The best time to hit the Jersey Shore is in late June, when you’ll find the beaches less crowded and the prices far less painful—sometimes about $100 less per night than in July or August.
1. Start as early as you can bear. You’re heading to Long Beach Island, that classic shoreline hang, but if the kids get restless along the way, make a quick stop at laid-back Avon-by-the-Sea. Take the exit straight to the beach, where you’ll find Avon Pavilion (732-775-1043), the local boardwalk favorite. Tuck into a round of blueberry pancakes, then back to the road.
2. On LBI, check into the family-oriented Mussel Beach Club (609-709-5051) in Beach Haven. The beach is across the street; get tags at the front desk. Kiteboarding lessons and bike rentals are nearby.
3. Send the kids to heaven: Go to Thundering Surf Water Park (609-492-0869), with its massive slides and two eighteen-hole miniature-golf courses. For dinner, BYO six-pack and head to Harvey Cedars Shellfish Co. (609-494-7112) for just-caught seafood and clam chowder.
4. Spend the early part of Saturday at the famously trashy Wildwoods Boardwalk. Embrace the raucous cheesiness: beer-swilling Peg Bundy types, thrillingly rickety roller coasters, old-timey games, and all things fried and delectable (from clam strips and funnel cakes to batter-dipped Oreos and Twinkies). Book a boardwalk room at the Heart of Wildwood Motel (from $100; 609-522-4090), which has a rare reputation for cleanliness, and then hop on the boardwalk tram to start exploring. End the night bug-eyed with sugar from the always-mobbed Sea Shell Ice Cream Parlor (609-522-2326), where the scoops are famously huge.
5. Sunday morning, get back on the Parkway and drive 25 minutes north to Avalon, which neighbors statusy Stone Harbor but has an unfussy, small-town feel. Pick up some beach gear from the Hoy’s Five & Ten (609-967-7271) on the way into town, then check into the Avalon Inn (from $119; 877-282-5663).
6. Mellow out on the sleepy beach, and when the sun sets, amble over to cozy Nancy Lynn Candies (609-967-4780) for fudge and saltwater taffy to fuel the ride home.