Jersey Shore rookies picking a beach town
March 7, 2007 7:48 PM   Subscribe

Jersey Shore neophytes trying to plan an (extended) family vacation for this summer. We've been looking, but want the hive mind's advice.

We're Brooklynites with 2 young kids. Planning a kind of beach-house week with the grandparents and my sister and brother in law, all together. For one reason and another, everyone's happy to come out to our part of the country to spend some time with the kids this summer...and the beach suits everyone.

We've been looking at house rentals in Cape May on the recommendation of others; but we don't know much about the area -- whether there are particular parts of town we should be looking at (or avoiding)...are some of the beach areas better than others? We also wonder if we're overlooking other shore towns that would be good.

If it's relevant, we're looking for a house with at least 4 bedrooms and some pleasant outdoor space like a deck, that's at least walking distance to a pleasant beach (though my question is more about where we should be looking rather than for specific rental recommendations). The kids are 1 and 4, so we proximity to anything fun for the older one would be great, but in general we'll be providing plenty of our own entertainment.
posted by BT to Travel & Transportation around New Jersey (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My family has long been a fan of the North side of Long Beach Island. Towns like Barnegat Light, Harvey Cedars , and Loveladies are quieter and away from the hubbub of Beach Haven and other overrun shore towns like Seaside Heights, Belmar and Point Pleasant. I'm a kid in this situation though and don't end up paying for the vacation houses as much as I try to contribute to the food situation so the pricing is somewhat ridiculous in this area I think. When I was much younger (as were my parents) we did stay in Beach Haven for years and it definitely instilled in me a love of LBI.

I hear Cape May is nice, but can't offer and specific suggestions there. Good luck!

While much more North, I also hear pretty good things about Ocean Grove but I haven't gotten down there despite planning on it for several years.
posted by zackola at 8:48 PM on March 7, 2007

I have had five or six different stays in Ocean City, NJ over the past 10 years and loved it every time. Great boardwalk, huge beach, nice people and lots of good restaurants, shopping and amusements. Very clean city, very family oriented - no alcohol sold on the island, but it's only a 10 minute drive to Somers Point to pick some up. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Close to Atlantic City too if you are into that sorta thing.
posted by internal at 8:56 PM on March 7, 2007

The Seaside Heights boardwalk is a very interesting place to walk around. The four year old will love it. Everywhere is walking distance to the beach, but to be honest I don't know if you'd want to stay there - it's a mildly shady sort of place. You might find a four-bedroom place with a deck, but the outdoors away from the beach is just packed and dirty - I wouldn't call it pleasant. A day trip is definitely in order, though. Eat some of tasty-but-toxic boardwalk food, play in the arcades. The rides, if I remember right, are overpriced for their quality, the food is a bit overpriced but unique to my experience, and the arcades are downright cheap.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:02 PM on March 7, 2007

I'm biased and it's probably not the most family friendly (though it was fun for us and all other local families) but I love(d) Belmar. Vesuvio's for pizza and Jim's salad! Lighthouse italian ices (from a soft serve machine)! The Macaroon Shop in nearby Avon, Vic's in nearby Bradley Beach. Eating pancakes on second level wrap around porches overlooking the ocean. The beach is nice too; crowded with families to young couples to groups of friends and was always swimmable.

Man, I miss that stuff.
posted by birdie birdington at 11:24 PM on March 7, 2007

I don't think there's a "bad part of town" in Cape May, so you'll have no worries about that. I've been to most of the towns others mention & liked them all, & add in Avalon which is a very quiet town just north of Wildwood.

Speaking of which, Wildwood's probably the only town I'd avoid; it's the most built up town south of Atlantic City & doesn't sound like what you're looking for. Its main attraction is a boardwalk featuring two amusement piers complete with waterparks & rollercoasters. It also leans heavily towards the high school/college crowd & has a number of bars & clubs that cater to them, which is another reason for you to skip it.
posted by scalefree at 11:51 PM on March 7, 2007

posted by nj_subgenius at 3:57 AM on March 8, 2007

Seconding LBI. Beach Haven is very nice, and really not all that built up anywhere on the island, compared to other shore resort towns in NJ. My family has been going there for years, and now we own a house there. Cape May always seemed incredibly stuffy and too 'antique-y' for my tastes. I could see it as a great getaway for a couple, but with kids .. well .. I just think there's better places. There's not much of a 'party culture' there to speak of, but plenty of things to do for people of all ages. You could, for example, head up to viking village and look at the fishing boats, or visit the Barnegat Lighthouse (both on the northern end of the island.) You could rent a few bikes and ride down to the natural area at the south end of the island. There's lots of shopping, and the beaches are always clean. There is a great amusement park in Beach haven for kids that always goes over great with my neice.

You might feel more comfortable staying closer to a more built-up area to lessen the 'commute time'. I know I hated the drive up and down the island as a little kid.

The only problem with going up to Loveladies and those towns higher up on the island is that they can be a long drive or bike ride for little kids. Also, you will be paying Megabucks to rent the further north you go, as a rule of thumb. Exceptions can be found, but they are few and far between.

If you want information on specific houses (cough, cough my family's house fits your criteria perfectly), email's in the profile.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 4:32 AM on March 8, 2007

Long ago, my family vacationed by renting a cottage at Ocean Beach. As a kid, I loved it: short walk to the beach or the bay, they had a little rec center at the bay with ping pong tables, arcade games, etc. Also, a short ride to the boardwalk at Seaside mentioned above.

I can't speak for what it is like currently, but it was great at the time.
posted by mikepop at 5:57 AM on March 8, 2007

I have very fond memories of Stone Harbor, NJ, which I visited each year from age 10 to 16. We stayed with a family friend, who rented a great house (one side of a two-family), though I can’t remember the specific address. Most places have nice outdoor spaces—lots of decks—though one thing you’ll have to get used to is that it’s very hard to grow grass in a beach town, so most yards are covered with gravel (usually light-colored and surprisingly pretty). Oh! If you can, get someplace with an outdoor shower! Great for washing off beach sand, but also a lovely experience to bathe under the summer sky.

Stone Harbor is about a 20-minute drive from Cape May, which is a lovely town, but it is certainly busier and more expensive (though I’ve heard rents in Stone Harbor have become pretty dear, as well). Most places in Stone Harbor (and the neighboring town, Avalon), are convenient to both the beach and the “downtown” area, because it’s located on a rather narrow strip that runs between the Atlantic and the bay.

Stone Harbor’s downtown is a great little strip (if it’s as it was in 1999 or so)—your typical tourist shops are mixed in with Hoyt’s, a real old-fashioned 5 and dime; a decent movie theater; the Fudge Kitchen (ohmygoodness best fudge evar; also in Cape May); Green Cuisine, a quasi-health food, casual restaurant with great smoothies; several mini-golf places; and a few nicer restaurants; a small book store; an interesting consignment shop; etc. It was the first place I visited where my sister and I could walk to town, get pizza, see a movie, and walk back home alone. There's also a bird sanctuary and couple of public rec areas. One thing--you need to have a beach pass to use the (very clean and large) beach. Beautiful sunrises over the Atlantic, too. Safe, flat, small—life there was just so easy (can you tell I miss it?). Wherever you end up, enjoy!
posted by CiaoMela at 7:14 AM on March 8, 2007

We rented a house in Brigantine (within sight of AC to the south) and really enjoyed it. It's got a small town, non-touristy feel to it, but AC is right there if you want all the boardwalk/casino business.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 7:19 AM on March 8, 2007

Thirding LBI, mainly because I grew up there (in Ship Bottom) and miss it terribly. If you think you'd like to visit both ends of the island, another option is to stay in the middle, in Ship Bottom or Surf City.
posted by cabingirl at 7:40 AM on March 8, 2007

My family used to rent a house in Barnegat Light every summer. I think it was expensive even back then (the '70s) but I have nothing but the fondest memories of the place. My grandparents would rent it for the month and all the aunts and uncles and cousins would come for a week or a weekend or whatever, so it was a sort of rotating family reunion. Definitely do it if you can.
posted by bink at 7:42 AM on March 8, 2007

This is terrific, everyone. It's hard to mark any as best answer because the collection of reference points as a whole is really valuable. We'll definitely be looking harder at LBI possibilities. Any other votes for specific towns in that area (or beaches that are particularly good to be near) are welcome.

(and Geckwo, I'll be in touch!)

Once we pick a location, incidentally, my follow up question will be "Where are the don't-miss seafood places?"
posted by BT at 8:14 AM on March 8, 2007

I'm not a seafood fan, but most of the places ON the ocean or bay are usually pretty good. I believe NJ has a fairly large fishing industry, so as long as you stick to places that serve local fish, you can't go wrong.

My favorite non-seafood places in LBI:

Chicken or the Egg
This place has great breakfasts, and kids obviously love the cartoonish menus. Chicken is great. Vegan hot wings!

Uncle Will's Pancake House
Yummy pancakes. Eat breakfast wtih a big ceramic pig.

There's also a German restaurant on the RT 72 causeway to the island that is great, but I forget the name.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 9:20 AM on March 8, 2007

Get thee and thou family to Wildwood (bad music alert but you can turn it off). It's very family oriented. Cape May has nice Victorian buildings and Wildwood has lots of 50s style motels (the Wildwoods --actually three cities right in a row-- are about 10 miles north of Cape May).

We've been going there with our two kids for about 5 years. The beaches are great (I come from LA so I have high expectations) and very family oriented. The boardwalk is nice and the kids will love it.

For a few years we stayed in a motel but now rent a condo. There are many condos and houses around to rent and now's the time to be looking.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 11:00 AM on March 8, 2007

One comment about the Wildwoods: the water is about a quarter-mile from the boardwalk. (Check out google maps for the visual.) This may not be the best option with two small kids and the beach gear it entails. As an adult with no gear, persI have found the trek exhausting. Ocean City is very family oriented, with a boardwalk and amusements like Wildwood without catering to the teenage/young adult crowd. As you stated you are more into providing self-entertainment, LBI is for you. The beaches are just that: beaches. No boardwalk between you house and the beach full of places to spend your money.
posted by dreaming in stereo at 1:21 PM on March 8, 2007

As someone who (gasp) actually grew up in Wildwood, I can shed a little light on Cape May County....

Cape May is very nice, but very expensive, and not necessarily kid-friendly. Lots of antiques and beautiful Victorian homes that would be totally useless for 1 & 4 year olds.

I would definitely recommend any of the Wildwoods, but if you want to stay away from crowds, try Wildwood Crest. The beach is within walking distance of anywhere you might stay (the island is only about a mile wide at it's very widest), and the boardwalk is a five minute drive (or walk, depending on how far into the Crest you stay). Also, if you're still itching to sneak into Cape May, it's right over a 50-cent toll bridge from Wildwood Crest (not 10 miles away as previously mentioned).

Also erroneously (not-intentionally, though) mentioned here about the Wildwoods' beaches---it's not all that from boardwalk to water (or street to water) anymore. There has been considerable beach erosion in the last few years. Don't believe the Google-map hype!

Sort of off-topic, but @CiaoMela: It is not very hard to grow grass in shore towns. The reason they use stones in lieu of grass on their lawns in Stone Harbor is because it is Stone Harbor---kind of a theme there. If you take a look at some of the less kept-up homes, you'll see grass poking through those pretty stones. And, if you travel to any other shore town, you'll see plenty of green lawns.
posted by redbed at 10:13 PM on March 8, 2007

I grew up going to both LBI and Stone Harbor. When in Stone Harbor we'd do day trips to Cape May. I enjoy the more Southern points of the Jersey Shore. Personally I'd stay in Stone Harbor or Avalon and do night time trips to Ocean City or Wildwood if you need some boardwalk excitement.
I don't know if this makes or breaks it, but from Brooklyn you'll have a lot longer of a trip to Stone Harbor/Cape May/etc. than to LBI. This might make a huge difference on the Saturdays of your rental when you and everyone else make their way down the shore.
posted by ellebee at 10:35 AM on March 9, 2007

redbed, thanks for the heads-up. I'd actually noticed that there are some grassy lawns in Stone Harbor, but they all looked so impeccably manicured, I assumed the extra effort was necessary to have grass at all. Perhaps just one of those explanations one makes up as a child and sticks to, even without evidence...
posted by CiaoMela at 11:45 AM on March 9, 2007

Re: the street-to-water width of the beach: in Wildwood Crest, where we rent they have built wooden sidewalks that take you about 3/4 of the way to the ocean so you don't have to trudge with all your gear through the sand.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 6:04 AM on March 11, 2007

Returning months later to this thread -- by the time I was taking everyone's advice and looking at LBI towns as well, my parents had found a very reasonable house for rent near the beach in Cape May.

So we're trying that this year, and maybe next year look at some of the LBI towns for comparison.

Thanks all for a treasure trove of info.
posted by BT at 12:30 PM on June 1, 2007

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