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Beachfront Classics

If anything promises to heighten beach fun in America, it’s the landmarks that punctuate the space between the oceanfront cities and the waters they’re built on. 

Beach attractions range from the classic and sleepy to the soaring and adrenaline-filled, proving there truly is something for every member of your group. No matter which attraction draws your group in, you’re sure to find something that will entertain, feed members bellies and make memories that last. 

Historic Pleasure Pier 

Galveston, Texas

Reminiscent of the pier that stood at its current location 80 years ago, Galveston’s Pleasure Pier juts out over the Gulf of Mexico, demanding attention and focus. Its 16 rides are a great way to please a crowd, transporting them back in time to the rides they knew as kids.

“The Iron Shark is a roller coaster that goes past vertical,” said Bryan Kunz, Visit Galveston’s director of group sales. “Then one of my favorites is the Lone Star Flyer. It’s a really tall swing ride. You go a good 150 feet high and get the most amazing view of the island and the gulf.” 

There is also a selection of tamer rides including an old-fashioned carousel, bumper cars and a Ferris wheel that provides spectacular views of the water. 

“There are rides; there’s midway games, concessions, full services restaurants on site, so many things,” Kunz said. “People love it because it truly is family-friendly with something for everyone.”

For food, plan to stay close. Concessions on the pier include carnival-themed selections like pizza, burgers, hot dogs and funnel cakes that taste just like childhood. In addition to the snack concessions, a full-service Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurant is located near the entrance. Alternatively, head to Fish Tales or a Chick-Fil-A, both within an easy walk from the pier.

Attractions nearby include a Shark Attack 5-D experience. A popular place for souvenir shopping and lingering over a drink is Murdoch’s, a family-owned establishment sitting over the gulf next to the Pleasure Pier. 

visitgalveston.com

Steel Pier

Atlantic City, New Jersey

Steel Pier may have first opened at the turn of the 20th century, but this quintessential beachside theme park has remade itself into a modern attraction. 

The Showplace of the Nation first operated as a showstopping music venue. There was a time when artists couldn’t “make it big” unless they first played at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City. Today Steel Pier has stepped into a different role.

“I would call Steel Pier a family and group attraction overlooking the Atlantic Ocean,” said Jessica Kasunich, communications manager for Meet AC. “It’s free to walk through, but the rides have different ticket options. You can do a wristband option or a package for different rides.” Tour operators, that’s your reminder to work with the group sales managers to secure discounted and bundled tickets ahead of time.

“The biggest attraction on the Steel Pier is the wheel,” Kasunich said of the Ferris wheel with climate-controlled gondolas. “You can bring on cocktails, there’s music, and it’s open year-round, pending weather. They also have a cool attraction at the end of the pier with helicopter rides down the skyline of Atlantic City or the marina district.” 

If you plan for an entire day in Atlantic City, the Steel Pier is a great hub-and-spoke spot for your guests. They can plan to stay on the pier for adrenaline-filled rides and food or explore the adjoining boardwalk’s nine casinos, thriving culinary scene, a lighthouse, watersports and tax-free shopping.

atlanticcitynj.com

Main Street Pier

Daytona Beach, Florida

“Fishing from the pier, taking a selfie at an iconic landmark and the musical entertainment at the bandshell are the simple pleasures available at the pier,” Andrew Booth, communications manager at the Daytona Beach convention and visitors bureau. 

Also known as the Main Street Pier, the Daytona Beach Pier is one of six wooden piers in Florida. The pier has been part and parcel of Daytona Beach since 1925. At 1,000 feet long, it is at the heart of the Daytona Beach community and open every day, Atlantic hurricanes notwithstanding.

Anglers among your group or even those group members trying out a hook and lure for the first time can try their luck on the east end of the pier. The pier is typically open for fishing from dawn to dusk, seven days a week. Planners will be pleased to note that fees and fishing licenses are not required. 

The Daytona Beach Boardwalk is adjacent to the pier and is a great place for family fun rides and amusements, a classic arcade and other video game favorites.

One sole restaurant is located on the pier — Joe’s Crab Shack. 

“One of the more popular locations for groups to have an outing in the boardwalk and pier area is on the roof of Joe’s Crab Shack,” Booth said. “It’s a unique experience for a group outing with wonderful views.”

daytonabeach.com

SkyWheel

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

The SkyWheel towers over Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, like a famous landmark. Your group could visit the Grand Strand for peace and quiet on the beach or exciting nightlife fun. Either way, the SkyWheel awaits to show off the ocean, the skyline and the waterfront. 

Constructed in the early 2010s, the SkyWheel has helped downtown Myrtle Beach reclaim its stake as a core destination for South Carolina vacationers. 

“The SkyWheel is a great choice for groups,” said Julie Ellis, public relations manager for Visit Myrtle Beach. “Plus the beach itself for sure.” 

Other group-centric itinerary options include visiting Ripley’s Aquarium and lunch at Broadway at the Beach. The 350-acre entertainment complex comes with shopping and plenty of restaurant choices.

Tour operators can contact the team at the SkyWheel directly for group purchases and discounts. Ticket pricing is based on an age tiers, and children 2 and under are already free.

“We can accommodate large groups as each of our more than four gondolas can seat up to six adults comfortably,” said Sean Baily, marketing manager for SkyWheel Attractions. 

How many people come to Myrtle Beach just for the SkyWheel? Hard to say, but you can see them for miles. 

visitmyrtlebeach.com

Belmont Amusement Park 

San Diego

Quintessential beach theme parks, boardwalks and piers aren’t limited to the East Coast or the Gulf of Mexico. Sarah Toth of San Diego’s Belmont Amusement Park invites groups to experience a timeless beach attraction with a classic Southern California flair. 

“San Diego is home to some of the best weather and beaches in the world if I do say so myself,” Toth said with a laugh. Combine that weather with great views of the Pacific Ocean and Mission Bay, access to nearly two dozen rides and you get Belmont Park, an irreplaceable anchor on San Diego’s beachfront. 

“Make sure to ride the Giant Dipper, our 97-year-old roller coaster,” Toth said. “There are only three left in the United States like the Giant Dipper.” 

The Giant Dipper celebrates its centenary in 2025, the same year as the park. Belmont Amusement Park, funded by a wealthy businessman in the sugar trade, first welcomed excited crowds on an Independence Day in the middle of the Roaring ’20s as part of a development plan to build the now world-famous Mission Beach.

“The great thing about Belmont Park, and Mission Beach, is it is a true all-day experience,” Toth said. After park rides, connect with small businesses that offer yoga on the beach, mimosas during brunch, and surfboard, skateboard and bike rentals.

sandiego.org

Old Orchard Beach Pier

Old Orchard Beach, Maine

Jutting out into Maine’s Saco Bay, the Old Orchard Beach Pier draws visitors for its family-friendly games and small-town charm. 

Groups will have to experience the 1898 Old Orchard Beach Pier to see why it’s held a place in the hearts of coastal vacationers for more than a century. 

“The pier is iconic,” said Kim Howard, executive director of the Old Orchard Beach Chamber of Commerce. “It’s had a long history. As a wooden structure, it’s burned down and been rebuilt twice.” 

In the big band era, stars like Duke Ellington and Rudy Vallée both played here. Today, live music of all kinds forms the pier’s summer soundtrack. 

Howard recommends getting on the beach early to claim a prized spot in the sand, then playing in the surf. For lunch, feast on Gulf of Maine seafood and Pier Fries (“the best French fries in Old Orchard Beach!”) then head to the arcade at nearby Palace Playland for old-fashioned games like Skee-ball and wooden coaster rides. After lunch, catch a few chapters of a favorite novel while relaxing on a beach lounger. 

Feeling snacky?  The pier has gelato, cotton candy, lemonade and other treats to nosh on. “My perfect Saturday ends at the Patio restaurant at the end of the pier for a drink, more beautiful views of the Atlantic and some dinner,” Howard said. 

While on the pier, there’s plenty to see. Your group can view the Prouts Neck Peninsula and Bluff Island from the pier. Plan for fireworks every Thursday. The operating season runs from May to September.

oldorchardbeachmaine.com

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