Pointing out all the attractions of the Jersey Shore is an exercise in the obvious. A bustling vacation destination since the 1800s, the Jersey Shore attracts millions of families, couples and young singles annually for its spectacular 127 miles of Atlantic Ocean shoreline. It’s Atlantic and Cape May counties that really draw in visitors though. Every summer, the Atlantic City Expressway and Garden State Parkway become bottlenecked with Pennsylvanians and New Yorkers heading toward beaches, bays, bars and boardwalks. From Sandy Hook to historic Cape May, “shoobies” go “down the shore” for sand, surf, sun and fun that only the Shore’s hotels, casinos, souvenir shops, restaurants, amusement parks and wet entertainment can deliver.
If you don’t hit traffic, it’s a direct, 1.5-hour drive from Philadelphia to Route 42, across the Atlantic City Expressway and down the Garden State Parkway. For a more scenic trip through villages and wetlands, take Route 55 to Route 47 until you hit the ocean. NJ Transit’s Philadelphia to Atlantic City Rail Line runs almost 30 trains per day, seven days a week, and Greyhound’s Lucky Streak buses provide front-door service to Atlantic City casinos for just $15 round-trip.
For exact directions from your home go to MapQuest.
What to Do:
One Borgata Way
Atlantic City, NJ 08401
Price: $109 to $399 per night hotel/from $65 Music Box and Event Center tickets
Most of Atlantic City’s dozen places of chance are situated along its famous boardwalk, but the cream of the casino crop – the Borgata – beautifies the bayside skyline. This ultra-modern hotel and casino is home to the largest poker room in the city. Upscale shops, bars and boutiques surround the slots and games tables. For nightlife, check out the Borgata’s B-Bar, Gypsy Bar and mur.mur or, for the younger crowd, Mixx, a dimly lit dance club with a DJ spinning the hits. The real hot spots, however, are the Borgata’s 1,100-seat Music Box Theater and its larger Event Center. Both venues feature full schedules of topflight entertainment, acts such as Florence and the Machine, Tracey Morgan and James Taylor, that you won’t want to miss.
Atlantic City Steel Pier
Atlantic City, NJ 08401
Price: $1 single ride/ $40 unlimited rides
Atlantic City’s revitalized Steel Pier offers thrills for the entire family. The 2,000-foot-long carnival-like landmark once featured horse divers, pole sitters, motorcycle acrobats and the Human Cannonball. Today, the attraction draws hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. Crowds flock to take a tangle with its double-decker carousel, nostalgic Ferris wheel, bumper cars, helicopter rides, games and amusements.
Ocean City, NJ 08226
Price: $165 to $295 per night
If you don’t want to stay in the heart of the casino-driven A.C. Drive a bit further south to the Port-O-Call Hotel. This oceanfront staple features rooms with panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean, Ocean City and its boardwalk. Suites offer flat-screen TVs, private balconies and full kitchens. Catering to families with children, the hotel boasts a kids’ dining room with movies and video games, where parents can keep an eye on the tikes while enjoying a romantic dinner at the adjacent Pink Parrot Grille. As a special treat, cookies and juice are left on children’s pillows at bedtime. A fitness center and a seasonal swimming pool round out the list of amenities at this family friendly hotel.
If the hustle and bustle of Atlantic City is not exactly what you had in mind, head further south about an hour on the Garden State Parkway or U.S. 9 to the Cape May or Wildwood areas to get a bit more family friendly entertainment. Here are a few highlights.
Cape May County Zoo
Route 9 and Crest Haven Rd.
Cape May Court House, NJ 08210
Lions and tigers and bears … and leopards and bison and bald eagles: Cape May County Zoo is home to 550 critters totaling 250 species. The 85-acre zoo is part of a 200-acre wooded park with playgrounds, ponds, picnic pavilions and walking paths. The zoo features a boardwalk through the forest from which visitors view an African savanna full of zebras, ostriches and giraffes roam. Its Reptile House features giant turtles, pythons and anacondas. Take kids for a bird’s-eye view of winged friends in the enclosed World of Birds, or let them feed pigs, goats and ducks in the barnyard.
Wildwood Beaches and
Wildwood, NJ 08260
Price: Beaches are free; Morey’s Pier – $170/Family of four daily ride passes, plus many additional ticket options
Nothing beats Wildwood for sun, fun, ’50s flair and free white-sand beaches — no beach tags here. Ranked one of the top beach towns by The Travel Channel, Wildwood’s five-mile stretch of ocean coastline attracts the masses with its sunbathing, swimming, surfing and skim boarding. Watch the surf — and the tramcar, please — from the kaleidoscopic collection of T-shirt shacks, ice cream stands, pizza joints, arcades and amusement parks that make up the two-mile-long Wildwood Boardwalk. And don’t miss Morey’s Piers. The attraction takes up six beach blocks of the boardwalk with three piers filled with a fabulous Ferris wheel, water slides, kiddie rides, roller coasters and race cars.
Hereford Inlet Lighthouse
111 N. Central Ave.
North Wildwood, NJ 08260
Price: Gardens/free; lighthouse — $4/adults, $1/children under 12
A popular spot for nautical aficionados, gardeners and families, the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse is an active Swiss Gothic-style lighthouse built in 1874. Visitors may catch views of the the ocean from its colorful English cottage gardens. The gorgeous grounds feature 200 varieties of flowers and attract thousands of butterflies annually. Tour the lightkeeper’s house with its nautical museum and the lighthouse containing the light’s original whale-oil lamp, then take a breezy stroll along the seawall jogging path.
Where to Stay:
2301 Atlantic Ave.
North Wildwood, NJ 08210
Price: $65 to $179 per night
With its happy face lollipop sign, candy-colored doors and sundeck with a rainbow of umbrella tables, the Lollipop Hotel tickles everyone’s fancy. Located just blocks to the amusement piers and beaches, the motel offers clean rooms and amenities that won’t break the bank. A heated outdoor swimming pool with diving pool, free wireless Internet access and cable TV with HBO offers plenty of non-beach fun. Guests appreciate the on-site parking, and a picnic area with barbecue grills make Lollipop an all-around good time.
Where to Eat:
Brian’s Waffle House
2408 Dune Dr.
Avalon, NJ 08202
After a vigorous bike ride through the streets of the upscale town of Avalon, steer your crowd over to Brian’s Waffle House. Serving breakfast and lunch, the family friendly restaurant prepares all sorts of waffles, pancakes, omelets and sandwiches. French toast and delicious homemade soups are local favorites. Mix it up with pecan pancakes, and spinach and tomatoes on an English muffin, covered in hollandaise sauce.
801 Washington St.
Cape May, NJ 08204
The Washington Inn features five distinct dining rooms in an 1840 mansion. Enjoy scrumptious appetizers including, escargot, fennel-dusted Cape May scallops and Washington Inn crab cakes. Entrees such as espresso-rubbed duck breast and herb-crusted New Zealand rack of lamb are sure to whet the palette. Just make sure to leave room for dessert. Vanilla creme brulee, blueberry key lime tart and homemade ice creams and sorbets are to die for here.
Susan DeFeo has been a professional writer since 1997. She served as a community events columnist for New Jersey’s “Cape May County Herald” for more than a decade. A writer for numerous online publications, Susan has covered health, fitness, beauty and travel, all subjects that are near and dear to her as a married mother of seven children. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.