19 of the best boardwalks in America

Story highlights

Soak up the late-summer sunshine along these 19 boardwalks

Thrill rides and funnel cakes define many of these seaside fun walks

A few are more notable for people-watching or natural beauty

CNN  — 

If your idea of summer perfection involves roller coasters, funnel cakes and Whac-A-Mole, we’ve got 19 perfect spots for the season’s last hurrah.

1. Navy Pier, Chicago

Who says a boardwalk has to be by the ocean? Along Lake Michigan in the Windy City, the Navy Pier has got a 150-foot-high Ferris wheel that lets you take in the skyline and the lake, a carousel, wave swinger, mini-golf, and remote-control boats in season. And don’t forget to grab an America’s Dog Chicago hot dog with mustard, relish, onion, sport peppers, tomato, pickle, and celery salt. navypier.com

Budget Travel: See more photos of the boardwalks

2. Atlantic City Boardwalk, Atlantic City, New Jersey

This waterfront city may be known for its casinos, but its historic boardwalk is no gamble if you’re looking for a great time. Originally built in the 19th century to prevent sand from blowing off the beach into the area’s schmancy hotels, the Atlantic City Boardwalk has become a destination all its own. Its Steel Pier is a thriving amusement park, while its Garden Pier is a hot spot for the performing arts. atlanticcitynj.com

22 can’t-miss U.S. beaches

3. Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York

Sure, the name may conjure images of barbershop quartets and early-20th-century couples strolling by the sea. But the revitalized Luna Park amusement park ain’t your great-grandfather’s Coney Island.

The names of the rides at this iconic Brooklyn destination say it all: The Sling Shot throws you up in the air and lets you freefall back down to earth; the Cyclone roller coaster is still one of the most terrifying around, and the Wonder Wheel may be the best-known Ferris wheel in America. If it’s a hot day, grab a classic New York-style Italian ice at Uncle Louie G’s. lunaparknyc.com

Budget Travel: 12 awe-inspiring American castles

4. Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, California

The Ferris wheel here at Pacific Park, on Santa Monica’s pier, is a gem. Why? Because it’s so close to the water that you can almost convince yourself that the wheel is going to dip you into the Pacific.

You’ll find gentle rides here for the little ones, and you can take a ride on the beautifully carved and painted carousel that was featured in the Academy Award-winning motion picture “The Sting.” santamonicapier.org

5. Oceanfront Boardwalk and Promenade, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

This one’s just a baby compared with some of the historic boardwalks on our list. Opened just four years ago, this place feels as if it’s been here forever.

Welcoming crowds by the million with its charm and hospitality, Myrtle Beach’s Oceanfront Boardwalk and Promenade features the Family Kingdom amusement park that includes the massive Skywheel and Slingshot, and the just-opened Twist ‘n Shout steel roller coaster. visitmyrtlebeach.com

Budget Travel: America’s most beautiful lighthouses

6. Ocean City Boardwalk, Ocean City, Maryland

A carousel dating back to 1902, free boardwalk entertainment, and the classic vibe of a relaxed beach town make Ocean City’s boardwalk one of the most popular stops on the Atlantic. For a taste of ’50s-style seaside fare, drop by Atlantic Stand for fried chicken, soft crabs, and burgers. ococean.com

7. Venice Beach Boardwalk, Venice Beach, California

Visit a typical boardwalk and you’ll most likely return home with memories of blue water, candy-apple red kiddie rides, and the scent of fried seafood. Visit Venice Beach Boardwalk (officially Ocean Front Walk, but nobody calls it that) and you’re more likely to return home with memories of blue hair, candy-apple-red lipstick, and the scent of pot smoke.

It’s not the beautiful location or the array of unique shops here that make the place unforgettable; it’s the always-surprising, creative folks who turn out every day to make political statements, perform stunts, or just be their fabulous selves. venicebeach.com

8. Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

This mid-Atlantic beauty offers a relaxing boardwalk experience. It’s not huge, glitzy, or loaded with terrifying rides. Instead, this place rolls out a quiet, family-friendly pace that can be just what the doctor ordered. Kids will love the rides and treats along the boardwalk. Grown-ups will appreciate the clean, laid-back beach and charming town. beach-fun.com

9. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Santa Cruz, California

Get your picture taken at the apex of the thrilling coaster here and you’re almost certain to have a hilarious keepsake – it’s a loooooooong way down! The boardwalk’s vibrant party scene, fast-paced rides, and best-ever funnel cakes are just a few of the things to love about Santa Cruz, situated near the top of Monterey Bay on the central California coast about a 90-minute drive from San Francisco.

The city is also home to barking sea lions, one of the world’s best surfing scenes, and redwood forests just a short ride up into the mountains. beachboardwalk.com

Budget Travel: 20 places every American should see

10. Old Orchard Beach Boardwalk, Old Orchard Beach, Maine

We tend to associate New England with quiet stretches of beach, but the boardwalk in Old Orchard Beach is an exception, with a full-blown amusement park, Palace Playland, right by the ocean. You’ll find easy rides for the kiddies, family friendly water rides, and the crazy adrenaline-junkie stuff, too. palaceplayland.com

11. Wildwood, Wildwood, N.J.

A shore thing whether you want a perfect beach or rides that’ll rattle your nerves, this is the place to soak up the spirit of the Jersey Shore. wildwoodsnj.com

12. Virginia Beach Boardwalk, Virginia Beach, Virginia

Sure, there are lots of great beaches and boardwalks out there. But Virginia Beach not only boasts a beautiful stretch of sand and attractions but also dolphins right off shore, and unparalleled history just down the road. virginiabeach.com

13. Disney World Boardwalk, Walt Disney World, Florida

No list of boardwalks would be complete without Disney. The ocean may be nowhere in sight, but the imaginative folks here have put together a fun family experience for guests that rivals the real thing. disneyworld.disney.go.com

14. Kemah Boardwalk, Kemah, Texas

The Gulf Coast needed a boardwalk and Kemah, just 20 miles from downtown Houston, fits the bill, having expanded from a popular dining spot to a full-blown family-travel destination. kemahboardwalk.com

15. Mission Beach Boardwalk, San Diego, California

Often overshadowed by its flashier neighbors up the California coast, Mission Beach is one of San Diego’s sweetest spots and should be on your SoCal to-do list. sandiego.com

16. Carolina Beach Boardwalk, Carolina Beach, North Carolina

Appropriately located on Pleasure Island, Carolina Beach specializes in making you forget your cares. Mild breezes, gorgeous beach, and a sweet hospitality make this boardwalk a family favorite. visitcarolinabeachnc.com

17. Hampton Beach Boardwalk, Hampton Beach, New Hampshire

This low-key gem is great for relaxing, shopping, and pretending you never have to go back to your real life. hamptonbeach.org

18. Jenkinson’s Boardwalk, Point Pleasant, New Jersey

Admid the Jersey Shore’s bigger, better-known boardwalks, Jenkinson’s has a retro charm that can’t be beat. Walk the boardwalk early in the morning as the shops open to beat the crowds. And grab a fresh-squeezed lemonade when the sun is high. jenkinsons.com

19. Sandwich Boardwalk, Sandwich, Massachusetts

Okay, this isn’t a honky-tonk boardwalk. It’s a boardwalk made for strolling and taking in the fresh air, unforgettable sky, and water that Cape Cod is known for. You’ll have to bring your own funnel cakes! sanwichmass.org

California beach tips – what to wear, where to go

5 quiet U.S. coastal towns that offer a seaside escape