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 Best Waterside Restaurants on the Jersey Shore

When you live on the Jersey Shore, summer doesn’t start on June 21, when the sand gets hot, or even when the local pools open up. Beachrats can barely wait for an 80-degree thermometer to tinker on over to the beach (which is why you can spot them surfing in the dead of winter), but instead, you’ll find these dirty combers scouring the sands as soon as the calendar swings over May.

Why? They don’t care if they have to wear jeans to do it – these people want to be on their boats, in the kayaks, hovered over the side with fishing poles, and trotting down the boardwalk with their sloppy puppies – and they don’t want to wait. However, even the dirtiest beachrat needs a nice meal once in a while that didn’t come from a truck, which is why you should check out the below Jersey Shore restaurants in between the spouts of living in your car this summer, especially before all those bennies get down there in mid June.

1. The Lobster House at Cape May Harbor

The Lobster House is a staple of a weekend well spent in the southern shores. With a modest price tag for outdoor seating, you can grab some menus, mark it up with your people, and head over to the respective bars to grab your crab cakes, clam chowder, and oysters on the half shell and enjoy them on the deck across the bay from million-dollar homes and yachts and plenty of gulls. The Lobster House is a great alternative to pricey seafood dining with the hometown, lazy feel of a boardwalk restaurant. Learn more at thelobsterhouse.com

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Photo Courtesy of Ed Morlock

2. Boathouse Restaurant at Wildwood

At Boathouse, choose indoor or outdoor seating for stunning panoramic views of the harbor while enjoying top-of-the-line fresh clams casino, steamed mussels, stuffed flounder, or twin lobster tails. A classier establishment than other harborside seafood restaurants, Boathouse is a great end note when you’re feeling like you deserve to spend a few bucks. Learn more at boathouseonline.net.  

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Photo Courtesy of Jenna Intersimone

3. Rooney’s Ocean Crab House at Long Branch

Rooney’s is a top-of-the-line restaurant and raw bar that sits just far enough from the hub of Pier Village while facing the Atlantic in a completely glass-screened seating area. Offering a raw bar, conveniently placed circular bar, private parties, and a truly stellar $30 all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch until Memorial Day that is never crowded, Rooney’s is a great spot for birthdays and anniversaries while also being a go-to for nursing your Sunday morning hangover with a Mimosa and some crab legs. Learn more at rooneysocean.com.

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Photo Courtesy of Jenna Intersimone

4. Moonstruck at Asbury Park

With an ambiance that doesn’t mimic pinkies in the air or bored businessmen, Moonstruck is reminiscient of an old-school cocktail lounge and restaurant tucked away at the corner of town in a romantic old building. Travel up the hiking steps, grab a bottle of wine, and listen to the insanity of Asbury Park from nearby… in the quiet corner of Moonstruck, equipped with a variation of classic Italian dishes. Learn more at moonstrucknj.com.

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Photo Courtesy of oldbridgemusiccenter.wordpress.com

5. Stella Marina at Asbury Park

Stella Marina boasts an extensive Italian menu in a classy, white tablecloth environment overlooking one of the most notorious boardwalks in the United States. With outstanding views of the Asbury beaches below, visitors enjoy some classic Italian accompanied by plenty of wines fit for events such as birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays. Learn more at stellamarinarestaurant.com

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Photo Courtesy of restaurantpassion.com

 

Day Trip Scrimpin’.

Last weekend, I didn’t go to the Bahamas, or the Dominican Republic, or Mexico (but I did go there the weekend before). I did not spend thousands of dollars or wake up at the crack of dawn to get on an airplane. I did not try to stuff a suitcase or budget my money so that I could go parasailing, scuba diving, swimming with dolphins.

However, I did get in a car and drive about two hours down the New Jersey Parkway to go to Wildwood. I spent about 1/100 of the cost of a normal vacation and had just as much fun, if not more. The beauty of New Jersey (yes, it exists) is that there are a thousand of hidden (and not-so-hidden) day trips that are in our backyards, and no matter where you’re from, I’m sure that they are in yours, too. So stop whining that you didn’t get to go on vacation this summer, read some of these saving-money-on-vaca tips, and get in the car.

1. Go for a bike ride. In Wildwood, we rented cute little beach cruisers (one of them, i.e. mine, was very little) for FIVE DOLLARS. You get the bikes for an hour, which is really all you need, and wander down the boardwalk in the morning when it’s still a little cool and you’re not ready to go sit on the beach and bake yet. I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t ride bikes often (because I have no balance) so it was a nice treat to cruise alongside the beach for less than what my breakfast costs.

2. Visit a theme park. Most theme parks offer tickets for between $20 and $40 (any more than that is a little ridiculous). At Six Flags, with the bringing of a Coke can from your nearest WaWa, you can buy one get one free, which is pretty sick since Six Flags is great. In Wildwood, we got a family pack and each paid $25 and all went on about seven rides together. Log flume, roller coasters, Dante’s Dungeon, “It”, and of course, the ferris wheel, is well worth $25 to me and a few hours out on the boardwalk.

4. Watch a sunset. This is the really cool thing about nature. It’s FREE. It’s so easy to bring a couple beers, maybe some chips, and go sit somewhere nice and watch the sun set. Now I wasn’t really aware of this, but the sun actually sets pretty fast, so by the time you get bored of identifying clouds and getting embarrassingly drunk it’s time to leave anyway. And if you visit the beautiful Sunset Lake in Wildwood, you’ll see this–

5. Check out the local night scene. I don’t know about you, but I get pretty bored going out to the same bars in my town once in a while. Same old same old. But when you’re away, even if it’s only a half an hour or an hour, you have the chance to go to all new places! In Wildwood, we each paid $3 for a cab to take us a few blocks to Keenan’s Irish Pub, which is a huge place with no cover charge and quite a few bars (one outside, one for an older crowd, one for dads, one with live music, one with dance music…) Point is, no matter where you are, the night scene is NEW. This is a good thing.

6. Eat cheap. It requires a little extra planning, but it’s worth it to bring along a couple bagels and boxes of cereal and snacks. This could save you buying a few meals, which when going on day trips, will save you like half the money you were going to spend anyway. Buy some sandwiches at WaWa and save your dollars for something that matters. And NEVER buy waters/soda. Just bring a damn water bottle. In Wildwood, they practically give food away on the boardwalk, which is actually surprising. Dollar hotdogs, 89 cent pizza slices? May not be too sanitary, but hey, you’ll live.