Exploring Sea Isle City: The Fishing Village That Reels in Summer Crowds

The city is home to bustling bars and a rich seafood scene.

An aerial view of Townsends Inlet Waterfront Park, a popular surfing beach on Sea Isle City’s south end. Photo by Jessica Orlowicz

For most Jersey Shore towns, the biggest attraction is the beach or the boardwalk. In Sea Isle City, the beating heart of town is on the bay in Fish Alley, a cluster of old-time dockside seafood markets and restaurants.

Crowds begin to gather outside Carmen’s Seafood (343 43rd Place) around dinnertime, a line of people—some wearing signature “Carmen has crabs” T-shirts—waiting to feast on the restaurant’s specialty: king, snow, Dungeness, soft, blue claw and stone crabs. Or perhaps they’re pondering Carmen’s plump and juicy fried scallops. Much of the restaurant remains unchanged since it opened in 1981, including its charming nautical décor and hanging planters.

Down the block, Mike’s Seafood (4222 Park Road) is filled with jubilant diners peeling shrimp, slurping clams and mussels, and breaking down whole lobster specials at picnic tables. The family of third-generation owner Mike Monichetti traces its fishing origins in Sea Isle back to 1911.

Fish Alley Photo by James J. Connolly

Across the street, Marie’s Lobster House (4304 Park Road), a take-out seafood market, also boasts a full menu in a rustic, waterfront setting. On the other side of the canal is the often less crowded Oar House Pub (318 42nd Place), formerly known as the Lobster Loft.

Fish Alley’s rich fishing community dates to 1908, when dredge work on the canals opened the area to commercial fishing. Throughout the 20th century, Sea Isle fishermen supplied Pennsylvania, North Jersey and elsewhere with fresh, local seafood. Back then, Fish Alley was filled with fish houses. Now, most of the 43rd Place Canal is occupied by condos, though a modest fleet of commercial fishing boats and seafood restaurants have survived.

“This is still an active fishing community,” says Katherine Custer, Sea Isle’s director of community services. “Not every seaside town can boast that.”

Just as central to Sea Isle’s identity is its nightlife. The bar scene attracts a lively, all-ages crowd—including thirsty folk from nearby, dry Ocean City. Most bars are anchored downtown on or around Landis Avenue—named for Charles Kline Landis, who founded the town in 1882.

Chalkboards display specials at Mike’s Seafood. Photo by James J. Connolly

Dead Dog Saloon (3815 Landis Avenue) offers live acoustic music and a strict dress code: Gentlemen must wear a collared shirt and remove their hats. Next door, Shenanigans (3815 Landis Avenue), a boisterous bar and nightclub that lives up to its name, hosts popular Reggae Tuesdays and “What the Buck” Thursdays. Ocean Drive (3915 Landis Avenue) has a large, rectangular, outdoor bar. Play a few rounds of cornhole at LaCosta Lounge and Deck Bar (4000 Landis Avenue). The Springfield Inn’s no-frills outdoor Carousel Beach Bar (4100 Boardwalk) attracts a steady crowd all day, and an even bigger one at night. For a more subdued experience, try O’Donnell’s Pour House (3907 Landis Avenue), a classic Irish pub.

Hop on the jitney and head farther south to Kix-McNutley’s (120 63rd Street), where you’ll find five different bars under one roof. The jitney runs up and down Landis Avenue until 4 am every night from June 21-September 1. From May 17-June 16 and September 6-28, it runs only on weekends. Rides range from $2-$4, depending on the time of night.

That’s not to say the town isn’t lively when the sun’s out. By day, Sea Isle’s beaches and beachfront paths are crowded with families. Walk, bike or rollerblade along the Promenade—a paved path, not a boardwalk—that runs beside the sand. Here you’ll find arcades, a bookstore and shops. You can rent bikes at Tuckahoe Bike Shop (4010 Pleasure Avenue). When you return them, grab an ice cream cone from Yum Yums (31 John F. Kennedy Boulevard), where waffle cones are made fresh to order. Then do a little souvenir shopping around the corner at Anchored in Sea Isle City (4000 Pleasure Avenue), or at the women’s boutiques Kiwi Boutique (4000 Pleasure Avenue) and Birdcage (3914 Pleasure Avenue).

For a brief respite from the sun, walk a block off the beach to Quincy’s Original Lobster Rolls (4215 Landis Avenue) for a lunch of the classic lobster sandwich. One block south, Maryanne Pastry Shoppe (108 44th Street) serves a host of baked goods.

The farther south you head, the quieter it gets. Townsends Inlet, at Sea Isle’s south end, is mainly residential, with a few restaurants and shops around 86th Street. Stroll along the sand and watch the tide come in at Townsends Inlet Waterfront Park (94th Street), where you’ll also catch beautiful sunsets on the bayside.

For the adventurous, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are available to rent at Harbor Outfitters (3500 Boardwalk), which also offers guided tours, including a $49 dolphin-watching tour and $40 sunset tour.

For all its classic attractions, it’s hard not to feel like an era is passing in Sea Isle. In recent years, the town has been in transition, largely the result of Sea Isle City switching from a commission-style form of government to the mayor-council format in 2007. This has helped promote economic growth, and has been a factor in many old staples giving way to new developments.

This will be the last summer for LaCosta Lounge, a sprawling nightclub from the 1960s located on a prime downtown corner. Last year, it was purchased for $7.3 million and will be torn down and replaced with an upscale hotel, two bars and a restaurant. It could also be the last season for the beachfront Springfield Inn, whose prospective new owners are planning a major redevelopment project for the property.

With so much attention on what’s new and on the horizon in Sea Isle, it’s easy to forget where it came from. Delve into the town’s history at the Sea Isle City Historical Museum (4800 Central Avenue), or wander back to Fish Alley to appreciate what remains of the past. From there, you can almost make out the writing on the town’s water tower: “Smile, you’re in Sea Isle.”

The seafood market at Carmen’s Seafood in Fish Alley. Photo by James J. Connolly

WHERE TO EAT

Modo Mio: A crowd favorite, this casual, modern trattoria specializes in refined Italian classics. 5900 Landis Avenue. 609-486-5455.

Dock Mike’s Pancake House: Bright and sunny spot serving breakfast all day. 4615 Landis Avenue. 609-263-3625.

La Finestra: Upscale Italian BYO with ocean views in the heart of Sea Isle’s main strip. 25 John F. Kennedy Boulevard. 609-486-5033.

Mako’s American Grille: Popular BYO with rustic décor and a seafood-forward menu featuring fresh ingredients. 4914 Landis Avenue. 609-263-3287.

Fish Alley Restaurants:
Carmen’s: 343 43rd Place; 609-263-1634
Marie’s Lobster House: 4304 Park Road; 609-263-8812.
Mike’s Seafood: 4222 Park Road; 609-263-3458.

WHERE TO STAY

The Colonnade Inn: Built in 1883, this four-story Victorian is the last surviving hotel from that era. Its 18 units range from one room to three-bedroom suites; each is decorated with a different theme. High-season rates: $155 to $485. 4600 Landis Avenue. 609-263-8868.

Sea Isle Inn: A classic, retro-chic Shore motel with a pool and free parking. The 50 units are a mix of deluxe motel rooms, efficiencies and suites. High-season rates: $115 to $250. 6400 Landis Avenue. 609-263-4371.

Click here to leave a comment
Read more Jersey Shore articles.

By submitting comments you grant permission for all or part of those comments to appear in the print edition of New Jersey Monthly.

Required
Required not shown
Required not shown

Advertisement