The Jersey Shore
The “Jersey Shore” has different definitions depending on who you ask in the tri-state area. The small state of New Jersey is jam packed with over forty beach destinations that have allegiance from locals and out of state vacationers.
Starting north towards Long Branch and working down the 130 miles of NJ coast line are favorites like Asbury Park, Point Pleasant, Seaside Heights, Long Beach, Margate, Atlantic City, Ocean City, Sea Isle, Wildwood, Cape May, and many other in between. Everyone has their go to spot. For us, we frequent Brigantine, Ocean City, and North Wildwood where we have family. Often times, rentals at the shore require an entire week commitment during the summer time so we go where flexibility allows for a weekend getaway.
We often head down on a Friday either after work or wait until after dinner time depending on how bad the traffic looks. These roads do not accommodate an entire tri-state area migrating in the same couple hour window!
For this weekend trip, we headed to North Wildwood Friday night, making decent time leaving after work by taking back roads to avoid the Atlantic City Expressway.
On our drive down, we pulled off the Garden State Parkway for the famous Mack & Manco Pizza. Opening in 1956 at the Ocean City Boardwalk, the chain has expanded all down the South Jersey coast line. A divorce of sorts in 2011 caused a divide resulting in Manco & Manco at the Ocean City area and Mack’s Pizza at the Wildwoods.
While both still create the same iconic pizza- pies with a thin crust, swirl of tomato sauce, and a generous layer of shredded cheese- the Wildwood branch is just not the same ]. We recently found a location at Somers Point that is only a ten minute drive from the Parkway exit. There is never a wait and it avoids the stress of finding parking around the Ocean City boardwalk- Win all around! It has become a routine stop on our drives down the shore. Kevin and I had no problem tackling the entire pie before completing the drive to Wildwood.
Another thirty minutes in the car and we were crossing the bridge to the Wildwoods (woah woah woah woah). Eager to get onto the boardwalk, we unpacked the car and walked a few blocks to reach the beach. The boardwalk was fully illuminated as the sun was disappearing from the sky.
Wildwood has one of the longest boardwalk of the Jersey Shore with three piers of rides, food, and games in a two mile stretch. While we rarely go on rides or attempt the games, we do prioritize the food. Dessert options are endless but there is nothing like a classic Kohr Bros Original Frozen Custard– get a single or combo flavor (“twist”) and douse in rainbow or chocolate jimmies (sprinkles) for the perfect summer treat.
After the four mile loop of the boardwalk, complete with dodging the Tramcar and excellent people watching, we made it back to view of the fireworks that go on every Friday of the summer season. Perfect way to end the night!
An early rise to beat the heat, we commence our favorite tradition of running on the boardwalk and exercise on the beach. I know this is not everyone’s ideal morning but if running is not your thing, there are always plenty of people walking, biking, or just sitting on the boardwalk relaxing with a cup of coffee each morning.
While the boardwalk itself is full of people’s morning routine, the piers are empty and I love taking a break from running by walking through the static attractions. A place that is so mobbed with constant inertia all night just hours before is almost eerie in the mornings.
We wanted a healthy breakfast but we had to work for it. Most breakfast options are pastries, pancake houses, or diners- all are great but we didn’t want to start the morning feeling heavy laying on the hot beach.
A Google search found Fresh! On Fifth several blocks away and while we would have preferred something in walking distance, such a place did not exist. After a quick car ride, we were overwhelmed with options- smoothies, protein shakes, bowls, wraps, salads, and other healthy treats. We both ordered an original acai bowl and added bananas, peanut butter, and strawberries on top of the granola. Kevin additionally ordered an iced coffee of which they combined with milk in a blender for a creamy consistency- a new twist!
Across the street from our place is an Italian bakery, Potitos, that constantly tempts us with their various pastries, including oversized freshly filled cannoli. Kevin snuck over for a coffee and return with two cannoli- a late night snack for later!
We packed our beach gear and headed for the sand. Wildwood has the largest beach on the Jersey Shore coast but more importantly is the only free beaches (no beach tags needed!). It is notorious for the distance it takes to get from the start of the sand to the water (500 yards wide at points), which can get quite challenging when the sand is hot from absorbing the sun’s rays.
After several hours of laying on beach towels, swimming in the ocean, lounging on beach chairs and huddling under our small beach umbrella, we headed back to start the de-sanding process.
While there are many dining options in the Wildwoods, our favorite things to do is travel twenty minutes to Cape May. Cape May is the last beach town on the Jersey Shore line and is known for the quaint, peaceful atmosphere. In the past, we have enjoyed bike riding around the area, visiting the wineries (such as Willow Creek), shopping the downtown mall full of stores and treats, and even watching a NASA Wallops Flight Facility rocket launch from Cape May Point. Cape May is also home to wonderful restaurants of which we love to take advantage of when visiting. Every time we visit, we always make time to dine at Panico’s Bistro.
Panico’s Bistro is located in a converted church where a large brick oven is featured in the center of the restaurant. This spot is one of our favorites for the creative daily specials, BYOB (bring your own bottle) policy, and the consistency of delicious food. Since they do not accept reservations, we get there at 5PM open to ensure a seat. One year we went with friends as a party of six and waited almost two hours to get seated! But not to worry, Panico ’s has a great downstairs waiting area where they provided us with wine glasses and a bottle opener so we had a great time waiting for our meal, which we all agreed was worth the wait.
Read the full dining review of Panico’s here!
We always look forward to this meal when we go down the shore and it never fails us as an incredible treat. The menu is always innovative and the service is wonderful. Getting there at restaurant open always guarantees a table. And if you have to wait, relaxing in their bar area to pass the time is not a bad option either. We also agree that the meal is reasonably priced and the BYOB option certainly helps that as well. We cannot recommend Panico’s enough to everyone!
With some time to spare before bedtime, we grabbed a blanket and walked to the beach at dusk. Many people were still there camped out from this morning while a squad of metal detectors came through to see what tourists’ treasures were left behind. And while there is still quite a bit of light coming from the piers once the sun goes down, there is still an opportunity to see far more stars spread across the sky than at home.
I have to admit we repeated the same morning ritual as Saturday. Another morning for a boardwalk run and a tour of the empty piers.
We were so happy with our find yesterday so we returned to Fresh! On Fifth for smoothies- both were gone too fast!
Since we were leaving for home today, we opted to stay at the condo pool instead of the beach.
Kevin found a lunch spot fifteen minutes away for fresh seafood and I could not find a good argument to dispute. H&H Seafood is known for their dockside dining of fresh seafood and all-you-can-eat crabs.
A chalkboard menu that is updated with the catches of the day displays the options for patrons. We kept it very simple and each ordered half a dozen of blue claw crabs, medium size and caught locally. Kevin added a healthy layer of Old Bay seasoning to his crabs as well.
After a few minutes of waiting, our freshly steamed crabs were brought out to our table on a school kitchen lunch tray. Accompanying the tray were mallots to open the crabs and a bin for the shell.
We sat in silence as we worked on getting our money’s worth of delicious crab meat. Something about working for your food, it appeals to me! I finished my six crabs about two crabs ahead of Kevin (I have lots of practice opening crabs!) and when we were all done, we looked up and gave a big sigh. Dirty hands and parched mouths, we cleaned ourselves up before filling up the waters before our drive back into Wildwood.
While we planned on staying a little longer, we decided to get on the road to beat traffic, grabbing one last cannoli before we left.
We made one final pit stop at Manco and Manco before making our way home. We got a pie to eat and a pie to go. My favorite way to enjoy this pizza at home is to order it half baked. This way, the pie can finish baking it at home and it tastes freshly made instead of reheated.
New Jersey is certainly the punchline for its share of jokes (Great Movie Ride in Disney, Hamilton the Musical, to name a few). And the reality TV show, the Jersey Shore, did not help the image of the “real” Jersey Shore. But there is something special about this ritual so many people in the area enjoy. A vacation tradition or a quick day getaway, the Jersey Shore offers something for everyone. Want to be more active? Rent a boat for water activities, parasail, go fishing or even crabbing. Want fun for kids? There are several mini golf locations both on and off the boardwalk, water parks, and tons of ice cream… not to mention three piers full of rides, endless hours of sand castle building, jumping over the waves, or riding a boogie board. Want to relax? Then grab a chair and sit on the beach until your heart’s content. My favorite time to sit on the beach is after 3PM when many people on the beach are leaving and the sun’s mid day heat is dwindling.
People may “hate on” Jersey but on the contrary, it has a lot to offer if you look for it. While in our travels we often lament, dreaming about living other places, the proximity we have to the Jersey Shore brings us back to remembering that this isn’t so bad to have a built in vacation in our backyard.
|Friday||Evening||Drive to North Wildwood||Manco & Manco (Somers Point)|
|Night||Boardwalk / Fireworks||Kohr Bros Ice Cream|
|Saturday||Morning||Run on the boardwalk||Fresh! On Fifth|
|Evening||Cape May||Panico’s Bistro|
|Sunday||Morning||Run on the boardwalk||Fresh! On Fifth|
|Evening||Drive Home||Manco & Manco (Somers Point)|