I’m in Tom’s River, New Jersey, just about to follow NJ Route 37 over the bridge and into Seaside Heights. This is my first trek to the New Jersey Shore, and it would have been a lot sooner if only winter weather hadn’t overstayed its welcome so long. It’s Memorial Day, my first real day off with the “real world” worker bees. I sigh at the prospect of fighting them for lane-changing at my discretion and wonder how many times I will get turned around in a traffic circle. The answer is only once, and before I know it, I’m in ocean city paradise. A cool and refreshing sea breeze blows through my hair as I cross the bridge over the Atlantic Ocean. I gaze at sailboats, yachts and the occasional jet-skier. I have already determined: Life on the shore is damn good.
This will be an on-going series about the New Jersey Shore beaches. First impressions are everything, and I’m going to do my best to point out the good, the bad and the ugly of these nationally-known and certainly internationally recognized stretch of beaches.
Part I: Seaside Heights, NJ
Getting there: From Philadelphia, PA the drive took me about an hour and a half. It’s not hard to find if you utilize Google Maps, of course. I obviously drove there and took 70 E most of the way until I hit 37 E. Believe me when I say, Google Maps enjoys a laugh at your expense: always remember to double check your directions. Google directed me to take 37 W, wherein a roundabout circle driving scenario reminiscent of the Truman Show ensued. Once landing safely on the other side of the bridge, make sure to follow the signs for Seaside Heights, not Seaside Park. Once in Seaside Heights, it is unbelievably easy to find the boardwalk and scour for parking.
Getting around: Like I said, if you have any basic navigation skills, going straight and finding the water should be relatively easy for you. The boardwalk, about a mile stretch of restaurants, rides, arcade games and beach access is laid out in front of you like a weekend-long debauchery smorgasbord. The town is fairly small and is very pedestrian friendly. Don’t avoid walking because vehicle traffic can be a nightmare. You’ll notice there are plenty of cross-walks- just be a considerate pedestrian, not an asshole who walks into traffic. You know, there IS a thing called natural selection. There are all sorts of rental shops for bikes, kayaks, paddle boards, wave runners, you name it. Oh yeah, there’s also the Sky Ride, a cable car ride that takes you roughly from one end of the boardwalk to the other for $3 or $5 for a round trip. Check it out!
|Guidos ruling from their rooftop fortress
Atmosphere: Walking down the street and eventually past the house The Jersey Shore cast members stayed in made me wonder if I was undergoing some rite of passage. Was I witnessing the inevitable downfall of this once family-oriented, home-grown beach town? Does El Guido officially rule as King of The Jersey Shore? Was all of humankind doomed to wear their hair spiky, their skin orange and fall over drunk at shitty dive bars? These are the questions I asked myself as I saw the old fighting to stay alive amongst the new.
The boardwalk was alive with food vendors, including the famous Three Brothers Pizza shop, Rita’s Water Ice (like Italian or shaved ice if you, like me, find no real significant meaning to a dessert called “water ice.” Isn’t ice just frozen water? Whatever.), old and new school arcades (check out Flashback Arcade for some old-school games like Ms. Pacman and and Sinistar), and some pretty good restaurants.
|Beach-goers in Seaside Heights, NJ
The beach was the beach. People screaming about cold water, crowds soaking up the rays, brave souls paddle boarding a wave up to the shore. Beautiful coast!
Good times: Nothing shocks and excites like a too-cold wave catching you off guard. The water had to haven been less than 70 degrees, but it somehow felt so good to lose footing because of the water’s salty push. If you are going to make it all the way to the shore, you better get in that water! Locals say that the water isn’t swimmer-friendly until about August. Don’t let that stop you!
Dinner at Spicy’s Mexican Restaurant and Cantina was memorable. Throw out your misconceptions that the boardwalk only has carnival or junk food. Me, my sister, her boyfriend and his mother had an extraordinary meal from a table over looking the Atlantic. My pork carnitas stuffed chiles rellenos were great and the gimmicky table-side guacamole presentation was actually enjoyable, not cringe-worthy. I always feel a server’s pain, being one myself, but she seemed to genuinely like preparing our guacamole table-side. Whether she did or not is another story, but if not, she was a great actress, which usually means a great waitress.
Walking the boardwalk at night had a sort of Vegas Strip-esque quality. I sat, half-buzzed, watching an Elvis impersonator on a Monday night feeling pleasantly entertained. There’s a certain amount of fun that you involuntarily have while being with so many other people letting loose, dancing to Elvis classics and downing cheap specialty beach drinks. You are right there with ’em, so make the most of it!
Lastly, try to make time to head under FunTime Pier (where the amusement rides are located) to escape the beach crowd and watch the waves crash against the wooden pillars holding up the pier.
Whatchu say?! moments: Minutes within leaving my car parked at a local lot, cursing aloud for allowing myself to get raped by lot prices, a carload of guidos pulled up next to me and tried their luck at holla-ing at me. They told me to get in, asking if I want to go for a ride and told me I was lookin’ good. I told them to get lost with a flick of the wrist and darted off behind the car, so as not to be seen or bothered.
Beach access is not free during the “in” season from Memorial Day through October. You can purchase beach badges about every block or so for $5/person. OR you can ask whatever resort you’re staying at to provide you complimentary beach badges.
|This one boardwalk game has the right idea
In a nutshell: If you can try to ignore “The Jersey Shore” goings-on, from Aztec Ocean Resort churning out Guidos like an assembly line, the MTV “favorite” locations and the arcade crane games whose prize selection consist of shade sunglasses and booty shorts, then head over to Seaside Heights. Ride some rides, soak in the rays and walk the boardwalk. It’s great for kids, pre-teens, and I’d argue for adults at least for a day or two. If you’re looking for a quiet beach get-away, Seaside Heights New Jersey is not for you. If you want to see and be seen, get out to The Shore!