Best Beaches for Families in Cape May County
Cape May County is a peninsula at the southernmost tip of New Jersey, between the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay. The area features more than 30 miles of clean, white, sandy beaches that connect the resort communities of Ocean City, Avalon, Stone Harbor, the Wildwoods, and Cape May.
Ocean City bills itself as America’s Greatest Family Resort. Families favor this community in part for its “dry” status, meaning no alcohol is served or sold in town; it keeps the party atmosphere to a minimum. With eight miles of quiet beaches, it’s a great place for kids to splash, stroll, and collect seashells. For day-trippers, there are two free municipal parking lots and a public rest room centrally located at 13th & Boardwalk. On Thursday nights during the summer, its boardwalk hosts Family Night, which includes fun and free activities such as face painting, karaoke, and concerts.
The nation’s oldest seashore resort has earned National Historic Landmark status because of the large concentration of Victorian homes here. Cape May’s wholesome atmosphere and pristine beaches attract families from all over. At Sunset Beach, on the southern end, families can hunt for Cape May “diamonds.” These Jersey gems are actually clear- and colored-quartz pebbles that have been polished by the coarse beach sands; they’re a Cape May tradition. A bustling downtown area is within walking distance of the beach, with many restaurants and fudge and souvenir shops.
Illustration by Bridgette Blanton.
Avalon & Stone Harbor
These two towns share a barrier island named Seven Mile Island. Avalon comprises the north side of the island and extends eastward one mile further into the ocean than any of its neighbors; hence its motto, “Cooler by a Mile.” This geography not only makes it a great beach to take in the cool ocean breezes, but also to catch decent waves for surfing and boogie boarding, say NJ moms. The Avalon coastline also features some of the highest sand dunes in the state. Covered with natural foliage, the dunes create a beautiful and tranquil setting.
Wildwood, Wildwood Crest, and North Wildwood make up the Wildwoods. There are five miles of wide, clean beaches that have been named among America’s 10 Best Beaches by The Travel Channel. The best part is that all beaches in the Wildwoods are free. The area is famous for its Doo-Wop architecture, with many hotels and motels featuring this fun, ’50s-music-inspired style. With 70,000 planks, the boardwalk stretches over two miles and allows bicycles and surreys to ride the boards in the morning. The boardwalk also features seven amusement piers, dozens of arcades, and hundreds of food options. Just step aside when you hear “Watch the Tramcar, please,” issuing from the yellow and blue trackless trains that run the boardwalk’s entire length.
Tips on Trips
A branch of the Philadelphia Insectarium, this museum is right on the boardwalk. It has thousands of live and mounted insects, tons of interactive displays, live animals, and lots of hands-on activities.
This Ocean City fixture brings the bottom of the ocean to the surface. Visitors can see 5,000 species of seashells and coral from around the world, including a 200-pound shell from a man-eating clam in the Philippines, and pink conch shells from the Bahamas. Kids can make their own shell jewelry and take a picture inside a giant shark jaw.
Located in Stone Harbor, the Institute offers fun educational experiences and research programs that connect families with New Jersey’s wetlands and coastal environments. Kids can feed terrapins (turtles) and explore salt marsh trails. It’s a good activity on a rainy day.
Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum (shown right)500 Forrestal Rd., Cape May Airport
This museum lets you explore aviation history through special exhibits and interactive displays. Kids can sit in a real cockpit and try their hand at being a pilot with flight-simulator games.
Step back in time to watch the everyday activities of villagers living in South Jersey from 1789 to 1840. Guides in period dress demonstrate the trades and crafts of the time. There’s a hands-on area for children that features dress-up, crafts, and games, as well as an ice cream parlor and country store.
All photos courtesy of Craig Terry/Cape May County Tourism.