Wildwood, New Jersey
It isn't the mile-wide beach. It isn't the affordable rates, even in midsummer. And it isn't the gargantuan Ferris wheel casting its shadow at the end of the pier (though the Ferris wheel sure does help). No, what makes Wildwood such a prime beach spot is the Doo Wop: that's the name for the loopy, candy-colored 1950's aesthetic that predominates on this barrier island just north of Cape May. Like so many vacation capitals born at the dawn of the road-trip era, Wildwood endured a passé period during the seventies and eighties. But over the past decade, after Yale architecture professors began making field trips, a revitalization blossomed: those larger-than-life neon signs, kidney-shaped pools, and plastic palm trees have all been spruced up, with a big, knowing wink. Add a classic beach scene and an entire week's worth of rides and waterslides on the boardwalk (see www.moreyspiers.com), and you'll all be doing the twist. LAY OF THE LAND The Wildwoods—from north to south, North Wildwood, Wildwood proper, and Wildwood Crest—are at the southern tip of the Jersey Shore, about 90 minutes from Philadelphia. There are plenty of new cookie-cutter condos in these parts, but the Crest, as it's known, is the most family-oriented area and home to the greatest concentration of Doo Wop motels. STAY AT The StarLux (305 E. Rio Grande Ave., Wildwood; 609/522-7412; www.thestarlux.com; doubles from $139, including breakfast), an artfully renovated motel that looks as if it's about to blast off. For waterfront quarters, follow the rotating globe to the Pan-American Hotel (5901 Ocean Ave., Wildwood Crest; 609/522-6936; www.panamericanhotel.com; doubles from $167). EAT AT The Doo Wop Diner (Boardwalk, between Youngs and Spencer Aves., Wildwood; 609/522-7880; lunch for four $28), a haven of chrome right on the boardwalk. At night, brave the line at Cool Scoops (12th and New Jersey Aves., North Wildwood; 609/729-2665), and stake out a car booth—you can sit in a '57 Ford Fairlane, or a '59 Cadillac (pink, of course). DON'T MISS The trolley tour offered by the MidAtlantic Center for the Arts (800/275-4278; www.capemaymac.org; weeknights JuneAugust). You'll learn that the spaceship motif was launched right after Sputnik, in 1957, and that the Polynesian tiki-and-torches look arrived when Hawaii became a state, in 1959. Now you're ready to crack the Wildwood code.
For decades, the Florida Panhandle, a.k.a. the Redneck Riviera, has been known for two things: its extraordinary flour-white beaches and its tacky, cheek-by-jowl resorts. And then there's Seaside, a 1980's model town that introduced conscientious urban planning not only to the neighborhood but to the nation—and went on to star as the set for The Truman Show. Picture brick-paved streets, a tiny, everything-you-need downtown, and 480 beach cottages, very few alike and 248 available for rent. On a typical August evening, a reggae band performs on the green, as parents lounge on picnic blankets and every kid around joins in a giant game of tag. Did someone say idyllic?WEATHER REPORT Climate-wise, the Panhandle is at its best in summer, not nearly as hot as the beaches down south. Expect breezy days hovering in the mid-eighties. STANDOUT BEACHES Besides looking like Tahiti, Seaside's strand has the added bonus of being scarcely farther than a roll out of bed. If you must roam, the glassy blue waters of Grayton Beach State Park (County Road 30-A; 850/231-4210; www.floridastateparks.org) are a lovely two-mile bike ride away. Rent From Seaside Cottage Rentals (888/732-7433; www.seasidefl.com; two-bedroom houses from $292 per night). Call guest services (850/231-2222) between 6 a.m. and midnight, and they'll arrange in-house massages or have a picnic lunch—and rental bikes—delivered to your door. HOTEL ALTERNATIVE WaterColor, a Seaside-inspired planned community nearby, is home to the David Rockwelldesigned WaterColor Inn (34 Goldenrod Circle, Seagrove Beach; 866/202-2930; www.watercolorinn.com; doubles from $395) and a standout kids' camp. EAT AT Two of Seaside's own: the burger hangout, Shades (83 Central Square; 850/231-1950; lunch for four $36), and Bud & Alley's (2236 E. County Rd. 30-A; 850/231-5900; dinner for four $140), which specializes in just-caught Gulf fish and is ideal for the big night out.