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The 12 Best Boardwalks in New England for Summertime Hangs

Seafood, nature walks, Ferris wheels and more.

The Breakers and Cliff Walk
The Breakers and Cliff Walk | Wangkun Jia/Shutterstock
The Breakers and Cliff Walk | Wangkun Jia/Shutterstock

We’re not sure if it’s the balmy weather, the long stretches of daylight, or the countless hours spent binging the first and third seasons of Jersey Shore, but the idea of soaking up the vibes on a waterfront boardwalk is feeling more and more enticing with each passing minute. And while the Tri-state tends to overshadow its northeastern neighbor when it comes to seaside promenades, New England is home to a surprisingly diverse array of boardwalks spread across all six states.

Whether you’re in search of a strenuous hike amid thundering waterfalls, a foray into wildlife-filled swamps, or you’re just looking to stuff your face with fried calamari and cheap beer while basking in gorgeous ocean views, New England has your back. Head out these 12 standout shoreside escapes for guaranteed fun-in-the-sun moments.

Plymouth Waterfront, MA

Once inundated with Puritan settlers seeking a new land to call home, the seaside town of Plymouth now sees a different sort of pilgrimage each summer—visitors in search of tasty seafood, ice cream, and cheap cocktails. For a truly enchanting evening, begin your night with a trek along the Plymouth Breakwater, a roughly one-mile-long jetty offering gorgeous vistas and the opportunity to spot harbor seals lazing about. After a leisurely stroll, head to East Bay Grille for a cup of savory clam chowder, then finish the night with frozen daiquiris atop The CabbyShack, a local favorite topped off with a vibrant rooftop patio.

Grays Beach, MA

It’s no secret that Cape Cod is packed with spectacular beaches, but boardwalks are few and far between across the peninsula. Fortunately, the serene northern reaches of Yarmouth are here to save the day with the Grays Beach Boardwalk. A paradise for nature lovers, this wooden walkway is brimming with shorebirds, crabs, and all manner of marine life from daybreak to twilight—and speaking of twilight, the sunsets here are truly tough to beat.

Cliff Walk, RI

Rustic natural beauty meets opulent architecture on the Cliff Walk, Rhode Island’s beloved pedestrian promenade carved in tandem with Newport’s seaside bluffs. This craggy path runs 3.5 miles in total, but most visitors tend to congregate around Ochre Point—a rocky outcrop just off of Ruggles Avenue—and head northward towards Salve Regina University. As you cast your eyes to the left, you’ll be met with one of the nation’s most splendid examples of Renaissance Revival-style architecture: the Breakers. Built in 1895, this 70-room mansion once served as a summer retreat for the Vanderbilt family, and stands today as a testament to the mind-boggling prosperity of America’s Gilded Age.

Oakland Beach, RI

Narragansett Bay is home to a wealth of idyllic beaches, but this tiny district in southern Warwick comes with an added bonus: delicious seafood, courtesy of Iggy’s Boardwalk. This charming diner has mastered the art of classic Rhode Island dishes like fried calamari, clam cakes, and stuffies, and their open-air patio serves as the perfect setting for gorging on ocean-fresh fare paired with a crisp Sam Adams lager (or five). After dining to your heart’s content, Oakland Beach’s breezy shoreline is the perfect vantage point for appreciating New England’s aesthetic bounty—and maybe scoping out some horseshoe crabs along the way.

Ocean Beach Park, CT

Equipped with an 18-hole minigolf course, 50-meter Olympic swimming pool, thrill rides like the Scrambler and the Octopus, a nostalgia-fueled arcade, and a stand hawking clam fritters, this 50-acre expanse is basically a season-long carnival with all the fixings. It may be tempting to spend the entire day brushing up on your Skee-Ball skills, but don’t skip out on the park’s main attraction located just a few steps south of the boardwalk. As you might assume from the name, Ocean Beach Park is home to a pretty spectacular seashore, with a half-mile of powdery white sand and calm water tailor-made for a refreshing afternoon dip.

Silver Sand Beach
Silver Sand Beach | Jay Yuan/Shutterstock

Silver Sands State Park, CT

Just east of Connecticut’s affluent Gold Coast, this 297-acre preserve is an entirely different type of rich, brimming with all manner of native waterfowl, wading birds, and raptors—the bird of prey kind, not the Jurassic Park kind, thankfully. As you amble along the boardwalk toward Walnut Beach, be sure to make frequent stops to scan the sand for scallop and whelk shells along the way. For tried-and-true birding fanatics, pair your visit with a short trip southwest to the Coastal Center at Milford Point, one of the area’s top spots for stalking out eye-catching wildlife.

Waterfront Park, VT

Vermont may be lacking in oceanfront property, but the calming eastern shore of Lake Champlain serves as the perfect coastal esplanade—and with none of that harsh saltwater burn. For summer visitors, top activities around Waterfront Park include picnicking on the lawn, sunning yourself on one of the promenade’s many swinging chairs, or scouring the lake’s surface for Champ, Lake Champlain’s beloved sea monster (seriously). The summer sun can get a little intense, but fortunately, Foam Brewers is waiting just next door with a fresh pint of Well I Wonder lager whenever you need some cooling down.

West Rutland Marsh, VT

A far cry from the kiddie ride-laden funfests stashed along the coast, this rustic Vermont boardwalk tends to draw a different type of crowd—namely, the feathered variety. Home to roughly 200 individual avian species ranging from American Kestrels to Pileated Woodpeckers, this Audubon-certified Important Bird Area is one of Vermont’s most valuable destinations for birders hoping to cross a rare species off of their list. And if the idea of spying on an elusive Least Bittern doesn’t quite do it for you, no worries—the pristine natural beauty and tranquil ambiance of the surrounding wetlands make this a worthy destination for birding faithfuls and non-birders alike.

Hampton Beach, NH

Despite its meager shoreline, New Hampshire packs a pretty powerful punch in the form of Hampton Beach. There are no actual boards to this boardwalk, but the wealth of flashy casinos, seaside cafés, and gorgeous ocean vistas definitely earn it a spot on this discerning list. To make the most of your trip to the Granite State shore, head to Sea Ketch for a plate of fried oysters on the restaurant’s open-air top deck, then follow it up with a trip to Charlie’s Tap House, Hampton Beach’s best bet for great craft beer and even better karaoke.

Flume Gorge, NH

Located in the heart of Franconia Notch State Park, this cascading ravine is home to one of the most gorge-ous (yes, we went there) natural features in all of New Hampshire. The two-mile loop trail can be a little tough to manage thanks to its abundance of steep staircases, but the towering 90-foot granite cliffs, thundering waterfalls, and massive glacial boulders make it all worth it in the end. As you tackle the path, keep your eyes peeled for the park’s Flume Covered Bridge, a historic viaduct that’s been in place since the late 1800s.

Orono Bog Boardwalk, ME

While most tourists to the Pine Tree State tend to stick to the coastline, the verdant interior of Maine is no slouch when it comes to waterfront digs—case in point, the Orono Bog Boardwalk. Located just north of Bangor, this mile-long elevated path offers ample opportunity to encounter native waterfowl, passerines, and birds of prey alongside a wealth of New England foliage, with no shortage of vibrant signage along the way to help with the species identification process. Nature nerds, take note.

Old Orchard Beach, ME

Sandwiched between Kennebunkport and Portland, this picturesque seaside retreat has been one of Maine’s top vacation destinations since the Victorian days. There are seven miles of sandy shoreline up for grabs here, but Old Orchard Beach is best known for one thing in particular—the longstanding Palace Playland. Founded in 1902, this vintage amusement park spans five sunsoaked acres and is currently decked out with a brand-new Ferris wheel alongside a whopping 24,000-square-foot arcade. Drop the kiddos off at the air hockey table with a bag of quarters then book it to Mainely Lobster Cafe for a peaceful afternoon stuffing your face with coastal New England cuisine.

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Jared Ranahan is a contributor for Thrillist.
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