Shore 2009: Sand

The best beaches for everything

For kids  Where 85th meets the beach in Sea Isle, you’ll find a trifecta of kid-pleasers: a great playground, a hot-dog vendor, and a big ol’ beach for building sand castles. Ventnor beaches tend to have lots of families, so your kids won’t be the only ones screeching and hurling sand. And at 5th and the Boulevard in Ship Bottom, there’s a nice long beach for running around, a small arcade, tons of lunchy spots nearby, and also, lots of bathrooms.

For beachcombing  For 10 years, Sea Isle City has offered weekly guided beachcombing walks — starting promptly at 10 a.m. from 29th Street on Tuesdays, 94th on Thursdays — for $1 for adults, 50 cents for kids. And there’s great shell collecting at the semi-secret gem Corson’s Inlet State Park, with its 98-acre undeveloped beachfront separating the island of Ocean City from Strathmere; there’s also excellent hiking. (Sea Isle City’s guided walks 609-263-8687; Corson’s Inlet State Park 609-861-2404).

For glamour  We love the cabanas at the Chelsea: Striped tents, chaise lounges, fluffy towels and full service — champagne cocktail, ma’am? — seem all the more luxurious against Atlantic City’s heretofore non-luxe sandy stretches. And Margate beaches — a.k.a. Socialite Central — remain the only ones where the ladies all wear their jewelry. (The Chelsea 111 South Chelsea Avenue, Atlantic City, 800-548-3030, thechelsea-ac.com).

For entertainment  You barely need water at Wildwood’s wide, flat beaches, there’s so much going on: doo-wop concerts; Frisbee, sand-castle and talent contests; Fudgy Wudgy ice-cream vendors; regattas; and the best-ever marbles tourney — June 22nd to 25th marks the 86th annual event. Then there’s the Labor Day ritual at the Clarendon Avenue beach in Margate: Each year, women who live there wade into the surf and toss flowers to thank God for another summer. A tad crunchy, but cool. A big beach barbecue follows.

For dogs  Where it’s at for all the bitches: Dog Beach, a sandbar just over O.C.’s north-end bridge in Longport; Lincoln Avenue in Town Bank Beach near Cape May; and 80th to 82nd streets in Stone Harbor (before 9 a.m. and after 7 p.m.).

For free  Even though Ventnor just introduced Free Beach Thursdays, Wildwood is still the best deal by far: All day, every day, no moolah.

For peace  Downbeachers know to go to the small beaches of Longport when they want a break from the crowds. Likewise, the dune-y Brigantine beaches tend to be some of the least busy (likely one of the reasons A.C.’s fancy-pants Borgata and Water Club bus guests there for dips). And the further north you go on LBI, the fewer folks you’ll see: Beaches in Loveladies and Harvey Cedars can be sparsely settled even on July 4th.

For social butterflies  Avalon is it for the gadabouts. Scope out the hotties playing paddleball on the 28th Street beach (and making plans to meet up at the Princeton later) — the parking lot there attracts day-trippers, so you can mingle with new faces. Scenesters also plant themselves outside the Windrift hotel at 80th Street, in no small part thanks to its popular bar. Sea Isle rocks it, too: Carousel — the lively beachside bar at 43rd with live music and cheap beer — is a little party all on its own. (The Princeton 2008 Dune Drive (at 21st Street), Avalon, 609-967-3457, princetonbar.com;The Carousel 8 43rd Street, Sea Isle City, 609-263-4951, thespringfieldinn.com).

For romance  The dune-filled paths leading to the beach in LBI’s Barnegat Light are perfect for stealing a smooch; teens (and teens at heart) still sneak under the Ocean City Boardwalk for makeout sessions; and the quiet, small beach and jetties at the southernmost tip of Longport make the sweetest little sunset stroll at the Shore.  

For a sunrise  It’s called Sunset Beach, but sunup is the best time to visit this Cape May swath of sand, famous for its abundance of Cape May diamonds. (That’s surf-polished quartz.) Early mornings, the beach is deserted, and as the sun rises, the adjacent The Grille (formerly the Sunset Grill) turns out deliciously greasy egg-and-cheese sandwiches, to be enjoyed on its wood deck. (The Grille Sunset Boulevard, Cape May, 800-757-6468, sunsetbeachnj.com).

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