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In Jersey Shore rebirth, accent's on family, fun

The Wildwood, New Jersey, boardwalk at Morey's Piers

The Wildwood, New Jersey, boardwalk at Morey's Piers is a popular nighttime hangout. Credit: Alamy Stock Photo/Michael Ventura / Alamy Stock Photo

About the time the Jersey Shore was ravaged by superstorm Sandy in 2012, MTV was canceling a sometimes louche reality TV show of the same name. Seven years later, the 140-mile shoreline distinguished by vibrant boardwalks, arcades and amusement parks, along with quaint seaside towns, has seen substantial renewal as it continues to rebound from both.

The rejuvenation of the more than 40 Jersey Shore communities has continued to attract families and groups of friends intent on nostalgic enjoyment of a beach paradise that’s stood the test of time (and even the most recent revival of the reality show, ''Jersey Shore: Family Vacation.'')

On the North Shore, Ortley Beach, Sea Bright and Mantoloking were flattened by Sandy, but have been rebuilt with houses that are larger and sturdier than ever. Other areas, including Seaside Heights and Belmar, have repaired piers and beaches, adding protective dunes, and replacing roller coasters and amusement park rides.

“It’s always a gathering of friends and family here,” says Tara Delardi, who was recently visiting the manicured community of Sea Girt with her family. “The ocean is nearby. The young people are dressed to the nines to go out, and there are a lot of parties going on. It’s totally a vacation vibe in the summer.”

Delardi, a Tucson resident originally from Long Island, says she enjoyed taking her young daughter to enjoy Gillian’s Wonderland Pier on the 2-mile boardwalk in Ocean City. She says the family had plans to spend a relaxed week crabbing, shopping, biking and bathing at the white sand beaches of Beach Haven on 18-mile Long Beach Island, which is anomalous for having no boardwalk.

A new restaurant in Beach Haven, Station No. 117 Tavern and Green, (station117.com) which opened recently as a sister restaurant to Buckalew’s, (buckalews.com) a community mainstay famous for tomato pies, soft shell crabs and comfort food, was on the agenda for a visit, Delardi says. There’s something on the Jersey Shore to suit every person’s taste, she says.

“It’s not all fist-pumping and gym-tanning-laundry,” Delardi says, referring to terms popularized by the ''Jersey Shore'' TV show largely filmed in Seaside Heights. “There is that if you want it, and many teenagers and tourists do, but there’s so much more.

“This is a place where, you wait all year for this, and then you get here and you can finally enjoy the summer.”

THE NORTH SHORE

The northern Jersey Shore offers the contrast of cities-with-beaches like Asbury Park and Long Branch alongside the proverbial one-stoplight towns, such as Sea Bright, Spring Lake and Ocean Grove.

Some of its highlights include the reopening of Donovan’s Reef, (donovansreefseabright.com) an oceanfront Tiki bar and restaurant with a deck and private beach in Sea Bright that has been a fixture since 1976. A rogue wave took down much of Sea Bright, and the town has been almost completely rebuilt.

Asbury Park saw damage during Sandy to some boardwalk businesses, such as a pinball arcade and mini-golf course, which have reopened. The city has landed on the map in recent years among the gay community and is being redeveloped into an artsy, though now pricier, enclave — a bit of Brooklyn in New Jersey, says resident Lauren Vincelli.

“It’s family-friendly in that it has a beach, the hotels have pools, and there’s a splash park on the beach,” she says, “but I think it’s less family-friendly than adult-friendly.”

Asbury Park also has new lodging, such as the Asbury Ocean Club, (from about $435, asburyoceanclub.com/hotel) which has 54 hotel rooms and opened in July. The newest boardwalk restaurants include Tower Dogs, serving gourmet hot dogs, and Iron Whale, offering inventive seafood and meat dishes.

TOMATO PIES AND MORE

Maruca’s Tomato Pies, (marucaspizza.com) which has been making 24-inch pizzas with a unique swirl of tomato sauce for 50 years in Seaside Heights, opened in Asbury Park in mid-May and has been a hit with beachgoers, says Sammy Boyd, a partner with the Maruca's on the project.

Point Pleasant Beach farther south saw its boardwalk chewed up by Sandy, but its kiddie amusement parks are back in business. Laurie Fellini, a Sea Girt resident, says she takes all her guests with young children to Point Pleasant to enjoy Jenkinson’s Boardwalk, which has mini-golf courses, kiddie rides, an aquarium, a fun house and an arcade, among other amusements.

“The teenagers and college kids go to Seaside, but the little guys we take to Point Pleasant,” Fellini says.

THE SOUTH SHORE

The South Shore of New Jersey offers the casinos and resorts of Atlantic City, the Victorian bed-and-breakfast inns of Cape May, and the stunning and sometimes almost empty beaches of Long Beach Island. The area also tends to draw fewer New Yorkers and more visitors from Philadelphia, Maryland and Virginia.

While Long Beach Island suffered storm damage, especially the southern portion, the area has been largely restored since 2013. Some of its newest offerings include the Hotel LBI in Ship Bottom, (from $436, hotellbi.com) offering single rooms to penthouse suites and a range of cuisine options and bars. In Barnegat Light, a new 36-hole miniature golf course called Jen’s Links is just a short putt from the historic lighthouse (njparksandforests.org).

Atlantic City largely escaped the wrath of Sandy, says Karen Martin, a communications manager for the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. However, there have been other changes, including the addition of sports betting last year, now offered at eight of the city’s nine casinos, she notes.

The Moneyline Bar & Book opened in June, joining the Race & Sports Book as one of two venues for the sports betting experience at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa (from $159, theborgata.com/hotel).

Atlantic City’s Absecon Inlet sea wall was completed last year, along with reconstruction of the boardwalk damaged by flooding over the years, with an extension all the way to Gardner’s Basin planned for the future, Martin says.

Some of the newer boardwalk businesses include the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, (from $119, hardrockhotels.com) with a beach bar and a multitude of restaurants, and the Ocean Casino Resort, (from $149, theoceanac.com) the tallest building in Atlantic City with 1,399 guest rooms.

Farther south in Wildwood, Morey’s Piers debuted its newest ride on Surfside Pier this year, a family-friendly roller coaster called the Runaway Tram modeled after the Wildwood Sightseer Tramcar, an icon of the boardwalk since 1949, says Deborah A. Bass, a spokeswoman for Cape May County Department of Tourism and Public Information.

A strip of sand called “Seven Mile Island,” home to Stone Harbor and Avalon, sustained damage from Sandy, but has rebounded. Now open in Stone Harbor at The Reeds at Shelter  Haven (from $389, reedsatshelterhaven.com) is a new building with 21 guest rooms and suites, providing unique access to the new Salt Spa at The Reeds that opened this year. In Avalon, the Avalon Brew Pub is now offering gastro pub dining just steps from the beach.

The city of Cape May, the nation’s oldest seaside resort and a National Historic Landmark with its stately Victorian homes, was largely unscathed by Sandy. The newest accommodations include the Boarding House, (from $250, boardinghousecapemay) a relaxed hotel inspired by the classic surf culture of the area with a large rooftop deck.

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