A road trip from New York City down the Jersey Shore keeps the spirit of summer alive well after Labor Day.
Call it the winter blahs, call it seasonal affective disorder, call it being consumed by the fear of having to eat your roommates Alive-style when it gets too cold even to make a trip to the bodega. Whatever you call it, shorter days and colder temperatures are upon us, and it’s only a matter of time before our spirits are crushed under about five layers of cardigans, flannel shirts, and thermals.
Winter is indeed coming.That doesn’t mean you have to surrender yourself to its icy grasp. There’s a place where summer isn’t just a coveted chunk of the calendar, it’s a state of mind, and the tans are deep orange all year round. Save yourself the airfare chasing warm weather vibes in another hemisphere when you can just pack up a car and head down from New York City to the Jersey Shore right now, temperatures be damned.
Toss your light-therapy box in the garbage, grab your wayfarers, and hit the road to bask in a beach trip that will melt your heart faster than rock salt on Grand Street.
Practice Your Pinball Wizardry
You don’t have to risk frostbite pacing the boardwalk weighted down with pockets full of quarters as you search for the perfect game. You’ll need all 10 fingers to master the more than 200 pinball machines and classic arcade games available at the Silverball Museum in Asbury Park. One-hour passes cost $10, but the better deal is the $15 afternoon pass that grants you unlimited plays from when the place opens until 5 p.m. It’s a better way to heat up your digits than that ugly pair of Isotoners you got last Christmas from your meemaw.
Swim with the Fishes
A typical trip to the bottom of the ocean in New Jersey usually requires concrete boots, but for a dozen clams ($12) you’ll get a trip under the sea at Jenkinson’s Aquarium in Point Pleasant. A visit to feeding time at the shark tank (Saturdays at 1:30 p.m.) certainly beats the idea of binge-watching Shark Tank reruns on the DVR near the space heater at home.
Grab a Taste of Summer
While most people are stuffing themselves with butternut squash soups and pumpkin-spice lattes, you can be sinking your teeth into a fresh fish taco. On your way out of Point Pleasant, stop by the original Surf Taco location. Your best bet is the taqueria’s namesake ($5), stuffed with tempura cod, lime, cilantro sauce, and shredded cabbage served alongside homemade tortilla chips. Pro tip: Wear your wetsuit to the signature salsa bar and tear into the selection sauces without fear of staining the jorts and American flag tank top you’re wearing underneath.
Enjoy an Indoor Starry Night
Nothing beats summer nights under the stars, but no amount of fanatical summer fun is worth the hypothermia of trying to recreate one of those in the winter. Instead, take in an evening show at the Robert J. Novins Planetarium in Toms River. There are only a few shows open to the public per week, so check the schedule on the website. You may not be able to grill or sit around a bonfire, but Saturday evenings at the planetarium do have one advantage: Laser shows.
See Seaside Without the Crowds
Winters on the Shore do have their advantages. For starters, you can visit a town like Seaside Heights surrounded by considerably less tribal-tattooed former high school bullies running amok amped up on HGH (hotdogs, Goldschläger, and hormones). Plus, you can snag a room at one of the area’s motels for a fraction of the peak-season price. The Bay Breeze Motel is open year-round and conveniently located within stumbling distance from the popular watering hole Captain Hook’s. Treat yourself to a nightcap and maybe a quick game of billiards with the locals, but if you start fist-pumping, we can’t guarantee your safety.
Eat a Breakfast of Surf Champions
Save your appetite for an early breakfast at OC Surf Cafe, where you can scarf down omelets like the Longboard (asparagus, Swiss cheese, and hollandaise) or the Point Break (bacon, jalapeños, and cream cheese). The surf theme doesn’t end with the menu items. The whole place is decked out with enough surf memorabilia and photos to keep you on the lookout for shark attacks. Even the head of merchandising at Pacific Sunwear would be like, “Too much!” If they ever find a pair big enough to fit around the building, don’t be surprised to find the entire place covered in comically large board shorts someday.
Catch Your Own Dinner
You can entertain the fantasy of living out your days on the open ocean—far away from snow shoveling, hissing radiators, and stumbling into the bar with your glasses fogged up—aboard one of the many party boats in Cape May. Get your sea legs aboard the Sea Star III, sailing out of Miss Chris Marina. A six-hour, deep-sea fishing tour sets out daily at 9 a.m. through December. Captain Chuck and the crew provide everything you need, including rods for rent and free bait. You’re responsible for your own Jaws-style gnarly scar story.
Grab an Icy Pint or Frozen Cocktail
If six hours of salty sea air leaves you a little parched, quench your thirst with the coldest draft beer in Cape May at the Rusty Nail. Keep feeling those beach vibes with a frozen cocktail (alcohol-free, of course—you have to drive). Grab a cone of fried conch fritters, served with jalapeño grape jelly, or other Boardwalk-style artery cloggers like fries, clam strips, or tempura zucchini sticks, because summer rules and you’re going to live forever anyway.
Feel the Glow Playing Mini-Golf
It’s not quite putt-putt by moonlight, but taking a swing at Dragon’s Lair Mini-Golf may be better. The indoor course is adorned with portraits of knights and dragons that glow in the black light bathing the entire facility. Think of it like a day rave, but less ridiculous. For $5 you can play through the short course and finally feel like you’re living out your fantasy to appear on the ’90s Nickelodeon game show Nick Arcade.
Distance Traveled: 199 miles
Avg. cost of gas in New Jersey: 1.98/gallon
Total Cost: $246.50 (including gas)