With 130 miles of Atlantic Ocean shoreline stretching from Sandy Hook in the north to Cape May in the south, the Jersey Shore has long drawn vacationers. Back in the 1880s, well-to-do travelers would glide along the Atlantic City boardwalk being pushed in rolling chairs, a form of transportation still available to this day. 

While pop culture TV shows have shown a more lively side of shore life, there's more to the New Jersey coastline than a penchant for partying. There’s the rock-star bar scene in Asbury Park, quaint Victorian vibes in Cape May, the kid-friendly dry town of Ocean City, the historic village of Smithville and around-the-clock entertainment in Atlantic City.

Here's how to find your ideal beach getaway in the Garden State. 

Seaside Heights boardwalk and beach from above
Seaside Heights packs plenty of shoreside fun into its small footprint © FotosForTheFuture / Shutterstock

Step 1: Choose where to base yourself

With such a wide variety of options, from family-oriented beach towns and quiet suburban coves to lively cities that never sleep, it’s all about choosing your own adventure for your summer vacation. 

Seaside Heights 

Vibes: From beach to boardwalk, all the iconic experiences of a Jersey Shore vacation are tucked into this barrier island destination, only 16 blocks long and four blocks wide. 

Do: Summer living revolves around the boardwalk. Find thrills at Casino Pier for rides, arcades and fairground games, or splash down at Breakwater Beach Waterpark.

Eat: Since 1950, Maruca’s Tomato Pies have become known for their swirls of cheese and sauce. Also a classic: a sausage and peppers sandwich from Midway Bar. Ocean View Restaurant serves American continental food and has private beach access.   

Stay: With its small square footage, vacation rentals and Airbnbs provide the widest range of options. Island Beach Motor Lodge offers a modest stay, while boutique hotel Casa Del Mar up the way in Pleasant Beach provides more comfortable quarters. 

Atlantic City

Vibes: The biggest city along the Jersey Shore – lovingly nicknamed “AC” – mixes beach and boardwalk traditions alongside a range of dining, entertainment and casino fun. 

Do: There’s no doubt many come here to gamble. But the casinos aren’t all that AC is about. Sightseers can climb Absecon Lighthouse, the state’s tallest, while shoppers will clamor for deals at Tanger Outlets – all in addition to endless beach and boardwalk indulgences. 

Eat: Famous chefs have made their mark here, including Michael Symon with Angeline and Gordon Ramsey with Hell’s Kitchen. But Rat Pack favorite Chef Vola's, opened in 1921, might still be the hottest ticket in town. For a no-frills but tasty meal head to Pancho’s Mexican Taqueria

Stay: Casino resorts line the oceanfront, like the Ocean Casino Resort, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, and Nobu Hotel at Caesars Atlantic City, while the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa carves out its own little cove on the inner bay slide.  

Victorian-style homes and hotels back onto the beach in Cape May, New Jersey. There's a wooden lifesaving rescue boat on the beach
Cape May is a National Historical Landmark for its abundance of Victorian homes © Richard T. Nowitz / Getty Images

Cape May

Vibes: With the second highest concentration of Victorian homes after San Francisco, Cape May offers a distinctly retro feel, and has earned itself a distinction as a National Historic Landmark.

Do: Beachgoing, dining, strolling and shopping along the throwback streets – the days just dwindle away. But golfers can take a swing at the Cape May National Golf Club, families can spot wildlife at the Cape May County Park and Zoo and birders should head to the Cape May Bird Observatory – after all, the area hosts the World Series of Birding.

Eat: Mad Batter Restaurant has been “family owned and argued” since 1976, bringing a dose of fun to its menu of crab cakes, pork chops, and blackened scallops. Other local favorites include Lucky Bones Back Water Grille and Bella Vida Cafe. But no visit to Cape May would be complete without a stop at HotDog Tommy’s – try the Bigger Bad Dog (a Black Angus dog on a soft bun).

Stay: There’s no shortage of Victorian homes to stay in, from B&Bs and little inns to vacation rentals. Among top-rated picks are the Virginia Hotel & Cottages and the Queen Victoria. Bigger resort options include the Inn of Cape May and Ocean Club Hotel. One of the area’s most unique stays is at Beach Plum Farm Cottages, located on a 62-acre working farm in West Cape May.

Step 2: Book your accommodations

To truly enjoy shore life, it’s all about booking the perfect beach house – and the competition can get fierce during the summer months. Some vacationers book their picks a year in advance! Holiday weekends can be especially challenging. But if you have some flexibility in timing and location, you may strike gold a couple months ahead of time, though a half-year in advance might be a safer bet for prime rentals.

Charming B&Bs are also plentiful, many oozing with Victorian glamor, like Angel of the Sea in Cape May, Jonathan Pitney House in Absecon, and Sea Gypsy in Wildwood, which also has carriage house suites.

If you prefer hotels, you can opt for the casino resorts of Atlantic City, or perhaps go for a beachy feel at Icona Diamond Beach Resort in Wildwood Crest or Asbury Ocean Club Hotel in Asbury Park.

Two vacationers are walking through an amusement park with fairground games and rides in Wildwood, New Jersey
The amusement parks along the Jersey Shore are sure to keep you entertained on beach days © Marc Dufresne / Getty Images

Step 3: Plan the best things to do on your Jersey Shore summer getaway 

The beauty of planning a Jersey Shore vacation is that the itinerary can write itself. During the day, mix beach time with boardwalk jaunts, whether that includes stops into arcades and casinos, mini golf, amusement park rides or browsing the shops. 

Those looking for more active adventures can opt for water sports of every kind, including Jet Skiing, parasailing, surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, or even parachuting. Hiking trails are also plentiful, from Cape May Point Trail in Cape May to the Bayshore Trail near the Atlantic Highlands. 

Evening indulgences can include entertainment at Atlantic City casinos and iconic bars, like Asbury Park’s Stone Pony – made famous by Bruce Springsteen – or simply relaxing with an evening beach walk, enjoying the Atlantic Ocean breeze. 

Step 4: Find the best beach eats, from boardwalk snacks to fine seafood

There’s a certain charm to the high-low dining options along the shore. Lazy beach days seem to pair best with boardwalk treats, be it foot-long hotdogs (Max’s Bar & Grill in Long Beach has been a mainstay for nearly a century) or frozen custard (Surfside Frozen Custard is a local favorite in Sea Girt, while Kohr’s is reliable with multiple locations from Seaside Heights to Lavalette). Also pick up some salt water taffy, since the chewy candy originated in Atlantic City.

Despite the controversy, the Garden State’s pizza scene has been rivaling that of neighboring New York City in recent years. Popular spots include Pete & Elda's Bar/ Carmen's Pizzeria in Neptune City, Federico’s Pizza & Restaurant in Belmar, and Fusaro Pizza, with locations in Spring Lake, Manahawkin and Forked River.

For elevated seafood, head to Lobster House in Cape May or the more low-key Crab Shack Seafood Market and Restaurant in Brigantine.

The Cape May-Lewes Ferry – a large passenger and vehicle ferry – gliding over calm water
The Cape May-Lewes Ferry shuttles between the Jersey Shore and Delaware © John M. Chase / Getty Images

Step 5: Plan how to get to the Jersey Shore 

Planes, trains and automobiles – and buses and ferries – can all get you to various points on the Jersey Shore. Those flying in will have the most choices at Newark Liberty International Airport, about an hour’s drive to the northmost shore point in Sandy Hook, or about 2½ hours all the way south to Cape May. A select number of American Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and Sun Country flights also service Atlantic City International Airport

You can reach some shore towns by the New Jersey Transit rail service, or buses from New York City and Philadelphia. Ferry operator Seastreak also runs services to Sandy Hook Beach from New York City in the summer months, as well as year-round to Belford, Highlands, and Atlantic Highlands. On the south end, there’s the Cape May-Lewes Ferry from Delaware.

Driving will give you the most flexibility to hop between beaches and towns, but finding a parking spot on summer weekends – and especially holiday weekends – can take patience.  

Step 6: Pack your beach bag

Jersey Shore vacations, especially if you’re staying near the sand, are all about showcasing your beach fashion: swimsuits, towels, sandals or flip-flops and the like, all styled your way. But that white sand is super reflective, so put extra emphasis on sun protection, from sunscreen and sunglasses to cover-ups and wide-brim hats. 

If you’re planning on popping into casinos or restaurants, the air-conditioning can be strong, so a light layer is always wise. While summer heat usually sends the bugs away, those pesky critters have been lingering in recent years, so bug repellent may be wise.

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