These Towns Make the Jersey Shore a Can't-Miss Summer Destination
Get ready for an epic summer on the sand.
Whether you're a luxe city-dweller headed to the Hamptons for the weekend or a landlocked wanderer looking to see what all this "lobster roll" fuss is all about, the northeast's meandering coast is overflowing with prime vacation destinations. But the Jersey Shore singularly offers everything you expect—from iconic boardwalks to raucous beach parties, secluded waterfront oases, and immaculate small towns catering to the bougie and the nostalgic alike—and so much more.
Running from the halfway point along New Jersey’s eastern edge to its southernmost tip, the Shore goes far beyond Atlantic City's kitschy glitz and Pauly D's poolside fist pumps. And although the towns that make up this strip bump up against each other, they somehow each maintain a distinct character. While some are laid-back surf spots, others are strictly party destinations, and others still beckon seafood lovers from around the world.
Catering to both Victorian glory and utter excess, these are New Jersey's most charming oceanfront communities.
The town Bruce Springsteen immortalized has been revitalized to attract a younger, hipper, more diverse crowd. Thanks to the pinball nostalgia of the Silverball Museum Arcade, past summer stage lineups at the Stone Pony, and the Instagram-courting murals on the Sunset Pavilion, it worked. (It’s been called “Brooklyn on the beach,” in case there was any doubt.)
Asbury’s marvelously underrated beach has also become one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly down the shore, and offers up unmatched people-watching. And then there’s the drive-in-style rooftop movie theater at The Asbury -- the perfect end to a day in the sun.
Where to eat and drink: Along the lively boardwalk, duck into Asbury Festhalle & Biergarten for a beer—there are more than 50 on tap—or have a bite of modern Mexican at Barrio Costero. After dark, check out the views of the Atlantic with a cocktail in hand at Watermark.
Once a Gilded Age resort spot for wealthy New Yorkers, Spring Lake is still a vacation destination for urbanites who want a glimpse at how the other half lives. Just 60 miles from downtown NYC and accessible by train, million-dollar Victorian homes and manicured lawns make the place feel much, much farther away. The beach features the longest non-commercial boardwalk in the state, two miles of pristine sand, and peaceful vibes. For longer trips, book a room at the historic Breakers, the only beachside hotel in town.
Where to eat and drink: Head to the cozy Marigold Market & Cafe for a simple and inventive brunch menu, and for an after-beach treat, stop by Hoffman’s Ice Cream, an institution that’s been serving up unusual flavors since 1976. Try the signature Jersey Monkey—banana ice cream with peanut butter swirls and chocolate chips.
Point Pleasant is for families. Jenkinson’s Boardwalk, which stretches a mile along the shore, offers some good old-fashioned fun by way of an aquarium, an arcade, amusement park, three mini-golf courses, and a 4,000-square-foot fun house. For a different kind of thrill, Point Pleasant is also known for antiquing, a favorite being Point Pavilion Antique Centre, which houses some 50 sellers of furniture, jewelry, toys, and old records. This spot, coupled with the Vintage Automobile Museum of New Jersey, gives Point Pleasant a retro air.
Where to eat and drink: Your best bet for daytime drinking is at any one of the boardwalk bars, like Jenk’s Club Beach Bar, an ideal haunt for ocean views, live music, and a vibrant atmosphere. When it’s time to eat, there’s the more upscale The Poached Pear for immaculately seared scallops and Woodchucks BBQ for a cozier vibe.
The closest Jersey beach to New York City, Sandy Hook is the place to go when you’re looking for a no-fuss day trip from Manhattan. The Seastreak ferry will bring you to the sprawling Sandy Hook Gateway National Recreation Area. Here, you can choose between beaches, cycling trails, and campgrounds. Just be aware that if you happen upon Gunnison Beach, clothing is not a given.
At Sandy Hook, you can take on everything from kitesurfing to kayaking. And if the sporting life isn't for you, take a walk to the Sandy Hook Lighthouse, the oldest operating lighthouse in the US.
Where to eat and drink: Sandy Hook isn’t a restaurant hot-spot, so packing a picnic from home is the way to go.
Thanks to MTV, when you think of the Jersey Shore, you probably think of Seaside Heights. But things have changed in the years since the Situation, well, caused a situation.
Following Hurricane Sandy, the boardwalk was rebuilt and the town started pushing for more family-friendly fun like movie nights and concerts. The roller coaster at Casino Pier, which ended up in the water, got an upgrade with Hydrus, a neon green and blue coaster with a 72-foot vertical drop. The boardwalk is still one of the busiest at the Shore, though, so if you’re looking to get away from it all, head south to Island State Beach Park—a 10-mile stretch of unmarred and undeveloped beach. It’s about as far from GTL as you can get in this town.
Where to eat and drink: Marking the end of an era, Karma and Bamboo Bar, the nightclubs made famous by the show, have gone bankrupt. But you can still have some fun at Beachcomber Bar & Grill, a boardwalk hangout featuring live bands on weekends. Or check out the super-chill Hemingway’s Cafe for a great happy hour.
Founded in 1869 by a group of Methodist ministers, Ocean Grove is unlike any other place down the shore. While most seaside towns focus on the boardwalk, this town prides itself on being a “relief from the crowds, commercialism, and noise of other New Jersey beaches.” The main attraction here is Tent City, an intimate community campground that houses families looking to relax and attend worship services.
There’s also the Great Auditorium, a concert venue with acoustics that have been compared to Carnegie Hall. To learn more about the town—because you know you want to—head to the Historical Society of Ocean Grove, a museum that celebrates the town’s unique flavor.
Where to eat and drink: Grab a bite at SeaGrass Restaurant, a comfy nautical-themed BYOB cafeteria serving pizza, burgers, and lobster rolls.
The surfer magnet known as “LBI” to the locals boasts the original Ron Jon Surf Shop. The break at Holyoke Avenue in Beach Haven is the most popular, but head to the southern tip of LBI and you’ll have more space to catch a few waves. And if you’d rather hang out than hang 10, you've got miles of sandy, boardwalk-free beachfront to choose from.
Where to eat and drink: Stop at Neptune Market, better known as “Noonies,” for their world-famous Nooney burger, or the retro Woodies Drive-In for homemade crab cakes. If you want to keep it simple with oysters and craft beer, The Arlington is your place.
Long Branch’s beach is far less crowded, and you can enter through the Seven President’s Oceanfront Park, a peaceful space with a playground, skate park, and carefully maintained dunes. If you’d like to pair your beaching with some shopping, head to Pier Village Shopping Plaza, a hive-like retail complex that includes high-end stores, trendy boutiques, and an arcade featuring virtual-reality games. Yes, even the boardwalk is fancy in these parts.
Where to eat and drink: If you still have any money to spend, indulge in some moules-frites at the French-inspired oceanfront restaurant Avenue Le Club, before capping things off with a decadent dessert at Coney Waffle.
Whether they like it or not—and apparently they don’t—Belmar has a reputation for being the Jersey Shore’s party destination. It doesn’t help those naysayers that its marina is home to New Jersey’s largest party boat fleet.
Apart from that whole scene, you have a town that’s been largely renovated since Hurricane Sandy, with a boardwalk more relaxed than those at Seaside or Wildwood. And the beach gets cleaned every morning, which makes for some really pristine sands… at least for a few magic hours.
Where to eat and drink: The south end is perfect for bar-hopping at hotspots like D’Jais Bar & Grill and Beach Haus Brewery, a microbrewery on Main Street with a taproom. But beyond the bars, there’s La Dolce Vita, an upscale, family-owned Italian spot with an emphasis on seafood.
Ocean City is the epitome of a family destination—“New Jersey’s Disney World,” in the words of the city’s mayor, Jay Gillian. At Playland’s Castaway Cove, you can ride the triple-launch GaleForce roller coaster and the Giant Wheel, a 90-foot-high ferris wheel with beautiful Atlantic City skyline views. Make sure to stop by Ocean City Coffee Company, too, where you can choose from a variety of roasts sourced from around the world.
Where to eat and drink: Since this is a dry town, getting high on saltwater taffy and fudge from Shriver’s—the eldest business on the boardwalk at more than 120 years old—is as crazy as things get. But hey, at least you’ll actually remember all the fun you had in Ocean City.
Avalon is home to the north end of the Seven-Mile Beach, a piece of land that juts out one mile farther into the Atlantic Ocean than any other Jersey Shore town. Perhaps that’s why it maintains a secluded atmosphere, attracting a wealthier, Lilly Pulitzer-sporting crowd. But just like in any other Jersey Shore town, there’s always mini golf. Check out Pirate Island Miniature Golf for the most extra experience, complete with waterfalls, suspension bridges, and a giant pirate ship.
The neighboring town of Avalon, Stone Harbor is a quiet family escape where you can lounge alongside dunes, fly a kite above a wind-swept stretch of sand, or rent a kayak from Harbor Outfitters and paddle the bay. For more adventure, bike around the island or visit the Wetlands Institute, where you can take an eco-cruise and get to know local wildlife.
Where to eat and drink: Try Jay’s on Third, a low-key BYOB spot specializing in locally sourced American fare. End your day with a trip to Springer’s Homemade Ice Cream, which has been a Stone Harbor fixture since the 1920s.
Wildwood is engulfed in doo wop—both the music and the architecture style—and the homespun Doo Wop Preservation League won’t let you forget it with their museum and historic tours. Gaze at the retro buildings and it’s clear that the ’50s and ’60s are alive in this seaside escape, where the beach is free and wearing a poodle skirt to the local ice cream shop feels exactly right.
For something a little more modern, check out artBOX, an artist colony composed of 11 brightly painted shipping containers. The three amusement parks along the Wildwood Boardwalk—Mariner’s Pier, Adventure Pier, and Surfside Pier—together boast more than 100 rides and attractions for every stripe of daredevil. The bravest will want to check out the Great Nor’Easter coaster, featuring a 95-foot drop.
Where to eat and drink: While on the boardwalk, stop by Mack’s Pizza for a big, cheesy slice. Later, sip some cocktails on the deck at The Beach Creek Oyster Bar and Grill while listening to live music.
You’ll feel like you’ve entered a time warp when you reach this crown jewel of the Jersey Shore. Horse-drawn carriages and trolleys fill the streets of this stately go-to vacation spot in Jersey. Stop by the tasting room at Cape May Brewing Company before taking a historic ghost tour. Hit the brick-paved streets to check out the open-air Washington Street Mall, filled with one-of-a-kind gifts and sweet treats by Louisa’s Chocolate Bar, which has been serving farm-to-table dishes since 1980. Or just relax on one of Cape May’s gorgeous beaches like the Cove, a chill spot where you might even spy a dolphin taking a leap.
Where to eat and drink: A trip to Cape May would not be complete without a visit to The Lobster House, a waterfront restaurant situated alongside historic sailing vessel, The Schooner. Hang outside at the Raw Bar for a pre-dinner cocktail, and before you leave, take home some stuffed clams from the adjacent Fish Market.
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