Top 5 Family Boardwalks – West Coast

When we think summer at ThinkFives, we think family boardwalks, particularly if you live on the East or West coasts. Boardwalks and beaches have always been great vacation places.

We checked with all our friends and developed these top five lists of beach walks and boardwalks that you’re going to want to visit this summer.

Navy Pier, Chicago, Illinois

Although far from the West Coast, we needed to stretch our geographic definition to include the Navy Pier. It’s one of the most-visited attractions in the entire Midwest and is Chicago’s second most-visited tourist attraction.

Stretching into Lake Michigan, this year-round destination truly comes to life in the summer with fireworks, live music, theater and cruises setting sail daily.

It’s also, of course, home to the Centennial Wheel and Pier Park, with rides for children of all ages.

Harkening back to the 1893 World’s Fair, this mecca of attractions will impress with beer gardens to restaurants to a 4000 sq. ft. Funhouse Maze.  You can grab a Chicago-style hot dog, a deep dish pizza slice or just a frothy beverage.  If you’re in Chicago and the weather is nice, head down to the Navy Pier.

Mission Beach Boardwalk, San Diego, California

San Diego’s beachfront park epitomizes the vibe of “America’s Greatest City,”  from its great ocean views to plenty of room for pedestrians and bikers. There’s a family fun amusement park and an array of local restaurants featuring great California foods and, of course, the famous San Diego fish tacos.

The paved boardwalk allows for rollerblading and leisurely bike riding. Walkways have the Southern California vibe with boutique shops, outdoor eateries and street performers. And unlike East Coast boardwalks, you get that San Diego weather 365 days a year.

Venice Beach Boardwalk, Venice, California

The Venice Beach Boardwalk is a one-mile street market and a free-speech zone on Venice Beach. It’s one of the top things to do in Los Angeles and it’s filled with public art, souvenir shops, street performers and, of course, people watching. 

Uniquely Californian, you’ll find the Venice Art Walls which continue a tradition of free speech, with artists taking turns painting the walls.

There’s also the outdoor Muscle Beach Gym known for its renowned bodybuilders, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and the original Hulk, Lou Ferrigno.

And it wouldn’t be California if it didn’t have an outdoor skate park, beach volleyball courts, surfboard rentals and long stretches of bike path. So hey dude, it’s time to check out the Venice Boardwalk.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk, Santa Cruz, California

Coming in at #2 is yet another California boardwalk, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Founded in 1907, it’s California’s oldest surviving amusement park and has great family fun for people of all ages.

The wide beach and splash of waves from the Pacific are almost inviting — if it weren’t for the chill of NorCal water. It’s home to a number of attractions including the Giant Dipper, a large wooden roller coaster that first opened up in 1924. It’s been generating screams and thrills for decades.

Nowadays, the Boardwalk is filled with lots of other rides, from a 125-foot drop ride to the 1911 Looff Carousel for youngsters to a huge arcade with mini-golf, laser tags, and skee-ball.

And before you leave — but maybe after riding the Giant Dipper — make sure you check out the funnel cakes, corn dogs and the booth where they fry everything from Oreos to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, California

Topping our list of boardwalks on the West Coast is the Santa Monica Pier. Yahoo Travel named the family-friendly park as California’s best amusement park.

The only West Coast amusement park located on a pier, it has everything.  An exhilarating roller coaster that towers 55 feet above the Pacific Ocean? Check. Midway games? Check.  Children’s amusement rides, and trapeze classes on the beach? Check and check!  

Thanks to LA’s great weather, the park is open year-round, so you can enjoy games, restaurants, concerts and more whenever you’re in the area.

Our #1 List Topper, the Santa Monica Pier, is the perfect antidote to LA traffic and congestion.

What’s your favorite West Coast boardwalk?


  1. Venice Beach, because of the Muscle Beach, and working out with athletic people can motivate me to train harder.

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