Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk; Santa Cruz, Calif.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

The beach on one side and amusement rides, games and the kind of food you seldom eat at home on the other: The boardwalk is the ideal intersection of everything festive. America’s first one was built in 1870 in Atlantic City, N.J., as a means of keeping sand from being tracked into the town’s beachside hotels. Ever since, New Jersey has been associated with these wooden promenades — and after Hurricane Sandy destroyed them, restoring the historic landmarks became a top priority. While there is still work to be done, today, intact boardwalks up and down the coast are signaling a return to normalcy. From Asbury Park to Cape May, these wooden wonders are again open for business in the Garden State, providing entertainment and boosting community spirit. No matter which shore you’re on, though, boardwalks nationwide are sources of timeless fun for every age.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk; Santa Cruz, Calif.
This classic holds two national historic landmarks: the Giant Dipper roller coaster, circa 1924, and the 1911 Looff Carousel, which still dispenses steel rings for its riders to grab and toss at a target for a reward. There are also arcades, a two-story mini-golf course and must-have, deep-fried Twinkies.

Navy Pier, Chicago
With skyscrapers on one side and Lake Michigan on the other, this urban boardwalk holds a 150-foot Ferris wheel, tour boats and mini-golf. You even can swim at the adjacent Ohio Street Beach.

Casino Pier; Seaside Heights, N.J.
Beachgoers can still find saltwater taffy at Berkeley Sweet Shops, and the 103-year-old carousel at Casino Pier whirls on, with other rides slowly getting back on track. Two new ones have been added as well: The Super Storm (take that, Sandy!) and the Surf Shack fun house.

Coney Island Beach and Boardwalk; Brooklyn, N.Y.
At this Brooklyn boardwalk, waves crash and the Cyclone roller coaster rattles on its tracks. Amusements at Luna Park, a beachside aquarium and minor league ballpark will keep you busy, but be sure to grab a hot dog from Nathan’s Famous, established in 1916.