Discover the joys of the mid-Atlantic’s underdog state, from Cape May to Asbury Park.

By Travel + Leisure
October 09, 2012
Martha Camarillo

The tumultuous history of American leisure has its beginnings on the Shore with the founding of Cape May, the nation’s first seaside resort and the southernmost point in New Jersey. Settled by the wealthy families of Philadelphia, it spurred more than a century of Victorian-era land speculation. Summer communities sprouted up along the coastline—from old-money enclaves like Mantoloking to the humbler summer colonies of Long Beach Island. By the 1920’s, the showiest towns, Atlantic City and Asbury Park, had become bona fide cities—with casinos, amusement palaces, and grand hotels—whose livelihood depended on the flow of tourist traffic. The narrative of the Shore in the latter half of the 20th century is of its slow climb back to prosperity: first from the setback of the Depression, and then from the rise of cheap commercial air travel in the postwar period. Vacationers who once came for weeks at a time, sustaining the local economies, could jet off to exotic locales like Miami or the Caribbean instead. Most towns weathered these blows better than Atlantic City and Asbury Park, and the layers of setback and revival, hokum and heritage, that built up behind the dunes have given this strip of coastline a gonzo charm—and even a beauty—like nowhere else on earth.

Pier Shops at Caesars

The two-year-old Pier Shops at Caesar's, an edifice stretching 1,000 feet into the Atlantic, houses the largest shopping-mall fountain in the world. The mall is chockablock with luxury retailers - Bottega Veneta, Prada, and Louis Vuitton.

Perrine Boatworks

Watch master boatbuilders in this workshop at the Tuckerton Seaport, a living-history museum of coastal arts and crafts.

Lucy the Elephant

Lucy, Margate's iconic 65-foot-tall elephant-shaped house, now open to the public.


You'll find well-priced industrial-modern pieces at this excellent furniture boutique.

Brant Beach

Just when you think this beach couldn't possibly get more retro - not an iPod or cell phone in sight - a clean shaven Wally Cleaver look-alike drives up in his vintage 1960's Good Humor ice cream truck. $5 day passes can be purchased from the tag-checkers who roam the shoreline.

Asbury Lanes

Shore punks flock to this bowling alley for rock shows and a friendly bar.

Allan & Suzi

Specializing in a mix of contemporary designers and disco-era vintage.

White House Sub Shop

An Atlantic City institution that soldiers on in the shadow of the glitzy casinos. The Sub Shop is fiercely independent, with oddball rules - if you want a beverage to go with your meal, the cashier will reluctantly make change of a dollar bill so you can use the soda machine. The tuna sub is a knockout, slathered with a potent, sour hot-pepper relish.

SeaBlue, Atlantic City

The only Northeast restaurant helmed by chef Michael Mina. Try the lychee gimlet at the bar before sampling the lobster potpie.

Ravioli & More

A take-out shop with a brisk trade in expertly done, house-made ravioli (pumpkin, lobster) and sauce (marinara, vodka).

Lobster House Fisherman’s Wharf

Do not show up at 7 p.m. or you will be informed of a one-hour wait and be handed a vibrating beeper. Though you can skip the dining room and settle for gluey chowder and mangled clams from the outdoor grill and raw bar, you'd be better off taking a stroll on the beach — or through Cape May — and arriving at the Lobster House at 8:45 p.m. By then there is no competition for a seat at the handsome bar, and you'll have the undivided attention of professional, white-jacketed bartenders. Order local oysters on the half shell, chilled lobster, and cold Dogfish Head beers.

Knife & Fork Inn

A curious 1912 Flemish-style building that became a rowdy men's club during Prohibition and was recently renovated as a steak house serving an excellent Jersey corn chowder. The walls are lined with old photographs of Atlantic City, you can't see them from the tables, but it's worth a tour around the room to scrutinize them.

Ebbitt Room

The Ebbitt Room at the Virginia Hotel has a cheeky style (Louis XIV chairs in bright-white crocodile leather) invites the question, Does Cape May need foie gras?Probably not, but enjoy the pistachio-dusted scallops and impressive cheese plate nonetheless.

Dune, Margate

A BYOB seafood restaurant

Virginia Hotel

This contemporary 24-room retreat features sleek cherry-red sofas and a baby grand piano in the lobby. Upstairs, the bedrooms are outfitted with Belgian linens and bathrooms have a trio of showerheads. At the Ebbitt Room restaurant, leather banquettes line the minimal space, where chef Lucas Manteca serves native oysters topped with champagne granita and trout caviar.

Daddy O

Half a block from the powdery Atlantic on Long Beach Island’s main thoroughfare, the Daddy O Restaurant & Boutique Hotel is a 22-room Rat Pack throwback. Think high-gloss mahogany walls, red faux-suede banquettes, and wallpaper embedded with Murano glass. Chill out on one of the chaise longues or order a classic martini from the hotel’s hopping bar.

Congress Hall

Beachside Federal-style hotel that has undergone a $26 million renovation.

Biscayne Family Resort

No-frills rooms in a prime beachfront location.

Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa

The year 2003 saw the opening of the Borgata, a 2,002-room luxury hotel and casino with celebrity-chef restaurants, wine bars, a spa. An opulent corporate whimsy reigns: Dale Chihuly glass sculptures hang from the ceilings; what's not marble is covered in brightly colored, harlequin-pattered fabrics; a powdery vanilla fragrance hangs in the air.