21 Reasons to Love the Shore

What’s it mean to be a Philadelphian? For many of us, ironically, it requires spending three months a year dreaming of being — or actually being — in a place other than Philadelphia. In a beach chair somewhere on LBI. On the boardwalk in Atlantic City or Ocean City or Wildwood. On a sun-drenched deck in Sea Isle City. The Shore, in other words, is as much a part of the Philly fingerprint as the Eagles or the cheesesteak or Will Smith or anything else that helps us find true north. As with any love affair, there’s mystery involved. Below, we do our best to pinpoint what it’s always been — and what it is right now, in 2019 — that keeps the allure so alive. Happy summer. You know where to find us.

Because we get nicer the closer we get to the beach.

People at the Shore? They say hello. They make small talk in the doughnut line. They smile. Now, let’s be clear: These are the same people who repeatedly jab the “close door” button on Market Street elevators, who cut you off on the Conshohocken curve, who double-park and then give you the finger when you honk. Turns out you can take Philly out of the girl — but only if you take that girl to the Shore. — Ashley Primis

Because you can get there by bike.

It isn’t for the casual pedal-pusher, but if you’ve done a little training, the 70-mile spin seaward is exhilarating. You’ll pass piney woodlands, blueberry farms, perhaps a rafter of turkeys. (Tip: Don’t trust Google maps, which can’t differentiate sandy park trails from blacktop.) And of course, the post-ride dip will be your best ever. — Brian Howard

Because the Shore can connect us in ways we never imagined.

new jersey shore guide

Fans of Fred’s Tavern in Stone Harbor. Photograph by Natalie Chitwood.

A priest walks into a bar. No, really. This is actually the beginning of the story that Jim Hand, third-generation co-owner of Fred’s Tavern and Liquor Store in Stone Harbor, likes to tell. The rest goes something like this: On a mission trip in Africa, a priest is riding in a Jeep through a remote jungle. As his caravan is bouncing along, he sees a little boy near the dirt road and insists they stop. The incredulous priest goes over to the little boy and points to his shirt, because the boy is wearing — wait for it — a Fred’s Tavern t-shirt. In Africa! The priest pulls up his clergy shirt to show the boy he’s wearing one, too. There’s a photo. When the priest returned to Fred’s with this tale, Jim says, “I thought, ‘Wow. These shirts are all over the world.”

Jim, it turns out, was the brains behind the global marketing campaign. He was a teenager working in his dad’s bar when he and a few friends designed the shirt. That was in the 1960s. Since then, the business has evolved — these days, the place is less dark dive bar and more booming dining destination — but the shirt has barely changed at all, and he’s sold so many that he says he’s lost count. Meantime, devotees, send your selfies! The bar’s photo gallery of t-shirt-wearing fans tracks Fred’s spread: There’s Fred’s in Florida, Fred’s in Honolulu, Fred’s in Rome … — A.P.

Because Shore hotels are (finally) less 1989, more 2019.

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The Shore House in North Wildwood. Photograph by Natalie Chitwood.

Haven’t booked a room down the Shore lately? It’s a whole new hotel world these days. To wit: Well-known Philly developing duo Chad and Courtney Ludeman are opening Lokal Hotel in Cape May this summer, with eight apartment-style hotel suites and an extensive outdoor space that include plans for a saltwater pool, a bocce court and grilling stations. This addition joins West Cape May’s buzzy Beach Plum Farm cottages and also the new rustic-chic, 11-room Boarding House, a mid-century motel upgrade that bills itself as both dog- and surfboard-friendly.

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The Shore House in North Wildwood. Photograph by Natalie Chitwood.

new jersey shore guide

The Shore House in North Wildwood. Photograph by Natalie Chitwood.

Over in North Wildwood, the Shore House’s reimagined 1960s doo-wop motel features oh-so-modern one-, two- and three-bedroom “Airbnb-style” units complete with kitchens and a cool central courtyard. (For its sophomore summer, there’s a new emphasis on programming and a new installation from Philly-based street-art sensation Amberella.) A little further up the coast, the luxe Reeds at Shelter Haven in Stone Harbor just tacked on 21 more rooms and the two-story Salt Spa, with a Turkish bath and brine room, a blowout bar and a nail salon (the works!), while the grand Victorian-style Hotel LBI is making its elegant debut in Ship Bottom with 102 rooms, an indoor pool, and a full spa offering, among other services, spray tanning. Organic, naturally. — Sandy Smith

Because no one needs a Whole Foods down the Shore.

new jersey shore guide

Pearl Street Market in Beach Haven. Photograph by Natalie Chitwood.

Because other people’s families are way more interesting than your own.

Okay, so that’s grandma there in the chair with the umbrella. The dude with the striped towel has to be her son; they’ve got the same eyes. But is he with the babe in the bikini or the hottie in the maillot? Maillot looks more his type, but he and Bikini were playing bocce with the boy in the sunflower trunks, so isn’t that probably their kid? Although the kid’s got dark hair and they’re both light. Sunflower Boy looks more like Maillot, come to think of it. They’ve got the same nose. Which is the nose of the old guy asleep on the blanket. But he’s too old to be Maillot’s husband. Father, maybe? Though that would make Maillot and Striped Towel brother and sister. Hmm. Oh, wait! Wait! Here comes another contender, and she’s got two little girls trailing after her — and she’s pregnant! And there goes Sunflower Boy running up to her — definitely his mom! And here comes Striped Towel to kiss her. That’s no brotherly kiss, yo. OMG, now Bikini and Maillot are holding hands … — Sandy Hingston

Because Lucy the Elephant is still kicking.

Margate, you think. Old. White. Rich. Bleach blondes with hyper-wrinkles. Dudes in goofy pastel shorts. Restaurants that still serve jumbo shrimp. But then “jumbo” makes you think of “Dumbo,” and “Dumbo” makes you remember Lucy — old, weird, goggle-eyed Lucy — and you think: Margate. Cool. — S.H.

Because Jersey boardwalks never change.

There’s no Fortnite, no 128-mile-per-hour Kingda Ka, no place for iced matcha — just the familiar tempo of the Buccaneer, the zitty teen working the water-gun races, hermit crabs in cages and pizza by the slice. You could compare a photo of my daughter taken in Ocean City in 2019 to one of me from 1987 and the only difference would be the quality of the print. And that makes me smile, because it’s quite possibly the only thing our childhoods have in common. — A.P.

(Except when they do.)

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The Wheel at Steel Pier in Atlantic City. Photograph by Natalie Chitwood

Here’s what’s new on the boards.

Surfside Pier has welcomed the Runaway Tram, a brand-new “family-friendly” roller coaster inspired by — you guessed it — the boardwalk tram cars. Also popping up in the Wildwoods lately? More grown-up diversions, like Flying Hatchets, the town’s first ax-throwing venue, and Seaport Pier, the sprawling bar and restaurant that debuted in North Wildwood in 2018 with live entertainment and a private swim club.

Atlantic City
Last summer brought two new resorts (Hard Rock Casino and Ocean Resort) to A.C.’s boardwalk, and sports betting has spread like wildfire at casinos here, including at Bally’s, which debuts the town’s first serve-yourself beer bar in its sports book this month. And don’t miss the new old-school fun, like the 40-car Ferris wheel (dubbed the Wheel) and the convivial Biergarten, which offers lots of outdoor seating and games for the table.

Ocean City
Alas, for the first time in 22 years, you won’t be able to watch the Miss New Jersey pageant at Ocean City’s Music Pier. The contest, which has apparently outgrown the space, is moving to A.C. instead. But good news: Gillian’s Wonderland Pier is celebrating its 90th summer with a bunch of new events — and also by making the switch from tickets to electronic swipe cards (so 2019!). — Victor Fiorillo and Isabelle Chausse

Because there’s a whole new generation of beach games out there: Spikeball! Ladder Golf! Bulzibucket!

Because you don’t have to leave
your fitness routine at home.

You can find spinning, barre, beach yoga and more at the Shore. Here are some of the area’s fitness offeringsKeep reading here

Because loving great restaurants and loving the Shore is no longer a contradiction.

new jersey shore guide

Grilled octopus at Polpo in Avalon. Photograph by Natalie Chitwood

Here’s your guide to where to eat right now at the Shore. Keep reading here

Because the ocean is great, but not as great as …

new jersey shore guide

The bay in Avalon. Photograph by Natalie Chitwood

The beach is the extrovert here, all splashy waves and half-naked crowds and raucous paddleball games. The beach is basically Taylor Swift. Popular. Peppy. Good at marketing itself.

The bay, though? The bay is quiet. Less showy. Doesn’t do much but sit there, humbly reflecting back whatever happens to be around it — the sky, the sea grass, the dock. The bay is happy to let you just gently bob on a raft tied to a post; the bay won’t make you work too hard to paddle your kayak. The bay is where children learn to set crab traps and do cannonballs and never, ever let their toes touch bottom. (What, exactly, is down there? It’s a squishy mystery for the ages.)

The bay is quiet. Less showy. Doesn’t do much but sit there, humbly reflecting back whatever happens to be around it — the sky, the sea grass, the dock.

A lifelong Shore-goer I know once wisely observed that with the ocean, you always wonder what you’ll get: a calm day? A seaweedy day? One of those days when the water pelts you repeatedly with tiny knife-like seashells? “But the bay is always just the bay,” she said. There’s a constancy there.

I grew up in solidly landlocked states; the ocean felt as exotic and distant as the Alps. Now, when I go to the beach, I still feel a thrill, still delight in the sound and strength of the waves. But to me, the bay was and is the real revelation, and it remains the star of our Shore vacations. Here’s the ocean at its most welcoming — our own private saltwater pool — offering up ease and peace like nowhere else. And also, occasionally, dinner. — C.S.L.

Because climate change hasn’t won yet.

We’re not gonna sit here and tell you that things look rosy in the campaign against global climate change. But we can tell you that the Jersey Shore is doing its best to hang in there. After years of banshee-like shrieking out of Margate, the Absecon Island dune project is complete (“The dunes actually look pretty now,” one Margatian allows), and a Wildwoods dune project isn’t far behind; both should go a long way toward protecting our beaches from erosion and rising sea levels. Simultaneously, homes in Ocean City, Avalon and elsewhere are being built (or raised) above future flood levels. In other measures aimed at mitigating some man-made damage, Long Beach and Longport, among others, are waging war on plastic bags and straws, nearly 1,800 additional acres of wetlands have just been protected along the South Jersey coast, and Cape May National Wildlife Refuge just expanded by 477 acres. All of which is to say, our Shore ain’t going down — ahem, literally — without a fight. — B.H.

Because your kids aren’t yet bored with these playgrounds.

Here are five of the best playgrounds for kids at the Shore. Keep reading here

Because now, you have to get your butt off the beach.

Because every summer brings a surprise or two.

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Nauti Donuts is a new addition to Ocean City. Photograph by Natalie Chitwood

Check out all the cool new stuff at the Shore. Keep reading here

Because Curtis Bashaw is still rocking Cape May.

new jersey shore guide

Beach Plum Farm in West Cape May. Photograph by Natalie Chitwood

Thirty years ago this month, savvy young investor Curtis Bashaw opened the Virginia, a Victorian boardinghouse turned picturesque boutique hotel. Fast-forward to 2019, and Bashaw’s the biggest name in town (the largest employer, too), with five impeccably styled hotels, a handful of smaller lodgings scattered about the Cape, five popular restaurants, and now his Beach Plum Farm cottages, which are in full swing for the first time this summer.

Nestled on the 62-acre farm that supplies much of the food for his restaurants, five rustic-luxe cottages and barns offer the idyllic perks of farm life: Guests can collect their own eggs for breakfast, swim in a pool surrounded by an orchard, dig potatoes with the chef-farmer before lunch, and indulge in a twice-weekly multi-course chef’s tasting dinner at a communal table on the grounds. (Reservations are open to the public, too!)

new jersey shore guide

Photograph by Natalie Chitwood

new jersey shore guide

Photograph by Natalie Chitwood

The dip into agritourism is a first for Bashaw, but he’s driven by the same philosophy behind all his Cape May successes. “We’ve worked hard to elevate the design standards and also service standards at the Jersey Shore,” he says. “Early on, one key thing we did was offer guests chairs, towels and umbrellas for the beach. That wasn’t novel in Saint-Tropez or Miami, but at the Jersey Shore, nobody was doing it.”

Speaking of novelties, here’s the best idea ever: Beach Plum Farm offers its diners a special chaperoned kids’ dinner in a separate spot on the property for those who might enjoy a few child-free hours of conversation and (BYO) cocktails. Like we said: idyllic. — V.F.

Because old-fashioned thrills still get the job done.

There are newer and fancier roller coasters, sure, with more dips and drops and loop-the-loops. (The latest newcomer in Ocean City, GaleForce, for one, features slopes steeper than 90 degrees. Eek!) No matter. The most nerve-racking moments of my summer are the ones spent on the slow, suspenseful, click-clacking climb up to the 110-foot apex of the Great White on Morey’s Piers, a true classic of a coaster. Because the real fear, as anyone who’s lived a while can tell you, isn’t in the dips and drops and loop-the-loops; it’s the anticipation. — C.S.L.

And so does Spielberg.

Speaking of great whites: Each year, you can head to Brigantine’s south-end Cove Beach to watch the original Jaws on the sand, from a boat, or — if you’re insane — while floating on an inner tube. The screening’s in August; check Brigantinechamber.com for the date. — C.S.L

Because there’s no better place — or reason — to play hooky from work.

Learn the art of the day trip from these three quick and easy Shore itineraries.

Published as “The Shore” in the June 2019 issue of Philadelphia magazine.