While some people go to the beach to frolic in the water, others stay a few yards back, roaming the boardwalk and taking it all in. On those miles of wooden glory, you’ll find fun, adventure and people-watching of the finest degree. If you’re in need of a beachside getaway, here are six options, all within a four-hour (or so) drive of D.C. (Distances are calculated from the White House.)

Havre de Grace Promenade

(Visit Harford)

Distance from D.C.: 80 miles
Ideal for: Communing with nature
What to eat: Crabcakes at The Promenade Grille
Best entertainment: Waterfowl watching
Can’t-miss summer event: National Lighthouse Day Celebration at Concord Point Lighthouse (Aug. 7)
What to know before you go: Havre de Grace, Md., is a waterfront oasis just over two hours outside D.C. (“House of Cards” used it as a stand-in for Frank Underwood’s South Carolina hometown.) The three-quarter-mile promenade offers an Instagram-worthy view of the Susquehanna River meeting the Chesapeake Bay, and it stretches from the lighthouse, built in 1827, to a lovely park. It’s a laid-back place for a stroll — and bring your binoculars, because it’s said to be a hot spot for eagles, herons, geese and ospreys. (Leave your bikes at home — they’re not allowed on the boardwalk.)

Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk


Distance from D.C.: 121 miles
Ideal for: Families
What to eat: Beer ice cream at The Ice Cream Store
Best entertainment: 10-cent Skee-Ball at Zelky’s Beach Arcade
Can’t-miss summer event: Cinema by the Surf (July 19)
What to know before you go: The boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach, Del., is decidedly low-key. The mile-long strip is dotted with nostalgic landmarks including Dolles Candyland — home to saltwater taffy with flavors like molasses and root beer — and a bandstand that lights up with almost nightly concerts. It’s not as raucous as the boardwalks in Ocean City, Md., or Wildwood, N.J., and it’s the kind of place where you take your family to luxuriate in a quaint seaside town with a salty breeze.

Ocean City Boardwalk

(Rachel Smith Photography)

Distance from D.C.: 141 miles
Ideal for: People-watching
What to eat: Thrasher’s french fries
Best entertainment: Riding the 116-foot-tall Giant Ferris Wheel
Can’t-miss summer event: Sunfest Kite Festival (Sept. 20-23)
What to know before you go: The nearly 3-mile boardwalk in Ocean City, Md., is a lively hub. “It’s the ‘Times Square of Ocean City,’ ” says Jessica Waters, the town’s communications manager. Her favorite landmark is the Life-Saving Station Museum, full of artifacts from shipwrecks and exhibits on storms and sea life. And don’t miss
Ocean Gallery, an eclectic art shop so packed with posters and paintings that barely an inch of wall escapes uncovered. The outside is just as interesting: It’s made of recycled pieces of buildings from across
the country.

Wildwoods Boardwalk

(Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority)

Distance from D.C.: 188 miles
Ideal for: Amusement-minded sorts
What to eat: A cheese pie at Mack’s Pizza
Best entertainment: Ride the tram car, please.
Can’t-miss summer event: Wildwood Beach Ultimate Tournament (July 28 & 29)
What to know before you go: The 38-block boardwalk that runs through Wildwood, N.J., and beyond is home to three amusement piers with rides like The Great White — a rickety wooden roller coaster over 100 feet high — and a haunted ghost ship that leads visitors through an infirmary and morgue. There are multiple water parks, carnival-style midway games and more than 300 eateries. The boardwalk “is pure sensory overload,” says Ben Rose, director of marketing and public relations with the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority. He recommends hopping on one of the tram cars, a modernized version of the iconic trolley-like service that debuted in Wildwood in 1949 with a 10-cent fare. These days, a 30-minute one-way ride goes for $3.50 — still a bargain.

Atlantic City Boardwalk

(Do Atlantic City)

Distance from D.C.: 194 miles
Ideal for: High-ish rollers
What to eat: Saltwater taffy at one of its originators, Fralinger’s
Best entertainment: Blackjack or slots at Caesars Atlantic City
Can’t-miss summer event: Atlantic City Vegan Food Festival (July 13 & 14)
What to know before you go: The boardwalk in Atlantic City, N.J. — the first in the U.S. — opened in 1870 and is well-known as the birthplace and home of the Miss America competition. A century ago, the most fashionable way to travel the boardwalk was in wicker-basket rolling chairs, which operators pushed down the 4-mile-long boardwalk. Visitors can relive the old days by hopping in one of the three-wheeled vehicles that operate today. Though Atlantic City has a seen-better-days feel in spots, events like pro boxing matches help draw crowds, and the boardwalk’s fronted with a slew of casinos, if that’s your thing.

Virginia Beach Boardwalk

Art Baltrotsky (For the Washington Post)

Distance from D.C.: 209 miles
Ideal for: Bike enthusiasts
What to eat: Overstuffed Shrimp Bake at Waterman’s Surfside Grille
Best entertainment: Nightly live music at Neptune’s Park
Can’t-miss summer event: Chalk the Walk ARTsplosion (July 7)
What to know before you go: The nearly 3-mile boardwalk in Virginia Beach, Va., is unique in two ways: It’s made of concrete, not wood, and there’s a bike path alongside it that’s open to riders all day. (Most boardwalks restrict or ban bikes.) There are four oceanfront stages with frequent concerts, and plenty of nautical sculptures to admire and/or pose next to. King Neptune is practically a mandatory photo op — a 34-foot-tall, 12-ton bronze statue of the mythological god clutching a trident.