Atlantic City, NJ
This state ranks as the boss of the boardwalks. The classic promenades at Ocean City and the Wildwoods achieve just the right balance of sea breezes, nostalgia, and delicious tackiness. But our favorite remains the oldest of them all, created in 1870 to reduce the amount of sand tracked into local businesses. Today it provides easy access to glitzy oceanfront casinos as well as such older though equally gaudy attractions as the 103-year-old Steel Pier, an amusement park on pilings. Click on www.visitac.com.
Santa Cruz, CA
If you can't find fun here, then you just don't like the coast. You can surf, play some serious beach volleyball, listen to free Friday-night concerts (June 22-August 31), challenge tons of video games, brave more than 30 amusement park rides (including a 1911 Looff carousel and the wonderful 1924 Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster)—or simply sunbathe on the wide swath of sand. Click on www.beachboardwalk.com.
Virginia Beach, VA
The surface these days is concrete, but Virginia Beach's boardwalk remains the summer heart of this longtime resort city. The three-mile pathway strings together not only high-rise hotels, ice-cream shops, and all manner of entertainment (both strolling and stationary), but also a couple of nice museums: the Old Coast Guard Station (1903 vintage; great nautical gifts) and the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum (antique and contemporary decoys). Click on www.vbfun.com.
Miami Beach, FL
Miami Beach has a boardwalk? Yes, but not in the eternally trendy area of South Beach. It runs a little farther north, between 21st and 46th streets, past the glorious excess of the Fontainebleau Hilton Resort. Along this stretch of sand, you'll be astonished at what constitutes a bathing suit. Click on www.cityshowcase.com/miamibeach.
Long Beach, WA
Watch the kites from this half-mile boardwalk at the town of Long Beach, just north of the Oregon border. Bring lunch; picnic tables dot the route at convenient intervals. Click on www.funbeach.com.
Ocean City, MD
Filled with shrieks of laughter and the aroma of steamed crabs and vinegar-drenched french fries, Ocean City's salty air welcomes throngs of summertime shoppers, bikers, and food lovers. It's hard to believe this three-mile boardwalk got its start over a century ago as a roll-up walkway stored on porches during high tide. Today, along with waterslides and other thrills, Ocean City boasts the oldest continuously operating two-level carousel. At night, cool off with a cone of your favorite ice cream and head for a ride on the Ferris wheel to get the best view in town. Call 800/626-2326 or visit www.ococean.com.
Santa Monica, CA
California's star-studded pier attracts more than just tourists—the sparkling blue view, unending rides, and an eclectic mix of vacationers and locals make Santa Monica's boardwalk a hot spot for film producers as well. On Thursday nights, gather to sing and dance with popular performers at the summer Twilight Dance Series. Before you leave, catch a ride on the pier's famous carousel. Call (310) 458-8900 or visit www.santamonicapier.org.
If glitz and glamour aren't your forte, stroll down the boardwalk in this quaint North Carolina town. Friendly locals abound, as well as boaters who've docked their craft to get a better view of Carrot Island's wild horses, or to peruse an antique store or two. The view (and beer) from the Dock House is exceptional, and the live music and fresh crabs on a summer night can't be beat. Call 800/SUNNYNC or visit www.beaufort-nc.com/attractn.
Myrtle Beach, SC
In the center of South Carolina's 60-mile "Grand Strand," the Myrtle Beach boardwalk provides a diversion from abundant golf courses and high-rise hotels. While the renowned Mother Fletcher's makes "lots of noise," kids covet the Pavilion amusement park's cotton candy, and the younger crowd gathers at night to see and be seen. Call 843/918-1000 or visit www.cityofmyrtlebeach.com.
Rehoboth Beach, DE
The welcome sign reads, "Nation's Summer Capital," and from the lively shops and restaurants on the town's mile-long boardwalk, it's easy to see why visitors flock to Rehoboth Beach. Start out your morning with a bike ride past the bright blue water and the equally colorful shop awnings. Later, check out the selection at Chesapeake Kites and Flags to take advantage of Delaware's salty breeze—and absent sales tax. At the end of the day, satisfy your sweet tooth with a stop at Dolles Saltwater Taffy while the bandstand musical entertainment kicks off a summer seranade. Call 302/227-2233 or visit www.beach-net.com/TownsRB.html.