Department of Secret Shore Awesomeness: The Brigantine Day Trip

I was prepared to keep this as my secret Jersey Shore haven. Then I discovered the beach bar.

Brigantine Beach | Chris Potako via a Creative Commons license.

Sunset over Brigantine  | Chris Potako via a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

I’ll admit that I never quite saw the allure of the day trip.

For as much as I love the Jersey shore (as in, so, so much) it has rarely been enough to justify driving down for the afternoon. To me, the quickie shore trip has always felt like quickie sex: Perfectly fine until I take a look around and realize there’s no shower, no change of clothes, and all kinds of chafing. Not necessarily bad, but not quite worth the trouble or the messy hair, either.

That is, until I discovered Brigantine.

I don’t mean to pull a Christopher Columbus here. I realize that plenty of Brigantine natives and enthusiasts have long understood that their little island has a good thing going. But it escaped my own personal radar for three decades, and I was surprised to find that the perfect day trip was only an hour away from my apartment in South Philly. (Give or take, of course, depending on how heavy your foot is.)

I can see why I missed it for all these years. On the wrong side of Atlantic City, Brigantine is isolated from the more popular Exit 7S hotspots, those established It Girls of the shore. A sleepy little beach town at heart, it doesn’t have the family attractions of Ocean City, the quaintness of Cape May or the anything-goes, international-waters, I-think-that-dolphin-just-tried-to-sell-me-Adderall appeal of Wildwood.

But you know what it does have? Less traffic than an episode of The Walking Dead. A beautiful, meticulously maintained beach. Perfectly serviceable pizza, and a Wawa full of Choco Tacos. Even for a day trip skeptic like myself, that’s enough to offset a damp car ride home.

I lounged away almost every Sunday this summer on Brigantine’s powdery, sparsely populated sand. Over the course of three months, I spent maybe 10 minutes looking for parking. The one time I had to buy a beach tag, it was from Channing Tatum’s younger, hotter brother, and I would have gladly paid twice what he was charging. While I never ran into the island’s notorious greenhead flies, I can understand why someone started the rumor – once you discover Brigantine, your first instinct is to hide it, to discourage the rest of Philadelphia from poking around north of Atlantic City. I know I certainly wasn’t planning to invite anyone whose name wasn’t Jack Reacher to my new weekend hide-out.

But then I found their beach bar.

At first I thought it was a mirage in the distance, nothing more than an imaginary tease after too many hours in the sun. As a life-long Ocean City vacationer, the idea of ordering a drink on the beach didn’t seem possible. But I could hear it, too: the whir-whir of blenders, the hum of happy hour, the buzzed Bruce Springsteen cover band. It was real, and it was beautiful, and it was full of people from New Jersey.

There are plenty of things I’m comfortable keeping to myself, but beach-front bars that serve both sushi and cheese fries isn’t one of them. That’s where I draw the line, where I snap back to reality and remember my sense of honor, my duty to my people.

Am I proposing that we stage an invasion of Brigantine next summer? No – that would be rude, and probably illegal. I’m just throwing it out there that islands are difficult to defend, it’s only an hour away, and there are mango margaritas at stake. Who’s with me?

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