Beach destinations in New Jersey
New Jersey‘s Atlantic coast, a 130-mile stretch of almost uninterrupted resorts – some rowdy, many pitifully run-down and faded, a few undeveloped and peaceful – has long been reliant on farming and tourism.
In the late 1980s the whole coastline suffered severe and well-publicized pollution from ocean dumping, but today the beaches, if occasionally somewhat crowded, are safe and clean: sandy, broad and lined by characteristic wooden boardwalks, some of which, in an attempt to maintain their condition, charge admission during the summer.
The rundown glitz of Atlantic City is perhaps the shore’s best known attraction, but there are also quieter resorts like Spring Lake and historic Victorian Cape May, plus local gems like Wildwood that are worth the journey further down the coast.
Atlantic City Beach
Atlantic City, on Absecon Island just off the midpoint of the Jersey shoreline, has been a tourist magnet since 1854, when Philadelphia speculators created it as a rail terminal resort.
In 1909, at the peak of the seaside town’s popularity, Baedeker wrote “there is something colossal about its vulgarity” – a quality which it sustains today, even while beset by bankruptcy and decay.
The real-life model for the board game Monopoly, it has an impressive history of popular culture, boasting the nation’s first Boardwalk (1870), the world’s first Big Wheel (1892), the first color postcards (1893) and the first Miss America Beauty Pageant (cunningly devised to extend the tourist season in 1921, and still held here yearly).
Atlantic City Beach – miles of white sandy beach, teaming activity during warm months; note the historic lifeboats and plentiful lifeguards on duty; you can also find a quiet spot from time to time; pick a place along the Boardwalk.
Downbeach, Longport, Ventnor and Margate Beaches – primarily residential, these communities share the island with Atlantic City, but boast beautiful sandy beaches. There is a small fee to pay for beach cleaning and lifeguards. Excellent beachfront restaurants complete an atmosphere of their own.
Beach Haven, Long Beach Island’s commercial center, has Victorian houses set around a town square, a family atmosphere, and beautiful beaches.
The choice of water slides, museums, parks, theaters, amusement parks and of course the beach itself gives you a number of summer entertainment choices, come rain or shine.
None of the Long Beach Island beaches do the boardwalk thing, so you’ll find that the main draw is simply the sand and the surf.
However, Beach Haven alone boasts an amusement area, so if you’re looking for some thrills, chills, and shills, you’ll only find them down at the base of the LBI, here in Beach Haven at Fantasy Island Amusement Park.
Brigantine’s 6 miles of beaches provide a welcome relief from the frantic boardwalk of Atlantic City and the crowds of Margate.
Virtually in the shadow of the casinos, Brigantine is a world unto itself; the island is a short bridge north Atlantic City.
But in mindset, the laid-back beach community is miles away.
Inland, you can enjoy some golfing at the Brigantine Golf Links, tennis on lighted courses, or challenge that darn windmill at the local miniature golf course.
Generally, its the best at offering you a reasonable beach within a few minutes drive of the Atlantic City.
Cape may was founded in 1620 by the Dutch Captain Mey, on the small hook at the very southern tip of the Jersey coast, jutting out into the Atlantic and washed by the Delaware Bay on the west.
The Victorian era was Cape May’s finest; nearly all its gingerbread architecture dates from a mass rebuilding after a severe fire in 1878. However, the increase in car travel after World War I meant that vacationers could go further, more quickly and more cheaply, and the little town found itself something of an anachronism, while the gaudier charms of Atlantic City became the brightest stars on the Jersey coast.
During the 1950s, Cape May began to dust off its most valuable commodity: its history. Today the whole town is a National Historic Landmark, with over six hundred Victorian buildings, tree-lined streets and beautifully kept gardens , and a lucrative B&B; industry.
It teeters dangerously on self-parody at times, thanks to its glut of cutesy olde shops, but if you avoid the main drags and wander through the back streets, you’ll find an appealing combination of historical authenticity and good beaches.
This suits the average Cape May aficionado quite well. Generally the visitors are upscale, bed-and-breakfast couples, older people, and families, most of whom have come down with sightseeing and shopping on their minds as much as, if not more than, sunbathing.
Long Beach Island
In many ways, Long Beach Island is the New Jerseyite’s Jersey Shore. This 18-mile-long, mile-wide barrier island is home to about 20 communities, and offers everything from modest motels to megabucks neighborhoods and plenty in between.
The northern end of Long Beach Island is crowned by the historic Barnegat Lighthouse, affectionately known as “Old Barney.” Open to visitors, this landmark is in a small gem of a state park (the lighthouse is no longer used).
At the island’s south end is a wildlife refuge and the bustling town of Beach Haven, a center for shopping, recreation, and nightlife.
Bay beaches are available for those who want to swim in calm, shallow waters. Bayview Park, located on 68th Street in Brant Beach, has bathroom facilities.
Another bay beach is located at Beach Haven Terrace on New Jersey Avenue and 131st Street. Summer windsurfing is available at Brant Beach bay area. A seasonal fee is required.
Access the beach via more than 160 street ends. The beaches are family-oriented, with many vacationers driving in from Philadelphia or New York.
The beaches are more or less flat and broad at the southern end, falling off more quickly at the northern end. And the township’s southern section is more commercialized than North Beach and Loveladies in the secluded northern end.
Spring Lake Beach
Spring Lake is one of the smallest, most uncommercial communities on the shore, a gentle respite on the road south to Atlantic City.
Tourism in this elegant Victorian resort evolved slowly, without the booms, crises, resurgences and depressions of other seaside towns – partly due to the strict zoning laws prohibiting new building.
You can walk the totally undeveloped two-mile boardwalk and watch the crashing ocean from battered gazebos, swim and bask on the white beaches (in summer, compulsory beach tags cost $6 per day, but most guesthouses provide them free) or sit in the shade by the town’s namesake, Spring Lake itself.
Wooden footbridges, swans and geese, and the grand St. Catherine’s Catholic Church on the banks of the lake give it the feel of a country village.
For the moment, what little activity there is centers on the upmarket shops of Third Avenue.
Little more than a hundred years old, the staunchly blue-collar resort of Wildwood offers a counterpoint to the old-world fakery of Cape May.
The 1950s architecture, left lovingly intact, includes dozens of gaudy but fun-looking hotels with names like Pink Orchid Waikiki and The Shalimar, all still featuring plastic palm trees, kidney-shaped swimming pools and plenty of aqua, orange and pink paint.
To best appreciate the town’s brash charm, take a stroll along the Boardwalk, and stop along the wide, if throbbing, beaches.
The 2.5 mile world-famous boardwalk offers breathtaking amusement rides, specialty shops, eateries, theaters and water parks.
The Holly Beach Station Mall boasts many restaurants offering local delicacies, shops, nightclubs with a variety of live entertainment, coffee houses and street festivals.
The inland waterways provide a variety of watersports, deep sea fishing, boating, whale watching and all types of excursions.
Wildwood also hosts a number of special events throughout the summer season for your fun and enjoyment.
Wildwood Crest Beach
Wildwood Crest is located at the southern end of The Wildwoods Five Mile Island. Here you will find the lazy, hazy days of summers of old.
Rest and relaxation are the featured attractions in this easy going and picturesque part of the island. Ocean front accommodations, modern motels, hotels and condominiums abound in Wildwood Crest where the sunrises gently awaken you to warm, sunny, fun filled days.
You can stroll along the sandy beaches and collect a variety of shells and enjoy the pristine waters.
Sunset Lake, located on the west side of the island, is the “playground” for watersports including, jet skiing, water skiing, and boating.
If fishing is your passion then visit Crest Harbor, here you will find party boats which offer half-day and full-day excursions into the Atlantic.
Every evening families gather at Sunset Lake, to watch the most spectacular sunset views on the island.
Entertainment is regularly scheduled at Crest Pier and the Gazebo throughout the summer months and includes outdoor music and dancing.
To maintain the family atmosphere, there are no liqueur stores or bars in Wildwood Crest.