Best Things to Do at the Jersey Shore

We've put together the ultimate Jersey Shore bucket list, filled with destinations, day trips and activities you absolutely must check out.

A lifeguard surveys LBI's Holgate on a sunny day.
Holgate is LBI's most off-the-beaten-path spot. Photo by James J. Connolly

It’s time for another amazing season at the Jersey Shore.

Wondering how to spend those summer days? You’re in luck! We’ve put together the ultimate Jersey Shore bucket list, filled with destinations, day trips and activities you absolutely must check out.

And if all that activity makes you work up an appetite, check out our favorite places to eat and drink at the Shore—plus 19 new restaurants to enjoy this summer.

CLIMB THE CAPE MAY LIGHTHOUSE

The Cape May Lighthouse at night

Embark on a Stairway to the Stars Lighthouse climb this summer. Photo courtesy of Cape May MAC

Feeling energetic? It’s a mere 199 steps up a winding iron staircase to the top of the Cape May Lighthouse, a majestic, 157-foot-tall tower. Windows at six landing platforms provide a breather and admit natural light. At the top, you can step outside and stroll around the encaged catwalk for a 360-degree view. This season’s full-moon climbs are scheduled for June 14, July 13 and August 11. New this year, Stairway to the Stars climbs are being offered May 30, June 28, July 28 and August 27—new-moon nights when the sky is darkest and stars are most visible. —Ken Schlager
215 Lighthouse Avenue, Cape May Point • 609-884-5404

ROCK OUT AT THE STONE PONY

The Stone Pony is one of New Jersey’s most historic music clubs, known for helping to launch the careers of two of the state’s most famous music icons: Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi. When the weather warms up, the Pony opens its outdoor Summer Stage. There’s no shortage of talent and variety in Asbury Park this summer, with a lineup that includes Sum 41, the Offspring, Modest Mouse, Counting Crows, and local legends Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes. The Pony is also hosting the Sad Summer Festival on July 29—a touring festival that features Waterparks, Neck Deep, Mayday Parade, and more. —Gary Phillips
913 Ocean Avenue, Asbury Park • 732-502-0600

SEE (OR BUILD) AMAZING SANDCASTLES

Contestants sculpt a shark out of sand on Belmar's beach.

The Bikini Boys of Seaside Heights sculpt a Finding Nemo-inspired design at the annual New Jersey Sandcastle Contest. Patti Sapone/NJ Advance Media

Gather your sand-digging gear for the annual New Jersey Sandcastle Contest on July 13 (rain date July 14) in Belmar. From 8 am until noon, contestants can sculpt by the sea to compete for first-, second- and third-place prizes in a variety of categories, as well as a Best on Beach award. Judging is based on originality, creativity and use of accessories. For the past two competitions, the Bikini Boys of Seaside Heights have won with elaborate and very impressive designs depicting Finding Nemo (pictured above) and SpongeBob SquarePants. Here, it is just as fun to watch as it is to build. —Falyn Stempler
18th Avenue Beach, Belmar  

New Jersey Monthly's June 2022 cover.

Buy our June 2022 issue here. Cover photo by Ann Coen

HIDE OUT AT A HIDDEN BEACH

Want to spend a weekend at the Shore but avoid the crowds? Check out one of our favorite hidden beaches—some of the area’s most out-of-the-way, secluded spots that offer a break from the summer hustle and bustle. Nature lovers and families will adore the birding opportunities and calm waters at Cape May County’s Higbee Beach—a gem hidden behind woodend dunes—while Ocean County’s Holgate (pictured above) is the most off-the-beaten-path spot on Long Beach Island. Popamora Point in Monmouth County is tiny, rarely draws a crowd, and even offers a distant look at Manhattan on a clear day. Cape May County’s Strathmere offers relaxing seclusion—and free entrance. Brigantine is the opposite of Atlantic City, which you have to drive through to get there. Although the Wildwoods are known for their upbeat energy and lively attractions, North Wildwood offers up a quieter beach experience. Speaking of calmer cousins, Seaside Park has a markedly more laid-back vibe than nearby Seaside Heights (which, yes, is where Jersey Shore was filmed).

Click here to read our full guide to New Jersey’s hidden beaches.

GET YOUR FORTUNE READ AT MADAM MARIE’S

Asbury Park boardwalk fortune-teller Madam Marie was immortalized through another Jersey Shore icon: Bruce Springsteen. The Boss used to stop by her booth and have his fortune read when he was in town. Rumor has it she told him that he’d someday be a huge success—though he later said she told all the musicians that. (In this case, she was right!) Springsteen mentions Madam Marie in his song “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” singing: “Did you hear the cops finally busted Madam Marie for tellin’ fortunes better than they do?” Madam Marie—whose real name was Marie Castello—died in 2008, but her family continues to give readings from her famed boardwalk booth. —Jacqueline Mroz

VISIT LUCY THE ELEPHANT

The six-story Lucy the Elephant in Margate.

The iconic Lucy the Elephant in Margate is six stories tall. Photo courtesy of Save Lucy Committee Inc.

Everyone’s favorite Jersey Shore icon, Lucy, the six-story pachyderm, is in the midst of a $2 million restoration that includes total replacement of her outer skin and any rotted wood underneath. “The big issue is rust,” explains Lucy’s executive director, Richard Helfant. A new, rust-resistant, nickel-and-copper alloy will replace Lucy’s old tin skin. The floor of Lucy’s howdah (the ornate carriage atop her back) and the two doors in her back legs are also being replaced. Once her new hide is applied, Lucy will be repainted in her original colors; starting in January, some internal plaster will be repaired and repainted. Helfant promises nothing will change about Lucy’s outer appearance—except that the 141-year-old roadside attraction “will look brand-new.” Scaffolding hides Lucy’s exterior and could remain in place until mid-August, although Helfant is hopeful it will be removed sooner. Meanwhile, visitors can tour the interior starting May 27. —KS
200 Atlantic Avenue, Margate • 609-823-6473

Click here to read more on Lucy the Elephant’s restoration.

EAT UP AT CHOWDERFEST

Eager taste-testers flock to Long Beach Island well after Labor Day for the annual Chowderfest in Beach Haven. The free bayfront event (October 1, 10 am-7 pm) features a smorgasbord of seafood- and veggie-laden stews, lovingly cooked up by local restaurateurs who all swear their recipe reigns supreme. Winners are announced at the festival’s end. Too hungry to wait until October? Beginning Labor Day weekend, you can partake in the Chowder Trail by sampling and voting on chowders at participating eateries along the island. Rain date: Sunday, October 2. —Jennifer Finn
Taylor Avenue Ball Field, Beach Haven

EXPLORE ISLAND BEACH STATE PARK

Island Beach State Park is a little-known barrier-island preserve located near Seaside Heights that contains close to 10 miles of pristine sandy beach, an extensive shoreline along Barnegat Bay, dense maritime forests, rolling sand dunes and tidal marshes. There’s a vehicle entry fee of $6-$20, and when all the parking spaces are full, the park is closed to new visitors arriving by car. The most popular activities are swimming and surf fishing, but you can also ride your bicycle, surf, go for a hike, have a picnic, kayak, or even bring your horse. However, it may be most famous as the site of former Governor Chris Christie’s 2017 family beach jaunt, which they enjoyed—even though he’d closed all the state parks and beaches during the July 4th holiday weekend that year due to a state-government shutdown. —JM
2401 Central Avenue, Seaside Park

HUNT FOR CAPE MAY DIAMONDS

cape may diamond hunting

Members of the Andersen family search for Cape May diamonds in the sand. Photo by Jessica Orlowicz

Cape May diamonds, as they’ve come to be known, have been tumbling toward Cape May from the headwaters of the Delaware River for thousands of years. They’re not real diamonds, but rather quartz stones that were swept out of pockets of the mineral upstream and carried downriver. Many wash ashore at Sunset Beach in Cape May Point, where they are treasured finds for scores of beachcombers. Cape May diamonds shine when they’re wet, so they’re easiest to spot if you hunt for them down by the water. The pebbles are generally small (a quarter-inch or so in size), clear or opaque, and rounded from their rocky ride down the river. A plastic sifter is helpful to have when you search. First-time diamond hunters can start their quest at the Sunset Beach Gift Shop. —Lynn Martensein

Click here to read more on Cape May diamonds.

SEE A FLICK ON THE BEACH

No need to “Netflix and chill” or take a pricey trip to the theater. Catch free outdoor movie screenings all summer long at several spots down the Shore. The typically family-friendly selections range from classics to popular new movies like Encanto. Make sure to pack your own chairs or blanket, plus snacks. Some spots with regular showings include Avalon’s Surfside Park, Belmar’s 7th Avenue beach, Long Branch’s Pier Village Festival Plaza, Margate’s Martin Bloom Pavilion, Sea Isle City’s Excursion Park and Wildwood’s Byrne Plaza. —FS

EMBRACE DOO WOP IN THE WILDWOODS

Doo Wop-style landmarks in Wildwood.

Take a Doo Wop tour in the Wildwoods to experience unique architecture. Courtesy of Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement & Development Authority

The 1950s and 1960s were the heyday for the Wildwoods, home to the largest collection of midcentury resort architecture in the country. For a stroll back in time, the Doo Wop Experience Museum—which recently landed a spot on our list of must-visit New Jersey museums—leads tours of classic Wildwood motels and landmarks every Tuesday and Thursday night in the summer beginning on June 28. See the best of these Doo Wop-style landmarks with a knowledgeable guide smartly dressed in 1950s attire. The tour leaves from the front of the Doo Wop Experience Museum at 8 pm on each of those nights. Admission is $13 for adults and $7 for children 12 and under. Reservations should be made in advance either online or by calling the museum. —JM
4500 Ocean Avenue, Wildwood • 609-551-2289

GO BIRDING IN CAPE MAY

Birders look through binoculars in Cape May.

Cape May offers one-of-a-kind birding opportunities. Photo by Jessica Orlowicz

Few places in the country—some say, even the world—offer a better perch for viewing migrating birds’ fly-in than Cape May in fall. Like many wingless folks, avians make their way to the southern tip of the state to rest and refuel. From late August to early November, more than a million birds touch down in a few square miles of beaches, forests and marshlands at the south end of the state. New Jersey Audubon offers highly popular weekly tours at three of Cape May’s top bird-watching spots: Higbee Beach, the Cape May Bird Observatory and Cape May Point State Park. It also offers birding tours in Cape May’s back bay. —LM

Click here to read more on Cape May birding.

HIT THE BOARDWALK ON A SURREY 

A family rides a surrey bicycle on a boardwalk.

Surreys seat two to six people and can be rented on boardwalks all over the Shore. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock/Brocreative

If you want to experience the boardwalk from a completely different vantage point, rent a surrey: a four-wheeled quadricycle that seats two, four or six people. The old-timey-looking vehicle has open bench seats and a canopy on top, and is powered by humans rather than a motor; most Shore boardwalks have them to rent. They are perfect for families with young children. Seaside Heights Bike and Surrey Rental has them available for $35 an hour (2-3 people) or $45 an hour (4-6 people). —JM

HIT THE RACES AT MONMOUTH PARK

Visit one of the country’s top 10 racetracks as the thoroughbreds run Fridays to Sundays through September 18. With 8,000 seats in the grandstand and hundreds of shaded tables in the family picnic area, Monmouth Park offers plenty of room to spread out. For as little as $2, place a bet on a horse to win a race. Horse-racing fans can watch and bet on simulcast races and professional sporting events seven days a week. —R.C. Staab
175 Oceanport Avenue, Oceanport • 732-222-5100

SCUBA DIVE DOWN TO A SHIPWRECK

Looking for an underwater adventure this summer? There are thousands of shipwrecks off the coast waiting to be explored by certified divers. The R.P. Resor, located 120 feet below the surface and 32 miles off Long Beach Island, and the Gulf Trade, which split into two dive sites at Barnegat Inlet, are two examples. Both oil tankers were torpedoed by World War II-era German U-boats. The USS Algol, meanwhile, remains intact beyond Point Pleasant, where it now serves as an artificial reef after sinking in 1991. —GP 

WATCH FOR WHALES

Some of the world’s largest mammals make Jersey waters home during the summer, including humpback whales, fin whales and northern right whales. The humpback is the most common, particularly juveniles. New Jerseyans can take whale-watching tours, including in Cape May (Cape May Whale Watcher), Belmar (Jersey Shore Whale Watch) and Highlands (Seastreak). —GP 

CHECK OUT SEA LIFE ON THE BOARDWALK

Now in its 31st year, Jenkinson’s Aquarium is ideal for ducking out of a gray day—or a sunny one, for that matter. The African penguins are a favorite at this boardwalk attraction, but you’ll also see sharks, seals, sea turtles and all manner of fish in a variety of creatively composed habitat exhibits. The touch tank is another major attraction. —KS
300 Ocean Avenue, Point Pleasant Beach • 732-892-0600

MEET OCEAN GROVE’S UNIQUE TENT COMMUNITY

Ocean Grove tents

The striped awnings may be the same but the interiors of Ocean Grove’s tents are unique. Photo by James J. Connolly

Ocean Grove comes alive each May, when the canvas tents are erected and striped awnings sprout on the paths and narrow roads around the towering Great Auditorium. While the colorful awnings create a uniform look, inside the similarities end. “They’re all the same, but they are all different, like a New York City studio,” says tenter Donna Scudder, who, with her husband and daughter, has rented for 10 summers. For non-residents interested in seeing the tent community, the tents are located along public streets and public walkways, so the exterior can be viewed and enjoyed any time. However, the canvas tenting and awnings are only up when the tents are occupied between mid-May and mid-September. The tents are not open for tours. —RCS

Click here to read more about life in Ocean Grove’s tent community.

WALK THE COUNTRY’S FIRST BOARDWALK IN AC

An aerial shot of Atlantic City's Boardwalk.

The Atlantic City Boardwalk is the first in the U.S. Photo: Shutterstock/Mia2you

These days, a handful of Shore beach towns have popular boardwalks, but Atlantic City’s is the original—and in some opinions, remains the best. Constructed in 1870 for Victorian strolling sans the sand, the six-mile-long stretch of wood planks have had their share of storm strife. The Boardwalk has been rebuilt in portions at least six times, including a 2021 initiative. Nowadays, strolling the iconic walkway gives access to casinos, bandstands for music venues, and restaurants (including Margaritaville, which protrudes from the Boardwalk over the sand), shops and more. —Deborah P. Carter

GIVE A SUNSET SALUTE TO VETERANS

Cape May Point flag-lowering ceremony

The family of Charles F. Coyle honors his service to his country at a flag-lowering ceremony in Cape May Point in August 2021. Photo by Jessica Orlowicz

Almost every day in summer is Veterans Day at Sunset Beach in Cape May Point. Throughout the summer, family and friends gather to honor a U.S. veteran at a stirring beachfront flag-lowering ceremony. It’s a moving tribute that often pulls beachgoers off the sand, many of whom end up singing along to the national anthem or pledging allegiance to the flag with their hands over their hearts. Fittingly, it was a veteran who began the tradition. The late Marvin Hume, an aviation machinist’s mate in the U.S. Navy durng WWII, started the ceremony in 1973, the same year he bought the property, to honor his three best friends who were killed at Pearl Harbor. The ceremony is free. —LM

Click here to read more on the Sunset Beach flag-lowering ceremony.

ENJOY THE WATERFRONT AND HISTORY

Tuckerton Seaport & Baymen’s Museum, a 40-acre waterfront village on the mainland side of Barnegat Bay west of Long Beach Island, comprises 15 buildings with displays of coastal culture, plus a self-service café for breakfast and lunch. Folk-life demonstrations include decoy carving and blacksmithing. One-hour Tuckerton Creek boat tours are offered 10 am-4 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays ($10). Starting July 4, the ferry from Beach Haven operates 8 am-7 pm Saturday-Monday ($12.50 roundtrip). —KS
120 W. Main Street, Tuckerton • 609-296-8868

EXPLORE VIKING VILLAGE

Founded as a lobster co-op at the northern tip of Long Beach Island in the 1920s, today’s Viking Village continues as a commercial fishing port, with the added attraction of clothing, crafts and collectibles shops, and food vendors—all housed in repurposed fishing shacks. You can take a free dock tour (10 am Fridays, starting July 8) or just stroll around the docks to admire the colorful fishing fleet. This year’s craft shows are scheduled for May 29, July 10 and September 4. —KS
1801 Bayview Avenue, Barnegat Light • 609-494-0113

INDULGE IN LUXE RELAXATION

In addition to salted margaritas at the happening bayfront Water Star Grille, the Reeds at Shelter Haven also boasts the Salt Spa, a luxury experience not typically found this far south on the Parkway. Choose from signature HydraFacials and massages, a mud ritual or salt scrub in the Turkish bath, cutting-edge Soft Pack Floats, raindrop therapy—or simply pop in for a quick blowout to tame those beach waves before heading out for the night. —Molly Gregor
9601 Third Avenue, Stone Harbor • 609-961-3009

GO GAGA AT OCEAN CITY’S BABY PARADE

The annual Baby Parade in Ocean City. 

Children under 10 years old take center stage at the annual Baby Parade in Ocean City. Photo by Jessica Orlowicz

For more than a century, on the second Thursday each August, the tangled waves of runners and beachgoers on the Ocean City boardwalk part like menhaden fish for humpback whales—to make way for babies in buggies and toddlers on trikes. Although it’s older than the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or the Miss America Pageant, the Ocean City Baby Parade is less about fancy floats and more about families staying up until 3 am with spray paint, fabric, cotton balls and glue. People come to applaud the show choir and marching bands or wave at Queen Infanta, but they save their oohs and aahs for the dozens of children under 10 years old dressed in elaborate swaddling or last year’s Halloween costumes. Registration opens in June at ocnj.us/babyparade. This year’s event takes place August 11 from 10:30 am–noon—ending just before afternoon nap time. —RCS

Click here to read more about Ocean City’s Baby Parade.

GET YOUR FILL AT THE HIGHLANDS CLAM FEST

Butter is poured over clams at the Highlands Clam Fest at Huddy Park.

The 27th Highlands Clam Fest is being held from August 5-7 at Huddy Park. Photo by James J. Connolly

Two days before the annual Highlands Clam Fest, clammer Bill Mount takes his boat out into Raritan Bay, rakes up more than 2,000 hard clams, and drops them off at the depuration plant in Highlands for cleansing. The day of the festival, he takes the hard clams two blocks west to Huddy Park, where he and his family steam, season and sell them. The clams and other seafood sold by Mount and local restaurants come from nearby bay and ocean waters and are as fresh and tasty as anywhere on the East Coast. Beyond the clams, the reason people return year after year to the Highlands Clam Fest is the welcoming nature of this hardworking Jersey Shore bayside town. People take turns dunking the dummy to support the volunteer first aid squad, contribute to the 50/50 raffle for the volunteer fire department, and enjoy socializing on the Highlands picnic grounds. “Folks are really happy,” says Mayor Carolyn Broullon, who owns the Feed & Seed pet and general store. “They love to tell you how much they like the town.” The 27th annual Highlands Clam Fest is being held in Huddy Park from August 5-7. Admission is free. —RCS

HEAR THE BIGGEST INSTRUMENT IN THE WORLD

Take a break from the beach and listen to the circa-1930 pipe organ at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City—it’s the largest instrument in the world! On weekdays in the summer, visitors are invited to hear an organist play at noon and then take a tour to see the pipes, which are hidden inside the walls. It’s free, but donations are welcome. “For years this organ was sitting in disrepair. We’ve changed that,” says Scott D. Banks, membership and events coordinator at the Historic Organ Restoration Committee. Fifty-three percent of the organ—which is made up of more than 33,000 pipes—is fully functioning; in 2014, that number was 10 percent. The instrument is also known as sonic Mount Rushmore. —Georgia Kral
2301 Boardwalk, Atlantic City • 609-348-7000

EXPERIENCE AN 8-MILE WILDLIFE DRIVE

For a modest fee of $4 per car, the 8-mile Wildlife Drive at the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge is guaranteed to showcase shorebirds such as herons, ospreys, egrets, and hawks. In the summer, walk, bike or drive and then climb a watch tower to observe baby ospreys learning to fly or herons stalking lunch—with views of Atlantic City and Brigantine in the distance. —RS
723 Great Creek Road, Galloway 

CELEBRATE THE COAST WITH THE BAYSHORE CENTER

Home to the 115-foot schooner AJ Meerwald—New Jersey’s official tall ship—the Bayshore Center is also a museum where young and old can learn the history of New Jersey’s local oyster industry. The Bayshore Center’s expanded Second Friday events (4-8:30 pm every second Friday of the summer months) feature live music, wine and beer (from nearby Glasstown Brewing Co.), locally sourced raw oysters, food trucks, craft vendors, speakers and free museum entry. The fun continues on Saturday After (the second Saturday of summer months), with family-oriented events from noon-5 pm. Alas, the Meerwald underwent a major restoration project this winter in Maine and likely won’t be ready to sail again until late summer. —KS
2800 High Street, Bivalve, Port Norris

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