If you're looking to relax, entertain the kids or party on the boardwalk, southern New Jersey has a beach resort for you.
For families: Ocean City
Ocean City takes its self-appointed title of "America's Greatest Family Resort" seriously. Just this year, the squeaky clean, historically dry town shot down a proposal that would have allowed patrons to bring their own wine or beer to restaurants. Does it limit dinner plans? Yes. But it also makes for a family-friendly beach scene, a retro-wholesome boardwalk and blissfully peaceful condo rentals.
Eat this: Manco & Manco Pizza is a boardwalk legend, serving up what pretty much everyone on the island -- and nearby Philadelphia, for that matter -- will tell you is "real pizza." Order up as many of the thin, ocean air-kissed slices as you can hold, and get ready to fend off the seagulls -- they're in on the secret.
For a retreat: Stone Harbor and Avalon
While many shore communities aare packed with sun-burned tourists, you're likely to sit next to locals at the neighborhood bars of these lower-key locales.
Make reservations here: Headed up by a team of Philly chefs looking for a little summer fun, The Diving Horse (www.thedivinghorseavalon.com) offers something that the Jersey Shore admittedly lacks: a kitchen that's as skilled as it is ambitious.
For pool parties: Wildwood
With its rowdy boardwalk and hard-partying downtown, Wildwood has long been the Jersey Shore's spring break capital. But even if you're not interested in the Jell-O shot tray, the island also boasts gigantic sprawling beaches that regularly end up on "best of" lists for their free access -- not to mention swings and seesaws.
Ride this: Morey's Piers extend out over the sand, packed with amusements and waterslides -- and not the second-rate kind you usually find at beach towns. Roller-coaster nerds will get their fill with both the old-school wooden Great White and its loopy younger siblings, while slower-paced beach bums should book a white-linen breakfast on the iconic looming Ferris wheel.
While the laid-back vibe is the draw of Stone Harbor and Avalon, there's a nightlife scene for when you're done with your book. Right on the border of the two towns, the newly remodeled Windrift Hotel (www.windrifthotel.com) offers a variety of lounges and bars, including a third-floor ocean-front deck with killer views.
Atlantic City is the spot for beach-side nightlife, but she's not nearly as hot in the morning. If you're looking to hit up the casinos, consider setting up camp in neighboring Brigantine. The lower-key shore point is a quick cab ride away and offers quiet beaches to work on your tan before going out.