The New Jersey shoreline is a perennially popular holiday destination during the summer months, with tourists from NYC and beyond drawn to its wealth of picturesque beaches and lively seaside towns. Packed with arcades, funfairs and snack shops, it's great for kids and families, while towns such as Seaside Heights are famed for their wild nightlife. But though the typical Jersey Shore image of colorful boardwalks and neon-lit clubs certainly exists, and can undoubtedly be terrific fun, there are also plenty of secluded nooks where walkers and nature-lovers can indulge their quieter passions.
Point Pleasant is a fantastically lively, old-fashioned seaside extravaganza that will keep kids entertained for days on end. A boardwalk complete with monorail runs along the beachfront, lined with chirping arcades, spinning fair rides, colourful snack bars and innumerable ice cream stands. There’s even an informative aquarium, home to sharks, stingrays, penguins and much more. And if you need a sit down after all this excitement, you can choose between a handful of great cafes and bars, such as Perk’s Cafe, with its superb sweet-tooth breakfasts, or Jack Baker’s, serving succulent seafood suppers.
Seaside Heights is another bustling seafront entertainment zone, with heaps of arcades and carousels guaranteed to spark excitement among its younger visitors. But as viewers of Jersey Shore know well, the Heights is best known for more grown-up forms of entertainment, and is perhaps the premier nightlife district along the New Jersey shoreline. During the summer, young adults from across the north-eastern United States stream into the town, lounging on the beach through the day and cramming into restaurants, bars and clubs at night. Top spots for dancing the night away include blue-hued Karma and chilled-out Bamboo Bar.
Cape May is best known as a family friendly vacation spot, centered around its lovely city beach backdropped by striking Victorian houses. But head out of town and intrepid travellers can discover a whole different world fringing this century-old seaside resort. The road west winds into dense woods and swampland, a wetland wilderness surrounding secluded Higbee Beach, a magnet for birdwatchers from NYC and beyond. The area is particularly vibrant in summer, when wildflowers scent the air, and through the Fall, when millions of migrating birds stop on the Cape May peninsula seeking food, cover and shelter.
Long Beach Island’s 18-mile shoreline strings together a varied series of beaches and seaside settlements. In the north, the town of Barnegat Light retains a traditional coastal feel, with flocks of fishing boats bobbing in the harbor and a 19th century lighthouse standing sentinel above the sand. A much livelier world unfolds on the opposite, southern side of the island, where the town of Beach Haven boasts a Victorian-themed amusement park, a theater, and a shopping mall located in a re-built tall ship. And surfers should dart beyond Beach Haven to the island’s southernmost tip, where big waves crash into an uncrowded beach.
The resort town of Asbury Park has a fascinating and contradictory history. Founded as a Christian retreat in the 1800s, it evolved into a popular commercial holiday destination until race riots damaged much of the downtown in 1970. Wealthy holidaymakers left, replaced by a ragged collection of radicals and beatniks. The upmarket restaurants and cocktails bars lining the boardwalk were gutted and turned into rock clubs and gay bars. These days some of the old affluent have returned, and something of a balance has been struck, but the town retains an edgy vibe, with makeshift art galleries and hedonistic queer clubs squeezing in alongside the new-grown restaurants and retail shops.