Not every day at the Jersey Shore can be 80 and sunny. That's when it's time to explore the alternate universe: shopping.
You could head for the Atlantic City outlets, but you'd be missing out on the novel spots that dot the coast. Here are my favorites, in a handful of Shore towns:
Ocean City has two main shopping hubs. The first, obviously, is the boardwalk, lined with T-shirt stores, eateries, rides, and mini-golf courses.
Three stores to hit: The Islander, which sells quality women's fashions geared to 20- to 30-year-olds, plus some men's items and home accents; Air Circus, with every kind of kite imaginable (easy to spot from anywhere on the boardwalk since kites usually are flying on the beach in front of the store); and 115-year-old Shriver's, the only place that makes its own salt water taffy on the boardwalk (its fudge and hand-dipped chocolates are, likewise, divine).
If any of your shopping companions are blasé about any of the above, send them to Jilly's Arcade. The classic games and pinball are in the back - and it's open round-the-clock in summer.
The second retail district is downtown Ocean City on Asbury Avenue. Some stores were badly damaged by Sandy. Many of those, including the Cricket Box, are temporarily located in booths at Stanton's Gallery of Shops.
If you're looking for a good beach read, or some Shore-themed cookbooks, stop at Sun Rose Words & Music, also on Asbury Avenue, back and better than ever after the storm. For the lady who likes to be a little bit girlie, check out Colette, a fashion boutique that sells re-creations of vintage styles, with plenty of modern items as well. And there's always time for doughnuts from Wards Pastry. (Cream-filled with powdered sugar, please.)
Tonier shopping can be found in Avalon and Stone Harbor, sister towns on the same island. Cruise Dune Drive in Avalon and 96th Street in Stone Harbor, where a handful of Main Line shops have set up summer homes.
For a purely local experience, though, go to Suncatcher & Mimi's in Stone Harbor, right off the main drag. The stores are interconnected and take up an entire town block. They carry items for kids, men, and women, with such name brands as Vera Bradley, Reef, and Tommy Bahama. If you're a bargain hunter, head to the Attic, which offers items that didn't sell in the parent store. Prices drop as the season wears on - my best buy was a Nicole Miller gown for $20 on Labor Day weekend.
Global Pursuits, which sells men's and women's clothes, has the biggest selection of Toms shoes that I've seen at the Shore, plus fashion-forward Phillies and Eagles gear. To please the kids and the kids-at-heart, cross 96th Street to Lighten Up, a kite, flag, and game store. And don't forget the second floor, which has additional delights.
In Avalon, you'll find the same sorts of high-end stores - and one mega, shore-themed furniture store, Complete Interiors. For eclectic gifts and art, head to Armadillo (on the upper end of the price scale). Surfers and look-like-surfers can check out the Avalon Surf Shop and She Be Surfin'. Both have great contacts for surf lessons, too.
Left the beach chair and the flip flops at home? It's Hoy's to the rescue. The ultimate variety store has locations in Avalon and Stone Harbor. For more substantial items, like sheets, blankets, or grills, turn to Seashore Ace in Stone Harbor.
In Cape May, the pedestrian-friendly Washington Street Mall has lovely places to spend your money, from the Whale's Tale gift shop and the Winterwood Christmas store to Maryann's gorgeous estate jewelry.
Head over to West Cape May for Flying Fish, which sells some of the best T-shirts at the Shore, many made with organic cotton, and some with slogans so local that you have to be a local to get the joke. It also has yoga pants, wall art, and pillows.
Check out the West End Garage, part antique mall and part small-business co-op. I have bought many treasures there, including 1950s Miss America composites that once belonged to a pageant judge, a windup clock for my guest room, and atomic-themed cocktail glasses.