When you’ve had your fill of tourist attractions, take some time out to visit one of the abundance of beaches within two hours’ drive of Philadelphia.
Think Philadelphia and you automatically think cheesesteaks, or maybe the Liberty Bell. But the city is in prime position between New Jersey and Delaware, with access to a wide variety of beaches. It gets hot here in summer, and there’s no better way to cool off after exploring historic landmarks than by taking a dip. Whether you want the vibrancy and excitement of Wildwood, the picturesque beauty of the seaside resort of Cape May or the serenity of windswept dunes, there’s a beach here for you.
Wildwood offers a thrilling day out. New York has Coney Island; the Jersey Shore has Wildwood. The beach has a wooden boardwalk with five amusement piers and more than 100 rides. Scream on the rollercoasters, play games or get a taste of Americana with some funnel cake and home-made fudge. The beaches are wide and long, and when the tide is out it can take 10 minutes to walk from the boardwalk to the water’s edge. Entry is free, and the beach hosts more than 180 events and festivals throughout the year. Wildwood is a 90-minute drive from Philly.
Cape May likes to celebrate its history, and in 1976 was declared a National Historic Landmark City. It’s known for its Victorian houses and small-town charm. At the tip of Southern NJ’s peninsula, it has clean beaches, a promenade and three pedestrianised blocks along Washington Street. The lighthouse was built in 1859 and you can climb the 199 steps for a view of the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay. The best way to get around is to park your car and rent a bike, as traffic can be heavy in summer. There is also a free jitney service that runs through the town. Driving to Cape May takes between 90 minutes and two hours.
Springsteen fans can kill two birds with one stone by visiting Asbury Park, spending a day at the beach and sampling the town’s music scene by night. Asbury Park has a traditional wooden boardwalk and is clean and lifeguard-protected. The boardwalk has a mix of restaurants and shops, but for something more unique, stop by the Silverball Museum Arcade, where you can play classic pinball games from the 1950s. A must-visit for lovers of the Boss is the Stone Pony. One of NJ’s best-known music venues, established in 1974, it’s launched a number of legendary musicians, including Springsteen (who released a 1973 album called Greetings From Asbury Park) and Bon Jovi. Asbury Park is a 90-minute drive from Philadelphia.
Here, families can explore long stretches of wide, clean, patrolled beach. The National Resources Defense Council rated it the best water quality of any US coastal state. The mile-long wooden boardwalk has many quaint little shops and cafés, but an iconic stop has to be Dolle’s for tasty saltwater taffy and delicious caramel popcorn. For those wanting a little culture after a day in the sun, visit the bandstand for an outdoor concert. If the kids need more entertainment, there is Funland, or for shoppers, the Tanger Outlet Mall. Want a quieter experience? Visit the next beach over, Cape Henlopen State Park, where you can kayak, fish or take a boat ride. Rehoboth is a two-hour drive from Philadelphia.
Another East Coast beach, another wooden boardwalk. But what makes Ocean City a little different is its family values. Tagged America’s Greatest Family Resort, it was founded by a church group and is a dry town, so there’s no alcohol sold here. The white-sand beach is more than 7mi (12km) long, and lifeguard-patrolled. As you stroll the boardwalk you will find themed miniature golf courses, a water park and fair rides. Thursday night is family night, with free entertainment around town. There is a fee of $5-$10 to use the beach. Ocean City is just an hour away from Philadelphia.
After all those busy boardwalks and hordes of people, it’s time to slow things down with a visit to Avalon, whose slogan is “Cooler by a mile,” which refers to its position a mile farther into the Atlantic than other beach towns. A few blocks of beach are overlooked by stately houses; the rest are backed by high sand dunes. This beach has a more natural feel, and is great for those looking for some solitude. Avalon is mainly residential, with high-end boutiques and restaurants. Stop by the Princeton for dinner and the local band scene in the back. The cost to use the beach is around $6 for a day. It will take you just over an hour to get to Avalon by car.