Iconic wooden promenades along the Jersey Shore blend carnival thrills with beach blanket bliss and the flavor of yesteryear.

Nothing is more New Jersey than the boardwalk. Miles of elevated planks in coastal resort areas are full of all the rides, games and food needed for a hot summer day or cool autumn evening. Popularized by film and literature, boardwalks have endured over time and remain a staple for a laid-back coastal getaway or action-packed, carnival escape on the Eastern Seaboard.

In the late 1800s, the Jersey coast became a major tourist destination. The sandy beaches brought in trails of tourists, and the tourists brought trails of sand back into the hotels. Therefore, in 1870, the first boardwalk was built in Atlantic City to keep the pesky sand out of the hotel lobbies. The pragmatic barriers evolved into tourist favorites, transforming from practical promenades to amusement fests. Here are five great New Jersey boardwalks:

Atlantic City – The Mother of All Boardwalks

Atlantic City boasts not only the first, but the largest boardwalk and hosts more than 30 million visitors a year. The gaming capital of the East Coast, bouncing with energy 24 hours a day, switches from a sunny, splashing hangout in the day to a pulsating strip of activity at night. Its boardwalk is an icon of romance, nostalgia and just pure fun.

In 1883, a candy shop on the pier was flooded after a storm. The store’s taffy was soaked in salt and after a young girl raved about the salty treat, saltwater taffy was born. Needless to say, the Atlantic City Boardwalk is the best spot in the country to buy a bag of the scrumptious candy. Absecon Lighthouse, built in 1857, is one of the oldest lighthouses in America. Climb its 228 steps to witness sweeping views of the ocean and the Boardwalk.

Fun at the Boardwalk can be both classic or modern. Take a swing with the ocean breeze in your hair at the Atlantic City Miniature Golf Course. At Central Pier Arcade and Speedway ride go-karts or play one of the hundreds of games and walk away with a prize tucked under your arm. At Steel Pier Amusement Park, in the midst of a $102-million renovation project, you can scream your head off on one of 25 extreme rides or enjoy views of the pier and ocean on the Ferris wheel. At night the lights come on and the adults come out to play at casinos with names like Resorts, Caesars, Trump and Tropicana. Resorts Casino Hotel last year unveiled Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Cafe, the beachside Landshark Bar & Grill and Five O’Clock Somewhere Bar.

Wildwoods – “Two Miles of Smiles”

Near the southernmost tip of New Jersey, The Wildwoods—consisting of the towns of Wildwood, Wildwood Crest and North Wildwood—all come together for one beach experience and boardwalk that is pure sensory overload. Revelers enjoy amusement parks, water parks, casinos, carnival games, arcades, live music and fireworks.

Scream your head off on three of the country’s best shoreline roller coasters at Morey’s Piers—the Sea Serpent, Great Nor’easter and Great White. Take a dip in one of three water parks complete with cabanas, waterfalls, speed slides and rope swings. Wildwoods is also the place for parasailing, boat tours, whale and dolphin sightseeing, and water sports. The Doo Wop Experience Museum, full of neon light displays, pays homage to the Wildwoods of the 1950s and ’60s. A ride on the Sightseer Tram Cars, originally built for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City, is the best way to take in the spirit of Wildwoods Boardwalk end to end.

Seaside Heights – Where the Wild Things Are

The mile-long boardwalk at Seaside Heights, a favorite with young people, has two amusement piers, a water park, wall-to-wall arcades and lots of casual dining spots. There’s a constant flurry of movies, concerts and other live entertainment right on the beach. Throughout summer fireworks displays light up the shoreline. Wrap up the evening with a visit to Bum Rogers Crabhouse for live music and a plate full of their famous garlic crab legs. Seaside stays active year round with celebrations and parades for Columbus Day and St. Patrick’s Day and a freezing Polar Plunge in the Atlantic to raise funds for Special Olympics.

Point Pleasant Beach – The Crowd Pleaser

This mile-long boardwalk is the stop for family beach fun, with rides, miniature golf, games of chance and crystal-clean sand.  At Jenkinson’s Aquarium seesharks, African penguins, alligators and harbor seals. The Festival of the Sea is a huge street fair thrown every September. Dine in a tropical setting at Martell’s Tiki Bar, known for its fresh seafood.

Spring Lake – The Hidden Gem

Spring Lake Boardwalk is the coast’s best-kept secret. This quaint beach resort town retains the elegance and sophistication of an earlier age, inviting visitors to soak in its rich Victorian history. Pristine beaches flank the two-mile-long board, the longest non-commercial boardwalk in New Jersey. What the promenade lacks in bells and whistles is made up for in fine dining, peaceful views and smart shops. Visit the Spring Lake Historical Society to learn more about the history that has sustained the boardwalk today. Reside in style at the Historic Inns of Spring Lake.

Choose the boardwalk that best fits your group’s needs and personalities. Each promenade promises something that will delight. To explore the possibilities, log on to visitnj.org/boardwalk.

By Paige K. Pope