When we moved from the Midwest to the east coast, we were so excited to have the beach only hours away. We asked our New Jersey neighbors for their beach recommendations; “Oh, you mean, down the shore?” Then later, the infamous TV show, the ‘Jersey Shore’, began its five-year run. Now having spent many years, and more recently moving to just a few blocks from “the shore” (when we’re not RVing in our Winnebago), we wanted to share some tips and recommendations for visiting these wonderful beaches … err … Shore stops.
For great beaches, boardwalk activities, touring historical homes, birding, and of course camping; the 34 miles from Ocean City to Cape May is our favorite choice. Each community along the shore has its unique charms and activities. All have great beaches. Here’s our rundown from north to south.
Identified as “family oriented,” this town boasts a quiet beach scene, where alcoholic beverage sales are prohibited. The Music Pier is perfect for an evening stroll, and a place to take the kids for some boardwalk activities. Required Beach Tags (a New Jersey invention?) can be easily purchased for the day, week, or season. Beach Tags are also required for all the communities heading south, with the exception of Wildwood.
Sea Isle City
This town along the Jersey Shore has one of the highest summer population densities with rental homes closely spaced along this narrow barrier island. There is a paved walkway, running a mile along the ocean with a number of restaurants and ice cream shops to visit after a day at the shore. If you’re here in the summer on a Saturday night, check out the tribute band playing for free at the downtown bandshell.
Seven Mile Island, Avalon & Stone Harbor
More green spaces and a quiet beach is the highlight of these communities. Avalon has a short wooden boardwalk, and Stone Harbor has an endearing downtown shopping area along 96th street. There is also the Wetlands Institute, which is a nature lover’s stop, with boardwalks out to the bay’s marshes. This is a great place for birders, and terrapin seekers. The Institute also has a small museum with many of the aquatic animals on display, including a touch tank.
Wildwood & adjacent towns
The focus of this town is the 1.8-mile boardwalk, lined with souvenir shops, “casinos”, restaurants, and the famous Morey’s Pier. Morey’s has expanded over the years and now offers many amusement rides for all ages, games of chance, and Raging Waters, a fun-induced water park. What could be better than “hitting” the shore for the afternoon, than strolling the boardwalk into evening, catching some Jersey pizza, and then taking an evening ride in the 156-foot Ferris Wheel on the Pier. Oh, and “Watch the Tramcar” as you walk the Wildwood boardwalk.
This southernmost barrier island on the Jersey Shore encompasses one of the oldest established towns in New Jersey. In the late 19th century, Cape May was the fishing capital of the Mid Atlantic. During its heyday, many large Victorian Homes were built. Today, most of these homes that were saved and restored in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, are now B&Bs. Activities in Cape May can include a horse drawn buggy through the quaint streets, strolling & shopping at the Washington Street Mall, and of course, hanging out at the Shore.
With the many historic buildings, a visit to the Congress Hall Hotel, our nation’s oldest seaside resort, is a must. Rebuilt in 1878 after a major fire, Congress Hall has been beautifully restored to this era. There is also the 1878 Emlen Physic Estate available to tour. This 15-room estate is a magnificent Stick Style mansion built by the renowned Victorian architect, Frank Furness.
As you cross the bridge onto this barrier island, be sure to make a stop at the Lobster House. Cape May is still a major fishing port, and the Lobster House offers much of this fresh caught seafood, with our favorite being the local scallops. Either dine in or take out the very fresh fish and seafood. A true shore experience.
Just outside the town of Cape May at the Point, there is the Cape May Lighthouse and the Cape May Birding Observatory. The 199 steps of the Lighthouse afford a fabulous view of the town and coastline. The National Audubon Society supports the Observatory where this Delaware Bayshore makes for a choice destination for the millions of migrating birds and butterflies, particularly in the fall. In addition to viewing platforms, there are numerous walking paths through the marshes.
After a Lighthouse stop, continue down the road to Sunset Beach, where as the name implies, arrive toward evening and watch the sun drop down into the Delaware Bay.
As you can tell, we love the shore so much, we moved here! And we think it is definitely worth a trip.
Being a resort area, there are over 25 private campgrounds. Many of these are located on Route 9, the north-south highway just across from the barrier islands that make up the shore. Most of these campgrounds are full service offering hundreds of campsites and activities to add to the shore experience.
If you’re looking for a more rustic experience, check out the 169-site Belleplain State Forest in nearby Woodbine. Although no hookups, this public campground has a small swimming lake in the heart of the Pine Barrens of New Jersey.