1. Indulge Your Snooki- Pauly-Sammi Fascination
Admit it: You’re curious. Is the Jersey shore as dizzyingly debauched as it appears on MTV? To find out, book passage on a New Jersey Transit bus ($25 each way; njtransit.com) to Seaside Heights, which these days is summarily trouncing its counterpart Wildwood (about two hours down the Garden State Parkway) in the battle for trashy shore-town supremacy. Book a (slightly) quieter second- or third-floor room at the centrally located Sea Palace Inn and Motel (from $175; seapalacemotel.com), which is a shade cleaner than the average after-kegger motel. In the morning, join the sea of bronze on the beach (free for motel guests; $5 otherwise), then swap the salt water for a chlorine soak in a twenty-person hot tub at Jenkinson’s Breakwater Beach Water Park (casinopiernj.com). Sample some fried Oreos on the boardwalk, then count the Snooki look-alikes at the guidette-beloved Beachcomber Bar & Grill (beachcomberbar.com). Pray for a Pauly D. sighting in the D.J. booth at Club Karma (732-830-3003), grab a slice on the boardwalk, and stumble home.
2. Luxuriate Among Grown-ups
For a more stylish, Jäger-bomb-free experience, drive an hour south from the city to Long Branch, an exclusive hamlet anchored by the year-old Bungalow Hotel, the shore’s high-style, reasonably low-cost answer to the Ace or the Standard (from $199; two-night minimum; bungalowhotel.net). Designed by Cortney and Robert Novogratz, of burgeoning 9 by Design fame, for a small extra fee the casual-chic digs come with access to Le Club (leclubavenue.com), a luxe beach club with daybeds and palm trees approximating the French Riviera. For dinner, reserve a table by the fireplace at the club’s Avenue restaurant, overseen by Boulud-trained chef Dominique Filoni. Alternately, catch an aces train out of Penn Station to Atlantic City ($29 one-way; acestrain.com), where the Chelsea is an equally tasteful addition to the boardwalk empire (from $99; thechelsea-ac.com). As soon as you pick your dates, ask the hotel’s concierge to make a reservation at the Rao’s-like Italian spot Chef Vola’s. Spend Sunday evening at the new Sunbar pool parties at the Borgata’s Water Club (thewaterclubhotel.com).
3. Have Some Wholesome Fun With the Kids
South Jersey idylls like Cape May and Avalon are eternally charming, but the traffic down there can be murder on little ones. Head instead to the underrated Barnegat Light, a tiny town on the northern tip of Long Beach Islandknown for its small-town ambience (year-round population: 800) and boardwalk-free beach. At Mustache Bill’s Diner (609-494-0155), a recent James Beard Award winner, local fishermen supply their favorite diner owner (that would be Bill) with the day’s best catches—though kids might prefer the French toast with a side of scrapple, $7.25. While away days at the calm bay beach ($5 per person), climbing to the top of the 172-foot Barnegat lighthouse, a.k.a. “Old Barney.” Lick ice-cream cones on the outdoor deck of Poppy’s (607 Broadway), or make the 45-mile drive to Hallock’s U-Pick Farm in New Egypt to harvest strawberries or tomatoes (hallocksupick.com). Make the five-room B&B Minerva’s by the Sea your base—owners Emma and Dickson Lapsansky-Werner have a reputation for catering to even the pickiest kid’s eating habits (from $174; minervasbandb.com).