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A Brief History of the American Boardwalk

A Brief History of the American Boardwalk

Now a staple of American culture in the summertime, a boardwalk is the perfect complement to the beach. It provides restaurants, boutiques, gift shops, surf shops, and often provides a full scale boardwalk bar and arcade, or several.

Before they were known for beachside eats, henna tattoos, roller coasters, and ferris wheels, boardwalks looked quite different from what we know them as today. This article will lay out how boardwalks transitioned from humble beginnings of the past into the tourist attractions they are today.

Keep reading to read the histories of some of the most iconic boardwalks from coast to coast, from California to New York City.

The Atlantic City Boardwalk

Maybe the most iconic boardwalk in the United States, The Atlanta City Boardwalk is also the country’s first. Built and opened in 1870, the boardwalk was popular since its inception, and continued to grow popular and evolve largely due to Atlantic City being the first city outside Nevada to offer gambling nearly 100 years later legally. Plus, the Miss America Pageant has called the Atlantic City home every year since 1921.

Now the boardwalk is as popular as ever, and has modernized to include the demands of younger people while maintaining a sense of tradition and famed nostalgia.

The Coney Island Boardwalk

New York has everything, doesn’t it? The Coney Island boardwalk was originally a private resort built in the 1820s, but it’s now a popular tourist attraction on the waterfront of New York. It opened to the public in the 1920s and was immediately a popular tourist attraction.

It provided theaters, restaurants, hotels, shops, and a famous theme park. What also helped was the New York subway system connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn around this time, which allowed access to more New Yorkers and tourists than ever before.

The Ocean City Boardwalk

Maryland’s first boardwalk is still one of the most popular in the world today. Perhaps a boardwalk by accident, in 1900 several hotel companies that set up shop right on the ocean decided to collaboratively build a wooden walkway connecting them. Soon enough, shops and restaurants sprouted up, taking advantage of the many tourists and walking traffic.

The boardwalk got a major facelift in 2012, but still keeps its tradition and provides its visitors with the games, drinks, rides, and junk food you expect at any boardwalk.

The Santa Monica Pier

Originally introduced as the Santa Monica Pier landmark in 1909, the popular attraction just outside Los Angeles welcomes millions of visitors every year. Now known as Pacific Park, the famous ferris wheel is an icon of film and television, and is the de facto symbol of Santa Monica.

Now, the pier is known as the symbolic ending point of the famous Route 66 which runs from Chicago all the way to the Pacific Coast.

Bonus Boardwalks

Below is a list of other famous boardwalks in the United States and when they were built:

  • Rehoboth Beach, Delaware – 1879
  • Virginia Beach, Virginia – 1888
  • Hollywood Beach, Florida – 1921-1924
  • Wildwoods, The Jersey Shore – first of many built in 1900
  • Myrtle Beach, South Carolina – completed in 2010


Simply put, boardwalks are an innate part of the American story. Pop culture popularized them even more through film, television, literature, and music (the Beach Boys, for example). The boardwalk became a staple of American culture and is almost as enticing as the ocean itself.

It’s perfect for every member of the family and is a great social hub for summertime activities and adventures. Once you visit the boardwalk you should consider looking into going to the navy yard and visiting Takoda Navy Yard. Whether you’re looking for junk food, arcade games, beachside bars, and restaurants, or full theme parks, chances are your closest boardwalk has them all.