Your Guide to Visiting Seven Mile Island in the Fall

Where to head for quiet beaches, bay sunsets and ritual mud baths.

seven mile island

The Diving Horse in Seven Mile Island. Photograph by Dan Doran

The chichi sister towns of Avalon and Stone Harbor slow to a crawl in the off-season … which is exactly the point.

Where to Stay

The grande dame of Stone Harbor, the Reeds at Shelter Haven, offers a slew of handsome rooms (many with fireplaces), plus beachside service through mid-October, as well as kayaks for the bay, a newly upgraded spa with a brine room and Turkish bath, and a handful of restaurants made for perfect sunset-viewing. And because the Reeds has partnered with the private Stone Harbor Golf Club, the hotel can easily set you up with tee times. The same is true at Avalon’s Windrift, the sleek beachfront hotel known for its comfy rooms, weekend scene (with live entertainment) and cool rooftop bar. Meantime, right next door sits Icona Avalon, a crisp and classically styled seaside retreat with bright, breezy rooms and a fun courtyard “village” — firepits, food, cocktails, house-brewed beer, music and poolside service through October.

What to Do

Because so much of the island consists of vacation homes that sit empty in the off-season, the beaches in the fall are still and serene, which makes for wonderfully restorative walks, jogs, shell-seeking, kayaking, paddleboarding … you name it. (Also: Because many of those vacation homes are actually vacation mansions, it’s fun to walk and ogle the real estate.) As far as other relaxing pastimes go: After a trip to the Salt Spa at the Reeds at Shelter Haven (try the detoxifying Rasul mud ritual), you can stroll the collection of shops and galleries on 96th Street. Or do a trip to the Wetlands Institute, a nature-based conservation center with aquariums (including, for now, a resident octopus) and great guide-led dune, beach and birding walks. The institute is also the pickup site for eco-tours on The Skimmer, a pontoon boat that takes you on a languid float through the marshes.

Where to Eat

The Diving Horse, an Avalon favorite, is open only through the end of September, but if you can snag a seat on the twinkle-lit patio before the season closes, you absolutely should. It’s BYO, but Fred’s Avalon Liquor Store is right across the street. (Note: Fred’s also delivers.) Another beloved BYO, the fine-dining throwback Cafe Loren, is open for limited outdoor dining, plus takeout and delivery. Speaking of ordering in: Grab yourself some cream donuts and cinnamon buns from the mainstay Kohler’s for breakfast, and for dinner, do the homemade pastas from Spiaggetta in Stone Harbor — a takeout star on the island long before it had to be.

Where to Drink

The Windrift boasts an absolutely massive wine list (1,000-plus bottles); the Whitebrier offers a huge outdoor garden for laid-back drinks and noshes; and neighboring Princeton — which got a recent face-lift — is always a happening spot for an outdoor cocktail. Not far from the island’s exit 13 is Slack Tide Brewing, an award-winning brewer with a tasting room — sip on ryes, stouts, Belgian-style blondes, the whole gamut — and a handy to-go window.

Field Trip

Want more action? You’re perfectly situated for a day trip or even just a meal off the island: Sea Isle’s famed Fish Alley (or Philly chef Peter McAndrews’s seaside version of Modo Mio, or the loose, lively Harry’s outdoor bar) is a 15-minute drive away. Cape May and its charms are 25 minutes on the Garden State Parkway, and the fall festivals and boardwalks of Ocean City and Wildwood are both about 30 minutes by car.

Don’t Miss

Thanksgiving weekend is the island’s best-kept secret. You’ll find excellent hotel deals and big turkey dinners, plus enchanting street fests and parades, games and Santa visits for the kids, big-time sales at the stores and more.

Published as “Seven Mile Island” in the “Off Season” guide to the Shore in the September 2020 issue of Philadelphia magazine.