The contrast could not be more stark: On one boardwalk, you experience an explosion of color, sounds and motion. On another, you bask in the serenity of untouched nature perfect for religious reflections.
So what do some of America’s most beloved boardwalks have in common? They all draw visitors for their seemingly endless ocean views and easy beach access.
Church groups with both youth and the young at heart will enjoy the wacky thrills of the amusement park boardwalks, which often feature brand-new rides as well as historic attractions. Calmer boardwalks with some attractions and some areas of quiet can appeal to groups of all ages.
Whether your faith-based group desires the zany fun of a full-blown amusement park or a more peaceful stroll down the beach, these American boardwalks will delight.
The Wildwoods, New Jersey
Imagine the adrenaline high of riding a giant monster truck on the beach with all the roaring sounds and power that goes with it. The Wildwood Boardwalk offers this noisy experience along with about two miles of shops, eateries, arcades and amusement parks.
“The only way I can describe it is the scents, sights and sounds of pure sensory overload,” said Ben Rose, director of marketing and public relations for Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement. “It takes you back to what a Jersey boardwalk was like in its heyday. It hasn’t changed much, except there are new attractions each year.”
With more rides than Disneyland, The Wildwoods draw 250,000 people on the boardwalk during its peak season. The Wildwood Boardwalk remains one of the country’s last great seaside promenades with three amusement piers and two water parks.
Since its modest beginnings as a 150-yard walkway in the 1890s, the boardwalk has become a symbol of Americana pop culture, with doo-wop-style architecture preserved in many structures. The Sightseer Tram Cars always make an impression with guests and are known for their classic announcement, “Watch the tram car, please.” Originally built for the 1939 World’s Fair, the cars have ferried guests up and down the boardwalk since 1949.
The wholesome atmosphere especially appeals to church groups. “I think we’re the only boardwalk with an active chapel that conducts services throughout the day,” said Rose. “The Boardwalk Chapel seats about 100 to 125 people, with a pastor that is very dedicated.”
Even the Wildwood Boardwalk retains some quiet from the hours of 6 a.m. to 11 a.m., when the city allows bikes on the boardwalk. Groups can rent bikes, stop for breakfast and continue alongside the beach for an up-to-six-mile round-trip ride.
Long Beach, Washington
With dune grasses on one side and the Pacific’s thundering waves on the other, the Long Beach Boardwalk creates the illusion of complete isolation despite its location a short walk from town.
“It’s really a natural, serene experience as opposed to a carnival boardwalk,” said Drew Foster, marketing communications coordinator for the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau. “It’s different from other boardwalks in that it isn’t lined with businesses or rides. It’s lined with interpretive panels and nature.”
This popular boardwalk often appears on lists of America’s best boardwalks despite its divergence from other more active sites, since the half-mile trail offers stunning panoramas and wildlife-viewing opportunities at a very accessible location. Church groups walking the short boardwalk can watch for interpretive panels to point out shipwreck locations, wildlife and the North Head Lighthouse.
Visitors should also watch the skies for eagles, peregrine falcons and colorful kites, as the boardwalk hosts the annual Washington State International Kite Festival each August.
Guests looking for a longer hike can follow the connecting eight-mile-long Discovery Trail, which commemorates the beach where Lewis and Clark finally reached the Pacific Ocean. The trail runs through forest groves and overlooks and ends in downtown Ilwaco, Washington.
After the tranquil walk, groups can experience the excitement of nearby Long Beach’s downtown.
“Long Beach is your quintessential childhood beach town,” said Foster. “There’s everything from seafood to saltwater taffy and ice cream shops. We have go-karts, bumper cars and carnival rides.”