CAPE MAY, N.J. - Besides sea shells from the beach, you can find plenty of things along the New Jersey Shore that you just can't get at the mall.
So businesses and officials here and in other towns along the coast are beckoning gift givers this holiday season to look no further than this region to find that perfect present. From boardwalk popcorn, to local jewelry, to overnight stays at bed-and-breakfasts, the possibilities abound, according to local hospitality experts.
"They love us in the summer, so why not come back at Christmas time and experience the beauty of the season here, and then bring home that spirit to their loved ones in the form of a gift from this region?" said Diane Wieland, director of the Cape May County Department of Tourism, explaining a new "Give the Gift of the Jersey Cape" promotion her office announced last week.
Calling it "souvenirs for the soul," Wieland said transporting loved ones "back to their happy place" at the beach may be the ultimate gift for Shore lovers.
And the idea of restaurant meals and hotel stays as gifts aligns with the trend among millennials that finds the younger generation seeking experiences rather than things, Wieland said.
"For some people, it certainly could be a tangible gift they may find locally like a home decor item or jewelry, garden ornaments, outdoor furniture, or items like that from one of our shopping districts like in Cape May, Stone Harbor, or Ocean City," Wieland said. "But for others, gift certificate or gift cards from a favorite restaurant could be the perfect treat for a future visit."
Wieland said she has known of repeat summer visitors from Pennsylvania and New York who make it a point to return to the Shore this time of the year just to do Christmas shopping and check out various holiday events, like the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities' holiday house tours.
Pat DeLaurito, of Warminster, Pa., whose family summers in Sea Isle City, said she is one such visitor.
"We started spending Thanksgiving down here about 10 years ago and we'd stay for about a week and do a little Christmas shopping," said DeLaurito, 67, on a recent afternoon checking out the post-summer sales at shops along Cape May's Washington Street Mall. "Now we stay for a couple of weeks and end up getting most of our shopping done down here before we go home to Pennsylvania. There's a lot of bargains to be had here this time of the year. And it's fun, because you're buying from all these little unique shops and businesses, not big-box retailers."
DeLaurito and others say wintertime is the perfect time for stocking up on things like amusement pier tickets and beach badges, when preseason sales often provide discounted rates.
Morey's Piers in Wildwood this week launched its "Give the Gift of More Summer" promotion on Monday, which runs through Jan. 6 and offers up to 45 percent savings on its rides and water park admission.
Gillian's Wonderland Pier in Ocean City is also running its annual 50 percent off tickets promotion through the holidays: a book of 25 ride admission tickets that would normally sell for $20 is $10 through Dec. 31. Gillian's runs a similar promotion each spring around Easter.
At the Cape May Artists' Cooperative Gallery - where a group of 17 artisans from throughout the county have created a unique retail space that offers paintings, photography, jewelry, stained glass, bird carvings, pottery, and other crafts all made locally - a gift-card promotion is being offered this season, according to the co-op's director, Mary Stewart.
With every purchase of a $50 gift card, buyers get a $10 gift card free. The gallery is also offering Secret Santa wish list in which participants can register - as they would with a bridal registry - what items they may have their eye on so their friends and family will know what to buy for them.
Mark Kulkowitz, owner of the Mad Batter Restaurant and the adjoining Carol Villa Hotel, said his hotel is getting into the spirit by offering a Cyber-Monday special: 25 percent off a stay in 2017.
Kulkowitz said with the offer, he's celebrating 40 years in business in the resort.
"We just think it's a nice thing to do to celebrate the holidays and thank our loyal patrons and welcome new guests to come here and make new memories in Cape May," Kulkowitz said.