America's Best Beach Boardwalks

From the honky-tonk hilarity of New York’s Coney Island to skateboarders and sea views in San Diego, these icons are freeways to fun.

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San Diego
Photographer: Richard Cummins/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

San Diego, California

“Cowabunga!” could easily be the motto of this outdoor sports oasis along the San Diego coast, the least known and most laid-back of California’s great boardwalks. If ever there were an endless summer, this is it, a length of sand that stoked both the surfing and skateboarding crazes, as well as a hotbed of other sports: beach volleyball, kite surfing, and over-the-line softball. Fully paved today, the meandering boardwalk stretches three miles from the grassy knolls of Palisades Park in Pacific Beach to the sandy volleyball courts at the bottom end of Mission Beach. Along the way are open-air bars and cafés, places where you can rent beach cruisers and surfoards, and a chance that you might bump into local legends like Tony Hawk or Shaun White freestyling on their skateboards down the boardwalk. But the biggest “celebrity” here is the Giant Dipper roller coaster at Belmont Park, a wooden behemoth that’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

STAY AT CRYSTAL PIER HOTEL & COTTAGES: The newly refurbished cottages at this 1936 Pacific Beach landmark offer a rare chance to sleep above the waves on the wooden pier; crystalpier.com.

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