The cruel secret of the Jersey Shore is this: The beach is at its best — warm days, crisp nights, long shadows, no crowds — in fall, when vacationers return to life on the mainland. Autumn in Beach Haven is so quiet that the season takes the town a century back in time, to when LBI’s shoreline belonged to gulls, fiddler crabs, and a few privileged families occupying rambling, cedar-shake beach houses. One way to channel your inner Victorian-era heiress-by-the-sea is to reserve a room at the Williams Cottage Inn, a circa-1886, recently restored (saved, indeed, from demolition) “onion dome” house with a wide wraparound porch, working fireplaces throughout, and a pair of innkeepers whose thoughtful manner certainly recalls gentler times. Don’t be surprised if they inquire after your state of rest, and encourage you to drink a glass of cabernet before bed, take a nap on fluffy Frette linens before dinner, or — go ahead! — enjoy a second helping of eggs Benedict.
[sidebar]The inn belongs to the Blahut family, a hardworking lot that includes an architectural engineer, a landscaper, a realtor, an interior designer and, thankfully, more than one preservationist investor. In 2003, the Blahuts outbid a developer for the house, then set out upon four years of love and labor. Opened in July, their true charmer is made for antiques-cognizant grown-ups — but not the sort of guest who plans to duck in and out unnoticed. Each room has its own theme and assets: a soaking tub in the Asian Room, onyx tile in the Opulent Room, a grand view into the house’s turret in the Dome Room, and — my favorite — crystal chandeliers, pale robin’s-egg paint, blue-and-white toile and an ocean view in the Blue Room. With towels folded into straw bags by the door, umbrellas and beach chairs on the porch, and loaner bikes, it’s the perfect spot for getting away in September — and acting like it’s still August.