The Jersey Shore, a coastal region along the Atlantic Ocean, lies mostly in the central and south part of the state of New Jersey. "The Shore" (as locals call it) may shine the brightest from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but the ocean water doesn’t stop glistening just because the crowds aren’t there to see it. While it is quieter once the kids return to school and the leaves begin to change colors, none of the region's beach towns shut down completely. The area is a fun place to visit, full of attractions from numerous boardwalks to zoos, concert venues, breweries, and beyond. The off-season Jersey Shore visitor—in town during fall, winter, and spring—will be rewarded with lower rental prices, smaller crowds, and, in most cases, free parking and beach access.
While many of the shore's shops and amusements close for the season, the boardwalks remain open for strolling and biking. Depending on the town, a few mainstays should be open all year, with even more businesses 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 has a few locations open every day on the Ocean City boardwalk and one on the Wildwood boardwalk, with operating hours dependent on the weather. The Original Fudge Kitchen is open daily on the Ocean City, Wildwood, North Wildwood, and Cape May boardwalks.
Taste the Area’s Best Beers and Wines
Cape May Brewing Company keeps things interesting at its tasting room inside the Cape May Airport, with brews like the fruity “The Bog Cranberry Shandy” and “Honey Porter” (made with local Jersey honey) on offer. Beach Haus Brewery in Belmar makes a few beers specifically for the off-season, including “Winter Rental Black Lager,” “Pumptoberfest," and “Krampus Spiced Ale.”
If you aren't into beer, several wineries have popped up near the Jersey Shore due to the mild winters, sea breezes, and quick-drying soils that help grapes grow. Visit the tasting rooms of local favorites Cape May Winery and Willow Creek—which both serve tapas every day—and Hawk Haven, where you can enjoy gourmet cheeses and take a winery tour.
Meet and Greet Animals
The Cape May County Park & Zoo is home to more than 550 animals and a Tree-to-Tree Adventure Park ropes course for adults and children aged 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 March to December. There, you can feed carrots to the alpacas; just watch out for the spit even if you’re just feeding them from your hand.
Jenkinson’s Aquarium in Point Pleasant Beach 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 (small turtles) and horseshoe crabs. 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 and is listed on the National Park Registry of Historical Landmarks. 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 Lighthouse'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 which has guided tours. The Sandy Hook Lighthouse, in service since 1764, 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 festivities are on New Year’s Day and include live music and costume contests, and Long Beach Island’s Super Plunge Sunday is typically Super Bowl weekend.
Attend a Lively 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 basset hounds. Long Beach Island’s Chowderfest in the fall is a way to say goodbye to the summer while also sampling chowders from more than a dozen local restaurants and other participants. Also on Long Beach Island is the popular Ship Bottom Christmas Parade.
North Wildwood’s Irish Fall Festival, the largest event on the East Coast celebrating the culture of Ireland, draws more than 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; this music venue that opened in 1974 is where Bruce Springsteen famously got his start, singing “down the shore, everything’s all right.” Shows vary from the improvisational Everyone Orchestra and its world-renowned musicians to The North Mississippi Allstars, playing southern rock and blues.
You’ll also find nightly concerts at the casinos in Atlantic City.