When I first moved to Center City Philadelphia years ago, I didn’t know much about New Jersey, even though it was located a few short blocks and a body of water away.
I knew that Camden was a modern day Thunderdome, the governor regularly made a fool of himself in public, and the jewel in the state’s crown was the shoreline where people flocked every summer to escape the city. Not much has changed since then, except now this governor only frequents rest stops for the Sbarro, and the Jersey Shore has been unfairly branded as an exotic cesspool of sleaze thanks to television.
Don’t let that stop you from visiting the shore. Ideally, going “down the shore” involves renting a beach house or, even better, convincing friends to let you stay in theirs. But if you’re really aching for an afternoon in the sun, hearing the waves lap against the beach as you catch some shuteye, the Jersey Shore makes the perfect day trip from the city.
Here are some important things to know for your day at the Jersey Shore.
First, you’ll need to know a few things about traveling through the parts of New Jersey that are not the shore. When driving on the highway through Camden, it’s best not to make eye contact with other drivers. As you get to the suburbs, you’ll discover that all of the Wawas that have unceremoniously been extricated from Center City are now located on New Jersey highways. Between those and the many, many diners, you won’t go hungry on your way to the shore. Did you know that Wawa and diners make up 43% of New Jersey’s economy? This is not true, but it kind of seems that way.
The directions for reaching the shore are easy: basically drive East until you run out of America. However, you’ll have to pick the shore point that’s right for you. Do you love fancy Victorian architecture and screaming children? Try Cape May. Do you wish there were more places to spend money on a Boardwalk? Then go to Ocean City. Would you like to feel unwelcome for not being a resident? Try Long Beach Island. Have you given up on life? Atlantic City might be for you.
Once you’ve reached your destination, you’ll want to fit in as much as possible so as not to engender any hostility. Shore residents feel about city day-trippers the way city residents feel about Jersey drivers. This summer, pretend to be crushed that you just lost the Stanley Cup finals. Also, act like making left turns is foreign to you. Show up wearing your bathing suit and flip-flops, and blast Bruce Springsteen from your car stereo with the windows down. No one will know you’re from out of state unless they look at your license plate.
Get comfortable on the beach. Find a spot on the sand near a public bathroom, lest you have to buy a piece of pizza from a local shop every time you have to use their facilities. I learned the hard way that no matter how many water ices or gelati you buy, no one at Rita’s is going to allow you to pee in their restroom in the back. Try to find a spot on the beach near quiet, pleasant, disgustingly beautiful, scantily clad people. When you find this spot, make a note and tell me where you found this mythical place.
In all seriousness, the Jersey Shore is an oasis from the world of urban heat and humidity. It’s a nearby paradise that’s as free from fist pumps and smooshing as you want it to be. Enjoy your day trip, wear plenty of sunscreen and shake off all that sand before crossing back over the Ben Franklin Bridge.