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My extended family on my mom’s side has been vacationing on Long Beach Island for a treasured week or two every summer since before I was born. A gloriously chaotic crew of 21 grandkids, several aunts, uncles and second cousins, and, in more recent years, a growing gaggle of great-grandkids—to whom we’ve had the joy of introducing our childhood traditions—cram into a bunch of humble rentals on a cluster of two or three streets. Although we spend the majority of our time on the beach by day and around big family dinners by night, we have honed an array of favorite haunts around the island.
For breakfast before a full day on the beach, Beach Haven’s Blue Water Café (113th Street and Long Beach Boulevard) never misses. The vibe is just right (think: casual Paris bistro meets friendly Jersey diner). A handful of cousins and I start our day with a leisurely morning of eggs, pancakes and caffeine fixes out on the covered patio.
Our longtime go-to for fresh donuts is Marvel’s Bakery (4 W. Maryland Avenue), where you can watch the hypnotizing frying machine while waiting in line. Please don’t make me choose between the powdered-sugar and cinnamon-sugar flavors—I always order both. (Perhaps the only thing better than making the trip to Marvel’s? Waking up to a grease-stained paper bag on the kitchen counter with the gleeful realization that somebody’s already made an early run. Thanks, Dad!)
Speaking of cinnamon sugar, one of the island’s most iconic sweets is the flaky, sticky, shareable elephant ear at Crust & Crumb Bakery (830 N. Bay Avenue) in Beach Haven’s bustling Bay Village. If you go during the day, walk down the cute alleyway flanking the shop—you’ll likely spot a baker in the window, prepping the enormous rounds of dough for the oven.
I can’t resist popping into Breezin’ Up (9th and Bay Avenue), just a few steps away, to browse the latest batch of LBI-emblazoned T-shirts and sweatshirts. Do I need another one? No. Will that stop me? Also no.
Across the street, nestled among the Schooner’s Wharf shops, is LBI Book Swap (325 9th Street), where I love to peruse new reads or trade in old ones. Don’t miss the small wall haphazardly tacked with items found in the pages of customers’ used books—from receipts to ticket stubs to poignant love notes. It’s a strikingly intimate glimpse into the colorful lives of island visitors and inhabitants.
At nearby amusement park Fantasy Island (750 North Bay Avenue), a spin on the towering Ferris wheel has become an annual tradition my brother and I take very seriously. A bird’s-eye view of LBI is such a treat—especially at night, when we can glimpse the faint lights on the very bridge that has brought us, every summer of our lives, to a place we cherish most.
Very close to Bay Village is the Dune Market (414 N. Bay Avenue, Unit D), a newcomer on LBI’s shopping scene I can’t resist. Owner Emily Raleigh thoughtfully stocks the shop with ethically sourced home decor, wellness products and books.
One of my other favorite shops is Just Bead It (1616 Long Beach Boulevard), where customers can buy and make their own jewelry. Because LBI has such sentimental ties for me, I’ve repeatedly brought in jewelry purchased elsewhere to have the kind owner, Stacey Fuessinger, custom-stamp it with meaningful initials or numbers.
Come sunset, dinner and drinks on Daddy O’s (4401 Long Beach Boulevard) rooftop in Brant Beach is a lovely way to spend a summer night, even if, like me, you’re not staying at the hotel as a guest. Next up, for music and dancing, is Joe Pop’s (2002 Long Beah Boulevard) in Ship Bottom. I also unironically love well-known watering hole Nardi’s (118th Street and the Boulevard) in Long Beach—and not just because you can get a free lift home on one of the hot-pink party buses!
My cousins and I end our night—as we’re fighting varying degrees of denial about our vacation coming to a close—at the legendary Chicken or the Egg (207 N. Bay Avenue)—“Chegg” to those in the know; open 24 hours Thursday-Sunday in the summer. We push a few tables together, feast on chicken tenders and milkshakes, and try not to dwell on the fact that it’ll be a whole year before we’re all together again in the same magnificent place.
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