There's only 1 place in the world where you go "down the shore" instead of "to the beach": New Jersey. An annual summer tradition for Garden State residents and visitors, Jersey shore weekends may start with the beach, boardwalk and plenty of fried food but there's also fine dining, history, a pinball museum and one of America's most iconic rock clubs.
Where to Stay
Easily one of Atlantic City's sexiest hotels, it was the first non-gaming property to open on the Boardwalk since the 1960s. So, yes, you'll have to walk (or cab) your way to the casino of your choice but, in return, you'll get to stay in über-cool rooms heavy on mid-century glamour. A side benefit of the casino-free Chelsea? There's something to be said for not walking into a swirl of casino cigarette smoke first thing in the morning. Indulge in a perfect day: laze about in the hotel's saltwater swimming pool; eat the freakishly decadent mac 'n' cheese at Teplitzsky's, one of two in-hotel restaurants, and get ready for a night out with a treatment at the Sea Spa.
The 19th century is alive and well and living in full patterned Victorian splendor at this 18-room bed and breakfast in the Norman Rockwell-perfect town of Spring Lake. Travelers used to modern amenities won't feel left behind; the B&B offers high-speed internet access, TV and VCRs in every room, and private baths. But even if everything inside was all wrong -- though it's not -- all would be forgotten after a 10-minute session in one of the porch rocking chairs or a ride around town on one of the Inn's bicycles. Built in the 1880s, the Normandy started out as a summer home for a wealthy Philadelphia family. Now it's one of the 12 accommodations that make up the Historic Inns of Spring Lake.
There's no need to walk to the beach if you stay at Ocean Place -- this hotel's right on the shore. Views vary in the 254 guest rooms; request an ocean or Sandy Hook National Park view unless you're up for a look-see out on the New York City skyline. If a day in the Atlantic Ocean's waves or the property's indoor whirlpool don't push every last bit of tension away, don't worry -- the masseuses at the on-site spa will finish the job.
Where to Eat
While you'll probably have to wait for your table at this large but still always-crowded Asbury Park restaurant, it's not a problem. Take a seat (and order a drink) outside on the porch of the grand Victorian that houses it. Chef Howard Raczkiewicz, who co-owns the restaurant with Luke Magliaro, includes tastes from around the world on his menu but his pastas and seafood dishes are the real standouts.
Mariner's Cove Restaurant
With a menu that is, easily, as tall as a two-year-old child, it's best to start thinking about the category of breakfast food you're up for--and you want the breakfast food -- while waiting on line outside this tiny diner. Even if you narrow it down to, say, omelets, you'll have dozens to choose from once seated in the wood-paneled interior of this Brielle staple. The "Foreign Exchange" omelet subcategory lists 25, including the "Roma Pizza" and the Jamaican "Akee Cod."
Wolfgang Puck American Grille
Headed by the chef famous for his post-Academy Awards dinner at the Governors Ball, this restaurant's contemporary American cuisine upends what you think you know of steakhouse classics. The bone-in ribeye? It's made far better thanks to the addition of Maytag blue cheese butter. Housed in the lobby of Atlantic City's Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, the restaurant would be equally well-suited to a grown-up bachelor party or an intimate dinner for 2.
What to See & Do
Point Pleasant Beach
Try your luck at one of the carnival games or get a good thrill on the rides that pack the length of Point Pleasant Beach's 1-mile long boardwalk. When you finally win the stuffed animal of your kid's dreams, head over to Jenkinson's Aquarium for a hands-on experience with a stingray or to see how much fish a seal eats for lunch.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Ocean Grove was founded in 1869 as a spiritual community. Some of the town's summer residents still live in 114 colorful tents set up for the season. Stroll through the town to see the tents, some of the country's prettiest Victorian buildings, and the stunning Great Auditorium, which is still used for Sunday services.
Asbury Park Boardwalk
Though Asbury Park has had its rough times, the boardwalk is back and more fun than ever. Take a beach break by racking up points on the perfectly-preserved pinball machines at the Silverball Museum Pinball Hall of Fame or perusing the handmade wares at La Placa Pottery. Kids can work off their sugar intake with a run around the new Asbury Splash Park water park.
Caesars Atlantic City
Slot this mega-casino onto your calendar. With 145,000 square feet of gaming space, there's room for every level of player -- from nickel slot cheapskates to big bankroll high-stakes players. Don't even think of skipping out on playing some sort of game. After all, when in Rome (or a Roman-themed casino), well, you know.
The Stone Pony
One of America's most storied music venues, it's closely tied to that most New Jersey of rock legends, Bruce Springsteen. He's still known to show up on the club's stage every once in a great while but don't hold your breath. The club has something going on most nights of the week -- maybe you'll hear the next Bruuuuce-in-training.
Martell's Tiki Bar
The kind of place that, yes, gives the Jersey shore part of its not-so-pretty reputation, this Point Pleasant Beach mainstay is a whole lot of fun (if you don't mind crowds and overpriced drinks). Just give yourself over to the mayhem, dance to whichever shore band is doing the entertaining, and enjoy.
Travel Channel Insider's Tip: Trust us on this--don't just show up without a place to stay. Regulars book months and months out for their hotels-of-choice down the shore. And, no matter the town, the local beach patrols will send you packing if you attempt an overnight stay on their sands.