Everything you need to know to have a successful trip to the Jersey Shore
Best time to visit: Regulars will tell you right after Labor Day, and with good reason: Avoid the rush of vacationers but still sneak in while the weather is hot.
Worst time to visit: Out-of-towners begin booking their stays during July through August months in advance, so unless you love dealing with crowds, avoid.
Beach rules: Atlantic City and Wildwood beaches are free, but Cape May requires beach tags ($6 daily; $28 seasonal). Our advice is to not try and sneak alcohol on any of the beaches, as it is not permitted.
When/where to go if you're …
A young family: Family Fun Arcade (732 Boardwalk, Cape May) has retro games the whole family can enjoy. On Tuesday nights in Wildwood, it's free movie night at dusk (3501 Pacific Ave.) — just remember to bring a blanket.
In need of personal space: Higbee Beach in Cape May. "It's really big and has a lot of dunes," says Dona Carini, representative of the Chamber of Commerce of Great Cape May.
People watching: Find one of the many benches (and some popcorn) anywhere on Wildwood's busy boardwalk and prepare to see all walks of life.
Into beach sports: In 2012, Atlantic City built Boardwalk Beach Volleyball Courts (700 Boardwalk) free to the public. On July 9-10, Morey's Piers in Wildwood hosts the Beach Sports Weekend — featuring beach lacrosse, field hockey and foot golf — at the Mariner's Landing Pier.
Seeing marine life: Visit the Atlantic City Aquarium (800 N. New Hampshire Ave., acaquarium.com).
Fishing: All three beach towns offer fishing boat rentals. Have a big group? The Cape May Lady holds up to 80 passengers and sails three times a day. $35-$45. Docked at the South Jersey Marina (capemaylady.com). Jersey requires anyone older than 16 to have a valid license to fish the state's fresh waters (state.nj.us). The shore offers plenty of crabbing — try the Grassy Sound Marina (grassysoundmarina.com) in Wildwood.
Surfing: During the summer, the throngs at Cape May and Wildwood can crowd out surfers. Elaine Zamansky, a spokeswoman for Atlantic City Tourism District, recommends Downtown Beach at Raleigh Avenue and Crystal Beach at New Hampshire Avenue.
Into craft brewing: 7 Mile Brewing, slated to open July 4, aims "to make beer that can accommodate anybody's taste buds," says co-founder Chris Collett (3156 Route 9 South, Rio Grande, 7milebrew.com). Atlantic City's Tun Tavern (2 Convention Blvd., tuntavern.com) has its own beers on tap, along with recommended food pairings.
Foodies: No surprise a tourist destination like Atlantic City has fantastic restaurants. A longtime favorite of beach-goers in the know, Chef Vola's (111 S. Albion Place, 609-345-2022) has big helpings of classic Italian dishes; just don't forget to make reservation first. If you're in Cape May, try the celebrated Washington Inn (801 Washington St., Cape May, washingtoninn.com).
Doing as the locals do: Get a sub from the famous White House Sub Shop (2301 Arctic Ave., Atlantic City, whitehousesubshop.net). Beach-town lifers know bicycles are the best way to get around, especially on boardwalks. Try Zippy's Bikes (3900 Pacific Ave., Wildwood, zippysbikes.com) or B&K Bike Rental (1133 Boardwalk, Atlantic City, 609-344-8008).
Looking for fresh, local seafood to cook where you're staying: Dock Street Seafood (4408 Park Blvd., Wildwood, 609-522-3400) has the lobster, swordfish and other catches you're looking for.
Into nightlife: The new nightclub WAV (1 Atlantic Ocean, wavac.com) inside the Playground in Atlantic City is drawing young crowds, according to Zamansky. In Wildwood, The Deck at Holly Beach (3401 Pacific Ave., deckathollybeach.com) keeps the party going until 3 a.m. every night.
Looking to go upscale: With its boutiques, spa care and dining options, the Borgata Hotel and Casino (1 Borgata Way, theborgata.com) is Atlantic City's most upscale property, Zamansky says.
In need of a rainy-day diversion: The lone movie theater in Atlantic City is an IMAX Theatre inside the Tropicana (2831 Boardwalk, tropicana.net). In Wildwood, Island Bowl (34010 New Jersey Ave., islandbowling.com) offers 32 lanes of 10-pin action.
New this year
Premier Nightclub, 1 Borgata Way, Atlantic City, 609-317-7249, premierborgata.com. Borgata joins the electronic dance music fray with its new $14 million attraction and A-list EDM-ers like Steve Aoki, Diplo and Max Vengeli. Operating Friday-Monday, the club — designed by Josh Held, the man behind TAO Las Vegas — will have VIP table service, party booths and a custom 25-foot-diameter chandelier.
Wildwood: The Starlux Mini Golf Course, 4800 Ocean Ave., Wildwood, 609-729-3700, starluxminigolf.com. The Starlux Mini Golf Course — a new, dog-friendly course scheduled to open Memorial Day weekend — has two levels and 27 holes set up for family fun. After the round, cool off with some ice cream at the concession stand.
Cape May: Tree to Tree Adventure Park, 707 Route 9 North, Cape May Court House, 609-388-8289, treetotreecapemay.com. This new aerial adventure course offers zip-lines, Tarzan swings, climbing walls and other activities that can be enjoyed by visitors of most ages. Start out on the beginner course and work your way toward the more challenging obstacles.
Atlantic City Airshow: Thunder over the Boardwalk: This annual free show draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to watch eye-popping aerial demonstrations. The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team and the Geico Skytypers are all scheduled to take to the sky. Aug. 17. 2300 Boardwalk. atlanticcityairshow.com
Atlantic City Food Truck Festival: This inaugural event is not only a festival of good eats, but a competition, too. Attendees will have the opportunity to try dishes from local trucks like Nick's Roast Beef, Baby Blues BBQ, Bonjour Creperie and more, and then cast their vote to help crown the first champion truck. June 18-19. Brighton Park. Free. acfoodtruckfest.com
Cape May Music Festival: Classical, chamber, jazz and other musicians perform around town. May 29-June 16. Prices and locations vary depending on event. capemaymac.org
The Race of Gentlemen: Vintage American cars packing plenty of muscle will take to the Wildwood beach for two days of racing and celebrating sharp rides. Known as "TROG" to locals, the event will have live music, beer and food vendors and a kids area. June 4-5. Entrance to the beach at Schellenger Avenue. $20-$50. theraceofgentlemen.com
Wildwood Beer Fest: Returning for its second year, this two-day gathering of local and regional breweries (including Tuckahoe Brewing, Double Nickel Brewing, Evolution Craft Brewing and more) should appeal to novices and enthusiasts alike. Food vendors will be on hand and the local cover act Stellar Mojo will perform. June 10-11. Fox Park, Wildwood. $43.60. wildwoodbeerfest.com