk — outfitted with nailed, elevated planks — was a staple in the beach town. Today, the three-mile Ocean City Boardwalk is known as one of the best of the best, recognized by outlets like The Travel Channel, National Geographic, and USA Today. One of those reasons, especially according to USA Today, which named it one of the country's best boardwalks for dining, is the food. 

Here, beachgoers can munch on snacks with stories behind them, like gourmet popcorn from 86-year-old Fisher's Popcorn and crispy French fries dipped in vinegar from 95-year-old Thrasher's French Fries. But don't leave without popping by Dolle's Candyland, known for its salt water taffy, caramel popcorn, and fudge. The historic shop also offers tours of its candy-making facilities.

Even the two amusement parks at Ocean City Boardwalk are historic. The oldest amusement park in the state, Trimper's Rides has called the boardwalk home, and for 130 years, it has offered a carousel with hand-carved animals, a Ferris wheel, bumper cars, and other classic rides. Or, to visit what's been called the best waterpark on the East Coast, check out the 60-year-old Jolly Roger, an amusement park known for its mix of the old and the new.

Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

The Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk might only be a mile long, but it packs a lot of action on its planks that date back to 1873. Like the Ocean City Boardwalk, which is only about a 45-minute drive from the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk, the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk is home to old-school businesses like Dolle's Candyland and Thrasher's French Fries. It also has plenty of other spots to grab beachfront comfort food like the Funnel Cake Factory, which also serves Italian water ice and gelati; Mug & Spoon, which offers over-the-top milkshakes and coffee in case you need a pick-me-up before hitting the surf; and Gus and Gus Place, which has long been a spot to grab a quick lunch of fried chicken, burgers, and more.

But the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk features its own modern twang, too, which has continued to bring visitors to the iconic spot for generations. If you love a little scary fun no matter the season, then reserve a seat on the Haunted Mansion, a haunted house ride that will propel you from one scary scene to the next via a suspended car. Or, to see the boardwalk from a whole new view — upside down — then hop on the Funland Superflip 360, which twists riders every which way. If you're looking for more traditional beach fun, then stop by Rehoboth Toy & Kite Company, where you can find kites of every shape and size to glide through the ocean air.

Navy Pier, Chicago, Illinois

Unlike many of its oceanfront counterparts, the Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois, sits on the foot of Lake Michigan. However, that hasn't stopped Chicago from revering the pier, as it's one of the most bustling sites in the city and home to many of its cultural attractions. Here, visitors can find the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Chicago Children's Museum, Polk Bros Park, and a welcome pavilion. The pier is also one of the fun, free things to add to your Chicago bucket list. Dating back to the pier's more than century-old history is also the Aon Grand Ballroom, a colossal 18,000-square-foot event space built in 1916 along with the pier. The pier was built by Daniel Burnham, who hoped to make the pier into a gathering space for the people of Chicago, and that's exactly what happened.

Concerts, theater performances, art exhibits, and other cultural activities thrived here for generations until the Great Depression. But by 1976, Chicago was determined to make use of what was once a great landmark of the city once again. Today, it's a stomping ground for a little bit of everything, including fireworks every summer weekend, an array of restaurants for every budget, public artwork, and traditional boardwalk rides like a carousel, giant swings, and a funhouse maze. To see the city from 200 feet up in the air, don't miss out on a ride on the Centennial Wheel.

Seaside Heights Boardwalk, Seaside, New Jersey

It's hard to imagine it today, but bustling Seaside Heights — the home of MTV's hit "Jersey Shore" as well as a waterpark, boardwalk rides, and family fun — was once just a sleepy beachside town. But the owner of one amusement company had bigger dreams for the borough, and now you can get a classic boardwalk experience in Seaside Heights. He pushed for rides to be built here, and by 1921, some of those rides had a home at the new Seaside Heights Boardwalk. Today, the boardwalk is one of the most popular of its kind, as it has one asset that many boardwalks don't — nightlife, as seen on "Jersey Shore." Just a few of the bars and clubs that people can stop by for a drink at on the boardwalk are the Beachcomber Bar & Grill, EJ's, Klee's Bar & Grill, and Spicy Cantina.

But the Seaside Heights Boardwalk is perfect for family-friendly fun, too. It's home to a huge array of rides, including a 72-foot roller coaster, adventure course, giant slide, and the scream-inducing Skyscraper, which takes visitors 170 feet into the air at 70 mph. Plus, it even has its own waterpark just steps from the Atlantic Ocean with classic attractions like a wave pool, lazy river, and a waterslide. Or, try your hand at winning prizes, from stuffed animals to electronics, at the ever-enticing boardwalk games that line the planks.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk, Santa Cruz, California

Although boardwalks packed with rides, events, and food vendors are aplenty on the East Coast, many of their West Coast counterparts have disappeared over the years. That's just one reason why the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, which dates back to 1907, stands as both a mark of history and a testimony to seaside family fun. The boardwalk is recognized as a state Historic Landmark, as are two of its rides: the Giant Dipper roller coaster and Looff Carousel. The carousel, adorned with hand-carved horses, has been spinning around the Santa Cruz Boardwalk since 1911, while the Giant Dipper has been giving visitors amazing views of the coastline since 1924. The coaster has even been featured in classic films like "The Lost Boys" and "Dangerous Minds."

The idea of the boardwalk started simply as a modest bathhouse in 1865, and before long, many vendors set up shop around it. Entrepreneur Fred Swanton then decided to crystalize the new center for entertainment into a boardwalk casino and amusement center. Visitors can see the boardwalk's history in action by taking a self-guided walking tour using a free brochure, or by visiting the Boardwalk Historium exhibit on the second floor of Neptune's Kingdom. But even if you're no history buff, you can still enjoy the boardwalk in all of its modern glory thanks to its activities like miniature golf, arcade games, laser tag, and bowling, as well as its evergrowing selection of rides.

Atlantic City Boardwalk, Atlantic City, New Jersey

Atlantic City is known as a gambling destination and New Jersey's own little Las Vegas, but it might not have ever gotten that way without the history and action of its boardwalk. As the oldest boardwalk in the country and the longest boardwalk on the planet, the Atlantic City Boardwalk dates back to 1870 when hotels wanted a barrier to keep the sand out of their five-star foyers. Since then, it's continuously grown and improved. Legendary stars like Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, and The Beatles have walked across its boards, and it's now considered the best boardwalk beach on the Jersey Shore

Today, the Atlantic City Boardwalk is host to some of the area's biggest events, like the Rock 'n' Roll Atlantic City Marathon, the St. Patrick's Day Parade, and the Atlantic City Airshow. But you don't need a special event to visit — you can always stroll down Steel Pier, which is home to one of the biggest observation wheels in the country, traditional carnival games, and a classic carousel.

Kemah Boardwalk, Kemah, Texas

Kemah Boardwalk doesn't have the longevity of other boardwalks since it opened in 1998, but thanks to its rides and attractions spread throughout the 60-acre boardwalk, it has a nostalgic feel that stands up to the oldest boardwalks in the country. Plus, you can enjoy it year-round. Unlike many East Coast boardwalk towns, Kemah reaches an average high temperature of 63 degrees in January — the coldest month for the town. That's why there's always something happening here no matter the month, like the annual seafood festival in April, the St. Patrick's Day celebration in March, and specials for Valentine's Day in February. It also has a hotel on the planks. The Boardwalk Inn offers views of the boardwalk as well as the Galveston Bay from every room, so you're never far from Kemah's popular attraction.

To get the traditional boardwalk experience and hop on more than a dozen rides, including roller coasters, a carousel, a Ferris wheel, and more, visitors can purchase a $23 to $29 one-day pass and ride as many rides as they want, as many times as they want. There are also plenty of unique experiences here. The Stingray Reef allows people to touch stingrays, and while here, visitors can walk through a rainforest exhibit where they'll see tropical predators like piranhas, snakes, scorpions, and tarantulas up close. You can even get a bite to eat at the onsite aquarium restaurant that's surrounded by 50,000 gallons of water and 100 species of fish.


During the late 1900s, boardwalks were fixtures of many seaside communities, especially those on the East Coast. Couples, families, teens, and kids could find everything from rides to food to games at these boardwalks that offered a hangout with something for everyone. However, as the century wore on, so did the boardwalks, and many fell victim to economic decline, storms, and development. 

Today, only a fraction of those boardwalks remain, but they continue to offer old-school fun with a sea breeze. To assemble this list of the popular old-school boardwalk, we considered each boardwalk's age, number of attractions, unique offerings, ability to offer fun for all age groups, notoriety, and the sheer number of visitors who visit.