Longing for a beach getaway but don't want to travel far? Head down to the Jersey Shore. We're not talking about hanging with Snooki and the gang. We're exploring the southern shore towns of Cape May, Stone Harbor and Avalon. They're about a three-hour drive from NYC, but oceans away in attitude.
So pristine are its beaches, Trip Advisor named Cape May the second-best beach in the U.S. and the ninth-best in the world. Settled by fishermen during colonial times, Cape May features one of the largest collections of 19th-century buildings in the country and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976. The charming shore town attracts everyone from antique lovers to families. Nature enthusiasts also are drawn to Cape May for the whale, dolphin and bird watching.
Beyond the beach:
Take a guided walking tour through the historic town and get an up-close glimpse of the Victorian architecture. Visit the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities, 1048 Washington St., 609-884-5404, capemay mac.org.
Visit the Cape May Winery and Vineyard, which produces some of South Jersey's best vino. 711 Townbank Road, 609-884-1169, capemaywinery.com.
Serving up classic surf-and-turf, the Mad Batter offers front-porch, terrace and skylight indoor dining. Entrees start at $20. 19 Jackson St., 609-884-5970.
The critically acclaimed Ebbitt Room is known for creative, gourmet cuisine with an emphasis on seafood, of course. Entrees start at $26. 25 Jackson St. Reservations: 800-732-4236.
Congress Hall, built in 1816 and completely restored in 1995, overlooks the ocean and has a grand swimming pool. Rooms start at $313 per night. To book: con gresshall.com, 888-944-1816.
Vacationers flock to swanky Stone Harbor for its small-town charm and, of course, the glorious beach. You can partake in almost every water sport imaginable, including kayaking, water skiing, wake boarding and fishing. The town has a thriving downtown along 96th Street where you will find high-end boutiques, restaurants and art galleries.
Beyond the beach:
The Stone Harbor Museum features vintage and current photos capturing the seaside community. Admission is free. 235 93rd St., 609-368-7500.
Fishing enthusiasts can rent a boat and supplies at Smugglers Cove, 370 83rd St., 609-368-1700, smugglerscovenj.com.
For water sports, check out Island Watersports, at 97th and the Bay, 609-368-6114, iwsnj.com.
Springer's Homemade Ice Cream is a must- locals rave about the peach. 9420 Third Ave., 609-368-4631.
The family-owned Lark Motel is one block from the beach. Rooms start at $164 per night. 9800 Second Ave., 609-368-2500, larkmotel.com.
"Cooler by a Mile" is Avalon's motto, and it refers to the fact that the town juts out one mile farther into the Atlantic Ocean than its neighbors. Washingtonian magazine once named Avalon the "chicest beach" in the mid-Atlantic and "the best beach in New Jersey" for its gentle surf, natural dunes, wide sands and good lifeguards.
Beyond the beach:
Dune Drive is home to shops and restaurants.
There are plenty of free activities in the summer, including movies and concerts at the 30th Street beach.
The Princeton is popular for drinks, salads and sandwiches. 2008 Dune Dr., 609-967-3456.
The newly opened Diving Horse serves dishes such as mahi mahi and New Jersey fluke; entrees start at $29. 2109 Dune Dr., 609-368-5000.
The Sealark Bed & Breakfast, a restored Victorian home, is Avalon's only B&B. Rooms start at $130 per night; 609-967-5647.