Many of us have fond memories of summer vacations spent in tourist trap beach towns, and sometimes visiting those towns as adults can be a bit of a guilty pleasure. A few of these towns, however, actually have a lot more to offer — either through history or recent revitalization — than just bad fried food on the boardwalk. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorite cheesy beach towns around the world, and surprise! It turns out they aren’t all so bad.
1. Old Orchard Beach, Maine
Old Orchard Beach in Maine is a 7-mile stretch of sand that has been a New England summer destination for more than 170 years.
Old Orchard’s Pier stretches out 500 feet over the Atlantic Ocean and is filled with funnel cakes, bumper cars, ring-toss games and all the classic boardwalk Americana you could shake a cotton candy stick at. The pier also hosts concerts, fishing, whale watching and much more. Just off the pier, the Palace Playland is New England’s only beachfront amusement park and is home to the largest pinball arcade in the Northeast.
If you’re looking to add to the classic feel of a summer trip to Old Orchard, take the Amtrak Downeaster train, which stops in town from May through October before heading either northward to Freeport, Maine, or southbound to Boston.
2. Asbury Park, New Jersey
Asbury Park is perhaps best known for launching the careers of Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi, and this Jersey Shore town’s classic boardwalk and old-school charm make it a must-visit for any vacationing music lover.
Only an hour and a half from New York City, the increasingly hip Asbury Park Boardwalk has recently undergone a revitalization not unlike that of many neighborhoods in New York, with old shipping containers along the boardwalk fashioned into food trucks serving ceviches, Korean tacos and empanadas.
The Market, located inside the Asbury Park convention hall, features independent designers selling stylish goods like locally sourced wooden sunglasses and framed watercolor prints.
During your visit, be sure to catch a show at the legendary Stone Pony, where both stars mentioned above got their start. The venue is rich in rock history and has a distinct vibe — think CBGBs on the beach — that can’t be missed.
3. Brighton, U.K.
Brighton — perhaps Great Britain’s preeminent seaside town — is located a little over 50 miles outside of London, and rightfully so gets a lot of tourism during the summer months from the city, its surrounding areas and beyond.
Once known as a quiet fishing village, Brighton has grown immensely since the arrival of the railway in 1841. The city now attracts many young artists and musicians from London due to its proximity to and lower cost relative to that of the capital city. Oscar Wilde was a frequent visitor to the city from London.
The Brighton Pier is a classically cheesy boardwalk, filled with fish-and-chip shops, Victorian-style beer halls, and aging amusement park rides. The beach itself is a pebble-filled shore that has been keeping tourists and locals alike happy for centuries.
4. Santa Cruz, California
Don’t worry — the West has its share of cheesy boardwalk attractions as well. Perhaps the best-known example is the Santa Cruz boardwalk, which is home to over 40 rides, including a classic carousel and wooden roller coaster.
Off the boardwalk, there are a total of 29 miles of beaches in Santa Cruz, ranging from quiet and relaxing to family-friendly to surfing hot spots. Speaking of surf, Santa Cruz is often cited as one of the best places in the country for catching waves, and even if you’re not a surfer yourself, there is plenty of action to be seen from the shore.
5. Downtown Cancún, Mexico
Cancún may conjure up old spring break memories, but this city in the Yucatán offers much more than shots of tequila and other bad decisions once you leave the Hotel Zone.
Downtown Cancún is a bustling area full of both shiny new developments and classic buildings. Take a stroll through historical Market 28 to find handmade souvenirs, clothing and jewelry, and restaurants with local cuisine.
On the modern side, you can visit the Plaza Las Americas, a brand new shopping center with department stores, restaurants and an upscale movie theater.