Jersey Shore

7 things to do in Asbury Park without beach tag

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 6/14/16

Asbury Park, which frequently has made news for robberies, murder and more, has had a bad rap with summer tourists over the years.

However, on a reinvented side of the tracks in the city, streets are buzzing with niche bars, cutting-edge restaurants and cool activities that can be found just waiting for visitors — all without the purchase of a beach tag.

Asbury Park is much more than a city with crime or a city with a beach. Check out our roundup below to find out what you can do in one of the closest shore towns to Central Jersey, all without ever changing into your swimsuit.

~Gannett file photo

~Gannett file photo

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What Atlantic City has in store for summer

Written for MyCentralJersey.com and DailyRecord.com

For the beach rats and travel junkies of New Jersey, the premature warm weather last month served as a pleasant reminder of what’s to come — long summer days hanging on the Jersey Shore.

Atlantic City, which has sought to expand its reputation as a gambling destination into one that has much more to offer than slot machines, is also revving up for the busy season with renovations and new development that are slotted to be ready by summer.

“Atlantic City is the only city in the Northeast that offers all of the seashore amenities as well as gambling,” said Elaine Shapiro Zamansky, manager of media relations for the Atlantic City Tourism District.

This year, the city anticipates about 25 million visitors, which is on par with recent visitor numbers throughout the last few years.

This year, the city anticipates about 25 million visitors, which is on par with recent visitor numbers throughout the last few years. (Photo: Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo)

This year, the city anticipates about 25 million visitors, which is on par with recent visitor numbers throughout the last few years.
(Photo: Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo)

Tropicana Casino and Resort will be bringing in a new nightlife venue, Kiss Kiss a Go Go, in which Ivan Kane will take patrons on a trip down the rabbit hole to the neon-fueled nights of Bangkok, to Atlantic City.

The Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa will also be adding a new nightclub, Premiere Nightclub, which will be an 18,000-square-foot venue designed by Josh Held, one of the top club designers in the United States who also stands behind Marquee NYC, TAO Las Vegas and Voyeur Los Angeles.

The modern yet elaborate nightclub will feature tiered booths, two 35-foot-long bars, a mezzanine area and a 25-foot-diameter chandelier with a programmable light inside the $14 million addition.

Plus, the WAV nightclub is coming to the Playground, which will be a 20,000-square-foot space that includes a main stage, mezzanine level, outdoor terrace, four bars, 8,000 square feet of LED screens and a 200,000-watt sound system. It will be the only nightclub in the United States that sits directly over the Atlantic Ocean.

Tropicana Casino and Resort will be bringing in a new nightlife venue, Kiss Kiss a Go Go, which will take Ivan Kane’s burlesque style, accompanied by sequined dancers, to Atlantic City. (Photo: ~File photo)

Tropicana Casino and Resort will be bringing in a new nightlife venue, Kiss Kiss a Go Go, which will take Ivan Kane’s burlesque style, accompanied by sequined dancers, to Atlantic City. (Photo: ~File photo)

If visitors are looking for a more laid-back bar atmosphere, they will be able to head to Bally’s Boardwalk Saloon, an indoor and outdoor bar that will anchor the north end of the boardwalk entrance of the Wild Wild West casino that will also house Guy Fieri’s BBQ Joint and the AC Snack Shack.

When it comes to dining, Dock’s Oyster House, one of the city’s oldest businesses that dates to 1897, will double its original capacity with two additional dining areas on the second floor as well as a new kitchen.

“While the casino market has contracted, the attractions, nightlife and entertainment options have expanded, offering more for families and all ages,” said Zamansky.

Monika Bartnik, a Sayreville native, visits Atlantic City about three times a year because she enjoys the convenience of not having to wait outside in the cold for entertainment during the winter, as well as club hours that venture after 2 a.m. and the fact that it is one of the few destinations in New Jersey that allows her to have a fun, affordable night without having to leave her hotel.

“Atlantic City is a great party destination for when I choose to go with a large, diverse group of people,” she said. “There’s something for the gamblers of my group, the ones who like to go to the bars and those that like to dance the night away.”

Dock’s Oyster House, one of the city’s oldest businesses which dates back to 1897, will double its original capacity with two additional dining areas on the second floor as well as a new kitchen. (Photo: ~File photo)

Dock’s Oyster House, one of the city’s oldest businesses which dates back to 1897, will double its original capacity with two additional dining areas on the second floor as well as a new kitchen. (Photo: ~File photo)

Hike through history up N.J.’s lighthouses

From our cozy nests of chairs and towels on Jersey Shore beaches, we sometimes look past N.J.’s 11 historical lighthouses, which have watched over the coast for more than 100 years.

However, they’re much more than an outdated presence or a tourist attraction .

“They are one of the most visible elements of a very important heritage in New Jersey — its maritime history,” said Michael Zuckerman, director of Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities in Cape May (MAC), which manages the Cape May Lighthouse, built in 1859.

Beginning as American lookouts for British troops, N.J.’s lighthouses have been protecting the 144 miles of the Jersey coastline for generations. They served the state’s fishing industry, were part of the defense line in World War II, and were an intergral part of New Jersey’s shipping and commerce sectors.

“The maritime history of the U.S. is so tied to its commerce and growth as an international power and none of that would have happened without lighthouses,” said Mark Stewart, secretary of the Executive Board of Twin Lights Lighthouse, built in 1828.

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Besides learning about American history, New Jerseyans also hike lighthouse steps to get a stellar view of the Jersey Shore.

Jean Muchanic, executive director of the Absecon Lighthouse, built in 1857, said that comments in the Absecon Lighthouse guestbook are often, “amazing,” “fantastic,” and “had no idea how beautiful this would be.”

From the top of the Absecon Lighthouse’s 228 steps, there is a 360-degree view of Atlantic City. It is also the state’s tallest lighthouse and the third-tallest in the country.

At the summit of the 199 steps of the Cape May Lighthouse, visitors can see the Atlantic Ocean, Delaware Bay, Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal and up to the Wildwoods. Plus, Stewart said that “there is different view from every angle, which tells the stories of beach erosion, World War II and Cape May Point.”

The Twin Lights Lighthouse is one of the highest points of the Eastern seaboard at 200-feet above sea level, granting it views of New York City, the Atlantic Ocean and surrounding beaches.

About 2 million artifacts will be brought into the Twin Lights Lighthouse museum tentatively by the end of the summer.  (Courtesy of Twin Lights Historical Society)

About 2 million artifacts will be brought into the Twin Lights Lighthouse museum tentatively by the end of the summer. (Courtesy of Twin Lights Historical Society)

An influx of visitors

The interest in visiting lighthouses is a hobby that continues to grow, especially through television shows such as “Boardwalk Empire” and the annual lighthouse challenge.

Stewart said that since Twin Lights Lighthouse is free, visitors have continued to climb its stairs, particularly for the great view. But he said the board sees these visits as opportunities to educate visitors and help them make modern connections. About 80,000 to 90,000 people visit the lighthouse every year.

“People go up and they look at the boats coming into New York, realizing it’s where the pledge was said for the first time and they find these connections that they didn’t know before,” he said.

Although Twin Lights Lighthouse is free to climb, there are donation boxes, which Stewart said are “filled every day.” He said, “That’s how overwhelming the amount of stuff we have is and the quality of the displays.”

Since casinos Revel and Showboat have closed, Absecon Lighthouse has faced some challenges since they are now four blocks, rather than two blocks, to the closest casino, lessening the pedestrian traffic. About 25,000 to 29,000 people have visited the lighthouse annually for the last three years.

But Muchanic isn’t worried. “It’s just something that fascinates people and they do find them to be beautiful and be beacons of hope,” she said. “What’s neat is that there are some kids who are 3-, 4- or 5-years-old and are telling their parents that they want to see a lighthouse.”

The Cape May Lighthouse is MAC’S most popular attraction and one of the most visited historic sites in the state with 87,000 climbers in 2014 and just as many visiting the site at Cape May Point State Park.

Zuckerman said, “Some people view the Cape May Lighthouse as a spiritual experience since there is this notion that this structure was there to save lives. This tall tower of this beaming light has helped thousands.”

Cape May Lighthouse had a $2 million 15-year restoration.  (Courtesy of Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts in Cape May)

Cape May Lighthouse had a $2 million 15-year restoration. (Courtesy of Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts in Cape May)

Restoration and preservation

The preservation of lighthouses has been supported by substantial efforts of local boards and historical societies.

Cape May Lighthouse had a $2 million 15-year restoration to repaint the lighthouse, restore the windows and doors, the oil house, lantern roof and windows, interior walls and staircase, grounds and add safety improvements.

A 1999 multi-million dollar restoration of the Absecon Lighthouse included a replica of the Lightkeeper’s dwelling, an educational museum, Fresnel Lens exhibit in the original Oil House and expansive grounds.

About 2 million artifacts will be brought into the Twin Lights Lighthouse museum tentatively by the end of the summer, giving it the opportunity to constantly rotate exhibits. This way, visitors could be incentivized to return to the lighthouse just months later since new exhibits will constantly be on display.

With a complete enhancement of Twin Lights Lighthouse’s museum, Stewart said he hopes visitor numbers will be bumped up by about 30 percent.

“We see this as a way of helping the community,” Stewart said. “We are very tied in to the Highlands part of the Jersey Shore that got hit by Hurricane Sandy and the more people that spend in the local economy with us, the more we can give back.”

The Absecon Lighthouse is the state’s tallest lighthouse and the third-tallest in the country. (Photo: ~File photo)

The Absecon Lighthouse is the state’s tallest lighthouse and the third-tallest in the country.
(Photo: ~File photo)

N.J.’S LIGHTHOUSES

Absecon Lighthouse is at 31 S Rhode Island Ave. in Atlantic City and is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and until 8 p.m. on Thursdays during July and August. Admission ranges from $3 to $7. Visitabseconlighthouse.org or call 609-449-1360 for more information.

Cape May Lighthouse is at 215 Lighthouse Ave. in Cape May Point and is open everyday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for children 3-12. Visit capemaymac.org/attractions/capemaylighthouse.html or call 609-884-5404for more information.

Twin Lights Lighthouse is at Lighthouse Rd. in the Highlands and is closed Monday and Tuesday and open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free. Visit twinlightslighthouse.com or call 732-872-1814 for more information.

THE STATE’S OTHER LIGHTHOUSES

  • Barnegat Lighthouse
  • Sandy Hook Lighthouse
  • Sea Girt Lighthouse
  • Tucker’s Island Light
  • Hereford Inlet Lighthouse
  • East Point Lighthouse
  • Finn’s Point Rear Range Light
  • Tinicum Rear Range Lighthouse

Take mom to nation’s oldest seaside resort

The Jersey Shore gets a bad rap.

Whether it’s an Ocean Avenue full of beach rats, Seaside Heights full of rowdy teenagers or supposed dirty beaches, many have something bad to say about the famous coastline ruling the East Coast.

However, when we think of some of the biggest town names of the Shore — Wildwood, Belmar, Atlantic City — one place that tends to escape the list is Cape May.

For the same reasons that Cape May is set apart from the “typical” Shore town, it’s also an ideal Shore spot to bring mom as Mother’s Day creeps up on us this weekend and spring is in full bloom.

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Walk Victorians that line streets

Unbeknownst to most weekend beachgoers, the entirety of Cape May is designated as a National Historic Landmark because of the concentration of Victorian buildings in the three-square-mile city. Instead of being roped off from tourists with entrance fees tacked on, people live in these 600-or-so homes and they make it count.

You can live in these homes for a brief time, too — take advantage of more than 30 antiquated bed-and-breakfasts in the Victorian district that ooze regality and charm. The historic bed-and-breakfasts often offer antique furnishings, gourmet breakfasts, afternoon tea and period features, bringing a stay not equated with most other lodgings on the Jersey Shore from about $125 a night.

If you wander through the shady, laid-back town, you’ll quickly notice that the colorful Victorian homes are adorned with elaborate gardens, eccentric details and people casually enjoying their tea on wrap-around porches. This makes the city feel very comfortable, lived in and real.

Don’t miss the Emlen Physick Estate on a leisurely walk, a Victorian house museum that will take you back to the era through the home’s architecture and décor throughout 15 restored rooms for $12 a person.

Take advantage of more than 30 antiquated bed-and-breakfasts in the Victorian district that ooze regality and charm and offer antique furnishings, gourmet breakfasts, afternoon tea and period features. (Jenna Intersimone Photography)

Take advantage of more than 30 antiquated bed-and-breakfasts in the Victorian district that ooze regality and charm and offer antique furnishings, gourmet breakfasts, afternoon tea and period features. (Jenna Intersimone Photography)

Lounge on some of best U.S. beaches

The city boasts the cleanest beaches around. It’s probably partially because the neat and tidy beaches, such as Higbee Beach or Poverty Beach, cost $6 a day, but nonetheless, the Natural Resource Defense Council has designated the 24 Cape May beaches one of its 38 cities of “Superstar Beaches” due to the quality of the water.

Although it may not be warm enough to swim during Mother’s Day weekend, the season doesn’t officially start until Memorial Day Weekend, meaning you can skip the $6 daily pass and simply enjoy the bright beaches and clean sand.

Also check out Cape May Point State Park, which is full of beaches, marshlands, an exhibit gallery as well as nature trails throughout its 235 acres. The park is also known as one of the best places in North America to view bird migration, making birding one of the most popular activities for outdoorsy visitors at the park.

You can also climb to the top of the Cape May Lighthouse for $8 a person at the park. Built in 1869, you’ll join the 100,000 people who hike the 199 steps to the top each year and get a stellar view of the end of the state, where Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean.

The Natural Resource Defense Council has designated the 24 Cape May beaches one of its 38 cities of “Superstar Beaches” due to the quality of the water. (Jenna Intersimone Photography)

The Natural Resource Defense Council has designated the 24 Cape May beaches one of its 38 cities of “Superstar Beaches” due to the quality of the water. (Jenna Intersimone Photography)

Sample local food and wine

The Washington Street Mall, in the heart of the Victorian district in a walkable distance from the beach and most central bed-and-breakfasts, only contains shops that are privately or family owned and are a great stop for visitors to head to an ice cream parlor, café, restaurant or clothing boutique.

One of my favorite Washington Street Mall restaurants is A Ca Mia, which operates as a bakery, art gallery and Northern Italian restaurant inside a building constructed in 1872. Try the crab cake Italiano, oven-baked crabcakes with fresh crabmeat, peppers, spinach and pine nuts served with caper aioli and capellini in a tomato pesto sauce for $22 for one cake or $31 for two.

The Lobster House, on Cape May Harbor, is a great alternative to pricey seafood dining with the hometown, lazy feel of a boardwalk restaurant. With a modest price tag for outdoor seating, you can grab some menus, mark it up with friends and family, and head over to the bars to grab your crab cakes, clam chowder and oysters on the half shell at market price and enjoy them on the deck across the bay from million-dollar homes and yachts and plenty of gulls.

The Cape May Winery and Vineyard, about five miles from the tourist center of Cape May, can provide a $6 wine tasting cap to a seafood dinner from down the street. Sample wines throughout four vineyards from 70 acres of the property from one of the three tasting rooms or the wooden deck overlooking the vineyards.

The Lobster House is a great alternative to pricey seafood dining with the hometown, lazy feel of a boardwalk restaurant. (Photo: Courtesy of Ed Morlock)

The Lobster House is a great alternative to pricey seafood dining with the hometown, lazy feel of a boardwalk restaurant. (Photo: Courtesy of Ed Morlock)

With pastel Victorians and cool streets full of weeping willows, the city boasts wallet-friendly yet memorable family attractions that are ideal for a day trip or a long weekend by the beach to celebrate the number one woman in your life — mom.

 

CAPE MAY ATTRACTIONS

Emlen Physick Estate is a Victorian house museum which contains 15 renovated rooms that can be toured for 45 minutes for $12 a person at 1048 Washington Street and can be reached at 609-884-5404.

Bed-and-breakfasts in Cape May range from $160 to $400 a night for Mother’s Day weekend. Around 30 are throughout the city, most concentrated near the ocean and central Victorian district.

Higby Beach and Poverty Beach are popular Cape May beaches with a $6 entrance fee starting after Memorial Day Weekend.

Cape May Point State Park is full of beaches, marshes and an exhibit gallery off of Route 629.. It’s also widely known for its bird watching opportunities and can be reached at 609-884-2159.

Cape May Lighthouse contains 199 steps to the top and can be hiked for $8 a person at 215 Light House Ave and can be reached at 609-224-6066.

Washington Street Mall is an outdoor mall at 401 Washington St. full of cafes, restaurants, clothing boutiques and dessert shops located in the heart of the Victorian District.

A Ca Mia is a Northern Italian restaurant at 524 Washington St. in the Washington Street Mall and can be reached at 609-884-6661.

The Lobster House is an eat-in or take-out seafood restaurant at 906 Schellengers Landing Rd. on the Cape May Harbor and can be reached at 609-884-8296.

The Cape May Winery and Vineyard is a 70-acre winery that provides $6 tastings and tours at 711 Town Band Rd. and can be reached at 609-884-1169.

See and save the whales for Earth Day

Written for MyCentralJersey.com and DailyRecord.com

When we travel for pleasure, we do it for ourselves. We choose to head out for a little fun and relaxation, a time when we can finally indulge.

But what if you could enjoy yourself in travel while helping the environment, too?

With Earth Day on April 22, it wouldn’t hurt for all of us to give a second thought to ecotourism, or engaging in travel that also helps to conserve the environment and sustain the well-being of locals.

There are countless ways that you can help your favorite getaways while also using your vacation days, such as eating at locally owned restaurants or visiting a local institution that supports a cause.

Right at home in New Jersey, one way that you can spot whales and dolphins while also helping to save them is to hop on a whale watch tour at the Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center.

The whales that Center passengers most often spot are Humpback whales since they are the most active breachers and create a large splash when they do so. (Photo: Courtesy of the Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center)

The whales that Center passengers most often spot are Humpback whales since they are the most active breachers and create a large splash when they do so.
(Photo: Courtesy of the Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center)

Founded in 1987, the Center brings passengers to the sea to spot well-hidden creatures as well as research them and promote awareness of their protection as well as their environment’s.

The Clean Ocean Initiative was started by the Center, which establishes that any time a person on the vessel spots marine debris, staff get their nets out and try to retrieve it. Balloons, such as from birthday parties, are a major marine debris culprit.

“By the end of the season, we have five or six industrial-sized trash bags full of balloons that we pulled from the water. We really try to get our passengers to take this message home with them — balloons and beach trash often end up in the sea and can harm marine life,” said Matt Remuzzi, captain and research coordinator at the Center.

To help whales and other marine life at home, people can pick up trash that they see at the beach, especially discarded fishing gear in which a whale can get entangled.

A typical trip includes a captain, several naturalists or marine biologists, who lead discussion, as well as several undergraduate students who are keeping watch with binoculars alongside the guests to spot whales as well as marine debris.

The American Star is the Cape May Whale Watch’s 90-foot long boat that can hold 150 passengers and is set up for non-obtrusive yet up-close viewing of whales and dolphins. (Photo: Courtesy of the Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center)

The American Star is the Cape May Whale Watch’s 90-foot long boat that can hold 150 passengers and is set up for non-obtrusive yet up-close viewing of whales and dolphins. (Photo: Courtesy of the Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center)

“We tell our passengers to look for anything out of the ordinary and point it out to a crew member since we are looking for whales, sharks, dolphins and oceanic sunfish,” said Remuzzi.

The whales that Center passengers most often spot are humpback whales since they are the most active breachers and create a large splash when they do so. Passengers also look for a whale’s 15- to 20-foot blow spout, which Remuzzi said is how the Center spots whales 99 percent of the time.

Remuzzi said that visitors rougly have a 68 percent chance of seeing a whale during their time onboard the American Star, a 90-foot-long boat that can hold 150 passengers and is set up for nonobtrusive yet up-close viewing of whales and dolphins. Visitors have a 99 percent chance of seeing any sort of marine mammal.

The Center’s season runs from April, when whales begin to migrate north, to November, when whales return south. The best time to see a whale varies on the season, depending on factors such as the amount of food present at a certain time.

Last year, which was one the best seasons, the Center visitors spotted 93 whales, which is about a sighting every day.

The best time to see a whale varies on the season depending on factors such as the amount of food present at a certain time. (Photo: Courtesy of the Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center)

The best time to see a whale varies on the season depending on factors such as the amount of food present at a certain time. (Photo: Courtesy of the Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center)

Since the Center also looks for dolphins and porpoises, they have a “marine mammal guarantee” which gives visitors that don’t get to see any marine mammals a free ticket that never expires for another whale watch tour.

Four trips are held per day: a dolphin watch cruise at 10 a.m. for $20 to $30 a person; a whale and dolphin watch cruise at 10 a.m. for $20 to $35 a person; a whales, birds and dolphins cruise at 1 p.m. for $25 to $40 a person; and a sunset dolphin watch at 6 p.m. for $20 to $30 a person. Guests are recommended to make their reservations as soon as possible.

Since the Center is viewing marine mammals, they also take part in opportunistic research on their feeding, migration and breeding habits. Plus, after having been provided with equipment to photograph whales’ flukes, which all have distinctive patterns, they have been helping the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society to catalogue local whales with photos, data and GPS coordinates. They have also created their own catalogue for local bottlenose dolphins.

“The catalogue provides a framework to better study these mammals,” said Remuzzi.

The Center also voluntarily participates in the Whale SENSE program, which trains and tests the Center’s captains and naturalists on current marine mammal laws and how to view the animals responsibly. By explaining the regulations to passengers and posting them on their vessel, they help to pass the word on how we can all view marine mammals responsibly, whether touring with the Center or on a private boat.

Founded in 1987, the Center brings passengers to the sea to spot well-hidden creatures as well as research them and promote awareness of their protection as well as their environment’s. (Photo: Courtesy of the Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center)

Founded in 1987, the Center brings passengers to the sea to spot well-hidden creatures as well as research them and promote awareness of their protection as well as their environment’s. (Photo: Courtesy of the Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center)

By constantly monitoring the waters, the Center also helps to protect whales from recreational boaters who may not be familiar with whale viewing regulations. Once while viewing a whale, Remuzzi said that the Center saw a personal vessel strike a whale. Since they take photographs on all of their trips, they were able to provide photos and report the vessel and the incident to Whale SENSE.

Vessels must stay at least 500 yards from a Baleen whale and 100 yards away from a right whale, an endangered specie.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, if there’s a whale, we are going to be right next to it, so we can help protect them in this way,” said Remuzzi. “Many recreational boaters don’t even know the guidelines, so we kind of spread the word. Our passengers take that home with them to know what the guidelines are.”

To help whales and other marine life at home, people can pick up trash that they see at the beach, especially discarded fishing gear which a whale can get entangled in. (Photo: Courtesy of the Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center)

To help whales and other marine life at home, people can pick up trash that they see at the beach, especially discarded fishing gear which a whale can get entangled in. (Photo: Courtesy of the Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center)

 

CAPE MAY WHALE WATCH & RESEARCH CENTER

Contact: 888-531-0055 or capemaywhalewatch.com

Address: 1121 Route 109 (Utsch’s Marina), Cape May

Season: April through November

Cost: Kids 12 and under from $20 to $25, adults from $30 to $40

Tours: Range from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and from two- to three-hour trips

Lucy the Elephant

“Are we going to a store?”

“No.”

“A bar? Restaurant?”

“No.”

“Is it outside? Do I need my jacket?”

“No.”

Although I’m a seasoned shore traveler, I truly had no idea where Ed was taking us as a stopping point on our way to Atlantic City. I was offered no clues to our destination besides a lined piece of paper with a meaningless address that was only titled “Middle Stop.”

Upon pulling up to a giant elephant parked facing the Margate beach, however, the dots connected to various Weird NJ pieces I had stumbled across in magazines. We were visiting Lucy the Elephant, a six-story gimmick of a tourist attraction that has been overlooking the Atlantic since 1881.

Photography Jenna Intersimone

Photography Jenna Intersimone

Lucy the Elephant was constructed with 90 tons of tin and wood by James Lafferty, who figured that a 65-foot tall elephant would be the perfect way to bring in tourists and sell some real estate. He got so excited about his idea that he also constructed two more elephants – the Elephantine Colossus of Coney Island and the Light of Asia of Cape May, neither of which survive today. Unfortunately, Lucy wasn’t enough to bring in buyers and Lafferty sold her after only six years.

She then went on to serve as a restaurant, business office, cottage and even a bar (shut down by prohibition). However, even throughout all of her various occupations, it wasn’t enough to keep the elephant in business – she fell into disrepair and due to a new buyer interested in the land under her feet, she was scheduled for demolition in 1969 to make way for a condo complex.

Photography Jenna Intersimone

Photography Jenna Intersimone

Josephine Harron spotted the demolition signs outside of Lucy one day when she was at the beach and said to herself, “Someone should do something about that.”

She did.

Harron formed the Save Lucy Committee, which was given a mere 30 days to raise enough money to move Lucy or pay for her demolition. Volunteers fund-raised by going door-to-door, selling baked goods and enlisting local groups.

As you have probably guessed, the Save Lucy Committee miraculously raised the funds and she was moved 100 yards southwest and completely refurbished with the help of the only interested architect in the northeast area. The Committee’s efforts paid off in more ways than one – Lucy the Elephant was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976.

After paying $8 and hiking up the winding staircase inside Lucy, we emerged in the same area which Lafferty originally showcased his real estate parcels. Now, the cozy den houses whimsical paintings such as Lucy in Blue or The Gin Drinkers, fantastical paintings all featuring the celebrated Lucy the Elephant. We checked out the ocean through Lucy’s eyes and then further hiked up the staircase to Lucy’s summit, an Asian howdah carriage which is a replica of the original.

Photography Jenna Intersimone

Photography Jenna Intersimone

New Jersey is stuffed with oddball roadside attractions which seem to emerge in particular frequency at the Jersey Shore. At first glance, these curious sights seem not only peculiar, but pointless. And maybe they are – except for the fact that they house various degrees of history that can only be contained inside a cartoon, colorful elephant.

Photography Jenna Intersimone

Photography Jenna Intersimone

 

LUCY THE ELEPHANT

Where: 9200 Atlantic Ave in Margate City, New Jersey

Contact: 609-823-6473 or lucytheelephant.org

Cost: $8 ages 13+, $4 ages 3-12, free ages 2 and under

Tours occur every half an hour during open hours, which vary by season

Sleaze and Seduction in Atlantic City

Driving into Atlantic City on a bustling sunny Saturday afternoon, the air heavy with the promise of short dresses and tall drinks, there is an invisible cloud that hangs above. Although I know it lingers behind sad “cash for gold” signs, dark back alleys, and mahogany boardrooms with hopeful sellers, I don’t immediately see if beneath the flashing lights and well-dressed people shuffling from their cars and into the casinos; the indoor playgrounds.

I forget the uncertain future of the town that I often read about in local newspapers and instead, I feel an immediate jack in optimism as I walk through the double doors. Even at the tender time of 7:00 pm, still perfectly light in the summer, girls are hiked up in their high heels and boys are suited up, passing drinks. No one is stressed, overwhelmed or downtrodden and instead, they relish in the simple delight of being away, yet not too far away, in a place that is perpetually on vacation.

IMG_6444

Without ever having to step into an airport, the entirety of the City is on holiday. All they had to do was fill up a backpack, stop at the liquor store, and get on the parkway. No matter how often or how little that we go, Atlantic City is our very own resort; in our very own backyards.

However, behind closed doors, the future is much uncertain. Within seven months, three casinos have turned off their last fluorescent light. Throughout the past eight years, profits have plunged by $2.34 billion dollars, having started 2006 making $5.2 billion, cutting revenue almost in half.

This is a sad story for the city that once ran the show against prohibition, where rules were negotiable and freedom was rampant  during the 1920s in one Jersey locale. Gamblers and drinkers waved their hand to the conservative ruling and instead, threw around their glamour and glitz alongside their whiskey drinks and dancing women. Without the cloud of prohibition to ruin its weekends, Atlantic City quickly became “The World’sPlayground.”

IMG_6425

However, as all tales, the golden days of the city came to an end around World War II and it quickly became overrun by poverty, crime, unemployment and corruption. Today, Atlantic City is no longer the hotspot of gambling that it once was, falling to competition from Pennsylvania and online casinos in New York and Maryland.

Unfortunately, at the time when this all is happening, Atlantic City doesn’t have much other industry to sustain it. It is still seen as solely a hub of gambling but without gamblers flocking to it as their number one, it is quickly dropping revenue, casinos and jobs.

As bleak as this all sounds for the city, it’s actually not all bad. This is occurring in part simply because there are too many casinos. Unfortunately, these are all sad effects of the realistic ending that the market needs to correct itself and adjust to the true number of gamblers that are flocking to betting centers. Plus, as the gambling industry is continuing to change, Atlantic City is seeing that it needs some other attractions going around to keep families headed to the Shore spot, an effort they are pursuing incessantly.

Even if one day, Atlantic City becomes the new Point Pleasant and Jerseyans get on the Atlantic City Expressway just to hang out on the boardwalk with their toddlers, to me, it’ll always be the charmingly seedy town where I booked ghetto motels to save cash but ended up in suites at the Borgata. It’s where I danced in the House of the Blues, snuck into the Pool After Dark, and struggled home on that three-hour drive back north. I’m glad for industry, economic prosperity and employment coming to Atlantic City, but I’m glad to always have fond memories of blurry nights out, constantly full glasses and the opportunity to be on vacation at only a drive away.

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Under the Boardwalk in Wildwood

When Jerseyans plan their trips for those long weekends at the shore crammed in teeny summer bungalows with barely functioning AC units, they tend to choose the same cities over and over again for the same reasons they have been biding on for the last 20 years – they go to Atlantic City when they want to gamble, Cape May when they need to relax, Point Pleasant when they’re looking for fun for the family, and Seaside Heights when all they’re asking for is a cold drink.

This is what’s actually pretty cool about the Jersey Shore – each beach-side city has its own personality, quirks, upsides and downsides – no city is exactly like the next, even if it is only one more exit down the Parkway. If each city is its own character, Asbury Park is the laid back beach rat, Red Bank is the up-and-coming fashionista, and Ocean City is the responsible boardwalk mom.

But then… there’s Wildwood.

Wildwood, which goes back to the doo-wop days of the 50’s and 60’s, can’t really be boxed into one category but instead, sits finely in the middle, conveniently close to loud-mouthed Atlantic City, quiet Cape May, and family-oriented Ocean City. So what does this make Wildwood?

What’s so cool about Wildwood is that it doesn’t need to fit into a box, because it has such a hodgepodge to offer anyway that there’s no reason not to visit. If you haven’t crossed Wildwood off your summer hit list yet, here’s all the reasons why this is one Shore city can fit into every beach check box and what you can do during your long weekend stay.

1. Bike the Wildwoods Boardwalk

Joining three municipalities to make up the Wildwoods (North Wildwood, Wildwood, and Wildwood Crest) the boardwalk itself stretches for two miles (which is where you’ll find the four piers equipped with boardwalk games and rides) but then extends both directions onto sand to the north and pavement to the south. This makes it ideal for an hour-long bike ride, if you’re moving along at a decent pace and looking to extend beyond the boards in both directions. The ride will include the quiet tourism of Wildwood Crest as well as the local friendliness of North Wildwood, while also getting the insanity of Wildwood on the boards themselves until 11:00 am on weekdays and 10:30 am on weekends. You can rent a pretty nice bike (with parking) for one hour for $6 at Sportland Bike Rental, located just a block off the boardwalk.

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2. Grab Dinner Specials at The Boathouse 

If you can get seated between 4:00 pm and 5:30 pm, you can pick up a Sunset Special, or two entrees for $25 any night of the week at this classy establishment on West Rio Grande Avenue with a view of the Marina. Even if you don’t nab the specials, you can still get some killer seafood at The Boathouse – especially the broiled crab cake, hot clams casino, steamed mussels, stuffed flounder, or twin lobster tails. This is also one of my favorite five picks of the top waterside restaurants on the Jersey Shore.

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3. Visit the Original Fudge Kitchen

All over Wildwood and Shore towns alike, you’ll spot various shops sporting fudge in all shapes, sizes and colors. Don’t do it. Just go to the Original Fudge Kitchen, located on the north end of the Wildwood boardwalk right before the boards end and the sand begins. Even though the imaginary “special” (“Buy two pounds of our creamy fudge and get a box of our homemade salt water taffy”) actually runs every single day of the year (which they will remind you of… each and everyday) the place is worth a visit during your Wildwood stay, even if you’re just picking up one their widely distributed samples. For $11.50 per pound, it runs a little pricey… but a sweet piece in the hot sun (one quarter pound) is worth it, especially for the vanilla marshmallow.

4. Watch the Sun Disappear at Sunset Lake

Sunset Lake, located on the bayside in Wildwood Crest, is a force to be reckoned with once 8:00 pm comes along. Get here about a half an hour to an hour before the sun actually goes down and you can watch the sun disappear behind the lake among the various waterfowl, gazebos and boats scattered about this clean area. Bring along some beers, a blanket and relax on one of the nearby benches. No one’s going to bother you and it’s a quiet way to end the evening before beginning your pilgrimage back home on Sunday.

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5. Gaze at the Fireworks on Wildwood Beach

You could stay home and watch the fireworks from your local high school or a nearby park… but why do that when you can watch them on Wildwood Beach to start your vacation? Every Friday in the summer, the city shoots off fireworks to declare the weekend at 10:00 pm at Pine Avenue, visible from most outposts in the area. If it’s too rainy on Friday, then they are shot off on Sundays at 9:00 pm. Plus, since the Wildwood beach is like four miles just to get to the ocean, there’s always room for everyone.

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6. Ride the Rickety Rides at Morey’s Piers 

Similar to most shoreside amusement parks, rides at Morey’s Piers run pretty expensive – the best value for a casual rider is probably the Super Value Package which includes 65 tickets for $55 (with rides ranging from 5 tickets to 12 tickets depending on the type of ride). This is a great package because you can hit only the best rides when it fits throughout your stay with no time limit. You can’t hang out on the piers and resist on going on just a few rides, especially the Zoom Phloom log flume decorated in outfit doo-wop theme, the giant swings and “IT,” a cheesy yet stomach-dropping carnival ride which looks lame but is a worthy opponent to even the bravest coaster-dweller.

7. Snap a Photo by the Iconic ‘Wildwoods’ Sign 

This famous sign marks the center of Wildwood Crest in the popular district where you can get some lame photos of you and your crew posing behind some oversized letters or beach balls – a great stop for when you’re biking the boardwalk and on your way back to grab your daily fudge fix. Be prepared, though – y0u’re not the only tourist, and if someone’s going to take a picture of you, be prepared to take several of them… and their seven kids.

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8. Laze Around on the Beaches

Here’s another great reason to visit Wildwood – the beaches are free. No beach pass, no cash. There is a catch, however… you will need to survive the long hike from “under the boardwalk” to the five mile stretch of beach on the other side, though the powdery white sand awaiting you is worth it. Throughout the season, Wildwood beaches are the hosts to various activities including  including championship soccer, lacrosse and hockey tournaments, the National Marbles Championships, Monster Truck Races, Motocross Races, Sand Sculpting Festivals, headline concerts, and the Wildwoods International Kite Festival.

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9. Sway Your Way Down Old New Jersey Avenue 

Wildwood isn’t known for its insane nightlife, especially compared to nearby Atlantic City or Seaside Heights, however it does have a few bars and clubs worth checking out including Keenan’s Irish Pub, a large indoor and outdoor casual bar similar to Bar Anticipation in Belmar and Echo’s, a cheesy yet sweaty indoor dance club and Flip-Flopz, a bar, club and grill which also features live music on Saturdays. Luckily, these three bars are neighbors, saving you lengthy cab rides as you bar-hop on Saturday night.

10. Hop on the Ferris Wheel by Nightfall

Even though the line gets hefty, it’s for a good reason – checking out the sights and sounds of the Wildwoods from high above in your Giant Wheel cart in Morey’s Piers is worth the wait. Built in 1985 and standing at 150 feet tall, the iconic and oversized wheel is a romantic and relaxing way to end a summer weekend trip to Wildwood… that is, if you’re not afraid of heights.

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The Nation’s Oldest Seaside Resort

The Jersey Shore gets a bad rap.

Whether it’s an Ocean Avenue full of bennies, Seaside Heights full of rowdy, drunken teenagers, or Asbury Park’s dirty, needle-ridden beaches, everyone has something bad to say about the famous coastline ruling the East Coast. However, when we think of the biggest cities of the Shore – Wildwood, Belmar, Atlantic City – one place that tends to escape the list is Cape May.

Why is this? Probably because Cape May doesn’t really fit the mold of the typical Jersey Shore beach town. There’s no insane florescent-lighted clubs, bungalows stuffed full of wild college kids or action-packed boardwalks. But this isn’t a reason to avoid the town – hell, if you want those things you can save yourself some Parkway driving and stay more north. However, if you’re bored of the typical dirty Shore beach (not that they aren’t wonderful) then get comfortable in the driver’s seat and find out why Cape May stands apart from every other boardwalked beach on the coast.

1. The entire city is designated as a National Historic Landmark. Sound lame? Well, unlike the “historical landmarks” your parents dragged you to on the edge of your town to learn about how colonial people made bread or something, the entire city is designated as a National Historic Landmark because of the outrageous concentration of Victorian buildings. Instead of being roped off from tourists with entrance fees tacked on, people live in these 600-or-so homes and they make it count. Wandering through the shady, laid-back town, especially near Washington Street, you’ll quickly notice that these colorful Victorians are adorned with elaborate gardens, eccentric details and people casually enjoying their tea on wrap-around porches. This makes the city feel very comfortable, lived-in, and real. 

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Strolling down Beach Avenue

2. The Cape May Lighthouse, over 100 years old, stands noble and dignified. Climbing lighthouses always seems like an activity you do because your parents make you, but climbing the Cape May Lighthouse is a highlight of the city experience. At the top of the lighthouse, built in 1869, you have a great view overlooking the end of the state (and the beginning of the next) where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean and you can check out the surrounding marshlands, where outdoor fanatics bird watch.

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View out of a 100+ year old porthole at the Cape May Lighthouse over the Atlantic

3. It’s a quiet, low-key and romantic beach town. There aren’t too many Jersey Shore towns that can call themselves “romantic” or “low-key” – instead, most are a little cheesy, equipped with their own theme songs, and are muddled with franchises and sticky kids. Cape May, however, with the quiet undertones of Savannah, Georgia or Charlotte, North Carolina, is a hotspot for stately weddings and, thankfully, is fit for adults. A town with pastel Victorians, quiet and cool streets, weeping willows and bed and breakfasts is made for romance. Embrace the sentimentality by going on a beach bike ride down Beach Avenue or going for a $6 wine tasting at the Cape May Winery.

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An afternoon wander down Washington Street

4. The city boasts the cleanest beaches around. It’s probably in part because the neat and tidy beaches, such as Higbee Beach or Poverty Beach, cost $6 a day, but nonetheless, the Natural Resource Defense Council has designated the 24 Cape May beaches one of its 38 locations of “Superstar Beaches” due to the quality of the water. You won’t run into any plastic bags or trash on Cape May beaches and, a rarity on the Jersey Shore, you won’t have to worry about any gross contamination here. Cape May feels very clean, luxurious and exclusive not only due to the beautiful homes and hotels, but also because the star attractions of the town stay neat and tidy.

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Cape May Point beach is one of the city’s most residential beaches

5. Cape May has got some great dining, shopping and staying. No need to rent a room at the Marriott around here – instead, take advantage of the many antiquated bed-and-breakfasts that ooze regality and charm. Most have their own legends, ghosts, themes and quirks. The same goes for Cape May restaurants in shops – you won’t find too many chains or franchises, but instead, lots of family-owned places that have been run by the same families for decades where you can find some interesting stuff and stellar seafood.

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Lunch at A Ca Mia, Italian restaurant and bakery at the Washington Street Mall

The Shore Was Made for Scavengers

Following my graduation from the Jersey Shore beach paradise that is Monmouth University, I did the most reasonable thing and I could think of rented a house a block from the beach for the winter with no job prospects in sight. What could possibly go wrong?

As I signed my name in blood in that overly-air-conditioned Century 21 office three months before graduation, I knew, as a hopelessly logical human being, that what I was doing was stupid. I was panic-struck I wouldn’t be able to afford my rent, I was petrified that it was much more difficult than I had imagined to find a job, and I knew that employment down by the shore was few and far between. However, that panic was outweighed by an even greater fear – that of returning to the mountains with my parents. I hoped it would all just work out. 

I couldn’t even bear the thought of leaving my one true love, the shore. I couldn’t imagine not hearing the waves as I slept or taking an afternoon walk down Ocean Avenue or staying with all my beachrat friends in one-square-mile seaside towns. I literally didn’t know if I could fathom the loss of the paradise that I had grown accustomed to for the last four years.

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So I signed, and nine long months proceeded to drag by, similar as to how I dragged my tattered suitcase on the floor back-and-forth and back-to-forth from my dream-like beach home to my new-found place of employment… two hours north.

Even though I had fun (on the weekends) – I enjoyed long crisp runs on the Long Branch boardwalk, supplied a boarding house for my backpacked friends, and wandered to my favorite seaside bars and restaurants only miles from my house – the whole debacle was a nightmare. I totaled my car, put 9,000 miles on my new car in six months, spent money people spend to live near their jobs only I lived two hours from my job, and pretty much gave up my life for a constant view of the ocean. It was not worth it. It did not all work out.

I grew resentful of the place that I loved. I angrily drove down Ocean in my 9,000 miles-older car, glaring at the winterized and empty version of the place that used to be mine. I probably spent most of my time in my room, drinking wine alone and packing my things for the next journey north, which came every four days at which point I would camp out at my mother’s home for three days (an hour and a half away from my work also) before returning back to the shore.

But, thankfully, all bad things must come to an end. The lease ended, I got a new job, and… I moved back to the mountains. With my parents.

This transition seemed equally daunting. Move home? Back to the middle of nowhere? With my… mom? Oh god. Why life.

However, the summer started up quickly and my friends rallied me to their places in Seaside, Point Pleasant and Long Branch. Most weekends, I run around my room, eagerly throwing my belongings into a patched backpack before getting in my car and eating my dinner on my lap so I can make it to my friends’ homes before they go out for the night. I sleep on dingy basement couches, I eat Jersey bagels from my driver’s side, I shower at the beach, and… I’m so happy. 

Things will probably change once the summer hoopla wears down and I miss my beach (and my old reliable beach house) once again, but for now, I think a lot of the shore appeal for me is the nomadic pull of it all.

Part of the fun is wondering on Friday afternoons, How am I going to get there? and Where am I going to sleep? I kind of like trying to find a secluded spot to change clothes in my car or sketchily sneak into bathrooms. I like not knowing when my time in paradise is going to end and who I am going to end up seeing from my favorite spot on North Beach. If paradise becomes the everyday, is it still paradise? If it becomes your home, can you resist not taking it for granted, not counting its flaws? Can you get sick of the most stunning window view you could ever think up?

I really don’t know.

But what I do know is that the shore was made for scavengers with backpacks in their cars and dirt on their faces… which is why that’s where you’ll find me every weekend, every time.