My Jersey Shore
The real Jersey Shore is so much better than that TV show.
In kitschy-cool Wildwood, youll find one of the most popular boardwalks on the shore, plus Moreys Piers, a sprawling amusement park/water park with activities for thrill-seekers of all ages. (July 21, 2010)
The "Shore" I see on TV is a caricature, a fun-house mirror distortion, a stew of stereotypes and idiosyncrasies. The shore I know personally is an iconic American playground: beaches, boardwalks and old-school amusement parks. It's the clatter of horse hooves on the streets of a vintage seaside town, the roar of a wooden roller coaster and the sound of waves rolling onto a deserted stretch of sand.
Yes, if you are looking for overserved, fist-pumping goombahs, there are plenty of places where you can find them on the Jersey shore. Fortunately, there are many more places where you can avoid them completely while enjoying some of the finest oceanfront on the East Coast.
It's worth noting that just one of the eight original "Jersey Shore" cast members, Sammi "Sweetheart," actually is from New Jersey. The rest are what the locals call "Bennys," a derogatory nickname for the unfortunate byproduct of human endeavor that oozes south from Staten Island and thereabouts to take up temporary summer residence along New Jersey's 127 miles of shoreline.
"These are folks who are here on vacation," said Bob Hilton of the Jersey Shore Visitors & Convention Bureau. "Does their behavior represent the Jersey shore? Probably not."
No, these are people who, despite being minutes away from some of the most spectacular beaches in the country, are spending vast amounts of time playing with their hair and doing laundry.
That's their Jersey shore. Here's mine, condensed into a trial-size three-day weekend.
Day 1: The beach
All of New Jersey is not the shore, and the shore is not all of New Jersey. Let's stipulate to that fact as we drive out of Atlantic City toward Long Beach Island. The drive takes an hour, no more, north on the Garden State Parkway to Exit 63, then down Barnegat Road (New Jersey Highway 72 East) to the causeway that spans Manahawkin Bay and leads to the island.
LBI — the native shorthand — is just 18 miles long and only a quarter to half a mile wide in most areas. Its history as a vacation destination goes back to the 1870s, but before the causeway was opened in 1914, LBI was accessible only by boat or train. Even today, the island feels as though it belongs to another era. Other than a lone Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop, there are no chain stores and no chain hotels.
"The limited access keeps the transient crowd away," said Brian Sabarese, a year-round LBI resident and general manager/partner of the sparkling Daddy O hotel in Brant Beach.
After the causeway, take a right and roll south down Long Beach Boulevard. For a place with such narrow parameters, LBI has a wide assortment of individual communities. The names are colorful — Surf City, Loveladies, Spray Beach — and sometimes maddeningly redundant — Beach Haven, Beach Haven Crest, Beach Haven Gardens, Beach Haven Terrace, Haven Beach and, of course, North Beach Haven and South Beach Haven. But because the island is mainly one long street with a bay on one side and an ocean on the other, it's hard to get lost.
Unless you want to. Follow the main road south until it ends and you're at a national wildlife area, a hauntingly secluded spot occupied primarily by migrating birds and the occasional greenhead fly (warning: they bite). New Jersey may be the nation's most densely populated state, but it sure doesn't feel that way when you are standing here on the southern edge of LBI in Holgate.
Head back north and stroll around Beach Haven proper, which is more or less the center of activity on LBI. Parking generally is free and not hard to find, even in high season. Nearly every east-west street leads to a public beach here. You'll need a beach-pass badge, but the fees are reasonable, and some hotels include badges with rooms. Or head to the island's northern tip, home to a historic lighthouse and a nautical museum, where you can learn why the coast of New Jersey is also a wreck diver's dream.
Have a swim and a seafood dinner. Get a good night's sleep and shake the sand out of your walking shoes. Next stop is another essential slice of Jersey-ness.
Day 2: The boardwalk
LBI hasn't had a boardwalk since 1944. A hurricane destroyed the structure, which was never replaced. So we move south down the Garden State Parkway to Exit 4 and Wildwood, one of the most popular boardwalks on the shore.
The drive is about 90 minutes, or roughly the time it takes to listen to Bruce Springsteen's "The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle" twice. I know, I know, Springsteen is associated with Asbury Park and its boardwalk, but as I said earlier, this is my Jersey shore.
Like LBI, Wildwood is a throwback. It grew into a resort destination in the 1950s, when postwar fun-seekers jumped in their cars and flocked to its beaches and nightlife. This is where Bill Haley and His Comets rocked around the clock and where Chubby Checker twisted. After those glory days faded, so did some of Wildwood's shine. Gradually, many of the hotels and restaurants were restored, however, and the result is a kitschy coolness, with plenty of retro architecture that reflects the town's doo-wop heritage.