Seagulls, waves crashing, fireworks, amusement parks… Ahh the sweet sounds of summer in the great ol’ US of A. From coast to coast you’ll find iconic boardwalks and piers that will bring so much more than sand to your next vacation. Here’s our top picks:
For the East Coast lovers
What to do: Whether you’re looking to try a zipline and thrill rides like a Log Flume, try your hand at winning some prizes at the arcade, attempt an escape room or hit the shops Myrtle Beach has it all.
What to eat: Stuff your face with some seafood at Rockefeller’s Raw Bar or head out on a food & sightseeing tour.
Can’t Miss: The 187-foot-tall Sky Wheel – it’s the boardwalk’s main attraction!
What to do: Virginia Beach, or VB if you’re around the locals, has everything you could want on a boardwalk… from the thrill rides at Atlantic Fun Park, to a haunted house, old time-y photo booths all steps from the beautiful Atlantic Ocean. The King Neptune Statue – here’s your chance to snap a pic with the god of the oceans. No need to travel to Europe!
What to eat: The city is a melting pot of cultures thrown together as a result of the nearby military bases, so you can pretty much find any cuisine your heart desires. Head to Zeke’s for specialty smoothie and poke bowls if you’re trying to stay on the light and refreshing side.
Can’t Miss: Head out on a Wild horse tour located on the nearby Outer Banks barrier islands.
What to do: There are SO many awesome things to do in this quintessential summer destination. From tanning in the sun at one of NYC’s best beaches to riding the iconic roller coasters like the rickety Cyclone. Try out a jet ski tour for unforgettable views and spot a seal or whale if you are lucky!
What to eat: A Coney Island hot dog. Every year on the Fourth of July the famed annual hot dog eating contest takes place here… how many can you eat? Grab one from Nathan’s Famous.
Can’t Miss: The Wonder Wheel.. This Ferris wheel may be the best-known in America.
For y’all headed to the South
Cocoa Beach Pier, FL
What to do: No visit to Cocoa Beach is complete without a visit to the original Ron Jon surf shop… open 24/7 you can get your surf gear sorted at any hour.
What to eat: Get your seafood fix at Keith’s Oyster Bar at Cocoa Beach Pier. From oysters to po’boys, sample some delicious food at the only open air seafood bar on the beach.
Can’t Miss: Explore the Kennedy Space Center on a tour. Pro tip: Time your visit during a rocket launch!
Panama City Beach, FL
What to do: Panama City Beach’s (a.k.a. PCB) Pier Park offers some indoor activities perfect for after day in the sun (or if you’re trying to escape the sun). From an IMAX theater and surf shops to an arcade and laser tag, there are plenty of indoor options to suit your needs. Looking for an outdoor option? Go on an Eco tour.
What to eat: Head to Schooners for some crab claws and bushwackers (kind of like a chocolate piña colada).
Can’t Miss: Nearby St. Andrews State Park for a day trip or head out sailing on Catamaran to take in those sweet gulf views and watch out for dolphins.
Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier, TX
What to do: While South Padres Island may be the Spring Break capital of Texas, Galveston Island is an overlooked beach destination where you can amusement rides, roller coasters and rides.
What to eat: Head to Taquilo’s Tex-Mex Cantina to find the perfect combo of Tex-Mex cuisine meets seafood. pro tip… the ceviche is delicious!
Can’t Miss: Parasail over the Gulf of Mexico or go on a Dolphin sightseeing tour. Trust us, you won’t want to miss those views!
West Coast Best Coast
Santa Monica Pier, CA
What to do: Santa Monica Pier’s Pacific Park (say that five times fast!) has a Ferris wheel so close to the water that you might be convinced that the wheel is going to dip you into the Pacific.
What to eat: Mariasol Cocina Mexicana sample some mouth-watering Mexican food, sip on a marg, and admire the stunning Pacific Ocean views at the west end of the Pier. What could be better? Pro tip: head out on a walking food tour to taste the best cuisine Santa Monica has to offer.
Can’t Miss: Snap a pic with the Route 66 End of the Trail Sign. The legendary Route 66 highway winds from Chicago to this exact pier.
Venice Beach, CA
What to do: This boho neighborhood‘s boardwalk performers, fortune-tellers, artists and unique shops coupled with the beautiful beach make this place unforgettable.
What to eat: Just a few blocks off the beach you’ll find Nighthawk Breakfast Bar where you can sample their iconic. It’s a Guy Fieri-approved way to start your day in the sun.
Can’t Miss: A visit to Muscle Beach. While the original Muscle Beach just south of Santa Monica pier is gone, you can still get a few reps in just steps from the ocean in Venice. Check it all out on a short bike tour.
Santa Cruz, CA
What to do: The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, over a hundred years old, has everything you could ask for in a boardwalk. Whether you’re looking to play mini golf or laser tag, try out classic arcade games or scream on a thrill ride there’s a little bit of everything.
What to eat: Funnel cake
Can’t Miss: Learning to surf at one of the country’s best beaches.
Navy Pier, Chicago, IL
What to do: Though not your typical beach destination, the Chicago’s lakefront is unlike any other. With miles of shoreline on the coast of Lake Michigan, you can get jaw dropping 360 views from lake to skyline to the iconic Navy Pier. Just a short walk from Ohio Street beach, you’ll find the attractions of Navy Pier. From Centennial Ferris Wheel, an IMAX theater, indoor botanical garden, and various other thrill rides there’s so much to be uncovered in the Windy City.
What to eat: Sample the iconic Chicago-style hot dog from America’s Dog. No hot dog from Chicago is complete without adding some mustard, relish, onion, sport peppers, tomato, pickle, and celery salt on top.
Can’t Miss: Experience Chicago’s true lake life by taking a water taxi across the lake to nearby Museum Campus or to the Chicago River for an architectural boat tour. Check out our Chicago travel guide to learn more.
Read to book your next trip to one of the country’s best boardwalk or pier? Check out our hotel and day trip options for your next vacation.