The New Jersey shore. If you’re looking for a beach summer getaway, the Garden State has you covered. From boardwalks filled with souvenir shops, amusement park rides, arcades, and fast food, to coastal wetlands teeming with wildlife, to sandy beaches offering beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean, there is something for almost everyone along the 130 miles of New Jersey coastline.
For the fourth consecutive year, my wife and I headed to the town of Sea Isle City for a two-week summer getaway with family. Rather than extensively tour the southern New Jersey beaches, this year we parked the Jeep and spent the vast majority of our vacation in Sea Isle, rarely venturing off the island. We enjoyed amazing seaside views, caught up with the local wildlife, ate great food, celebrated a special date, and got some much-needed downtime.
So come along, then, as I share some highlights from our seaside summer vacation.
Sea Isle City 2022
Located halfway between Cape May and Atlantic City, Sea Isle City is a coastal community that was founded in 1882. Located about 80 minutes southeast of Philadelphia, and two-and-a-half hours from New York, Sea Isle draws in visitors from many of the states surrounding New Jersey. Although the year-round population of Sea Isle is a little over 2,000 individuals, that number swells to approximately 40,000 people during the summer months (via Wikipedia).
What does it take to spend two weeks on vacation? Packing… lots of efficient packing.
Ah, back in one of my favorite shore towns. The Views!
There is no sunset like a Jersey Shore sunset. Our very first night in town, Mother Nature gave us a treat.
While the eastern side of Sea Isle faces the Atlantic Ocean, the western side offers a view of the wetlands, channels, and bays that separate it from the mainland. It’s also the perfect setting for sunset photography!
One night we were treated to a full moon shining down upon the ocean and the beach.
For the most part, we had beautiful weather, although there was one day when we were reminded of the power of the ocean… a storm brought us winds that gusted up to 40 miles per hour, as well as 4- to 6-foot seas. Nothing too dramatic, but just enough to keep us inside our vacation house, watching from a distance. The (Drone) Views!
This year I packed my drone, hoping to further practice my aerial photography and videography skills. With pleasant weather and (overall) gentle winds, it made for some great flying (and photographing) conditions!
Sunset became my favorite time to fly the drone, as I was able to capture beautiful skies and views of the town.
At points no wider than five blocks, Sea Isle is remarkably narrow. No surprise, then, that it has been hard hit by numerous storms over the years, with the ocean quickly submerging the streets. The worst storm in recent memory was the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962, which destroyed a significant number of homes and businesses. As a result, a line of dunes was created on the eastern side of the island (visible on the left edge of the photo) to help protect the town against coastal flooding.
I practiced with the tilt function of the drone’s camera, and captured the waves as they crashed along the shore.
Did I mention that sunset was the coolest time of day to fly the drone?
Maybe my favorite drone photo from the entire trip!
I also wanted to share a short video I made of some of the highlights of my aerial adventures in Sea Isle City:
What post on The Open Road Ahead is complete without a culinary tour through our destination? We enjoyed great seafood throughout our trip, including a couple of visits to Quincy’s Original Lobster Rolls.
That’ll be a cup of New England Clam Chowder to start, and then a “Classic” lobster roll: lobster, a bead of mayo, lemon butter, and seasoning, all on a split-top bun. Yum. Yum. Yum.
We did venture off-island to eat at El Capitan’s Taco Shack in Woodbine. Set along Route 50, El Capitan’s is in its third year of operation, serving fresh tacos and burritos. It may not look like much, but for my money, El Cap’s serves the best tacos in New Jersey.
I ordered the “Mixed Basket” – a carnitas taco, a carne asada taco, chips, and salsa. I’d highly recommend the guacamole as well. How was our taco lunch? Two thumbs up!
On Father’s Day, we had another off-island adventure to Cape May, where we grabbed lunch at the Cape May Fish Market.
My wife got the best meal at the table – a lobster roll! Sautéed in butter, the lobster meat is served piping hot (and gluten-free buns are available on request). Cape May Fish Market’s other culinary secret? They serve some of the best french fries I’ve ever tasted.
As our anniversary fell during our vacation, my wife and I felt fortunate to be able to celebrate at the shore. We started with a wine tasting at Hawk Haven Vineyards & Winery in Rio Grande. We enjoyed beautiful weather, delicious wine, and a fun game of cards.
Our next destination was to one of our favorite restaurants in Cape May: Louisa’s Cafe. Established in 1980, Louisa’s serves cuisine with all locally-sourced ingredients.
We chose to eat on Louisa’s outdoor patio, enjoying an absolutely gorgeous night in Cape May. Unlike many restaurants at the Jersey shore, Louisa’s accepts reservations for both indoor and outdoor dining.. a definite plus!
Louisa’s believes in having a limited menu and preparing a small selection of items very well. The entire menu was written on these chalkboards outside the restaurant.
Our appetizers included a kale caesar salad (pictured) and an order of ginger sesame peanut noodles.
My wife ordered the scallops, paired with a tamari and ginger sauce.
I went with one of Louisa’s specialties: blackened baby bluefin, served with a lemon, garlic, and olive oil sauce. Our meal was simply delicious. Louisa’s remains one of our favorite restaurants at the Jersey shore.
Although the desserts at Louisa’s looked divine, we chose to end our night out with a walk to Kohr Brothers Frozen Custard on the Washington Mall in Cape May. That will be an orange-and-vanilla swirl for my wife (left) and a vanilla immersed in jimmies for me (right). It hit the spot, and was a perfect ending to our anniversary meal. The Wildlife!
Given its location along the Atlantic Flyway, Sea Isle City presents ample opportunity for birding. The bay side of Sea Isle is home to numerous wading birds, such as these egrets.
During spring and summer months, it is not uncommon to see the common tern in the air. These small birds circle over bodies of salt water, and then dive into the water for fish.
The bane of anyone who has ever tried to eat french fries on a beach boardwalk – the herring gull. Despite their reputation for annoyance, sea gulls are invaluable, as they act like nature’s vacuum cleaners of the beach, eating fish and shellfish that wash up on shore. More ominously, sea gull population numbers are down significantly over the past few decades, a fact that scientists are trying to better understand (via The Wildlife Society).
While bird photography is my focus (see what I did there?), Sea Isle is also home to numerous other animal and reptile species, including this diamondback terrapin. Dwindling population numbers mean these terrapins are classified as “near threatened.” Numerous signs are posted along roadways in Sea Isle, reminding drivers to slow down for these little guys, as automobiles are one of the biggest killers of turtles in Sea Isle.
On the bay side of the island, I captured an osprey gathering sticks and grass for its nest, while another stood on the ground, keeping watch.
I was mesmerized by watching the osprey work on its nest, leaving periodically to gather more supplies, and then returning to continue its building efforts. Even at this distance, it was pretty cool to watch this magnificent bird in its native habitat. The next day, however, I had a close encounter of the osprey kind…
As I sat on our vacation home’s porch, I watched in the distance as an osprey dove into the ocean and emerged with a fish. I happened to have my camera with me, so trained my lens on it out of habit. I fully expected it to fly home, far out of range of my camera. You can imagine my surprise as it flew right toward me.
Fish clutched tightly in its talons, the osprey turned and looked straight at me. I was so surprised, I almost forgot to press the shutter button… but fortunately, I did. Talk about magic.
Breaking its gaze, the osprey banked gently and headed to the northwest, returning to its nest. Sometimes, if you’re patient, and a bit lucky, nature will give you a terrific photographic moment. The Odds and Ends!
Learning About the Island
If you’re in Sea Isle City and would like to learn a bit more about the town’s history, head over to the Sea Isle City Library, part of the Cape May County Library system. On the first floor, you’ll find a small museum dedicated to the history of the seaside community.
The Sea Isle City Historical Museum was founded in 1982 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the town. There is no charge for admission, and volunteers will happily give you a tour of the museum and answer any questions you may have.
These two plates, recovered from a ship that sunk a mile off the coast, caught my eye. At least eleven vessels have sunk off the coast of Sea Isle, mostly the result of poor weather and heavy seas (via Sea Isle News).
The museum also houses a collection of albums and scrapbooks from long-time residents of the island.
One display that caught my eye was of uniforms worn by men and women who served in the US military and the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol. Each mannequin features a small sign telling the story of the Sea Isle resident who once wore the uniform.
The museum also details the history of severe storms’ impact on Sea Isle, such as the 1962 Ash Wednesday storm, which caused widespread destruction across the island. Owing to this storm, the beach was extended further inland, and a protective dune was erected to help defend Sea Isle against future storm-related destruction.
One of the most interesting exhibits was this collection of wedding gowns of Sea Isle residents, spanning from 1900 to 2007. The museum was a fun way to learn more about the island, and the staff was knowledgable and friendly. I’d highly recommend a visit! The Cars of Sea Isle
I’m accustomed to seeing very nice cars in Sea Isle City – vehicles from Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Lexus, and Porsche can all be spotted around town. But equally interesting are the odd, unique, or downright bizarre cars parked along its streets… such as this Volkswagen Beetle that looks like something from Mad Max: Fury Road.
It takes a certain kind of person to confidently drive a 1960s Mercury station wagon, complete with wood paneling and mag-style wheels. I’d like to meet them.
Best in Show goes to the owner of this Chevrolet Spark hatchback, who painted it to look like the Galileo shuttlecraft from Star Trek. To boldly go where no one has gone before… indeed.
As we neared the end of our trip, we were treated to this gorgeous rainbow shortly after sunrise one morning. We had a wonderful two weeks by the sea, enjoying time with family, and soaking in all the sun and fun that the Jersey shore has to offer.
After packing up the Jeep, we said our goodbyes and headed home. Along the way, Grace, our Grand Cherokee, inched closer to the 86,000 mile mark. Onward! Wrapping Up
It was, of course, bittersweet to say goodbye to Sea Isle City at the end of our trip. We enjoyed our time with family and friends, eating great food, photographing wildlife, and enjoying the gorgeous views of the ocean. However, no sooner had we returned home than our attention turned toward planning what promises to be a mega road trip this summer… more on that in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!
Thanks for coming along on this seaside journey down the open road ahead.
‘Til next time.