The Wildwoods are three adjacent New Jersey beach towns, Wildwood, North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest, known for their wide white beaches — open to the public, free of charge — and devotion to simple summertime pleasures.
The centerpiece of the activity is the Wildwood boardwalk, more than two miles long and crowded with funnel cake stands, amusement park rides, arcade games, water parks, ice cream shops and souvenir stores.
Though just strolling the boardwalk, splashing in the water and building sand castles is entertainment enough, the Wildwoods offer a host of other things to do, from free concerts to a Doo Wop Museum and parasailing.
Below are itineraries geared to a variety of interests. Though all are centered on the beaches and boardwalk that make Wildwoods a vacation destination for more than 9 million people each year, any one would make a perfect day at the shore.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Wildwood nights regularly featured entertainment from the likes of Rosemary Clooney, Sam Cooke, Tony Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald. Wildwood's place in rock 'n' roll history was secured May 29, 1954, when Bill Haley first performed "Rock Around the Clock" at the HofBrau Hotel. The hotel is now gone, but the affection for rock 'n' roll — and 1950s-era architecture — remains.
Wake up at a 'Doo Wop; motel Wildwoods has 200 or so of these motels built in the 1950s and 1960s, and now preserved in all their brightly colored, neon-lit glory. Most are clustered in a strip along Ocean Avenue. (wildwoodsnj.com/wildwood-accommodations.cfm)
Have breakfast at The Doo Wop Diner Play your favorite '50s tunes on the authentic Wurlitzer jukebox while gawking at the memorabilia on the walls. Enjoy classic diner fare, including omelets and pancakes for breakfast. (4010 Boardwalk, Wildwood, 609-522-7880, doo-wopdiner.com)
Stroll the boardwalk New this year, a sound system on the boardwalk will periodically broadcast facts about the musical history of Wildwoods and play music of the '50s and '60s.
Lunch at The Marvis Diner Though built in 2007, this diner embraces the exuberant mid-20th-century architecture of the area and wins raves for its enormous portions. (4900 Pacific Ave., Wildwood, 609-522-0550)
Visit the Doo-Wop Experience Museum Opened in 2007, the museum has a bandshell for outdoor concerts and houses a collection of doo-wop era signs and memorabilia. There's no admission fee. (Ocean Avenue between Burk and Montgomery avenues, doowopusa.org)
Walk the Avenue of the Stars Starting at Rio Grande and Pacific avenues, view star plaques embedded in the sidewalk and noting major recording artists who have performed in the area.
Listen to the band Just about every night, the boardwalk hosts free live music and entertainment at Centennial Park in Wildwood Crest. For a listing, go to visitwildwoodcrest.com/events. Live performances can also be heard at many clubs and restaurants. Try La Piazza Cucina (4600 Pacific Ave., Wildwood, 609-522-8300), which serves Italian cuisine, has live entertainment Friday and Saturday night. During the week, the restaurant's owner, known as Joey M., isn't shy about singing classic Italian standards during dinnertime.
Curly fries, hot dogs, pizza and fudge all hold hallowed spots in Wildwoods culinary history, but finer food options are also plentiful.
Have breakfast in the sky Only in Wildwoods can you eat a white-tablecloth breakfast aboard a 156-foot-high Ferris wheel. Morey's Piers introduced Breakfast in the Sky in 2010, and is bringing it back this year. Each car on the Giant Wheel seats as many as four, who are given a choice of entrees that include freshly made Belgian waffles and omelets with lobster and shrimp, all served on fine china. Registration is required. (3501 Boardwalk, Wildwood, 609-846-1624, moreyspiers.com)
Relish a dog Choose from 29 hot dog toppings at Maui's Dog House. (806 New Jersey Ave., Wildwood, 609-846-0444)
Sample treats Enjoy a fresh-cut tradition offered since 1978 at Curley's Fries (Boardwalk at both 25th Street and Schellenger Ave.) Satisfy a craving for fudge, saltwater taffy and other treats at Laura's Fudge (Wildwood and Ocean avenues, Wildwood, 609-729-1555), or weigh in on the great Wildwoods pizza rivalry by comparing the slices at Mack's Pizza (3218 Boardwalk and 4200 Boardwalk) to those at Sam's Pizza (2600 Boardwalk).
Dine in style Treat yourself at Marie Nicole's, an upscale restaurant that frequently tops lists of best restaurants in the region. Dishes to try include seafood risotto and pork tenderloin with dried fig and cranberry couscous. (9510 Pacific Avenue, Wildwood Crest, 609-522-5425, marienicoles.com)
No family trip to Wildwoods is complete without spending time at the entertainment juggernaut known as Morey's Piers and Beachfront Waterparks, with more than 100 rides and attractions on three piers. Founded by brothers Bill and Will Morey in 1969, Morey's Piers keeps getting better. In 2010, a walk-through haunted attraction called "Ghost Ship" was added, and this year marks the debut of "it," a ride with a rotating center and 120-degree swinging motion.
Take a dip in the kiddie pool Stay at family-friendly Morey's accommodations and enjoy a quick swim at the hotel pool before heading out. Choices include the Pan American Hotel and Port Royal Hotel, both with ocean views, heated pools and kiddie pools; as well as the JollyRoger Hotel and Blue Palms Resort, which also have pools. (moreyspiers.com, click on "Resorts.").
Board the Sightseer Tram Cars The trams have been ferrying passengers up and down the boardwalk since 1949. The original five, built between 1949 and 1963, are still in use, and still run on environmentally friendly electric batteries. Eight trams in all carry about 500,000 passengers a year, warning boardwalk pedestrians as they have for decades: "Watch the tram car, please."
Strike a pose Take a family picture at the 20-foot-high, 80-foot-long brushed aluminum Wildwoods sign at Rio Grande and Boardwalk.
Ride, ride, ride Head to Morey's for an afternoon of rides and water attractions appropriate for all ages. You'll find plenty of places for lunch, from corn dogs at Mama's Kitchen to a sit-down meal at the Oasis Cafe on Morey's Surfside Pier.
Fast roller coasters, faster boats and the thrill of parasailing are all on tap for travelers who like to get their hearts pounding.
Roll with it, baby Conquer the three roller coasters at Morey's Piers — the Great Nor' Easter, The Sea Serpent and The Great White — as well as the most stomach-churning rides, the Maelstrom, the Inverter and AtmosFEAR. Then put on a bathing suit and head for the waterparks for fun on Shotgun Falls, Cliff Dive, Sidewinder Mat Slides and other watery adventures.
Speed ahead The Silver Bullet is powered by twin V-12 turbo-charged diesel engines and promises a thrilling 90-minute speedboat ride, as well as the opportunity to see marine and bird life. (Silver Bullet Tours, sailing from Wildwood Marina, corner of Rio Grande and Susquehana avenues, 609-522-6060, silverbullettours.com).
Take a wilder ride For a different kind of adventure on the water, reserve time to see animals in their natural habitate during a cruise with Sightseer Whale and Dolphin Cruises (4500 Park Blvd., Wildwood, 609-522-2919, bigbluesightseer.com).
Splashdown Head to Splash Zone Waterpark for heart-pounding water rides including Beast of the East, Free Falls and the Terminator. (3500 Boardwalk, Wildwood, 609-729-5600, splashzonewaterpark.com)
Hang in there Give parasailing a try with Hang Loose Parasail, which promises safe and dry takeoffs and landings, so participants don't even have to touch the water before heading for the clouds. Hang Loose also rents personal watercraft for those who prefer their thrills closer to the water. (1044 W. Rio Grande Blvd., Wildwood, 609-522-9453, hanglooseparasail.com)