Call it The Main ShoreLine.
Three towns — Stone Harbor, Avalon, Sea Isle City — laid out like pearls and strung between Wildwood and Atlantic City, are the preferred vacation spots of folks from the wealthy Philadelphia suburbs. Most notably: the Main Line.
And for this list we’re also including the 1.5-mile-long, one-stoplight oceanfront community of Strathmere. It’s small, it’s right next door, and in the 2000s, the roughly 175 year-round residents tried to de-annex from Upper Township and become part of Sea Isle City.
Together they form a group of mid-Jersey Shore coastal enclaves that locals and visitors praise for their intimate neighborhoods, clean beaches, and long-running independent businesses.
Here are some traditional spots and new adventures to scope out in these beach towns.
All four towns have separate beaches, but only one — Strathmere — doesn’t require beach tags. All of them are renowned for being quiet and peaceful and extremely clean. These are the best spots for serious beach readers.
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The Theatre, which dates back to 1949, was renovated and reopened in 2016 with four screens and a burger bar with a robust selection of beer and wine. It’s been a hit since its rebirth, and looks to not only have survived the pandemic, but is expecting big crowds this summer.
A quick walk down 96th Street toward the ocean in Stone Harbor will take you to this landmark since 1935. The general store has been passed down through the Hoy family and is now operated by David Hoy, the grandson of shop founder Bernard Hoy. Selling a little bit of everything, from beach clothing to children’s toys, Hoy’s attracts visiting customers from as far as Jamaica and Russia. And now there’s even one in Avalon.
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Former Philadelphia Flyer Tim Kerr and his wife, Midge, live in Avalon, the home base of their Tim Kerr Charities. “We love Avalon because it is a small town and is ideal for families to live or vacation,” Midge said. “Avalon has anything and everything you could possibly want to do with your family and friends.” Their nonprofit’s 33rd Tim Kerr Run is Sept. 4 and benefits the Helen L. Diller Vacation Home for Blind Children in Avalon and the Ronald McDonald House Charities Philadelphia Region.
Restaurants and bars
Stone Harbor’s favorite family-owned pub since 1934 is named for its founder, Fred Menzel. In the summer, seasoned regulars and first-time visitors come to belly up for food and drinks or shop the on-site liquor store. “It’s kind of close-knit with all the people who keep coming back each year,” said Tom Hand, Menzel’s grandson who runs the tavern these days. “It’s generation after generation.”
In Avalon, Uncle Bill’s Pancake House has been an acclaimed breakfast tradition since 1962. Choose from among 15 pancake setups, plus waffles, French toast, omelets, and more. Polpo Ristorante, in the heart of Avalon, fills the need for a romantic dinner spot or special-occasion restaurant.
The Sea Isle City spot offers a more low-key culinary experience than Polpo. The 109-year-old fish market and restaurant has been a Shore tradition for generations.
Tim and Midge Kerr call it their spot for “delicious goodies.” It’s one of the best bakeries at the Shore. Do yourself a favor and get the cinnamon buns.
The Inn is the pride of Strathmere, and to its credit, few places at the Shore can match the venerable restaurant’s menu and spaciousness. (We strongly suggest a space on the deck to enjoy views of Strathmere Bay and Corson’s Inlet.) After more than a century in operation, the Inn still has it.
Where to stay
The Stone Harbor hotel, built in 2013, added a new space on Third Avenue that includes 21 guest rooms and a 6,000-square-foot spa with the cutting-edge Soft Pack Float treatment. It also hosts Water Star Grille, one of the best bayfront dining options at the Shore. “It’s a very quintessential, all-American town,” said Justin Mogavero, general manager of The Reeds at Shelter Haven. “From the businesses that are here, to the people who visit, it’s just a really wholesome, very safe environment.”
In March, Icona Resorts bought the nearly 60-year-old oceanfront hotel, adding it to a catalog that includes its namesake hotel, Icona Avalon, located next door on Dune Drive. In April, it officially opened under the new name, Icona Windrift. The Icona group is promising to maintain the now-76-room hotel’s reputation for luxurious and quality accommodations.
This article has been updated since it first published.