ITINERARY AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN’S E-BOOK:
New Jersey, the state that you pass through on the way to somewhere else, rarely stopping to enjoy it, does indeed have some wonderful destinations. It’s a state of many contrasts, encompassing lively cities, beautiful ocean seashore and, inland, lovely farms in pastoral settings. New Jersey is the state where George Washington crossed the Delaware and fought many battles so there is much history and you find many historic sites to visit here. This itinerary leads you south from New York City (or its airports), with its fast pace of life and crowded highways, down along the coast to feel the sand between your toes, the water on your feet, and the salt air on your face, enjoying the more relaxed pace of the southerly shore towns. Alternatively, you can follow the same route from south to north and link up easily and effortlessly with other itineraries outlined in Karen’s guidebook and on this website.
Recommended Pacing: The time needed to travel the coast of New Jersey is but a few hours-most certainly less than eight-but the time spent on enjoying the many attractions may be as little as two days or as long as a week. You can meander between the old Victorian shore communities, highlighted, if you are interested, by some of the action that Atlantic City or those seaside towns with a reputation for the fast life may provide. Your time will depend, as always, on your desire to become more familiar with the towns along the way, to get to know the side streets, and to walk along the ocean.
Find the Garden State Parkway by following the signs from the airports and taking either the Holland or Lincoln Tunnels or the Washington Bridge from New York City. Arm yourself with the change to feed the frequent tollbooths, and begin the drive south to the shore. You may want to exit the parkway as quickly as possible and get onto Route 35, closer to the coast. From there you can take the narrow roads to the coastal communities and then drive from village to village, absorbing the local scene as you pass through each one.
The first opportunity to escape the busy highways may be to take Route 36 to Sandy Hook and to visit the Gateway National Recreation Area. Miles of sandy beach, often windswept and barren, with the bay on the west and the ocean on the east, will greet you. There’s a lot to do here-swimming, fishing, picnicking, windsurfing, and great walking along the water’s edge, but be aware on summer weekends that you need to allow extra time for traffic and navigating through crowds.
Farther south on the parkway you exit for the first of the wonderful old summer seashore communities, Spring Lake. Just shut your eyes and imagine life as it was in the first half of the 19th century when families returned year after year to the same homes, when generations gathered and grew older together, and when little changed over the years and even the decades. Consider spending a night or two in one of the many inns here-walk to the beach with a mug of early-morning coffee to see the sun rise and return after dinner to see the day end.
Continuing south along the coast, you can drive along the spit of land with its string of villages, remain inland following Route 9, or return to the parkway. Your pace will be determined by your self-imposed time schedule and your interest in dawdling along the way, stopping for a mid-morning cup of tea and a cinnamon roll or an afternoon espresso. Eventually the spit of land ends and the villages cease to be as the ocean takes command and you are forced to rejoin Route 9 south at Tom’s River. Don’t miss the Barnegat Lighthouse, a fun choice for some exercise as you climb its 217 steps for the commanding view from the top. Eventually, after crossing the Mullico River, you will arrive in Atlantic City. If gambling, casino shows, and a 4-mile boardwalk are of interest, this may be a place to pause; otherwise, you have the option to bypass all this by staying on Route 9. (If you wish to access the coast from Philadelphia, an equally viable starting point, simply take the Atlantic City Expressway.)
Batsto Village, northwest of Atlantic City on Route 542, is a 19th-century rural industrial town with a visitors’ center that explains the history of the glass and iron industries that began here in the 18th century. The tour includes a visit to the 36-room Italianate mansion built in 1876.
South of Atlantic City, Route 52 leads to Ocean City where you may resume your coastal travel, visiting the seashore towns of Avalon, North Wildwood, and Wildwood.
Soon you arrive in the granddaddy of all the summer shore communities, Cape May, now popular year-round. Difficult as it is to imagine, in the early 1800s holidaymakers came to Cape May to wade in the ocean waters in woolen clothing. By the middle of the 19th century Cape May had become the country’s number-one resort and today the historic Victorian town has many inns and guesthouses just a short walk from the beach, the boardwalk, the shops, and the restaurants. Visitors can enjoy trolley and carriage tours of the historic district, and sightseeing and whale-watching cruises. The walking tour of the historic Victorian section of town is especially worthwhile: enjoy the variety of Victorian style and trim-and the imagination of the owners in their choice of paint colors. Information is available at the Welcome Center (609-884-9562). The Cape May Point State Park and the Cape May Lighthouse are also interesting attractions to visit, as is the Cape May County Historical Society Museum.
Inland excursions might include a visit to WheatonArts (formerly Wheaton Village), reached by taking Route 47 west. This is an old glassmaking community that has been re-created on the historic site where there was once a glass factory built in 1888. Within the village you find the Museum of American Glass where some 7,500 glass objects are on display, most notably a collection of American paperweights. (800-998-4552)
Cape May connects to the Delaware coast by ferry, which saves many hours of driving and enables you to continue a journey into Delaware, Maryland, and the Eastern Shore.