The Inlet Café
From the outdoor bar or a table on the deck, you can watch small sailboats maneuver around massive yachts in Sandy Hook Bay. Expect a mix of locals, sunburned bathers, and the occasional bandana-crowned biker, all enjoying the breezes and bay view. Fancy? Hardly. Friendly? You bet.
PROS: Courteous and attentive bartenders, refreshing margaritas. The Crab Trap Dip is addictive.
CONS: Parking. Small lot. Finding a spot on the winding streets is hit-or-miss. Keep circling.
3 Cornwall Street, Highlands
This legendary beachfront tiki bar appears to have escaped the wrecking ball again. (The condos are coming! The condos are coming!) Don’t miss what could be the last season of perhaps the greatest beach bar scene at the Shore. Grab a cocktail at the inside bar (much less crowded) before sauntering outside for people-watching on the elevated deck. Below you are the beach, the bikinis, the bandstand (rock and reggae), and the thatched-roof tiki bars. You can stay up top or amble down and mingle. But be warned: Once you get into the beach scene, you may never come back. At least not in time for dinner.
PROS: Cool, comfortable vibe with wide mix of ages.
CONS: Often a cover charge. Parking is a bear. Skip the lot and park at the municipal lot next to the police station. And watch your speed. The 25 mph limit is strictly enforced.
1171 Ocean Avenue, Route 36, Sea Bright
Brothers Ed and Kevin Kelly and their families blend quintessential Irish tavern with classic patio bar to create what is probably the friendliest indoor/outdoor hangout at the Shore. About three miles due east of the super-popular Avon beach, Kelly’s (above) is known for great service, a robust local clientele, and their legendary mini-Reuben. (Unless you’re with a party of twelve, do not order the regular-size Reuben. Trust us.)
PROS: Big patio, many beers on tap.
CONS: Crowded on summer Saturdays. Be patient.
Route 35, Neptune City
South Seaside Park
A block from the entrance to Island Beach State Park (site of the official governor’s summer residence), Bum Rogers Tavern has welcomed hungry beach bums for more than 30 years. What may appear to be a typical hole-in-the-wall (with a tad too much nautical kitsch) has earned a surprising reputation for its fresh seafood.
PROS: Garlic crabs (a must), ice-cold raw bar, and serious pizza. Kids welcome.
CONS: Can get noisy and busy. Also, you never know when the gov might drop in.
2207 Central Avenue South, Seaside Park
The Palm Grill
Sea Shell Resort and Beach Club
Despite the “Beach Club” in its name, the Palm Grill at the Sea Shell Resort welcomes everyone to its outdoor tiki bar. Sit poolside, listen to the rumbling surf, and delight in what the staff calls “ocean breezes on the house.” If the sun has made you ravenous, by all means chow down on the 8-ounce burgers or grilled tuna-steak sandwich. The happy hour with live entertainment will put a permanent silly smile on your face.
PROS: Bikinis and bronzed muscles.
CONS: None, unless it rains.
10 S. Atlantic Avenue, Beach Haven
Flying Cloud Café
At this waterfront dock and dining spot, landlubbers rub jibs with old salts (yachters in their neon pants) in a sort of human surf-and-turf. From its perch on Gardner’s Basin, it offers a great view of the Atlantic City skyline. The open deck will extend your tanning time—and your appetite. Clams, calamari, shrimp, and grilled-tuna salad are menu favorites. Conversation starter: The Flying Cloud was an 1851 clipper ship that set sailing-vessel speed records that still stand.
800 New Hampshire Avenue, Atlantic City
Westy’s Irish Pub
Why are so many Shore pubs owned by folks of Irish ancestry? Surely their fair skin, which turns lobster red without ever tanning, has nothing to do with it. Oh, we know! It’s their hospitality and engaging banter that draws throngs in thongs to their establishments. Westy’s is one of the best. Enjoy the ocean view from the deck or head downstairs to the authentic Irish pub. You can choose from wings, nachos, club sandwiches, and shepherd’s pie. When the live music starts—Westy’s has a rollicking nightly sing-along—you can join in or head for the exits.
PROS: Irish potato wedges, buffalo wings, dart boards, frozen drinks.
CONS: Friendly patrons who urge you to stay for “just another.”
101 East Walnut Avenue, North Wildwood
North Cape May
Another grand view, this one of Delaware Bay and the lazy progress of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. Yes, you’re close enough to wave to the passengers; no, you shouldn’t hold up your delectable onion rings (stacked on a stick like a ring-toss game) and taunt, “Nah, nah. Look what I have!’’ Henry’s offers over 250 different frozen drinks (after the first 100, they all taste the same), and a fair selection of tap beers and wines. Seafood is king here, with conch and grouper among the best choices.
PROS: Sandbox for the kids.
CONS: No adult sandbox, but plenty of parking.
91 Beach Drive, North Cape May
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