While the Jersey Shore shines the brightest from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the ocean water doesn’t stop glistening just because the crowds aren’t there to see it. It’s true that it’s quieter once the kids return to school and the leaves begin to change colors, but none of the region's beach towns shut down completely. The off-season visitor to the Jersey Shore will be rewarded with lower rental prices, smaller crowds, and, in most cases, free parking and beach access.
Stroll or Bike the Boardwalks
While many of the shore's shops and amusements close for the season, the boardwalks themselves remain open for strolling and biking. Depending on the town, a few mainstays should be open all year, with even more open on heavy traffic weekends during festivals or holidays. On the Ocean City boardwalk, Manco & Manco Pizza, where you can watch the dough being stretched and thrown into the air, is open year-round. Johnson’s classic hand-mixed caramel popcorn is open on the Ocean City boardwalk every day and on the Wildwood boardwalk on weekends in the off season. The Original Fudge Kitchen is open every day on the Ocean City, Wildwood, and Cape May boardwalks.
Taste the Area’s Best Beers and Wines
Cape May Brewing Company keeps expanding at its tasting room next to the Cape May Airport with brews like “Mop Water” (an ultra-spiced brown ale perfect for autumn) and “Honey Porter” (made with local Jersey honey). Beach Haus Brewery in Belmar brews a few beers specifically for the off-season including “Winter Rental Black Lager”, “Station 2 Station Porter”, and “Krampus Spiced Ale”.
Meet the Area’s Animals
The Cape May County Zoo is home to more than 500 animals and a new Tree-to-Tree ropes course for adults and children 7 and older. (While the zoo is free and open every day but Christmas, the ropes course is pricey and requires reservations.)
Jersey Shore Alpacas, just north of Cape May, is open to visitors on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There you can feed an alpaca with a carrot from your own mouth, if that sort of thing appeals to you. Watch out for the spit even if you’re just feeding them from your hand.
Jenkinson’s Aquarium in Point Pleasant is open year-round with educational programs, events, and watchable feedings of seals, penguins, and Atlantic sharks. The Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor provides education about the important marsh landscape and offers the opportunity to adopt terrapins and horseshoe crabs as well as live-feeds of osprey nests and other areas of the wetlands. Whale-watching tours in Cape May continue for most of the off-season as the Delaware Bay is home to the fish that humpback and finback whales love to eat.
Visit America’s Oldest Roadside Attraction
In Margate, just minutes south of Atlantic City, lives Lucy the Elephant, a six-story tall wooden and tin elephant that has been charming visitors since 1881. For $8 (or $4 for kids 3-12), walk up the stairwell in her legs, tour her belly, and look at the ocean through her eyes. Learn about the history of the attraction including when she was moved two times from different locations within Margate and when she became a tavern and a speakeasy.
Climb a Lighthouse
For sweeping ocean views and a history lesson on the way up, climb one of New Jersey’s many historic lighthouses. Cape May’s 199 steps provide views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay. The Hereford Inlet Lighthouse in North Wildwood is paired with an interesting lighthouse-keeping museum. The Sandy Hook lighthouse has been in service since 1764 and has an incredible history as the oldest working lighthouse in the United States.
Go for a Dip in the Ocean
While most people prefer to dip their toes in the ocean when the water is warm, thousands of people jump into the bitter-cold winter waters at events throughout the off-season. Many beach towns’ Polar Bear Plunge events are fundraisers for various charities and celebrated with after-parties. Brigantine’s event is on New Year’s Day, and Long Beach Island’s plunge is typically Superbowl weekend.
Attend a Concert or Event
In order to draw crowds in the off-season, Jersey Shore towns host several unique events. Each spring, Ocean City hosts a “Doo Dah Parade” with marching bands, floats, and a procession of 500 basset hounds. The parade is held in coordination with the Mr. Mature America Pageant later that evening at the Ocean City Music Pier, hosted in 2017 by Regis Philbin. Long Beach Island’s Chowderfest in the fall is a way to say goodbye to the summer while also sampling chowders from over a dozen local restaurants. Also on Long Beach Island is the popular Ship Bottom Christmas Parade and Christmas Craft Show.
In addition to the quirky ones, you’ll find nightly concerts and events at the casinos in Atlantic City. Wildwood’s Irish Fall Festival Weekend, the largest Irish festival on the east coast, draws over 200,000 visitors every September to enjoy live entertainment, a parade, food vendors, a 5K run, and Irish dance lessons. The Stone Pony in Asbury Park has shows all year-round. This music venue is where Bruce Springsteen famously got his start, singing “down the shore, everything’s all right”. We have a feeling he meant it’s always all right, not just during the summer. And in Jersey, the Boss knows what's up.