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The beaches of Avalon, New Jersey are known for its space and low-key surf. (Photo courtesy: Cape May County Department of Tourism)

2018 Beach Guide: Soak up sun and fun in Avalon and Stone Harbor

Welcome to Seven Mile Island on the Jersey Shore. While other shore towns have notorious reputations—think Atlantic City and gambling or Seaside Heights and MTV’s Jersey Shore—Avalon and Stone Harbor are quieter and more spacious beach towns, known for family-fun. While most out-of-towners are likely unaware of the Jersey Shore’s beach tag policies, it’s worth it to pay $28 (seasonal), $12 (weekly), or $6 (daily) to gain access to pristine and spacious beachfront.

Together, Stone Harbor and Avalon make for the perfect DC getaway, particularly in July or August—when the island is in high demand for beach week rentals. But unlike other East Coast beaches (ahem: Bethany, Rehobeth, and Virginia Beach), here you don’t have to put up with overcrowding, traffic, or parking meters.

Seven Mile Island’s mantra—“Cooler By a Mile”—also comes from its strategic advantage. The barrier island juts out about a mile further than most East Coast beaches. That gives Avalon and Stone Harbor access to cool breezes, sand bars, and tide pools, which make for easy surf and kid-friendly swimming.

Meanwhile, Stone Harbor has been known as the place where celebrities retreat without all the fussiness and pretension of say Montauk, Martha’s Vineyard, or The Hamptons. It’s where Taylor Swift once worked summer shifts, and Dave Matthews, Kelly Ripa, and Oprah prefer to vacation. Combined these two beach towns together, and it makes for one of the easiest and stress-free ways to enjoy summer down by the shore.

Where to stay

On Seven Mile Island, most of the beach-goers opt for weekly rentals. Ferguson-Dechert is the most popular reality agency to use for a week-long or monthly beach house rental. However, if you want to plan a shorter beach weekend, there are several boutique hotels.

In Stone Harbor, the best hotel option is at The Reeds at Shelter Haven. It’s located in the heart of Main Street shopping and features bay-side accommodations with sunset views. The hotel is also in the process of expansion, adding 22 guest rooms (opening in fall 2018) and two-story spa (coming next year). In the meantime, The Reeds has much to offer in the way of free perks, like a complimentary beach butler that ushers guests on an electric car to the beach with beach chairs, towels, tags, and umbrella.

In Avalon, The Windrift Hotel has direct beachfront access, as well as a pool deck, live entertainment nightly, and several restaurants and bars to choose from, including an outdoor tiki bar. The Windrift also has several room configurations, whether you need space for two or extra rooms geared to a small family.

Things to do

In Avalon, you can stroll through town or walk down the boardwalk in search of fun. Dune Drive is where you’ll find plenty of shopping, restaurants, and bars. Meanwhile, the boardwalk is a mile-long stretch of plank-way with an arcade, ice cream parlor, and fishing pier. Most of the activities are geared toward families. There’s everyone's favorite Pirate Island Miniature Golf, daily and weekly bike rentals at Hollywood Bicycle Center, an outdoor tennis facility, kid-friendly parks, and a local history museum that features photos, artifacts, and a circa-1925 lifeboat. If it's an overcast or rainy day be sure to head inland for some fun at Cape May Brewing Co. or a safari-style crawl through the Cape May County Zoo, where admission is free.

Where to eat

Many places on Seven Mile Island are BYOB, which means restaurants charge a small corkage fee in exchange for beer or wine that you bring. Take advantage of this offer which can result in bottom-line savings at seafood restaurants like Sylvester’s Fish Market and Restaurant, Quahogs Seafood Shack, and Oceanside Seafood.

Close proximity to Philadelphia also makes it a “shore” bet for authentic cheesesteaks. Top favorites can be found at Nemo’s, Sunset Steaks and Shakes, and Mid-Atlantic fan-favorite: Wawa. Not to mention the fact that Jersey knows a thing or two about homemade ice cream. Jersey cows make for some of the freshest and tastiest frozen treats, including the cones and shakes at Avalon Freeze, Springer’s Homemade Ice Cream, and Sundae Best. If you’re looking for breakfast in a hurry that's extra delicious, try the Jersey shore institution—Uncle Bill’s Pancake House—or stop in for cream-filled donuts and Philadelphia-style sticky buns at Kholer’s Bakery. At night, you can top off your visit with a pint or two at Fred’s Tavern or Princeton Bar and Grill, both spots give this family-friendly resort a reason to stay up past curfew to party.

Our Analysis: Avalon and Stone Harbor are quieter beach towns that are safe bets for large families, in search of quieter beaches, small-town vibes, and over-sized accommodations.