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Off-The-Beaten-Path Things to do Down the Jersey Shore
Travel off the (sandy) beaten path for some fun
By Ruth Diamond

Photo: Tim McGlynn; The ghost train tracks in Cape May

If you’ve spent your life going down the shore, you’re well aware of the iconic hangouts that show up in every tourist guide. We know you’re onto Johnson’s Popcorn on the Ocean City boardwalk and Margate’s Lucy the Elephant. Here are a few spots you may not know about, but should definitely be added to your shore bucket list.

 

Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, Galloway

This refuge encompasses 47,000 acres of protected coastal habitat, and it’s a prime spot to see fish and other wildlife year-round. In the winter, bald eagles and black ducks roam the area. In summer, you’ll find turtles and great blue herons. Birders, take note: The habitat is located under one of the Atlantic Flyway’s most active migration paths, so bring your binoculars. For more information, visit fws.gov.

 

Gardner’s Basin, Atlantic City

Go off-boardwalk to explore a historic corner of Atlantic City which was once the domain of Prohibition-era rum runners. Gardner’s Basin in its present state is a maritime park and home to the Atlantic City Aquarium, restaurants and shopping. The North Hampshire Avenue area is nestled on a protected channel along the back bays, directly across from the state marina and Coast Guard. Be sure to check out Smugglers Cove boat houses. The original owners built these houses over their docks to conveniently unload bootleg bounty in secret.

 

S.S. Atlantus Shipwreck, Cape May Point

Rising from the waters off Cape May’s Sunset Beach are the crumbling concrete remains of the S.S. Atlantus. The World War I-era concrete ship came to Cape May in the mid-1920s to be used as a ferry dock. But only months later a passing storm unmoored the boat from the dock. It ran ashore on Sunset Beach, then receded back into the water where it remains. Almost a century later, the rough ocean water is taking its toll on the ship, so make sure to get out and see it before it falls beneath the waves forever. Visit capemaycountynj.gov for more information.

 

Ghost train tracks, Cape May Peninsula

When a particularly nasty winter storm ripped through the shore in 2014, it unearthed 2 pairs of 100-year-old train tracks in the sand. If you’re at the right place at the right time you may find one track along the shoreline at Sunset Beach near the Cape May Canal. It was used by the Cape May Sand Company to bring sand from the beach to the town’s glass factories. The other, found in the Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area in Lower Township, was used by a munitions facility in WWI, according to a local historian. They only appear a few times a year at low tide, making this perhaps the most exclusive SJ history find along the shore. Chart tide levels at usharbors.com for your chance to see them.

 

Absecon Lighthouse, Atlantic City

Absecon Lighthouse is the skyscraper of lighthouses. Well, not quite – but at 171 feet tall, it is the tallest lighthouse along the Jersey shoreline and third tallest in the country. Climb the 228 steps to the top for stunning views of the beach, ocean and city. They offer Valentine’s Day recommitment ceremonies, so if you’re feeling particularly lovey-dovey, pop by on February 14th to renew your marriage vows (or sign up for a Zoom appointment). Visit abseconlighthouse.org for more information.

 

North End Beach, Brigantine

See the Jersey coast close to the way it was before the shore became a “destination.” A 2 ½-mile stretch of Brigantine’s North End is one of the last underdeveloped beaches across the shoreline, making it an out-of-the-way secluded haven. Owned by the state and officially designated a “natural area,” it’s even dog friendly in the off-season, so feel free to bring your pup along for the hike (and it is a hike to get there). This area is also an important breeding ground for the endangered piping plover. For more information, visit njparksandforests.org.

 

Bayshore Center, Bivalve

Sail away on a historic 1928 oyster schooner at New Jersey’s only museum dedicated to environmental history. The Bayshore Center at Bivalve is located on a working waterfront where visitors can learn about the area’s oyster industry and its environmental impact while watching real oystermen at work along the Maurice River. Don’t leave without shucking a few at the Oyster Cracker Café, located in a converted shipping shed dating back to 1904. Check it out at bayshorecenter.org.

 

Tuckerton Seaport, Tuckerton

Explore local folklore, history and nature as you float leisurely down the bay on an hour-long water ferry eco-tour. On dry land you can explore the seaport’s 15 buildings, featuring hands-on exhibits showcasing the unique history of Barnegat Bay and the Pinelands. Visit tuckertonseaport.org to plan your trip.

 

Funny Farm Animal Sanctuary, Mays Landing

This is the only place you can get kisses from a 2,500-pound cow, nuzzles from a goat and play Frisbee with a turkey. Admission to Funny Farm is free, but any donations help owner Laurie Zaleski care for and feed the more than 150 injured, abused and abandoned animals that live out their days at the sanctuary. For more information, visit funnyfarmrescue.org.

 

NAS Wildwood Aviation Museum, Cape May

This little-known museum puts World War II-era aircrafts and engines within reach in a hangar that was used as an active dive-bomber squadron training facility. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its important role. Parents and history buffs, take note: This is a prime rainy-day activity. Visit usnasw.org for more information.

 

The Wetlands Institute, Stone Harbor

Wade into the water as you learn more about coastal ecosystems and conservation at Stone Harbor’s Wetlands Institute. They offer hands-on programs for kids to do science experiments in person and virtually through their At-Home Curriculum Alternative. Visit wetlandsinstitute.org for more information.

Looking for more things to do down the shore? Check out our 2020 “Best of the Shore” winners!

February 2021
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