Few activities beat strolling a boardwalk in the summer with an ice cream cone. Here are the best boardwalks of the West

Best Boardwalks of the West
  Stephan Hoerold / Getty Images
Stephan Hoerold / Getty Images

For the Ornithologically-Inclined

Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail, DuPont, WA. Birding is the main attraction on the wooden boardwalk at Nisqually Estuary, a wildlife preserve on a delta 10 miles from Olympia. With over 20,000 avians in attendance, this spot is an early-morning birder’s haven: you can see 275 species, including raptors, shorebirds and songbirds. Hawks and herons are common sights for those without binoculars, and those with can sometimes spy snowy owls, golden pheasants, purple finches, peregrine falcons, and chestnut-backed chickadees. At any time of day, ducks, herons, and gulls fill the estuary with their placid perching and swimming. In the water, harbor seals, shiner perch, starry flounder, and Chinook salmon swim amongst the shrimp, clams, and crabs. Bird walks take place every Wednesday at 8am.

For the Americana Aficionado

Huntington Beach Boardwalk, Huntington Beach, CA. It’s a classic slice of Americana in Orange County, sandwiched between other great coastal cities like Seal Beach, Sunset Beach, and Newport Beach, but HB’s boardwalk has got flair of its own. The concrete boardwalk is packed with joggers, bikers, and rollerbladers every weekend. Those who prefer the water can be found lounging on the beach or surfing near the pier. A weekly rockabilly and classic rock concert provides an all-American atmosphere at Surfin’ Sundays and car shows happen on the weekends, showcasing the best of the fifties to the seventies. If that’s not your pace, the Surf City Nights Farmers Market peddles the best of local Orange County produce.

For the Harbor Cruiser

Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, CA. More a wooden pier than a boardwalk, Stearns Wharf has nonetheless become a major destination for strolling, shopping, and dining in Santa Barbara. Brown pelicans perch on the docks, taking in the panoramic view of the harbor with you. From munching on salt water taffy and caramels from Mother Stearns Candy Company and lobster tacos at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company to gawking at the jellyfish and sea stars at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s Sea Center and fishing with Stearns Bait & Tackle, there’s more to do here than you’d think. For a quirky delight, get your palm read by the adept local institution named Madame Rosinka. Taste Santa Barbara’s local wines at Deep Sea Wine Tasting Room, and buy some seashells, jewelry, and semi-precious stones at Nature’s Own Gallery. When the sun starts to wane, board Celebration CruisesAzure Seas, a 73-foot luxury yacht, for a sunset cruise along the coastline. If that’s a bit pricey, just hop on the Water Taxi for an equally scenic view.

For the Film Buff

More Videos From Sunset

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Santa Cruz, CA. The picturesque “Coney Island of the West” has brought to life films from The Lost Boys to Us, and for good reason—the Looff Carousel and Giant Dipper roller coaster are the perfect background for silver screen hijinks. Take a self-guided tour with The Lost Boys mobile guide, or use this map to do a Boardwalk Historic Walking Tour. If adrenaline is more your pace, save some dough by grabbing an unlimited all-day wristband or season pass for the boardwalk rides like the Shockwave and the Fireball. Use the money you saved on tickets by stuffing yourself with the likes of loaded fries, deep-fried Twinkies, chocolate-stuffed churros, waffle cones, and funnel cakes. The beach is great for plopping down in your suit, and you can also sail and kayak. If it rains, head to Neptune’s Kingdom, where you can play arcade games and mini golf, then visit a historic boardwalk exhibit on the second floor. In the summer, free movies are shown on Wednesday nights—including, of course, The Lost Boys. 


For the Water Baby

Shoreline Village and The Pike at Rainbow Harbor, Long Beach, CA. Long Beach’s waterfront has got a brand new bag—and it’s still evolving. With the 2028 Olympics due to host various events in Long Beach, concession stands at Alamitos, Junipero, and Granada beaches are being renovated for completion by summer 2020. But Shoreline Village and The Pike at Rainbow Harbor have continuously added new restaurants and shops over the past decade, resulting in an ever-more-fun pedestrian playland. Pop up 90 feet into the sky on The Pike Ferris Wheel or marvel at over 150 sharks and rays in the 10,000-square-foot Aquarium of the Pacific Shark Lagoon. Stroll over to the esplanade for a whale-watching tour or lazily meander through The Pike Outlets and head to a film at the Cinemark or a stand-up show at The Laugh Factory. Rent bikes at Shoreline Village and cruise along the wooden boardwalk to breathe in the salt air. Downtown is just a stone’s throw away, so if you’re getting an evening chill from the water, walk to Beachwood BBQ for some brews and brisket.

For the People-Watcher

Venice Beach, Venice, CA. Venice Beach and its boardwalk may not be for everyone. It’s been called wacky and chintzy, and it may not be the cleanest, but Venice also packs a punch when it comes to people-watching and skateboarding. The Venice Beach Freakshow may have closed, but you’ll still see some of the most entertaining characters of greater Los Angeles here, including the supersized folks who work out at Muscle Beach and the street performers who perform feats from juggling to dog tricks to acrobatics. When you’ve tired of the t-shirt shops, head to Venice Skate Park, where you can watch the best skaters, from teens to veterans. Hungry? Grab crispy French fries with Italian black truffle mayo at The Wee Chippy or succulent doner kebab at BERLINS, a German sandwich shop.

For the Amusement Junkie

Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA. Though the marine layer can roll in without a moment’s notice, sending beachgoers fleeing for heat-lamped restaurants, the Santa Monica Pier is one of the most iconic and enduring boardwalks in the West and the filming location for countless shows and films. Built over a century ago, the pier is known for its famous Ferris wheel, a nine-story, solar-powered, LED Pacific. From the top, you can see Santa Monica, Malibu, Palos Verdes, and Catalina Island. A host of other rides fill Pacific Park on the pier, and those who aren’t satisfied can head to the onsite aquarium, trapeze school, or bike rental shop. End the night bopping to live classic rock at Rusty’s or ditch the pier for shopping at Nordstrom and cocktails at The Bungalow, located across Ocean Avenue in downtown Santa Monica.

For Those with a Zeal for Wheels

Mission Beach to Pacific Beach Boardwalk, San Diego, CA. Take your time moseying along this busy two-mile stretch from Mission Beach to Pacific Beach, preferably with a shaved ice from Big Kahuna’s or a giant slice from ZoZo’s Pizza in hand. Though it can get crowded later in the day, the people-watching is pure bronzed SoCal, with surfers, beach bums, bikers and, to the dismay of some walkers, electric scooter riders. Watch beach volleyball, go rollerskating, take a dip in the ocean, or catch some waves with PB Surf Shop or Surfer Girls. After sunset, chow down on fish tacos at Oscar’s Mexican Seafood or crack one of SD’s many excellent microbrews at Pacific Beach’s Amplified Ale Works.  

For the Romantic

The Malecon at La Paz, La Paz, Mexico. This beautiful stone esplanade is used by every age group, from young lovers canoodling at sunset to elderly couples strolling at sunrise. Rollerbladers, walkers, skateboarders, and bikers take in stunning sunsets in the evening, pretty sculptures decorate the malecon, and restaurants serve a bevy of seafood nearby. Come sundown, the food carts come out with their delights of elotes (roasted corn), quesadillas, tacos, paletas (popsicles), and churros. 

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