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. 11,701), “America’s Greatest Family Resort,” 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” and “God Bless America” blare 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 summer, Sat.-Sun. spring and fall, free, fees for rides), 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 OC Waterpark.
Vacation homes, marinas, miniature golf courses, and a pair of toll bridges mark Ocean Drive for the next 20 miles.
At Stone Harbor, six miles north of Wildwood, the Wetlands Institute (1075 Stone Harbor Blvd., 609/368-1211, daily summer, Sat.-Sun. fall-spring, $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.