You know the feeling -- the lemming-like fervor that propels you as you set out for a vacation at Cape May, Stone Harbor or some other spot along the Jersey shore.
You can't wait to feel the sand, to dive into the surf, to start getting some return for the hundreds of dollars you're shelling out for a beachfront condo.
So you set your baseball cap a little lower and press a little harder on the gas pedal. Stop for a meal? No chance. Drinks? Only if the van's air-conditioning breaks down.
But there is another way.
See those highway exit signs flashing by, touting towns such as Salem and Millville? Why not take a few hours to explore these overlooked, under-appreciated spots, and others in the pie-slice of New Jersey between the Delaware and Maurice rivers and U.S. 40?
The towns, with rich histories, are worth a look. You'll hear echoes of their beginnings in the maritime trade -- an era when the Delaware Bay was rich with shad, sturgeon and oysters. You might even want to pause at a couple places with intriguing names -- Bivalve and Shellpile -- just to tell friends you've been to such a place.
What do you have to lose? A bit of time until that first sunburn?
Here's what you could be missing:
The flavor of this old industrial center is well-preserved on the Oak Diner's menu, which features sandwiches such as the DuPonter (tuna salad), the Anchor Hocking (boiled ham and cheese) and the Mannington Mills (roast beef and Swiss cheese).
But just across East Broadway is an imposing reminder of earlier times: an oak tree that was standing when Salem was founded in 1675. The tree, estimated to be more than four centuries old, still guards the Friends Burial Ground. Here you'll find some of the first families of Salem: the Actons, Wistars and Thompsons, in graves with unpretentious headstones.
Locals still mourn the companies, including Heinz, that have left Salem or cut back local operations, drawing some of the lifeblood from the town. Although the business district appears frayed, some homeowners have united to restore the stately brick buildings along Market Street.
Here, you might browse in Lee Link's antiques shop, and listen as she recounts the tales behind the many samplers decorating her walls.
(A warning: If you happen to step into Ms. Link's garden, be sure to close the gate, for the safety of the turtles she keeps there.)
Or you might buy some crafts -- and spend the night -- a few doors down, at the Richard Woodnutt House, whose rooms are decorated with hand-painted trays and furniture.
The 1721 Alexander Grant house at 78 Market St. has been restored and is open for tours, though there are few weekend hours. The house doubles as the headquarters for the local historical society.
Many of the homes and gardens -- and other Salem landmarks -- are open for events during the year. In August, for example, Market Street Day offers crafts, music and an antique car show. Another annual highlight is the Yuletide tour in December.
This quaint town on Cohansey Creek, less than half an hour's drive from Salem, opens along a wide, tree-shaded street lined with 18th- and 19th-century homes. Many of them hark back to the days when Greenwich was a port of entry for goods from England and the Colonies -- a role that contributed to its bit of revolutionary fame.
In 1774 -- a year after the Boston Tea Party -- about 40 local residents set out to seize an East India Tea Co. shipment that had been dropped off in the town by a British ship. Disguised as Indians, the men took the tea chests from a house where they had been stored, brought them to a nearby field and burned them. The tea burning is memorialized by a small park and monument on one end of town.
Gibbon House, whose central rooms date back to 1730, is another historic attraction along Ye Greate Street. Built by Nicholas Gibbon, a merchant, the house has been partially restored and is open for tours.
The house also is the site for many of Greenwich's special events, including Farm Day, which features traditional games and crafts. Christmas tours have included a home said to be haunted by the ghost of a pirate, and another that sheltered slaves on the Underground Railroad. Near the center of town is a small maritime museum, filled with items from the town's heyday as a port.
While you're in town -- or even before, as you ask directions -- you're likely to be drawn into a debate over the town's name. Most longtime residents pronounce it green-witch, though you'll probably hear gren-itch, and maybe even gren-witch.
You can't end that debate, but there's another question that is much more pleasant to stew over. Local folks, when hungry, seem to split evenly between two restaurants on the Cohansey. Some favor the Bait Box; others swear by Ship John.
What better way to spend a day than to immerse yourself in the debate, over clam pie or some other seafood dish, while watching the boats along the river.
Millville, about a half-hour's drive farther east, gained much of its 19th-century prosperity -- and its lasting prominence -- by taking advantage of the area's large deposits of fine silica sand. Dozens of glass factories dotted southern New Jersey, primarily making bottles and window glass.
As Carl Sandburg wrote: "Down in southern New Jersey they make glass. By day and by night, the fires burn on in Millville and bid the sand let in the light."
Much of the glass industry has moved on. But Wheaton Village, a working museum, lives on.
In the village's workshops, you can see glass being blown and shaped, much as it was a century ago. In one demonstration at the foot of a large furnace, a blob of molten glass is transformed into a gracefully curved bowl. Next door, thin strands of glass are melted and rolled to form a colorful marble.
Also on the grounds is the Museum of American Glass, an impressive collection of glass in every size and shape imaginable. You'll find glass canes and paperweights, carnival glass and Tiffany lamps, and bottles in the shape of Santa Claus, Buddha and Barney Google.
The museum also provides a quick history of the industry, highlighting breakthroughs in the manufacturing process, as well as local companies, past and present, such as Winslow, Whitney and T. C. Wheaton.
The village is a perfect spot for a stroll -- or for letting the kids release some pent-up energy from a long car ride. It offers wide-open areas amid tall pines -- and sandy soil, of course. There's even a half-scale train for the kids. In December, the shops are filled with holiday displays, including dolls and Christmas trees.
If you were confused trying to find the proper pronunciation of Greenwich, skip this town. Residents pronounce the name Morristown, which must be perplexing to the folks who live in the upstate city of Morristown.
The town, about a 15-minute drive to the south, is only a few square blocks, just enough for a short walk. Most blocks are loaded with Victorian homes -- when residents say they live in a new house, they mean one that is at least a decade old.
Take some time to visit the antiques shops. Then you might find a spot on one of the benches in a small park along the Maurice River, and watch anglers go after stripers, perch and catfish.
Events include a crafts show (Nov. 19), antiques show (Dec. 2-3) and Yuletide supper (Dec. 16).
The best entry into this south slice of New Jersey is to head over the Delaware Memorial Bridge and then follow Route 49, which forms the backbone of the region.
But most of your travel should be on the back roads, following the thin, black lines on your map. They'll take you through marshes, past farm stands and into the small towns.
* Bridgeton. A historic district covers more than 2,000 homes and commercial buildings. Other attractions are Bridgeton's large city park, which includes a zoo and the many events held throughout the year.
* Fort Mott State Park. It was designed to guard the Delaware River and inland cities after the Civil War, but the big guns never saw any action. Today, the fortifications are still plain, and a small visitors' center describes the area. Picnic grounds and a playground also are available.
* Finn's Point National Cemetery, where soldiers from the War of 1812 and the Civil War are buried.
For more information call:
* New Jersey division of travel and tourism, (800) 537-7397.
* Delaware Region tourism council, (609) 384-6930.
* Southern Shore tourism council, (609) 399-6111.
* Wheaton Village, (609) 825-6800.