What to See, Eat, and Do in a Week at the Jersey Shore
Does it ever take you forever to readjust to normal life after a vacation? It always feels like I need at least a few days to recover from my vacation, even if it was a relaxing one. There’s the inevitable unpacking of a million things, sorting piles of dirty laundry, putting away the things you bought, and stashing all the vacation things in a safe spot for next year. Now that I’ve tackled most of the post-vacation clean-up and am in the right head space (read: not overly exhausted and missing vacation), I’m ready to share all about my latest vacation.
Nick, Violet, and I returned from our very first family vacation. Nick and I love taking a big vacation in the summer when I get my time off from work and then smaller vacations throughout the year. It’s nice as a teacher not to have to worry about having enough PTO in the summer but it’s also a lot of work (and money) traveling when everyone with kids travels. In the past, we found it hard to avoid big crowds of families no matter where we went. But this year we finally fit in as we dragged our little girl all up and down the Jersey shore.
Our home base for this vacation was Brigantine, a small island that sits just north of Atlantic City. It’s more residential than most Jersey Shore towns that I’ve been to/stayed in. It’s nice that way because it’s quieter and not as crowded during the week. There are only a few restaurants and very little to do besides lay on the beach so keep that in mind if you’re looking at staying in Brigantine. What I did notice this time was that, on the weekends, some houses are rented to bachelor or bachelorette parties because it’s really easy to get into Atlantic City and get the best of both nightlife and beach life. But we weren’t bothered by any big groups of people and Brigantine is definitely still quiet and full of families.
The best thing about our week down the Shore was we didn’t have to worry about where to stay. Nick’s family has a beach house in Brigantine. Having access to a whole house when traveling with a baby is great, though I will admit to overpacking slightly knowing we had a lot of a space and could make things “just like home”.
Though it’s not “exotic” or “adventurous”, it felt like a safe way to start traveling with our babe. I’m not afraid to travel with a baby, especially since Violet is mostly easy-going and happy, but I wanted us to have a no-fuss vacation where we could relax. Or relax as much as you can with a five month old baby. I’m thinking of putting together some of the things I learned about doing a beach vacation with a baby, so if you’re interested, stay tuned!
Now let’s dive into our week at the Jersey Shore!
What we saw and did during the week
You go to the Jersey Shore to hang out on the beach, right? Get a nice tan, maybe splash in the waves? Not so much when you’ve got a little one. I knew when planning our trip that we wouldn’t have hours at the beach AND we’d want to have time for naps and feeding. So I planned in other things we could do in and around Brigantine. We ended up exploring Ocean City, Stone Harbor, Cape May and more in Atlantic and Cape May counties. There’s definitely more to the Jersey Shore than just the beach.
What I didn’t plan for was the heat wave that hit New Jersey that week! Ugh. It was truly disgusting and so, so hot. Which further complicated matters when doing a beach vacation with a baby.
I shouldn’t have worried because there is plenty to do down the Shore, even when you can barely stand to be outside for more than thirty minutes. But we did a lot, even spending some time on the beach!
Hang on the beach - again, it was hot, we have a baby, we needed to be smart. Thankfully, our beach house was only a block away from the sand so we packed up a wagon full of umbrellas, water, and sunscreen. The thing to remember about beaches in NJ is you need to pay to go on them. I didn’t realize that beach tags and day passes to beaches aren’t a thing everywhere so keep that in mind. They usually aren’t expensive and, in Brigantine, you can purchase a week pass.
Stroll the Ocean City boardwalk - where I usually go down the Shore (Bradley Beach) there’s a boardwalk but it’s only for running, walking, or jogging. Ocean City’s boardwalk is much, much more than that. There’s every sort of boardwalk food, rides and games, mini golf, basically anything you can think of when you think “boardwalk”. We ended up going to the boardwalk pretty early, probably around 9am, to beat the heat (and it still got us, ugh) but a lot was open already.
First stop on the boardwalk has to be Brown’s Donuts. There’s a restaurant too but if you’re looking for the most delicious, grab-and-go boardwalk snack, you NEED to get a hot donut from Brown’s. They’re not fancy and there aren’t a whole lot of flavors but they are AMAZING.
Another stop to make, if you’re looking to beat the heat, is Ocean City Coffee Company. The iced coffee was delicious and you can watch them roast and package the beans through a big window in the back. Not far from there is Shriver’s Salt Water Taffy and Fudge. It is a classic Ocean City boardwalk shop and has air conditioning (a reason to stop, second only to the candy). It’s the perfect place to stop and grab candy and salt water taffy to take with you the rest of the day.
Again, we didn’t do much on the boardwalk since it was so hot but all the games and mini golf courses were up and running already. We did make a stop at Gillian’s Wonderland Pier. There’s all the classic boardwalk rides: a carousel, Ferris wheel, bumper cars, and the swings. What I love, and can’t wait to do next year, is they have smaller rides for little kids and toddlers. There’s a train ride that will take you all around the rides area in the air. There are mini boats and little twirling hot air balloons. Next year Violet can ride on some of them (with our assistance) so I can’t wait to come back!
Go shopping- what better way to beat the heat than do a little shopping? There are some great shops down the Shore. Many of them specialize in laid back, summer-y clothing and accessories, which makes for truly fun vacation shopping. I reached out to Emily of Her Philly about shopping in Ocean City because Emily always gets the cutest things when she’s down in OC. She referred me to Bohemian Mama, Seagrass Boutique, 7th Street Surf, and Colette, all on Asbury Avenue. They all had the cutest things, from pretty little accessories to flowing beach dresses. I also popped into Island Gypsies, another clothing boutique with beach vibes, and Bowfish Kids, a store with the cutest kid and baby clothing, accessories, and toys.
I also did a lot of shopping Cape May, but I’m going to save that for my whole post on just Cape May. We also spent a little time walking and shopping in Stone Harbor. Stone Harbor has a very “preppy” vibe so a lot of the stores carried Vineyard Vines-like clothing. Skirt had really beautiful clothes, Across the Way had fun home goods and jewelry, and Global Pursuit for, yes, Vineyard Vines.
Visit Lucy the Elephant - now I had never heard of Lucy until Nick and I started dating and heading down to south Jersey beaches. Definitely a Jersey girl fail. Lucy is a giant elephant structure in Margate that was built as a real estate “prop” to attract people to the area. You can buy a ticket and climb up inside Lucy; how crazy is that? Unfortunately it was 90+ degrees and I was not about to carry Violet up into an un-air conditioned elephant. But it sure does make for some fun pictures!
Visit the Cape May Zoo - we not only visited fake animals but we saw some real ones too! We got up pretty early to beat the heat and explore the Cape May County Zoo. It’s about 20 minutes west of Stone Harbor and the best part is that it is FREE. They ask for a donation when you enter the park and I definitely recommend giving whatever you can to this amazing zoo. They have everything from the most adorable little monkeys to lions to giraffes to flamingos. It’s obviously very family friendly and just big enough for an hour or two visit.
Grab a beer (or two) at some breweries - the NJ craft brewery scene is going strong and there are tons of breweries to visit when you’re down the Shore. When we were on our way down, we stopped at Tuckahoe Brewing Company in Egg Harbor Township, which is small but has so many delicious beers. We also headed to Tomfoolery Brewing Company in Hammonton and Hidden Sands Brewing Company in Egg Harbor Township. It was a great hot weather activity and there are tons more we’d love to explore but there’s only so many breweries you can take a baby to in one day.
Walk and shop Historic Smithville - I’m not really sure how to describe Historic Smithville. It’s kind of like an old timey village but with kitschy shops and restaurants instead of actual history? Though I might be wrong and some of the buildings do look like they could be “historic”. But really it’s just a good place to walk around, even if it is a little hot out. There’s a pond/lake that you can ride paddle boats on and there’s a little kids train that runs through part of the village. There is also a carousel and some candy shops and there’s also the Smithville Inn. It’s definitely worth a stop but I wouldn’t plan your whole day here.
Where we ate
We split our meals between cooking at home and eating out. When we did eat out, we opted for some no-frills places. There are plenty of really great upscale places down the Shore but when I’m on a beach vacation I just want to be comfortable. Also, this list is short because we ate down in Cape May a few times but that’s going in a separate Cape May post!
The Pirate’s Den, Brigantine
Nick declared this a “must” when he first took me to Brigantine. He grew up going there for breakfast and now it’s the first place Violet sat in a restaurant high chair on her own. It’s definitely not fancy but it has really good breakfast like you want when you’re relaxing down the Shore. Then take a walk on the sea wall to burn it all off.
Soulberri Coffee + Smoothies, Brigantine
If you’re in need of a little refreshment while on Brigantine, definitely make a stop at Soulberri. It’s a jazzed up shipping container that serves locally roasted coffee, fresh made smoothies, and smoothie bowls. It’s not far from where we stayed and we walked over in the sweltering heat and humidity to grab a smoothie. It was SO good and the smoothies were thick and really flavorful. It has a cute surfboard bench and plenty of picnic tables to hang out at in the back.
Crab Shack Seafood Market and Restaurant, Brigantine
Another super casual spot in Brigantine, we ended up grabbing takeout from here out of curiosity. We got peel and eat shrimp and they were so fresh and delicious. It does a booming takeout business but has picnic tables in the back/along the parking lot. It’s right next door to Soulberri.
Mott’s Creek Inn, Galloway
If you’re looking for something decidely unfancy but with a killer view, then you need to make the hike out to Mott’s Creek Inn. Years ago, Nick and I did a long weekend at Seaview in Galloway and this spot was recommended to us. It’s a mostly fish and chips, fried fish, and fish tacos with a Corona kind of a place but, when the sun is setting over the wetlands, it is stunning.
Drip and Scoop, Ocean City
When you go to Ocean City, you have to get a donut. We went to Brown’s on the boardwalk first for a classic hot one but we came back the next day to get a crazy fancy one from Drip and Scoop on Asbury Avenue. They have so many awesome flavors, everything from half chocolate half vanilla frosted to cotton candy. I got a Nutella donut, frosted with globs of Nutella and a chocolate coconut donut, a chocolate frosted donut coated in coconut flakes. Oh. My. God. They were amazing! They also have really good cold brew and fancier drinks like lavender lattes that I’m too plain Jane to order. As per the name, Drip and Scoop is also an ice cream shop too.
OC Surf Cafe, Ocean City
This restaurant was recommended to me by both Jess of JL & Co. and Emily of Her Philly and they know OC and I knew those ladies would not steer me wrong. This place was so cute and the food was great too. It’s nothing fancy, just a breakfast and lunch place, but they do them well. My favorite part was that you can get breakfast all day (or at least until 2pm when it closes!).
Chill, Stone Harbor
It’s hard to find a rooftop restaurant that isn’t fancy or crazy crowded with people drinking. Chill is very, well, chill and relaxing and not filled with drunk people taking in the view. It overlooks 96th street where a lot of the shopping is. Part of the roof is covered which was so necessary when we went because it was 97 that day (what a week to go on vacation!). There was the best ocean breeze and then menu had a lot of great options, plenty of seafood, salad, and sandwiches. I got the crab grilled cheese
Joe Italiano’s Maplewood Restaurant, Hammonton
After many years of driving past this place on the way down the Shore, Nick and I decided to give it a try. We went at lunch time on one of the really hot days when we couldn’t go to the beach (wait, wasn’t that all the days we were there???). It is your typical red sauce Italian place and it’s really, really good at that red sauce Italian stuff. I got veal parm and it was just the best. If you’re looking for good Italian, this is your place.
And that’s everything we saw, ate, and did on the Jersey Shore. Whew!
I can’t wait to make this a yearly tradition. While I love taking adventurous trips, it’s also really nice to get to explore your own “backyard”. We probably won’t do a whole week again (there are so many other places to explore!) but we’ll definitely schedule some long weekend trips. There’s just so much to see! It’s also really special for Nick and I to share our childhood memories down the Shore with Violet.