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New Jersey shore towns/resorts

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Did You Know … ?

  • Sandy Hook Lighthouse is America’s oldest standing lighthouse (1764).
  • Congress Hall in Cape May is America’s oldest seaside resort (1816).
  • The Wildwoods Boardwalk boasts more eateries (100-plus) than Mall of America (50-plus).
  • There is no public drinking of alcohol anywhere on the island where Ocean City is located.
  • Initially, no commerce of any kind was allowed within 30 feet of the Atlantic City Boardwalk.

Beaches and boards

New Jersey boasts a 130-mile Atlantic coast with 60-plus designated beaches. The great majority of beach towns sit on barrier islands, but with bridge and road access. They face the lively Atlantic to the east or southeast but have calmer bays, sounds or other intracoastal waters at their backs.

On the flat terrain, active visitors may cycle, hike or perfect their golf game, but the real action is in or on the water — and on the countless boardwalks that define the Jersey shore. Visitors may sunbathe and swim or take to the waters for jet skiing, parasailing and other such diversions. Boat charter operators offer fishing expeditions, or anglers can fish in the surf or from a pier.

Most coastal towns are relatively small or even quite tiny. (The largest, Atlantic City, appears separately at www.besttripchoices.com/us-cities/atlantic-city-new-jersey) Some beach towns boast historic sites, or even historic districts where large numbers of Victorian houses have survived. Eleven lighthouses are open to the public, too. Tourist cruises offer still more sightseeing with or without meals and generally with the prospect of dolphin and whale sightings.

The boardwalks are often the setting for lots of restaurants and shopping; arcades; rollercoasters and other rides, and waterparks. The boardwalks or the sandy beaches below also play host to a wide variety of festivals and competitions.

About a few of the towns:

  • The Wildwoods (four connected towns with similar names) and Seaside Heights are known for their lively and varied amusement parks and other boardwalk attractions, and the Wildwoods for a plethora of annual festivities, as well. Ocean City, Point Pleasant Beach and their boardwalks are highly regarded as family destinations.
  • Island Beach State Park is the place for multiple activities in a natural setting. Asbury Park is the destination of choice for popular nighttime entertainment.
  • The best-known beach town, Cape May — offering its own full and rich collection of touristic diversions — is a National Historic Landmark because of its Victorian houses. Bay Head, Ocean Grove and Spring Lake are noted for Victorians, too. Further, Spring Lake, home to New Jersey’s largest noncommercial boardwalk, promises one of the quieter Jersey shore vacations.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Pursue a love of surf fishing at Island Beach State Park or the Sandy Hook Unit of Gateway National Recreation Area.
  • Check out the surfing conditions in these beach towns: Manasquan, Ocean City, Seaside Heights and Stone Harbor. Or, maybe in Belmar, Seaside Heights or the Wildwoods. Or, Island Beach State Park.
  • Hear music in Asbury Park, at the legendary Stone Pony or elsewhere. Or, see theater in Asbury Park, offered by two theater companies.
  • Sample the thrill rides, and relax on the tamer ones, at some of the shore’s many boardwalks. The Wildwoods Boardwalk has the largest collection (more than 100) of rides and attractions. Other choices include Point Pleasant Beach and Seaside Heights.
  • On any day in summer, take a monster truck ride on the Wildwoods beaches. Also, if the timing is right, watch the aptly named Thunder on the Beach Monster Truck Races, staged over a weekend.
  • For the active, find several options at Island Beach State Park, where scuba diving and underwater fishing are permitted at one site; regulations apply. Also, designated portions of beach are set aside for sailboarding and surfing.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Make lighthouses a sightseeing theme. Climb the 228 steps of Atlantic City’s Absecon Lighthouse, the state’s tallest. You can climb the Cape May Lighthouse, too. Include the oldest, Sandy Hook Lighthouse, on this circuit.
  • During a Cape May stay, use the bicycle as your form of transportation.
  • Charter a boat for a day of fishing at Cape May, Ocean City, Stone Harbor, the Wildwoods or at any of numerous other seaside towns.
  • Take to the kayak for sightseeing in New Jersey’s back bays and inlets. Places to rent kayaks include Bay Head, Cape May, Ocean City and the Wildwoods.
  • Bring the binoculars for spotting the birds. More than 300 species inhabit or visit the Sandy Hook Gateway National Recreation Area. Cape May has an annual autumn Bird Show plus a bird observatory to help with sighting migrating songbirds and others.
  • For the unusual, attend the National Marbles Tournament at the Wildwoods in early summer. Or pick a festival, such as a blues festival in the Wildwoods or a jazz festival in Asbury Park. In autumn, Cape May has its Oktoberfest and, later, a Lima Bean Festival while the Wildwoods host an international kite event.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Tour Victorian houses or stay in a Victorian B&B in Cape May. Come for Cape May’s Victorian Weekend in autumn. Or, admire the Victorians in Bay Head, Ocean Grove or Spring Lake.
  • There are more than 60 beaches on the Jersey shore. Devote some serious lazing around time to one or more.
  • Time your trip for a seaside festival devoted to seafood, such as Asbury Park’s Oysterfest or Cape May’s Craft Beer and Crab Festival, both in summer. Or, the New Jersey Seafood Festival in Belmar, set for June.
  • Get the kids to a waterpark on hot days. Check out the options in Beach Haven, Keansburg, Ocean City, Seaside Heights or the Wildwoods.
  • Walk the boardwalks wherever you find them (and there are plenty) for a combination shopping and beach appreciation experience.
  • From ports at Atlantic City, Cape May and the Wildwoods, book a cruise to watch for dolphins and whales.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism at www.visitnj.org