Family surfing on LBI beach
Jersey Shore Vacations
This is the last post in a series by Dana Rebmann on Jersey Shore vacations with kids.
Atlantic City has casinos. Ocean City has the boardwalk, and Margate has Lucy the elephant. But when I have time to relax at the Jersey Shore, Long Beach Island is where I go. It strikes a wonderful balance of having everything and nothing at the same time.
Known to locals and regular visitors as LBI, the barrier island is 18 miles long and less than a mile wide at its widest point. Tourists invade by the thousands in the summer, but in the winter all the traffic lights are turned off. (According to the 2000 U.S. Census less than 9-thousand people call the Island home year round.) There’s no McDonald’s, no Starbucks.
I admit bias. I was raised on LBI. I may have a California address, but I still call the Island home. I make a point of taking my girls every summer. Life is different here. Not better or worse, but different.
The Island is about a 90-minute drive from Philadelphia. There’s only one way to get there: take State Route 72 to “The Causeway.” (It’s officially called the Dorland J. Henderson Memorial Bridge, but in almost 40 years, I’ve never heard anyone call it that.) Numerous small cities proudly call the Island home. The main road, Long Beach Boulevard better known as “the Boulevard” runs the entire Island making it really hard, almost impossible actually, to get lost.
Long Beach Island Hotels
There are a dozen or so hotels on LBI. A couple are higher end resort-style places, but the majority are smaller, old beach style places. They fill fast, especially on weekends and holidays, and in some cases have a two night minimum. A majority of visitors rent vacation homes. Rentals typically run Saturday-to-Saturday or in some cases for the entire summer.
To use the beach, you’ll need a beach badge. Some rentals and hotels include badges, so be sure to ask when you make your reservations. If you need to purchase them, just take money when you hit the beach. “Badge Checkers” walk the beach. You can buy daily, weekly or season badges.Kids 12 and under are free. The money goes to a good cause-paying the numerous lifeguards and keeping the beaches clean. Just pin the badges or your beach bag and you won’t really have to think about them again.
Your kids will figure this out in a heartbeat, but I think it’s only fair I give you advance warning. When you’re on the beach, you’ll regularly hear and see someone at the entrance ringing a bell, or two or three. Why? Ice Cream. Ice cream trucks spend the day driving from beach to beach looking for hungry, sugar deprived kids and parents who brought their wallets to the beach. You’ll get away with playing dumb for awhile, but be ready to pony up for some ice cream sandwiches or suffer the consequences.
Family Surf Lessons
If you’re not a fan of sitting in the sand, ride the waves. Surfing has a history on LBI. The original Ron Jon Surf Shop was opened on the Island in 1961. If you’ve ever pondered getting on board, this is the perfect place to learn. My husband and 9 year-old took lessons this summer and loved every wave. Both were standing before the end of their first lesson! Local surf shops, like Wave Hog, are great at factoring in the tides and wind to help folks of all ages and abilities. I could easily see a board under the Christmas tree this year.
After a long day at the beach, a relaxing game of miniature golf might be just what the family is looking for. There’s plenty of courses to choose from, and chances are there’s one close enough to where you’re staying that you can walk or ride your bikes. Putt-putt is a popular night time activity, so expect crowds and maybe even a wait. You can play during the day, when the crowds are on the beach, but the heat and humidity can put a damper on your game.
Here’s a chance to work off all that ice cream. Climb 217 steps to the top of Barnegat Lighthouse. Kids 12 and under are free. Kids-at-heart pay just a dollar. A long spiral staircase takes you 172 feet above sea level to the beacon. Don’t get scared. It’s not as strenuous as you think. Families climb Old Barney everyday. There are numerous places to stop and take a break as you make your way up the steps. I’ve done it with my girls since they were babies. In the early years, they were strapped to my chest in the carrier. As toddlers, when they wanted to do it on their own, they’d start out climbing, but then wind up in my arms. Now, I just meet them at the top.
Thundering Surf & Bay Village
If you still can’t get the sand out of your hair, another good beach-break adventure is Thundering Surf. I loved going as a kid, and I still have fun going as a parent. The park is fairly compact, which makes keeping track of your swimmers a bit easier. There are lifeguards everywhere, which is reassuring for those moments when you lose sight of little ones.
There’s a nice offering of activities for all ages. “Cowabunga Beach” is designed especially for little ones. There’s “Dancing Fountains” and a “Lazy Crazy River” that’s nice to ride with mom or dad.Older kids will forget you exist once they see the six giant waterslides. Depending on their age, and your comfort zone, kids can ride on their own or in a double tube with you.
The new attraction the local kids are talking about is the Flowrider. It’s like boogie boarding on a wave that never ends… until you wipe out. This might be as much fun to watch as it is to do. Moms, I hope you’re up to the challenge, but wear a solid one piece swimsuit. I can’t tell you how many suits I’ve seen the water blasting wave maker remove. If there is a downside, it’s the price. It’ll cost a family of four a little over a hundred dollars to get into the park, and your ticket is only good for a couple hours, not the entire day.
Once you’ve dried off, Bay Village is right across the street. It’s a good place to grab dinner or a snack. Touristy shops sell everything from local art to jewelry to underwear. Once your kids have real food in their tummies, stop by Country Kettle Fudge and watch the fudge being made. I think the smell alone produces a sugar rush. If only they could bottle it to get me through the long winter months that separate summers at the Jersey Shore.