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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.