The beach is awesome. But there are times - before bed, first thing in the morning, after a fourth day of sun - when the kids need a break from the bucket and shovel, waves, and boogie boards. Enter the Shore's reliable stable of playgrounds. Seems every island has at least one extra-cool swing set that'll keep them thrilled for an hour or a few.
Grove Park. Just when you think you really will reach into the backseat after another "Are we there yet?" on eternally jammed Route 1, Rehoboth's visitor center comes into view.
Park the SUV. Take the bathroom break. Let 'em loose in the tree-lined tot lot behind the center as you alight on a shaded picnic bench, let your eyes close for exactly four seconds, and realize: You are there yet.
Bonus: This spot is next to the free Beach Museum, where you can return to look in the old funhouse mirror on a rainy day. Tuesday afternoons, Grove Park hosts a farmers' market. It also has outdoor workout equipment, because you're definitely doing that during your vacation. Not.
Columbia Avenue and Grove Street, cityofrehoboth.com.
Centennial Park. Year-round and summer residents of Wildwood's south side feel their quiet portion of the island is kind of special. They're kind of right. Out of reach of the tram cars and bars, Cresters keep it mellow at this spacious beachside green space just below the boardwalk.
At the park's end, by Rambler Road, a kids' portion has plenty of stuff to climb on, an ocean view, bike rentals - and great concessions. (This is Wildwood, after all.) If it's evening and you're lucky, there might even be a free, family-friendly tribute band jamming a few blocks north.
Ocean Avenue from Fern to Rambler Roads, visitwildwoodcrest.com.
Aurora's Play-by-the-Sea. More than a playground, this outdoor expanse serves as the catchall for pretty much all physical activity between Strathmere and Townsends Inlet. The four-block rec-plex includes a rec center, baseball field, tennis/pickleball courts, skate park, and roller-hockey rink.
The elementary-and-under set heads straight for the cushy, poured-in-surface playground that looks like a plastic tree house, but feels like a sunny skyscraper if you're under 4 feet tall. Gets especially crowded right before sunset.
Central Avenue and 60th Street, visitsicnj.com.
34th Street Sandcastle Park. Leave it to the island that regards itself as "America's Greatest Family Resort" to turn its biggest play space into a shrine to certain families who summer there.
Almost every fence post, brick, and tree at this just-over-the-bridge hangout bears the names of indulgent nanas and pop-pops who footed the bill for a beach house. Not that the kids will notice the tributes. They're too busy getting lost in one of two supersize climbing structures.
Let them hide. You'll seek later.
Bigger kids can play tennis or basketball and make crafts on a covered pavilion next to squeaky-clean restrooms. Or they could simply stand beneath a pine tree and beg to be taken across the street to Hoy's 5 & 10 or one of the two ice cream parlors on either side of this place. Sweet.
34th Street and West Avenue, ocnj.us.
CSURE Children's Park. Not every kid can climb a jungle gym. The designers of this ADA-compliant, castlelike beachfront play space considered children of different abilities when they planned it a few years ago. (The playground's pun-ish name stands for Community for the Safe Usage of Recreational Environments.)
Slides both wide and tube-shaped, short steps, safe surfacing, low ladders, and an homage or two to Atlantic City lore - a diving horse, a play boat that's wheelchair accessible - plus standard playground fare (tire swing, monkey bars) make fans out of kids of all fantastic sorts.
South Somerset Avenue and the boardwalk, ventnorcity.org.
Bayview Park. There's a reason the parking lot here fills up early. Families, especially those with members in swim diapers, adore the Brant Beach bayside beach for its gentle, lifeguarded waters, with waveless tides that are more likely to lap little toes than knock down little bodies. (Pack the Crocs or aqua socks, though, because the terrain tends to be pebbly.)
Kids who need more fun head straight to the swings - two baby, two regular - and take turns, you hope, riding the spring-based frog and whale.
This playground is full sun and sand-floored, so keep them in hats, sunscreen, and those unattractive-yet-necessary water shoes. There's a restroom, too, for when the swim diaper inevitably fills up.
Isn't parenting easy?