For anyone who grew up in eastern Pennsylvania in the ’50’s or ’60’s like I did, part of the summer was usually spent at the Jersey Shore, anywhere along that stretch of oceanfront from Sandy Hook in North Jersey to Cape May in the south. As a child and teen, for me and later for my son, that meant going to either Ocean City, Wildwood, or Atlantic City. In fact, my son was born along this coast. Long before there was Snookie and her motley crew that gave the Jersey Shore the crass reputation that still stands in peoples’ minds today, we who grew up there remember lovely, low key and unassuming summers, just enjoying the simple pleasures of the ocean crashing on the sand, the smell of salt water, the boardwalk, pizza and cheesesteaks (on the Jersey shore you’re close enough to Philly to need a cheesesteak) , pork roll (in those days, we didn’t go to the shore for health food!) salt water taffy, and, in those days, Atlantic City’s Steel Pier.
New Jersey resort afficianadoes have their own vernacular: we don’t call the coast “the beach.” We know the Jersey coast as “The Shore.” People who are going to any of the resort towns along the coast say they are going “down the shore,” no matter from which direction you are going. Even if you were headed East straight across New Jersey, you were still going “down the shore.” And for most of us it meant being on the Garden State Parkway for a bit or the Atlantic City Expressway. You simply clarified by telling people which resort you were referring to; example, “I’m going down the shore to Ocean City.”
This year for the first time in many years, my husband and I had an opportunity to spend a week down the shore, on Long Beach Island (LBI), an 18-mile long, skinny strip of land that boasts some of the shore’s most iconic beach towns with beautiful, quirky names that date back a couple of centuries: Loveladies, Ship Bottom, and Beach Haven. Just before we left for the shore, we picked up a local paper that had run an unscientific study to determine their version of the top 10 beaches along the Jersey coast. Several reporters judged all the oceanfront beaches on the Jersey Shore (how did they get this assignment?!) on quality (however you define “quality”), crowd type, size, parking availability, surrounding food venues, drink and recreation. Sure enough, second on the list, after Cape May, was Beach Haven, the beautiful LBI town where we were about to stay. What they liked about Beach Haven was its “chill vibe and excellent surrounding attractions” making it “the best of the best” on LBI.
Incidentally, three of the 10 places along the shore that made their top 10 list, are on Long Beach Island: along with Beach Haven (#2), they also liked Ship Bottom (#5 and Harvey Cedars (#9).
We arrived at the house we were renting which was a half block from the water. It was everything we were looking for: besides proximity to the house, we found a clean spacious beach, beautiful dunes, and wonderful restaurants with amazing selections that didn’t scream “tourist-y.”
Three days after our arrival at the shore, we drove the hour and a half down the coast to Wildwood to visit with family who were also on vacation. Part of the fun of going to Wildwood for the father in this family, who now actually live in Texas, was to show his young kids where he had vacationed as a child.
Wildwood is the quintessential Jersey resort, and is the beach of our youth! In fact many of the hotels we passed seemed to have a distinct ’60’s or ’70’s feel to them that we could easily have stayed in way back when.
It also boasts a large beach, roller coasters and bullet rides along the water and a boardwalk.
The boardwalk is that slice of wooden planks that separates the ocean from the kitschy shops, eateries and souvenir hawkers where people meander or take the famous tram car that’s been in operation from 1949 and starts in North Wildwood, passes through Wildwood and ends in Wildwood Crest. It’s no surprise that songs have been written for over a century about the boardwalk and romantic strolls along its pathway.
Beach Haven does not have a boardwalk but a few blocks to the south of our house, we found a large number of places for family outings: carnival-like ride parks, ice cream parlors, bars, souvenir shops with the ubiquitous faux sea shells, pictures of lighthouses, cards and more sweatshirt and T-shirts that you can count. As I write this, I realize I’m making it sound tacky but really it is not. People expect to bring back memorabilia from vacations and I think that if these items and places were not available, the place would disappoint and be somehow boring. But in Beach Haven because the rides, shops and souvenirs are in town, the beach itself remains pristine and peaceful. There is definitely more of a Cape Cod feel to Beach Haven.
Later in the week we spent two beautiful days with other friends near Egg Harbor, close to Atlantic City. We even did a walkthrough of the new casinos in AC, the Hard Rock and Oceans.
I continued on my quest to eat my fill of the freshest eastern seafood all week long.
As with all the places we stayed we had wonderful dinners starting on the first day of our visit with a clambake of lobster, clams, corn, sausages and baked potatoes, continuing on with mussels, tuna steaks, sea bass, calamari – my mercury level is probably glowing but I love it!
All in all, our trip to the shore was a throwback to a very simple and fun time in my life. The ocean always invigorates me. I had been looking forward to it for several months and I loved every minute of the being down the shore again.