It’s no secret that the Jersey Shore is a popular and happening destination, but we have found everything from quiet, picturesque beaches to coastal education centers, peaceful little towns to bustling boardwalks and everything in between along the southern coast of New Jersey. We return there year after year and always find new, fun things to do, beyond the always-glorious experience of spending a day on the shore. Here are a few of our favorite destinations.
Cape May – The town of Cape May can get crowded during peek season, so if that bothers you, a better time to explore and till enjoy good weather is late May/early June, or even better (with warmer water) the month of September. It is filled with neat rows of Victorian homes that look like lacy, colorful gingerbread houses. The surf can get rough so stay near a lifeguard and keep an eye on the kids at all times. We have enjoyed staying at The Grand Hotel, right on the beach. It has an indoor and outdoor pool, with a nice little baby pool right next to the regular outdoor pool, so you can easily keep all the kids in view at the same time. If you need a break from the beach, you can visit the Aviation Museum at the Cape May Airport if you have a plane-lover. Or, take a day to visit the the Cape May County Zoo. Just note that we have seen giant tortoises mating (or as we like to tell the kids, “wrestling”) here every. single. summer.
Avalon/Stone Harbor – Our favorite beaches to visit are these, because they are almost never crowded. You won’t find a lot of hotels or fast food restaurants in the area, but if you rent a house you will enjoy a tranquil vacation. There are also nearby campgrounds. A large part of Avalon is a bird sanctuary, so you need to follow a path for a half a mile or so between shrub and cactus covered sand dunes to reach the ocean, and at times parts of the shore are roped off for bird nesting. If you like nature, this is really fun to see, but beware of flies! They are occasionally intolerable.
Stone Harbor has a tiny “boardwalk” with an ice cream shop and a small arcade, and they show movies on certain weekend evenings right on the beach. Another fun place to visit in the area is the Wetland Institute, which is a nature center with boardwalks through the salt marsh. You can see ospreys nesting on camera, the kids can climb into a life sized (enormous) osprey nest, you can climb overlooks to see over the sea of rippling green rushes and jewel blue salt water, and sometimes you will find the marsh absolutely teeming with crabs. (Again, the bugs can be an issue – bring your bug spray).
Ocean City – If you’re looking for a bit more excitement, the Ocean City boardwalk is definitely worth a visit, for the fries, the custard, the cotton candy, the games, the rides, and the beach as well.
Atlantic City – The grownups in our family have enjoyed playing and seeing concerts at the Casinos here. The kids have enjoyed the Atlantic City Aquarium, which is small and perfect for the younger set, and includes touch tanks, the opportunity to feed baby rays from your hand, and talks and demonstrations with the animals by the staff.
Cowtown – Ok, this one is not actually on the Jersey Shore. But if you’re there and heading south, this is a great stop to make. The rodeo happens every Saturday evening during the summer months, rain or shine. Barrel riding, calf-roping, bull riding, the ever-present possibility that someone will get seriously injured – it’s a blast! There’s also an outdoor flea market open daytime hours on Tuesdays and Saturdays where you can get all kinds of junk for a few dollars, and some tasty food.