The latest update for this article is written by Lindsay Podolak.
When all of the fun of summertime in New Jersey passes us by, the colder weather brings an incredible peace and quiet to those same shore towns that were so chaotic just weeks before. And that means it’s the perfect time to plan an off-season getaway. Imagine a world where there’s no wait at your favorite restaurants, and no sound other than the ocean just a few feet away.
It’s a true break from everyday life, and you deserve it. So, leave the bathing suit at home and plan your cold-weather getaway to one of these unlikely destinations.
Location: Cape May County, Exit 0
In the Summer: In addition to beaches, this shore town has much to offer. Attractions include the Cape May Lighthouse, Cape May County Zoo and specialty shops at Washington Square Mall. And in the evening, visitors can take a horse-drawn carriage tour. It’s the sweetest way to take in the beautiful Victorian houses Cape May has to offer.
But in the Winter: You can visit the Willow Creek Winery for a wine tasting and tour, or head to the Cape May Brewing Company if beer is more your style. For history buffs, there’s the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum (located inside of the Cape May Airport’s historic Hangar No.1) and The Museum of Cape May County. Cape May is also home to some of the best restaurants at the Jersey Shore. Zagat rated The Washington Inn and Peter Shields Inn and Restaurant on its list of best restaurants in New Jersey.
Where to Stay: Congress Hall offers various deals throughout the winter months. Best of all, it transforms into a magical Winter Wonderland during the holiday season. Think hundreds of lights and train rides on the Congress Hall Express. Visit www.caperesorts.com or call 888-944-1816 for more info.
Why I like it: From most parts of the state, Cape May is far enough south that it feels like you’re taking a real road trip, without having to cross state lines!
Location: Monmouth County, Exit 98
In the Summer: Spring Lake’s beautiful beaches and non-commercial boardwalk draw crowds looking for a quiet summer getaway. Each year on Memorial Weekend, Spring Lake kicks off the season with the Spring Lake Five Mile Run. The race attracts thousands of runners to the small seaside town. Throughout the summer, the specialty shops, fine cuisine and historic downtown keep visitors busy throughout the days and nights.
But in the Winter: Its proximity to Allaire State Park makes Spring Lake a great destination for bikers and hikers. Not the outdoorsy type? History buffs can check out the living museum at Allaire Village, a nineteeth-century iron-working town. If you’re planning on making the Monmouth County town a holiday getaway, Spring Lake’s got you covered: Each weekend in December, the Spring Lake Theatre Company puts on on its annual holiday performance of Scrooge. Then there’s the Spring Lake Christmas Celebration Kick-Off on November 24, offering Santa’s workshop and hayrides through Spring Lake. And don’t miss the Candlelight Christmas Inn Tour on December 1 for a chance to view the vintage holiday decorations that the local inns and some private homes have to offer. End your festive trip with dinner at Whispers, Spring Lakes’s Zagat-rated restaurant.
Where to Stay: The Spring Lake Inn, built in 1888, is just a block from the beach and boardwalk. Check out www.springlakeinn.com or call 732-449-2010 for more info.
Why I like it: Visit the iconic Spring Lake Footbridges. They span the lake and are decked out with lights during the holiday season. You will also be able to enjoy the improvements that the town made to the shoreline this summer.
Location: Cape May County, Exit 30
In the Summer: As the name suggests, it’s all about the ocean! Ocean City offers eight miles of beaches, and Great Egg Harbor Bay is great for sailing, kayaking and jet skiing. And the Ocean City Municipal Golf Course is open for anyone looking to take a break from the surf.
But in the Winter: Ocean City is a year-round fishing destination. October and November is striped bass season, and in December, you can fish for blackfish, ling and cod. (Chartering a boat may be your best bet in the cold months.) The fall migration also brings with it the opportunity for bird watching in the Back Bay. Rent a sailboat or kayak to get the best views. If you’re fishing for some one-of-a-kind gifts, the Asbury Avenue shopping district offers more than 100 shops and eateries. Be sure to make a stop at OC Surf Café for breakfast. This spot’s beachy theme will make you feel like you’re in paradise even on the chilliest of days.
Where to Stay: The Port-O-Call Hotel features beautiful ocean views and is just half a mile from the boardwalk. Check out www.portocallhotel.com or call 800-334-4546.
Why I like it: Ring in the New Year at Ocean City’s First Night celebration, the yearly, family-friendly celebration with ice skating, inflatables, live music, magicians and more!
Location: Monmouth County, Exit 102
In the Summer: It’s home to two of New Jersey’s most beloved summer landmarks: the Asbury Park Boardwalk and iconic music venue, The Stone Pony. Asbury Park also boasts beautiful beaches. They’re perfect for lounging around just feet from the restaurants, shops, games and rides located on the boardwalk.
But in the Winter: Asbury Park is a bar-hopper’s and music-lover’s paradise. The nightlife here is some of the best you’ll get from a shore town in the off-season (event calendar here), so you don’t need to worry about looking for something to do. You can even bring your dog with you, as Wonder Bar hosts a “Yappy Hour” for four-footed pals. Absury Park also has a thriving gay nightlife, with Georgie’s Bar — aka, the “Gay Cheers of Asbury Park” — which has weekly karaoke contests, and Paradise, a nightclub located in the Empress Hotel. Be sure to make a stop at Moonstruck while you’re in town, as this upscale eatery earned TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence. And, every Saturday and Sunday from November 23 thru December 20, the Asbury Park Bazaar (styled after a German Christmas market) can be found in the Grand Arcade of Convention Hall. Stop by for unique holiday gifts and more Christmas spirit than you can handle!
Where to Stay: The landmark, 1950s-style Empress Hotel is an LGBT-friendly hotspot that puts you right in the center of the action. For more info, check out www.asburyempress.com or call 732-774-0100.
Why I like it: If you haven’t been able to make it to The Stone Pony during the summer months, it’s just as rockin’ in the winter. Check the full calendar here to see when your favorite Springsteen tribute band is playing.
Location: Atlantic County, Exit 38
In the Summer: Visitors can hang on the beach or boardwalk — or get their groove on at the casinos. In addition to clubs, the casinos boast Vegas-style pool parties, complete with bottle service and guest DJs.
But in the Winter: It’s time to let it ride and dance all night, since the casinos and clubs run year-round. Make sure to drop into The Borgata, one of the city’s most popular destinations. This resort alone houses the requisite casino and nightclub (Mur.Mur) as well as Spa Toccare, more than ten restaurants (including Bobby Flay Steak and Wolfgang Puck American Grille), and luxury stores. Besides the casinos, Atlantic City is also home to New Jersey’s tallest lighthouse, Absecon Lighthouse (open Thursday thru Monday), which is the third-tallest in the US. If you’re traveling with kids, check out the oddities at Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, and load up on school clothes at the Tanger Outlets.
Where to Stay: As mentioned above, The Borgata is one of the city’s most popular casinos. It always has a handful of packages available. Check out the “Play Your Heart Out Casino Hotel Package” if you’re a slots lover. For more info, go to www.theborgata.com or call 609-317-1000.
Why I like it: Animal lovers can visit the nearby Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine. This spot is open on weekends in the fall and winter months. At the organization’s Sea Life Museum and Gift Shop, there are educational exhibits, as well as live camera feeds from the Intensive Care Unit tanks that house seals, sea turtles and other creatures currently being rehabilitated.
Location: Monmouth County, Exit 109
In the Summer: Red Bank is the place to go for a more upscale vacation. As it isn’t a beach town, Red Bank draws a different type of summer crowd. Head here for dining and shopping, rather than days spent on the beach in flip-flops.
But in the Winter: Red Bank is the perfect place for a shopping getaway. The town offers well-known names, but the local boutiques — like Hobbymaster’s, the world’s largest international hobby store — are the real draw. Don’t miss quirky comic book emporium Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash as well as Jack’s Music Shoppe for one-of-a-kind items. Make sure to drop into JBJ’s Soul Kitchen — run by the Jon Bon Jovi Foundation — for a bite. The restaurant doesn’t have prices; rather, guests can donate money, or time, to pay for their meal. And, if you want to infuse your trip with some culture, you’re in luck: The local Two River Theater is performing August Wilson’s King Hedley II through the end of the year, and A Little Shakespeare: Macbeth in December. Then there’s the Count Basie Theater, which hosts touring shows as well as holiday shows.
Where to Stay: The Oyster Point Hotel and sister hotel The Molly Pitcher Inn are great options in Red Bank. For more info on Oyster Point, go to www.theoysterpointhotel.com or call 732-530-8200. For The Molly Pitcher, check out themollypitcher.com or call 732-747-2500.
Why I like it: Even though it’s an indoor rink, you can still partake in the traditional winter sport of ice-skating at the Red Bank Armory. Check the website to see when public skating is available. Admission is just $9 for adults and $8 for children ages 12 and under. Skate rentals are an additional $4, if needed.
Location: Cape May County, Exit 10A
In the Summer: Visitors flock to Seven Mile Beach, Stone Harbor’s main draw. Bordered by both the Atlantic Ocean and the Intercoastal Waterway, Stone Harbor is also popular choice for families looking to go fishing or do some water sports during their getaway.
But in the Winter: It’s a perfect family-friendly trip. The Wetlands Institute is open year-round and offers the chance to learn about the local environment and wildlife. The Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary is another great way to observe local wildlife, and it has three paths available for exploring any time of the year. In between all of your Stone Harbor adventures, be sure to stop by Jay’s on Third — the menu changes seasonally and is made from locally sourced ingredients — and grab dessert at Springer’s Homemade Ice Cream, offering standards like chocolate and strawberry, as well as unique flavors like blueberry, egg nog and cotton candy.
Where to Stay: The Reeds at Shelter Haven is a picturesque place to spend your Stone Harbor getaway. For more info, check out www.reedsatshelterhaven.com or call 609-368-0100.
Why I like it: With Stone Harbor and Avalon being next to each other on Seven Mile Island, you get two towns for the price of one vacation! Check out Avalon’s shopping district featuring high-end boutiques, quirky gift shops and fine dining.