A Garden State of Mind
LOOK BEYOND THE BEACH TO DISCOVER THE NEW JERSEY SHORE'S HIDDEN GEMS.
Island Beach State Park
People flock to the Jersey Shore for its beaches, content to lounge the summer days away. But why spend every hour on the sand when you could be picking fresh berries, seeing red foxes, climbing inside a wooden elephant and listening to a band perform on the same stage Bruce Springsteen played on before he became The Boss?
Sandy Hook, along the state's northernmost coast, is a 6-mile sandbar peninsula that was once home to Fort Hancock. (Fun fact: Judy Garland performed for soldiers there in 1943.) Even though the base was decommissioned in 1974, military homes still exist. The History House (732-872-5970) on Officer's Row has been restored and furnished in '40s fashion; it's open weekends from 1pm to 5pm. Also don't miss the Sandy Hook Lighthouse, the oldest working lighthouse in America. Stone Pony (www.stoneponyonline.com) in Asbury Park. This music venue was Bruce Springsteen's stomping ground before he became famous. (His debut album, released in 1973, was called Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ.) Bands still show off their skills at the club in the hopes of becoming the next big thing.
If your musical tastes extend beyond The Boss, head to Tim McLoone's Supper Club (www.timmcloonessupperclub.com; 732-774-1155) for a live show and dinner. This beachfront, Rat Pack-style restaurant features bands like Juke Joint Jonny & The Usual Suspects playing blues and the dynamic Tim McLoone and the Shirleys.
A River Runs Through it
To get a taste of New Jersey's rich and vast Pinelands area, take a trip to the Metedeconk River, which leads from the Atlantic Ocean into Forge Pond. You'll find the most activity by Forge Pond, from paddle boating to kayaking. Like to golf? Check out the Ocean County Golf Course at Forge Pond (732-920-8899), which was built along the water.
The 10-mile Island Beach State Park (732-793-0506) is a strip of land between the ocean and Barnegat Bay. You'll find various species of plants plus all kinds of wildlife on this barrier strip. Keep your eyes peeled for red foxes, which are some of the most popular residents (although they're not known to be dangerous, rangers don't want you to feed them). The island is perfect for biking, hiking, swimming and fishing; striped bass and bluefish are usually plentiful.
For the Birds
New Jersey is a prime bird-watching destination thanks to the birds migrating to and from the Caribbean and South America that rest along the Jersey Shore. The 43,000-acre Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge (www.fws.gov/northeast/forsythe) is one of the best places to see many species because it's home to both fresh and saltwater environments. This month, you'll likely spot warblers, waterfowl, terns and white-throated sparrows. Your best bet is to enter the park in Oceanville, which is close to Atlantic City and home to the park's Brigantine division headquarters. From there, you can walk or hike one of its four trails (the shortest is a quarter mile), drive an 8-mile loop, climb a high bird-watching tower or take a guided tour.
I Love Lucy
In 1881, James Vincent de Paul Lafferty Jr. decided the best way to get people to buy real estate on the Jersey Shore was to build a 65-foot-high wooden elephant. As strange as that sounds, it worked - and Lucy the Elephant is still bringing people to Margate, a sleepy shore town just south of Atlantic City.
Since Lucy was built, she's been a tavern and even someone's summer home. Now, she is open for tours (except during the winter). She was moved in 1970 and renovated in 2000, so you can peer out the windows in her eyes, or the "pane in her butt" out over Margate. Make sure you make the trek up to her "howdah," the pack on her back, for a 360-degree view.
A Berry Good Time
It's called the Garden State for a reason: New Jersey is flush with fresh fruits and vegetables from spring through fall. May is the start of strawberry season, and at Fraleigh Farms (609-625-2600) in Mays Landing, you can pick your own pint (or pints - they're hard to resist). Fraleigh also sells pre-picked strawberries, farm-fresh vegetables and cut flowers.
Blueberry season begins in June, peaks in July and ends in August. B&B Farms (609-965-5558) in Egg Harbor is a sure bet for the freshest blueberries, whether you want to pick your own or just buy. And if you have time to venture a bit farther inland, stop by Hammonton, the "Blueberry Capital of the World."
AIRTRAN AIRWAYS provides daily, low-fare flights to Newark. Visit www.airtran.com for more info.
SURE, YOU CAN STILL GAMBLE, BUT DON'T MISS THE CITY'S UPSCALE RESTAURANTS, SPAS AND LOUNGES. EVEN BETTER, AIRTRAN AIRWAYS STARTS SERVICE TO ATLANTIC CITY ON JUNE 11.
EAT: Set inside a historic Flemish-style building (and a former speakeasy from the early 1900s), Knife & Fork (www.knifeandforkinn.com; 609-344-1133) is a luxe steak and seafood restaurant. Sample from one of the best wine lists in Atlantic City, and kick your meal off with the oyster appetizer; the accompanying jalapeño sorbet is a perfect match.
STAY: For a swank, retro stay, check into The Chelsea (www.thechelseaac.com; 800-548-3030), the area's first non-gaming boutique hotel to open in almost five decades. The entire hotel is done in 1960s style, from built-in white bookcases in the lobby to leopard-print chairs in the rooms. And don't miss the Fifth Floor, home to a variety of nightlife venues including The Bar.
PLAY: During the day, the pool at Harrah's (www.harrahs.com; 609-441-5233) is a grown-ups-only spot to relax, swim and drink fruity cocktails. Come night, it becomes The Pool After Dark, one of Atlantic City's hottest nightspots, with top DJs and bathing suit-clad partiers.
SHOP: Get all your designer duds in one spot at the Pier Shops at Caesars (www.thepiershopsatcaesars.com). Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, Betsey Johnson, Burberry and Gucci are just a few names you'll find in this shopping destination built over the Atlantic Ocean.
RELAX: Whether you indulge in the four-hand massage or the Egyptian milk and floral sugar moisturizing treatment, you're sure to leave Immersion - the luxurious spa inside The Water Club (www.thewaterclubhotel.com; 800-800-8817) - a new, rejuvenated person.
For a taste of the old Atlantic City, stroll the world-famous boardwalk. Built in 1870, it's jammed on weekends. Grab a seat for some entertaining people-watching. Also, pay a visit to the fascinating - and free - Atlantic City Historical Museum; you even get a Heinz Pickle Pin at the end of the tour.