Ocean Drive: Ocean City and Stone Harbor
A series of local roads collectively known as Ocean Drive runs along the south Jersey coast, passing through a number of family-oriented beach resorts, starting at Ocean City (pop. 14,699), “The Greatest Family Resort for a Vacation, or a Lifetime,” 10 miles south of Atlantic City. Ocean City was founded as a religious retreat in the late 1870s and hasn’t strayed far from its roots: Every summer morning (at 9:20am, on the dot), life on the Boardwalk promenade comes to a standstill as “The Star-Spangled Banner” blares out from loudspeakers and the American flag is raised at the beachfront amusement park, which has been owned by the same family for more than a century. Located at 6th Street, and known as Gillian’s Wonderland Pier (609/399-7082, daily in summer, weekends only spring and fall, free admission, fee per ride), this old-time funfair has over 30 rides, including a giant Ferris wheel and a 1920s carousel. A block south, you can cool off on a hot summer’s day at Gillian’s Island water park.
Vacation homes, marinas, miniature golf courses, and a pair of toll bridges mark Ocean Drive for the next 20 miles. At Stone Harbor, five miles north of Wildwood, the Wetlands Institute (1075 Stone Harbor Blvd., 609/368-1211, daily in summer, Fri.-Sun. rest of year, $8 adults) is one of the best places to experience the abundant natural life of the New Jersey shore. An observation tower looking over 6,000 acres of saltwater marshland provides excellent bird-watching opportunities, and there’s also a museum with a touch-tank and aquarium.