Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Boardwalk Bliss just announced their list of top 10 boardwalks in the United States. Sitting on top of that list is Atlantic City, and Ocean City is number six. Am I surprised? Not really, though why they picked the Ocean City Maryland boardwalk over the one in New Jersey, I'll never know.

Atlantic City's Boardwalk is the first in the country, and the longest. It's the only boardwalk that merits being spelled with a capital B because it's the original, and it started because Alexander Boardman, a conductor of the Camden & Atlantic Railroad, was fed up with tourists bringing the beach with them into his railcars. So he made a collapsible footpath of wooden paths. It was so popular with hotel owners, who also hated sand in their lobbies, that the city built a 10-foot wide boardwalk in 1870. It wasn’t a permanent fixture. The Boardwalk was made of 12-foot long sections that could be picked up and moved during high tide and storms, and in the winter.

Today, Atlantic City's Boardwalk is 5.75 miles of casinos, shops, restaurants and spectacle. I'd say it's the most diverse Boardwalk in southern New Jersey. You can step into luxury shops, pizza parlors and play the slots within feet of each other. Atlantic City also has bars on the beach, accessible via the Boardwalk, which you can't say for most other boardwalks in the area (Sorry, Carousel [43rd Street and the Beach, Sea Isle City, 609-263-4951] You don't have ocean views).(609) 263-4951

Like I've said before, I'm not a big Atlantic City fan, but a walk down the Boardwalk is great for people watching. I'm happier on the Ocean City boardwalk, which is 2.5 miles long and pure fun. I've been coming here since I was a newborn, literally (I'm a July baby), and while the names of some of the establishments have changed, and a few favorites have gone the way of Strawbridge & Clothier, the Ocean City boardwalk is still a destination for families. Jilly's (12th Street and the boardwalk) still has the best video game collection on the boardwalk -- classic games are in the back room. The Surf Mall (1154 Boardwalk, 609-398-1533) still has whatever's the latest and greatest this summer, and rock paraphernalia lining the back wall and ceiling. You can still rest your feet and make a pit stop at the Music Pier (9th Street and the boardwalk, Ocean City), still watch salt water taffy being made at Shriver's (9th Street and the boardwalk, 877-668-2339), play mini golf among the characters at Goofy Golf (920 Boardwalk, 609-398-9662), get a slice of Mac & Mancos or an ice cream cone at Kohrs Brothers at a few boardwalk locations. And, yes, you can still ride the classic carousel at Wonderland Pier (6th Street and the boardwalk, 609-399-7082).

The contrast between the whimsical fun of the Ocean City boardwalk and the outright seediness of Wildwood's boardwalk, which I toured on Monday, is striking. I felt like I needed a shower after that walk, and it had little to do with the heat. There's no doubt in my mind that, if Wildwood didn't have those fantastic ride and water parks, no family would venture onto the boardwalk. As much as the town is trying to clean up its image, the boardwalk is still overrun by raunchy t-shirt shops and piercing parlors. It's not as bad as it was in the '90s, but still not the place to take the kids when Ocean City is so close, which is why I would suggest sticking to the beaches or streets of Wildwood, as opposed to the boards. Sorry, guys, I tell it like it is.

Speaking of Atlantic City, stay tuned to Later this month, they'll be posting a guide to Atlantic City. Two guesses as to who wrote it, and the first one doesn't count ;-)

Oh, and if you're wondering why I'm sometimes listening to albums or reading books that aren't out yet, never fear. I'm not doing so illegally. I get advance copies from publishers and music companies. One of the perks of the job. Speaking of...

What I'm listening to: Wolfgang's Big Night Out by the Brian Setzer Orchestra.

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