The Jersey Shore is packed and will be through Labor Day. Here are eight tips on how to make the most out of our very crowded beach towns.
1. Stop at the Farley Service Plaza, not the Oceanview Service Area
That is, if you’re headed from Philadelphia to Ocean City and towns south. The Frank S. Farley Service Plaza at mile 21.3 of the Atlantic City Expressway (right before the tolls if you’re headed to the shore — right after if you’re driving toward Philadelphia) is a nice place for a pit stop, with lots of food options and plenty of bathrooms. The Oceanview Service Plaza, at mile 18.3 between exits 17 and 20 (before Sea Isle on your way south; after if you’re headed north), was recently replaced with a Sunoco Service Station that’s too small for summer crowds. I was there on Fourth of July weekend, and the lines for both men’s and women’s bathrooms ran deep. The women’s bathroom only had six stalls, and the two sinks in that bathroom were covered in soap suds and paper towels. The cashier line (for food and drinks) was as deep as those for the bathroom. So if you have a choice, go Farley.
2. You can find free parking — you just have to walk
While most shore towns meter spots close to the beach (Avalon being a nice exception), you can score free parking if you park away from beach hot spots. That means you either need to lug your stuff a few extra blocks, or you can set up on a more secluded beach. The exception: any streets around a Wawa. Also: Make sure you assess the bathroom situation at a further-out beach. You okay walking to a bathroom? Peeing in the ocean? If there isn’t a permanent bathroom structure, is there a port-a-potty set up for summer like in Strathmere and Diamond Beach?
3. Stay off the dunes
These are complex ecosystems that saved a lot of shore towns from further Sandy destruction. Stepping on them breaks shallow dune grass roots, which weakens the dunes and could mean fines for the offender. Some Jersey Shore towns start that fine at $500. So just stay off.
4. Be nice to the beach tag checkers
Whether or not you believe in beach tags (I do since they pay to maintain the beach where other states charge higher tourism taxes or higher parking fees), don’t harass the checker for doing his or her job. I’m sure these kids would rather be sitting on the beach, too, and not asking vacationers for money. If you planned to run into the water whenever a tag checker approached, and you got caught, pay up. In most places, tags are only $5 or $6 a day. If you really can’t stand the idea of paying for a tag, you can go to the free beaches of Atlantic City, Strathmere, and the Wildwoods. Better that than harassing a kid working a thankless summer job.
5. Keep your eyes peeled on trash pick up days
Look out for beach items that are being “retired” at the end of someone’s vacation — you could pick up a used beach chair or boogie board for nothing. Yesterday I saw a few of both out in the trash. Even if it’s not perfect, you can give the item another week of life, then leave it where you found it for someone else to discover. Most shore towns do two pickups a week during the height of the summer season. If you’re renting a house, that information will be in your welcome packet.
6. The speed limit is 25 miles per hour
Not 30 miles per hour. Not 20 miles per hour. With a few exceptions, the speed limit on our barrier islands is 25 miles per hour. Going slow will infuriate the cars behind you; going too fast will set yourself up for a ticket. My tip: if you’re driving for a few miles — like on Dune Drive between Avalon and Stone Harbor — set the car on cruise control. Just make sure to stop for pedestrians waiting in the cross walks.
7. Don’t be a workout dummy
These streets get crowded in season, so if you’re biking, stick to single file formation. If you’re running, get out of the bike lines and onto the sidewalk (I know, it’s not ideal, but the demand on these streets is high). If you’re on the Ocean City or Wildwood boardwalk, those lanes will be marked for you. No matter how you work out, remember to bring a water bottle. There’s little shade on these islands, and I’m sure the six Miller Lites you had at the bar the night before aren’t going to keep you hydrated the next morning.
These islands are small and bursting at the seams. Traffic will be a mess, beaches will be crowded, and lines for ice cream will be long. But you’re vacationing in a little slice of heaven while the rest of us are staring at our computer screens. It’s worth a little extra fuss for these golden days of summer at the Jersey Shore.
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(Photo of Atlantic City beach: Shutterstock.com)