Seaside Heights, Atlantic City, and Cape May: A Day on the Jersey Shore

One Day on the Jersey Shore

The Jersey Shore doesn’t necessarily have the best reputation. Unquestionably, the eponymous TV show has something to do with it, even years after the last of the buff, tanned, laundry aficionados had abandoned their party house for other ventures. I watched a single episode the night before Adam and I were married, when my sister told me there was no way she could let me walk down the aisle without experiencing an essential piece of pop culture. Those 60 minutes were enough for her to feel comfortable in my knowledge of what was popular at that time, and it was more than enough for me to decide the Jersey Shore was not a place I needed to see for myself.

Jersey Shore BoardwalkFast forward just more than a decade, as Adam and I scanned Google Maps for a spot to host us for one quick weekend smushed between the last day of his previous job and the first day of his current job. He wanted to go somewhere before his vacation time accrual started from scratch, and we didn’t have enough notice to plan a more researched getaway. Having spent plenty of time visiting our home state and many of its neighbors, we realized New Jersey has never made it to the top of our list. Somewhat begrudgingly, we settled on the Jersey Shore for a quick weekend trip. For everything that the Jersey Shore cast represented, we are the opposite: the gym is not a destination for us, nor is the tanning salon. Laundry is washed, dried, and folded with little fanfare. We hoped we would find something interesting to do.

TV show jokes aside, the towns along the Jersey Shore are genuinely charming. From nostalgic spots to wineries to boardwalks in the salty ocean air, there’s a lot to do—and you can do plenty in a single day. If you’re thinking of a day trip to the Garden State, we hope you find some inspiration in how we spent one day on the Jersey Shore.

One Day on the Jersey Shore Stop 1: Seaside Heights

We left our home near Washington, DC in the morning, and thanks to a complete lack of traffic we arrived in New Jersey at lunchtime. Our first stop was, ironically, Seaside Heights. As I gazed out the window, a brown house adorned with a painted Italian flag caught my eye. Instantly recognizable as the house made famous by the tv show, I groaned quietly and wondered if this was somehow a sign of things to come. Perhaps after lunch and a visit to a few other spots we would run out of things to do and find ourselves buying a quick tan after all. We parked just two minutes down the road at Maruca’s.

MarucasFor the uninitiated, the New Jersey tomato pie is a unique experience. At first glance it looks like a traditional pizza, but true fans would stop short of calling it one. If a traditional pizza starts with dough and layers on sauce and cheese, a tomato pie handles its ingredients in reverse. At Maruca’s, tomato pies start with dough before adding cheese on top. Only then is tomato sauce added in a signature swirl, which results in a juicy, gooey concoction that practically serves as a beacon for hungry locals and tourists alike. Unfamiliar with the concept of the tomato pie, we picked Maruca’s for lunch on reputation alone. On a somewhat chilly Saturday morning at the beach we were among the only people inside, and as we waited for our lunch we watched the staff prepare dozens of takeout orders in the kitchen. When our pie arrived, it was more warming and satisfying than the coffee we saw so many people clutching outside. Although we were hungry enough to polish off the entire meal, we smartly saved a few slices to take with us just in case we needed a snack as our Jersey Shore road trip continued.

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One Day on the Jersey Shore Stop 2: Atlantic City

Jersey Shore Beach45 minutes south of Seaside Heights we arrived in Atlantic City, a destination in itself for boardwalks, beaches, and casinos. We weren’t really there for any of those mainstays, though: we were there for pinball. Minutes after parking our car we walked through the doors of the Showboat Hotel and into the Lucky Snake, a casino-turned-arcade loaded with games for all ages. After buying a game card preloaded with tokens, we started with a quick scan of the more than 50 pinball machines available to us. Ranging from several almost antique machines to some of the most modern, like the Mandalorian, we spent two hours walking around and playing them. The arcade itself is massive, and we lost track of time quickly as we surrendered to the joy of being kids again.

Before hopping back in the car to seek out our final destination of the day, we walked along the boardwalk and toward the Atlantic Ocean. It was too cold for swimming (although that didn’t stop a few daring visitors!), but the weather was perfect for wandering along the shoreline before rejoining the growing crowds on the boardwalk. The Atlantic City boardwalk is great for many things—rides, games, souvenirs, people watching—and we stayed long enough to share some fried Oreos before it was time to leave. On the way out, we drove past the famous Lucy the Elephant, who has been part of the Atlantic City landscape since 1881. In 1976 she earned a National Historic Landmark designation, and today she is the city’s most popular non-gambling attraction. It’s hard to justify a visit to Atlantic City without paying a visit to Lucy.

One Day on the Jersey Shore Stop 3: Cape May

By late afternoon, the sun was still lighting our way to our final destination of the day: historic Cape May. Because the traffic gods had smiled on us, we were running a bit ahead of schedule and decided to stop at Hawk Haven Vineyard and Winery for a tasting. Once seated in the tent, we had a choice of flights, and to maximize our experience I picked the signature white flight and Adam selected the red flight. Of the three wines I tried, my favorite was the first one—the 2021 dry Pinot Grigio, which was light, crisp, and full of citrus notes like lemon and orange. The 2021 dry Sauvignon Blanc was a close second; hints of starfruit and lime reminded me of the summer days that would pair perfectly with it. Adam’s favorite (and mine from his tasting) was Q, a berry-forward dry red blend with notes of vanilla and fig. The tasting experience was just what we needed during our relaxed Jersey Shore road trip. We were quickly seated, waited just a few moments to order our tasting flights, and were given plenty of space to relax while we enjoyed the wines. While New Jersey wasn’t the first place we would have thought of for great wine, we weren’t surprised to have found some in the state; after all, our drive through North Dakota surprised us with some great wines as well.

Cape May Houses
Cape May
Cape May is a very historic part of New Jersey and, like Lucy the Elephant, is on the National Historic Landmark list. Before arriving in the city proper, we made a few stops along the shore to learn more about its role in World War II. In 1942, a bunker was built in Cape May to store munitions. The bunker wasn’t expected to withstand the test of time, but it did. Today, the shoreline has been further sculpted by the Atlantic Ocean, and it looks as if the water might be sweeping it out to sea as more and more of the ocean surrounds it.

Not far from the bunker is the wreck of the SS Atlantus, which also juts out of the water to surprise those who might not know its location or history. Built during World War I and launched in 1918, the SS Atlantus transported U.S. troops from Europe and took coal to New England. After only two years, the ship was retired; however, it was purchased in 1926 to help construct a ferry dock, which should have given the ship new life. Instead, the Atlantus met an unexpected end when it got caught up in a storm that led to it breaking free of its line and running aground. Efforts made to remove the ship failed, and it was left to slowly rust away. We took advantage of a late day arrival to spend some time on Sunset Beach, where it’s easy to see the ship peeking up above the waves.

Once in Cape May, our focus was on sightseeing and finding a spot for dinner. Cape May is on the National Historic Landmark list largely for the incredible architecture that defines the city’s aesthetic. Many of the buildings reflect designs popular during the late Victorian era, and some of the most impressive houses date back to the mid-1800s. Our evening arrival brought us to the downtown area just in time for the sun to set, so our walk focused on exploring Cape May’s Washington Street Mall and its many shops and eateries.

We had dinner at the Ugly Mug, which may be more famous for its décor than it is for its food and drink. The bar is home to the Ugly Mug club, and club members have their own mugs that are hung from the ceiling when not in use. In tribute to club members who pass away, their mugs retain their spots but are positioned to face the ocean. Not being local and not knowing when our travels might take us back through Cape May, we didn’t join the club, but we did have a great seafood-focused meal as we dined on crab cakes and crab soup—washed down with cold glasses of local beer.

Where to Stay on the Jersey Shore

You may not need a hotel when you visit the Jersey Shore, but we broke up our drive by staying at La Mer Beachfront Resort in Cape May. Although we were there just long enough to sleep, shower, and get back on the road, we found our stay to be comfortable and the team at the front desk was welcoming. Not too far from Washington Street and many of the main attractions, it’s a great choice if you are looking for a nice hotel for your trip.

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We found La Mer on, which gave us a chance to look at a few hotels and pick a location that was convenient with amenities that were important to us. Take a look at to see if they have a great property for your trip, too!

Visit the Jersey Shore!

Although most of our Jersey Shore experience took place during one day, we stayed the night in Cape May and headed home after breakfast at the Mad Batter. Popular with locals and sought out by visitors, we arrived just before the start of the Sunday morning rush and were quickly seated and served heaping plates of pancakes (for Adam) and crab cake benedict (for me). Our meals were delicious and filling, and since the sun was out and quickly warming away the chill of the night, we spent some time walking along the streets to see the Victorian homes in daylight. Beautifully maintained with vibrant color schemes, each house greeted us with its own eccentric personality as we passed by.

With our walk complete, we returned to the car and prepared to head home. We spent the first part of the ride home reflecting on how different our road trip along the Jersey Shore was from what we expected it might be. It was relaxing, educational, and filled with reasons to convince us a return trip should be part of our plans. We stopped at a rest station off I-95 to fuel the car for its remaining trek, and before getting back on the road Adam paused to grab something from the trunk. Settling back into the driver’s seat, he handed me the Maruca’s box with the leftovers from our stop the day before. As New Jersey faded into Delaware, the taste of tomato pie lingered on our tongues as we talked about what we would put on our next Jersey Shore itinerary. There’s still plenty more to see—and there will be more tomato pies in our future.

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Seaside Heights, Atlantic City, and Cape May: A Day on the Jersey Shore