Obsession of the Day: boardwalks/ The paths best traveled in the sun

The summer breeze weaves in and out along a sand ridden corridor. A million sounds and sights and smells accompany it. Overhead, the roar of speeding amusement rides and the squawk of seagulls echo out. Below, the dunes that meet the ocean waves are ever so still, sending forth a sandy, salty mixture that’s pleasant to the nostrils, less pleasant to the bikini area. Here, where the lights are all neon and everything’s covered in confectioner’s sugar, is that place where vacation begins.

If this is your idea of a boardwalk, you’re not alone, but like most things, boardwalks didn’t quite start out the way they are now. These heavily travelled walkways were once  simple paths designed to keep millions of beach combers en-route. It wasn’t until the innovation of adding commercialized property to the waterfront that the term boardwalk became synonymous with summertime, cotton candy, roller coasters, first kisses and oversized teddy bear prizes. Let’s walk…

USA Boardwalks: The Beginning

For practical purposes we’ll begin where it all started, which, ironically, is also the place diehard boardwalk lovers claim it all ended—the notorious Jersey Shore. Here’s a glimpse of what America’s oldest boardwalk once looked like cerca a postcard sold in the early 1900’s:

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As you can see, the promenade holds promise but it certainly lacks its present day allure. Out on the elevated oceanway, beach goers lean over the rail and eyeball the main attraction which, at this point, is still the ocean.

Enter the world renowned Million Dollar Pier and watch the beach combers swoon:

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Here you get a better idea of the direction the boardwalk is headed in. By 1917, major corporations had already begun to make use of the esplanade. Below, you’ll witness its first Coca Cola billboards and what appears to be the predecessor to the tramcar.

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While the picture above certain shows the commercial transition it still doesn’t explain the wide variety of features we see on present day boardwalks. So how is it that we wound up with so many different kinds of candy, amusement and goods for sale? The answer, simply put, is immigration.At the turn of the 20th century, the United States was a virtual magnet for immigration, with swarms of people sailing in from near and far. The boardwalk, the promenade above the sea , slowly but surely became emblematic of diversity. Everyone from gypsies to hippies to today’s reality stars left their mark along the pier.

Changes In the Economy: Changes In the Tide

By the onset of 1970, after the Great Depression and the Stock Market Crash had turned the economy on its heels, people from all walks of life and all corners of the Earth looked to the Boardwalk as the place to build their empire. They set up shop, selling goods and entertainment that was native to their place of origin. The marvel you see before you today is comprised of millions of different people’s stories. It’s just a tiny glimpse into who they were, the shadows of the corner stores they built.The lights simply illuminate the story but the magic is in who the boardwalk represents as opposed to what the boardwalk presents. 

Night and Day: Today’s Atlantic City Boardwalk

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Boardwalk Sights, Sounds And Smells

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The carousel, like the one depicted above that is ridable in Singapore, is just one of the many sounds you’ll likely hear on a traditional USA boardwalk. Other classics include:

  • Funnel cake
  • Arcade Games
  • Boardwalk Fries
  • Tramcars
  • Bicycles
  • Seagulls
  • Ocean Waves
  • Fudge
  • Pretzels
  • Photo Opportunities
  • Ferris Wheels and More

Paving the Esplenade

In closing, when it comes to USA boardwalks, it was Atlantic City that paved the way for future classics like:

  • Coney Island-Home to the Wonder Wheel and the now defunct giant elephant hotel, Coney Island presented the first roller coaster to the world.
  • Ocean City-This famous boardwalk survived an ancient shipwreck.
  • Wildwood-Home of the “tramcar” and, as of 2015, home of the vintage hot rod. You better watch that tramcar please…
  • Kemah-Houses the only roller coaster on the Texas Gulf Coast.
  • Myrtle Beach-aka the “seaside golf capitol of the world”.
  • Rehoboth-This award winning boardwalk hosts the famous Sea Witch Festival.
  • Bay Lake- Where else can you catch a show, a roller coaster ride and a healthy dose of character acting all while stocking up on your favorite Disney Merchandise?

Onward to bigger and better things, boardwalk enthusiasts will delight to hear that there’s talk of a year round, fully functioning Steel Peir in A.C. with a 200 foot ferris wheel in the works as well.

Choose A New Obsession

In front of Nathan’s, Coney Island 2007

“I liked the boardwalk’s smell: grease and sugar wafting from the takeout stands. cigar smoke. roasted peanuts. ” louis greenstein, “mr boardwalk”

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beautiful boardwalks around The World

The United States isn’t home to the only or even the oldest boardwalk on Earth. In fact, many countries have their own take on these stunning boarded walkways. Fun fact—a boardwalk is still a boardwalk with or without the ocean but a boardwalk with an ocean isn’t just a boardwalk. It can also be referred to as an oceanway. Here are some of our favorite boardwalks from around the world:

Basin Head Provincial Park Boardwalk-Canada

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Canada’s breathtaking Prince Edward Island is home to this oceanway that traverses the “singing sands”. This area is geologically unique for several reasons, the first one being the high pitched sound the sand makes underfoot. Equally interesting is the fact that Basin Head is the only place on the planet where Chondrus, a specific type of Giant Irish Moss, is known to grow. That being said, please bear in mind the fact that our planet is still adorned in undiscovered territories so this grass could be growing someplace we’ve yet to find.

Victoria and Alfred Boardwalk-Africa

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Complete with a towering ferris wheel, a centuries old Clocktower and over 450 Outlet Stores, Africa’s awe inspiring Victoria and Alfred Boardwalk attracts a surplus of more than 23 million unique visitors annually.

Dōtonbori Boardwalk-Japan

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Predating the aforementioned boardwalks by over 200 years, Japan’s Dōtonbori Boardwalk was certainly ahead of its time. Today, it stands as a popular tourist attraction illuminating the Dōtonbori canal.

Honorable Mention: The Promenade Plantee-Paris

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Always the trend setting city, Paris puts a foot forward toward the seemingly inevitable sustainable future by presenting their Promenade Plantee, a stylish rooftop skimming walkway that has been described as the world’s first elevated park. Are elevated parks the future for boardwalks? Should we expect to see more green and less neon in coming years? Only time will tell.

upcoming obsessions Fueled By this topic

Writing about boardwalks has me thinking about amusement rides, skywalks, sand, sea, surf, Prince Edward Island, clock towers and Paris. Be on the lookout for any or all of these topics in upcoming posts.

the obsession that started today’s topic

This topic began as an offshoot of my pirates obsession which came about directly from my first published obsession: Underwater Worlds.


Whenever possible, I like to gather my information the good old fashioned way—by heading over to the library. Below are the books and websites I relied upon to create this post along with which part(s) of the topic they covered.

  • For a spirited look at 1970’s Atlantic City, we highly recommend the totally beach worthy novel “Mr. Boardwalk” by Louis Greenstein.
  • To continue learning about the Steel Pier, have a look-see at the Philly Voice.
  • You can also refer to Wikipedia for a briefing of the different types of boardwalks.

This webpage contains unaltered versions of Wikimedia’s Boardwalk and Million Dollar Pier, Atlantic City, NJ , A mile of the Atlantic City boardwalk, Atlantic City, NJ , Coney Island in popular culture  and Dotonbori Flickr’s Boardwalk and Hunts Starlight Ballroom, Wildwood by the Sea, N. J.  Ocean City NJ Boardwalk at Night and Split Tone Beach Boardwalk – Blue & Pink all of which were available under Creative Commons licensing.

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