Vacation! What a glorious word. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a period away from home or business in travel or recreation.” Talk about a word that undersells itself! Despite our countless road trips, adventures, and explorations, most of our time away from home involves a weekend, or an extended weekend. So when some dear family members offered us two weeks at the Jersey Shore, the prospect seemed almost daunting! And while I knew that my wife and I would have fun, I did not imagine there would be much to write about from our sojourn by the sea. Life, however, had other plans for us – I thought I would share some of our highlights and memories from an amazing fourteen days in and around the beaches of southern New Jersey.
Rather than a chronological account of everything we did, here are some of the most memorable highlights from our stay in Sea Isle City:
Our vacation destination: Sea Isle City, New Jersey. Sea Isle is situated on Ludlam Island, one of the barrier islands that make up much of the Jersey coastline. Originally, Ludlam Island was used as a pasture for sheep and cows by early European settlers in the 1600s. With the founding of Sea Isle City in 1873, it has since become a tourist hotspot. Although the year-round population is around 2,000, summertime visitors can increase the count to almost 40,000 people (via Wikipedia).
Needing maximum cargo capacity, my wife’s Jeep Grand Cherokee, Grace, got the call, while my Accord stayed in the garage. Departing mid-morning on a Saturday, southbound traffic on the Garden State Parkway was mercifully light.
Arrived! We swung by JFK Boulevard Beach, always a cool spot to see the Atlantic Ocean.
On the way to our vacation home, we passed The Colonnade Inn, the oldest building in Sea Isle. Built in 1883, the Inn has long since attracted out-of-town visitors, while also being a great example of Victorian architecture.
Another must-see in Sea Isle: Fish Alley. A strip of land on the western shores of the island, Fish Alley is so-named for the many commercial fishing businesses that made Sea Isle their home during the 19th and 20th centuries. While only a few are still in operation, the legacy of fishing lives on with a stretch of fresh seafood restaurants, including Mike’s Seafood, a family favorite. You can read more about Fish Alley in this article in the Cape May County Herald.
The house where we stayed had a porch overlooking the ocean. This was our view every day, from sunrise to sunset.
We were tempted to spend our entire vacation sitting in the sand, with our toes in the ocean. However, as you probably know by now, that’s just not our style! While we certainly had our lazy days, we also crammed in enough adventure, exploration, and good food to make this into a tale we wanted to share on the blog. So sit back, relax, and enjoy this virtual tour of Sea Isle City!
Sunrise and sunset at the New Jersey shore provides for some amazing photographic opportunities. Over the two weeks of our trip, we managed to catch several spectacular views of the sky, the beach, and the sun.
As we stayed on the eastern shores of the island, we have a front-row view of sunrise every day. Although we had to wake up before 5:30 am to see it, with a view like this, who needs sleep? P.S. – I guess you can call our vacation home the House of the Rising Sun…
We traveled across the island for sunset over the western shores, and were rewarded each time with amazing views.
Perhaps one of my favorite sunset photos of all time.
As I remarked in my previous post, The Art of Photography, twilight is also an amazing time to take landscape photos.
We traveled to Cape May for dinner and the sunset one evening.
There’s no sunset like a Jersey Shore sunset.
How amazing was the sunset? Even some dolphins stopped by to check it out!
Despite its small size, plenty of wildlife calls Sea Isle City home. Whether it was sitting on the deck of our vacation home or setting up my tripod along the shores of waterways along the western coast of the island, we had sufficient nature activity to keep us busily photographing.
The western side of the island, which has waterways, meadows, and estuaries, is home to numerous birds, such as these osprey.
It was fascinating to watch the ospreys leave the nest to hunt, and then to return. I caught this one landing on a small pole near its nest.
This yellow-crowned night heron made for a cool subject.
Despite its seemingly smaller statue, the yellow-crowned night heron’s wingspan was massive.
From our deck, we had several birds stop by for their glamour shot.
Perhaps the best post-dinner entertainment was a pod of dolphins swimming along the shore near our house. Not only were they swimming, but they frequently broke the surface of the water while in play. Zoom lens attached, I snapped this photo from the comfort of my chair on the porch.
Sea Isle City is blessed with several amazing restaurants, eateries, and seafood markets. However, with New Jersey still in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic, “eating out” means take-out. Even with Phase Two of New Jersey’s re-opening allowing for outdoor dining at restaurants, for the most part my wife and I felt more comfortable getting our orders to go. As you’ll see in a moment, however, taking our meals home wasn’t a bad way to enjoy our food.
Uncle Bill’s Pancake House
When staying at the Jersey shore, there is only one proper way to eat breakfast: Uncle Bill’s Pancake House. Serving both gluten-free and more traditional pancakes such as buttermilk, Uncle Bill’s is a favorite of ours. I ordered the traditional pecan pancakes and a side of bacon. My wife ordered gluten-free pecan pancakes and scrapple (more on this below).
A Mid-Atlantic institution: scrapple. This food, originally created by the Pennsylvania Dutch (more on the Pennsylvania Dutch can be found in my blog post from this past December), is a loaf made from pork and cornmeal, baked and then pan-fried. Popular in Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, scrapple can be found on menus at diners and breakfast eateries throughout the area. Healthy? Eh… maybe not so much. Tasty? Yes. Absolutely yes.
Uncle Bill’s with a view. Mike’s Seafood
Founded by Italian immigrants in the early 20th century, Mike’s Seafood is one of the most popular seafood markets and restaurants on the island. Located along Fish Alley, Mike’s sells both fresh seafood and cooked meals. We decided to split an order of the “Patio Paul”: 1 1/4 lbs steamed whole Maine lobster, Snow Crab legs, 12 steamed Gulf Shrimp, an ear of corn, and coleslaw. Fun fact: Patio Paul, intended for only one person, comfortably feeds two.
Mike’s Seafood with a view. Quincy’s Original Lobster Rolls
Although many of the restaurants we visited in Sea Isle were old favorites, we also fell in love with some new establishments, such as Quincy’s Original Lobster Rolls. Founded by several friends from Pennsylvania who vacationed in Maine and wanted to bring the amazing flavor of lobster rolls to the Jersey Shore, Quincy’s Original has locations in Cape May, Ocean City, Wildwood, and Sea Isle.
I had the Classic Lobster Roll, and my wife had the Classic Lobster Roll – No Carb (lobster roll served on baby romaine leaves instead of a bun). We both tried the gluten-free New England Clam Chowder. As someone who has lived in the New England area for several years, I was amazed by the quality of the food here – it was like being back in Massachusetts!
Lobster rolls, chowder, and salad, with a view.
While we spent much of our time lounging by the ocean, we also made time to explore some local hiking trails.
Corson’s Inlet State Park
On a beautiful and sunny afternoon, we spent several hours hiking through Corson’s Inlet State Park in Ocean City. Corson’s Inlet preserves one of the last undeveloped stretches of land along the New Jersey coastline, with hiking trails throughout sand dunes and marine estuaries.
Marine estuaries are places where a river meets a lake or the sea. These unique environments are important habitats for numerous birds, fish, and other forms of wildlife. Peeking through some trees, we caught this snowy egret looking for a snack.
We also spotted a bird that neither my wife nor I had ever seen before – the glossy ibis.
Originating in Africa and southern Asia, the glossy ibis migrated to the Americas in the 19th century. The ibis is a wading bird, similar to the heron and the egret, finding its sustenance in food drawn from aquatic environments. The glossy ibis is a relative of the sacred African ibis, a bird that has mythological ties to the Ancient Egyptian god Thoth (via Wikipedia).
The paths, filled with loose and deep sand, were challenging at times to walk through. It was quite the workout!
Catching our breath, we stopped to read this sign beside a sand dune – the beach plum is a bush that grows in coastal environments and produces an edible fruit. A local winery, Natali Vineyards, even makes a wine from it. Neither of us had ever heard of the beach plum before – the more you know! As we began to resume our hike, we heard the sound of rushing water in the distance.
We climbed a dune and were confronted with this view – maybe the most rewarding post-hike scene I have ever witnessed. While many of the local beaches are overrun with visitors, we had this stretch of beach almost entirely to ourselves.
After taking a refreshing break on the empty beach, we began the hike back to our car. As we crested a dune, I spotted this scene of a nearby public beach, probably a mile from where we were standing. As was the case in this photo, many of the beaches we saw were overcrowded, and numerous people were ignoring social distancing guidelines… it made our hiking experience all the more rewarding to have a beach to ourselves. South Cape May Meadows
On a day trip to Cape May, we went for a hike through the South Cape May Meadows preserve. Hiking trails take visitors through almost 200 acres of preserved wetlands, which are migratory bird stopping points along the Atlantic Flyway.
Sadly, owing to chilly temperatures and strong winds, not many birds were in sight. We mostly saw Canadian geese and a few snowy egrets. Regardless, it was still a beautiful hike.
The preserve is not far from the Cape May Lighthouse, which is easily seen in the distance.
The preserve has a camouflaged blind to aid in bird spotting.
Inside the blind are several posters of birding guides, to aid you in your bird spotting endeavors. Pretty cool!
A narrow path leads you through the dunes to the beach. Fencing on either side protects nests where migratory birds lay their eggs. While we did not stay long enough to spot any birds returning to their nests, we could hear the calls of young hatchlings waiting for their parents to return with the next meal. The next time we are down the shore, we plan to return and see if we can spot some of the cool birds that make this preserve their home!
Southern New Jersey, especially the coastal region, is host to several vineyards. With a relatively warm and stable climate, almost 30 wineries call South Jersey home. We stopped by a few old favorites for curbside pickup, and then took the time to visit a new one for a fun afternoon adventure.
Cape May Winery & Vineyard
One of our favorite local vineyards, we swung by Cape May Winery & Vineyard to pick up a few bottles of wine to take home and share with family and friends. Turdo Vineyards & Winery
Not far away from the Cape May Winery is Turdo Vineyards, another small local winery. We ordered a few more bottles to bring back as souvenirs. Natali Vineyards
My favorite winery in southern New Jersey: Natali Vineyards. All of the wineries in this area are small, family-run operations, and we enjoyed not only buying excellent, affordable wines, but also supporting local businesses. Auburn Road Vineyard & Winery
Our biggest day trip was to Auburn Road Vineyard & Winery, located in Pilesgrove Township, approximately an hour away from Sea Isle City. With cloudy skies and fog on Sea Isle City, we decided to explore some of southern New Jersey.
Our drive took us through Salem County, a more rural section of the state filled with farms and criss-crossed by two-lane roads. Much of this part of NJ has more in common with the rural Midwest than it does with the over-developed Northeast.
Established in 2004, Auburn Road produces over 4,000 cases of wine each year from only 19 acres of vineyards (via Wikipedia).
With Phase Two of New Jersey’s COVID-19 re-opening plan allowing for outdoor dining, we were able to make reservations for a wine tasting on the vineyard’s patio. Our table was a comfortable distance from other guests, and our server took great care to minimize the amount of contact required. It was a wonderful afternoon activity (and if you’re stopping by Auburn Road, I would highly recommend the Solé, a semi-dry white wine).
We’ll take a table for two, please.
After several pleasant hours, it was time to get in Grace and head back to Sea Isle City.
We returned to Sea Isle City, which was covered in fog for almost 24 hours. Although I have spent a lifetime in and around the shore, I’ve never before seen fog that continuously rolls in and out for a day and a night. Although we had great weather for most of our time in Sea Isle, we picked a great day to explore off the island.
After an amazing two weeks, it was finally time to bid adieu to this fantastic scene. Until next time, Sea Isle!
Throughout the journey, our 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee was a fantastic companion, holding all of our suitcases, coolers, bedding, beach towels, and all the other supplies we required for two weeks away from home, while delivering us comfortably to our destination.
Once we returned home, I got back in my Accord and despite sitting inactive for two weeks, it started right up without complaint. Both my Accord (now at 153,836 miles) and my wife’s Grand Cherokee will be going in for routine maintenance in the next few weeks – I’ll certainly post updates afterward on how the vehicles are doing!
Our two weeks in Sea Isle City was time well-spent, enjoying relaxation by the beach with just the right amount of The Open Road Ahead adventures! This was a wonderful gift from some beloved members of our family. We returned home refreshed, relaxed, and ready to return to work with new energy.
In the coming weeks, I have some fun content planned, including a road trip to a familiar destination, another interview with a high-mileage Honda owner, and some other photographic updates. Until then, be well, be safe, and enjoy the start of summer!
And thanks, as always, for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead.
‘Til next time.