Running is one of my favorite ways to check out a destination when I travel. I love the notion of covering ground with my own two feet, of observing buildings and people up-close-and-personal, without the veil of a pane of glass.


I also really enjoy mixing exercise with exploration. I call it “scouting.” Over the years I’ve scouted my share of epic spots. One of the places at the top of the list: the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey.


This 5.5-mile attraction has the distinction of being the oldest boardwalk in the U.S., dating all the way back to 1870. Though it sits between the city’s hotel casinos and the beach, the boardwalk actually is a destination in and of itself – a thoroughfare complete with museums, arenas, restaurants, and a whole lot more.


That “whole lot more” is the stuff toward which I tend to gravitate. Like any other boardwalk, this one has carnival games, rides, and curios (think Zoltar from “Big”). Unlike other boardwalks, many of the options here are historic – as in, they’ve been around longer than most of the people reading this story.


The vast majority of rides and attractions are found on Steel Pier, a formal amusement park located across the boardwalk from the Trump Taj MahalSome of these rides include: the Slingshot (which slingshots you back and forth in mid-air), the Freedom Flyer (which spins you around as it flings you upside-down), bumper cars, and more. Construction also is underway on a 200-foot Observation Wheel at the front end of the pier; it was expected to be finished this fall.


Another pier, Garden Pier, serves as the arts and culture hub of the boardwalk, offering the informative Atlantic City Historical Museum (which was closed as of press time for renovations) and the Atlantic City Art Center.


Of course there are other activities on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, too. Fun ones. Off-beat ones. Two years ago, on a work trip to report some stuff at local casinos, I wandered into Boardwalk Hall to glimpse the annual Boardwalk Rodeo – complete with cowboys lassoing steer and everything. This past year, on a similar type of trip, I returned to the same venue after dark to see the AC Dreamin’ 3D Light Show, a laser light extravaganza that rivals what you might expect at Disneyland. In other venues along the stretch, you can catch live music, drive miniature race cars, or watch minor league hockey.

Viewfinder Tip: Leave the better part of a full day to explore the Atlantic City Boardwalk; it’s long, and has plenty of diversions for everyone.

The boardwalk itself has a colorful history. The original walk was built as a last resort; after years of grappling with sand in their lobbies, the local hotels banded together and funded the walkway to serve as a buffer from the beach. (The Camden & Atlantic Railroad supported the deal too; the sand kept causing problems for its passenger cars.) A number of temporary iterations followed, most of which were destroyed by storms. Finally, in 1916, a permanent walkway was installed. 

That walkway has had its share of dramas over the years as well. Most recently, in 2012, a stretch along the southern part of the boardwalk was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy. As of October 2013, much of this stretch had been rebuilt.


When you visit the Atlantic City Boardwalk, spend some time there. Rent a bicycle and pedal from end to end. Don the jogging shorts and go on a “scouting” mission of your own. If you’ve got a full day, walk the boards and linger at some of the food stands, soaking up the atmosphere and watching people do their things. This diversity, this constant change, is what has made the Boardwalk fun for more than 100 years, and precisely is what will make the destination appealing for hundreds more to come.

What is your favorite way to explore a city or destination?