Surf, Sand, and Social Distancing: The 2021 Family Guide to the Jersey Shore
Headed for the beach? Take our list of great family-friendly spots with you.
You wait for it all year: that moment when you can escape to the beach. Maybe it’s just a day trip, maybe it’s for the whole season, but family time at the Shore is precious, full of memorable moments, big and small.
We want to help you make the most of the time you do have. That’s why we put together this list of must-do activities — a bucket list, of sorts — that’s full of fun places. We combed through our staff’s favorites, and suggestions from our readers, to pick out the very best stops along the shore, from Barnegat Light to Bethany Beach. Most things are open again, but please be sure to check each spot before you head out just in case their operating days and times have changed due to the pandemic. Also be sure to check to see what they are requiring their guests to do- make reservations in advance, wear a mask, etc. So much has changed in how we do things, and while we are almost back to normal we aren’t 100% there yet but with this guide and some advance planning we hope that you are still able to enjoy your time at the shore with your family, and make amazing new memories.
So when you pack up, take our list with you. And don’t forget the sunscreen.
Eating is a huge part of vacation. If you’ve rented a house, you’ll eat more often at home, but if not, having a variety of restaurants is key. Clip this list and you’ll never go hungry!
Kid-Friendly- Call ahead, many restaurants are requiring a reservation due to staffing issues or you may even want to try take-out!
Viking Fresh Off the Hook, Barnegat Light
Dino’s Subs & Pizza, Margate
Manco & Manco, Ocean City and Somers Point
DeNunzio’s Brick Oven Pizza and Grille, Sea Isle City
Uncle Oogie’s Pizzeria, Sea Isle City
Carmen’s Seafood Restaurant, Sea Isle City (reader report: it has a sandbox full of toys to keep the kids busy!)
Uncle Bill’s Pancake House; Avalon, Cape May, North Cape May, Ocean City, Stone Harbor, Strathmere, Wildwood
Circle Pizza, Avalon
Quahog’s Seafood Shack, Stone Harbor (staff tip: they have a bar now! No more BYO!)
Shorebreak Pizza Grille, Avalon (reader report: seating inside and out, with something on the menu for everyone: personal size pizzas, tacos, burgers, sandwiches, and entrees; totally casual!)
Smitty’s Clam Bar, Somers Point (staff tip: this spot is a BYOB! Circle Liquors is close by!)
Shoobies, Sea Isle City
Jack’s Shack, Stone Harbor
Great for a Date Night- Call ahead, many restaurants are offering take out if they are not open for seating.
The Point Tiki Bar, Somers Point
Black Eyed Susans, Harvey Cedars
McLoone’s Pier House, Long Branch
Ventura’s Greenhouse, Margate
The Crab Trap, Somers Point
The Reeds at Shelter Haven, Stone Harbor
The Diving Horse, Avalon (staff tip: it’s BYO, pop in to the liquor store across the street on your way!)
Buckets Margarita Bar, Stone Harbor (staff tip: for casual drinks and tacos on the bay.)
Beachwood, Sea Isle City
Steve and Cookie’s, Margate
Quahog’s Seafood Shack, Stone Harbor
Yellowfin, Surf City
Jay’s on 3rd, Stone Harbor
The Big Dipper, Surf City
Johnny B. Goode, Ocean City
Marita’s Homemade Ice Cream, Sea Isle City
Springers, Stone Harbor (a big reader favorite. Says a staff member: “There is no other option for scooped ice cream. The end. The best.”)
Kohr Brothers Frozen Custard, multiple locations
Yum Yums, Sea Isle City (reader report: there’s a surprise at the bottom of your cone!)
Margate Dairy Bar, Margate
Salty Paws, Stone Harbor- NJ’s ONLY doggy ice cream parlor!
Oves Beach Grill, Ocean City
Uncle Bill’s Pancake House, multiple locations
The Bread and Cheese Cupboard, Stone Harbor (staff tip: “for the best sticky buns and other baked goods in the world. Often a line before they open!”)
Junior’s Donuts & Dogs, Margate City
Ozzie’s Luncheonette, Longport
Shoobies, Sea Isle City (reader report: check out the character breakfast!)
Mustache Bill’s Diner, Barnegat Light
Starfish Cafe, Ocean City
Fishin’ Pier Grille, Avalon, Stone Harbor and Sea Isle city
Sure, you’re at the beach. But sometimes you want to do something else — especially if it’s raining. And if you’re down the Shore for a longer period, your kids might enjoy a camp or other drop-off activity. Many places are back in business this year, and some are offering an alternate option for entertainment like virtual classes or camps, a take-home kit, an outdoor option, etc. So again, we remind you, to check their website, social media, or call for their real-time plans (I was really hoping I didn’t have to say that in 2021 when I was writing this guide last year!).
Where to Spend a Rainy Day
Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences, Long Beach
Jilly’s Arcade, Ocean City
Atlantic City Aquarium, Atlantic City (reader report: “a rainy day lifesaver for us!”)
RiGi’s Amusement Center, Stone Harbor
Encounters, Ocean City
SwellColors Glass Studio & Gallery, Surf City (staff tip: I had so much fun with my daughter and mother-in-law creating a custom turtle mosaic!)
Island Studio Pottery Painting, Stone Harbor
Family Fun Arcade, Cape May
Harbor Square Movie Theatre, Stone Harbor
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum, Atlantic City
Various locations of the Cape May County Library System in Sea Isle City, Stone Harbor, Cape May, and more.
Outdoor Fun Off the Beach
Cape May County Park & Zoo, Cape May Court House (staff tip: “they have a ropes course now!)
Island Water Sports, Stone Harbor
OC Waterpark, Ocean City (staff tip: “not for a rainy day, but fun!”)
Playland’s Castaway Cove, Ocean City
Morey’s Piers, Wildwood
Bowfish Studios, Ocean City
Totally Tubular Watersports, Ocean City
Revolution Rail Company, Cape May (A reader shared this new place where you can pedal a railbike down old railroad tracks! She says it’s super fun and easy enough for kids through seniors to participate!)
Camps and Educational Activities
Wetlands Institute, Stone Harbor
Crafty Chef Academy, Stone Harbor (reader report: Friday night cooking workshops for the kids = date night for the parents! They are Chester County based, so be sure to bookmark them for off-season, too!)
Nature Center of Cape May, Cape May (reader report: “At the lighthouse on Saturdays there is a presentation on animals and the kids get to touch all the animals!”)
Camp By the Sea, Margate
Sea Isle City Recreation Camp, Sea Isle City
Stone Harbor Recreation, Stone Harbor (staff tip: there’s a huge variety of camps for kids of all ages, from surfing to crafts, plus weekly family fun nights!)
Stacy’s Surf Camp, Margate
Flamingo Miniature Golf Course, Ship Bottom
Pirate Island Miniature Golf, Avalon, Sea Isle City, Ocean City
Congo Falls Adventure Golf, Ocean City and Margate
Haunted Golf, Ocean City (staff tip: this course is indoors, air-conditioned — and creepy!)
Club 18 Mini Golf, Stone Harbor
Harbor Golf Club, Stone Harbor (staff tip: look for the staircase, it’s on the rooftop!)
Ocean City and Wildwood Boardwalks: Stroll, snack on french fries, grab some pizza, treat yourself to some ice cream, and take in the family-friendly activities that happen almost every night, including magicians and music. Similar activities, different vibe!
Faria’s Surf and Sport, multiple locations
Hoys 5 & 10, Ocean City, Avalon, Stone Harbor (staff tip: this throwback is a Shore stalwart, and they really do have everything!)
7th Street Surf Shop, Ocean City
Suncatcher, Stone Harbor
Heritage Surf and Sport, multiple locations
Sands Department Store, Sea Isle City (one reader swears, “If they don’t have it, you don’t need it!”)
Especially if you’re on a longer trip, getting help with some of the comforts of home can be a huge boon. Here are some ways to ease the stress of travel — and maybe keep you from having to come home for fresh supplies.
Download the App Beach Caddy from the App Store or Google Play to order your caddy, or call 1-844-4CADDYS
Beach Caddies provide a luxury services to beachgoers in Ocean City, Sea Isle City, Avalon, and Stone Harbor New Jersey- delivering your beach gear from your rental to your preferred spot on the beach, and then back again (if you want!). Not only can they transport all your beach equipment on and off the beach, but they also help you check in. Upon arrival at home or rental, they will meet you at your vehicle and unload your luggage, provisions, and contents directly into your home. Then they’ll come back to move you out, too!
232 West Ave., Ocean City
Serving Ocean City, Avalon, Sea Isle City, Stone Harbor, Long Beach Island (all towns in Zip Code 08008), Strathmere, Longport, Margate and more, this company will rent you (and deliver to your house) essentials like beach wagons, chairs, clean linens, cribs, and even games for the kids. Want groceries when you arrive? Consider it done.
802 Central Ave., Barnegat Light
You can get groceries, linens, chairs, and other supplies here. Or you can splurge a bit more and rent a hot tub or book a personal chef.
Want to try out one of our date night restaurants, but don’t have a sitter? This branch of a national network will send a sitter with CPR certification and state and local clearances, so you’re not spending the appetizer course worrying.
411 N. Route 9, Cape May Court House
One of the biggest beach vacation bummers is spending your sunny days in the laundromat. Skip that step and just drop off your dirty clothes, then pick them up once they’re washed and folded! You’ll wish you had this service at home.
Do you love Delaware? The First State is home to some great family-friendly beach towns, and several have developed a reputation for being especially welcoming to LGBTQ families. Here are some highlights from Rehoboth, Dewey, and Bethany.
Date Night Restaurants
Dogfish Head, Rehoboth Beach
Purple Parrot, Rehoboth Beach
The Lighthouse, Dewey Beach
Rusty Rudder, Dewey Beach
Lupo Italian Kitchen, Rehoboth
Starboard, Dewey Beach
Bottle & Cork, Dewey Beach
Sunrise Restaurant, Dewey Beach
Evening Activities (Date Night/Adult Only Concerts)
Evening Activities Kids
Gwyneth K. Shaw and Mairin Petrone contributed to this article. Photographs by Abbe Foreman.