Outdoor markets, warmly lit downtowns, cozy restaurants, cheerful locals... there is something special about American…
There are so many unique things to do at the Jersey Shore that even today, after decades of adventure all around the world, it’s still one of the places I will always adore.
New Jersey often gets a bad rep when it comes to East Coast travel, which I’ve always thought was unfair. Ever since the Lenni-Lenape Native Americans settled here nearly 3,000 years ago, this state has been a major part of United States culture. Whether it’s witnessing key moments of the Revolutionary War or helping slaves escape to freedom along the Underground Railroad, the history of resilience runs deep in this often overlooked state.
When I first visited the Jersey Shore almost 15 years ago, I was pleasantly surprised at how much pride locals take in their community and how warm and welcoming they are to the wide variety of visitors that come and leave every year.
Once you’ve soaked up the sun and splashed around in the Atlantic Ocean, put on your walking shoes and add these places to your Jersey Shore vacation, whether you have a weekend at the Jersey Shore or an entire week, here are some exciting things to check out to fill your trip with!
8 Unique Things to do at the Jersey Shore
Explore the Many Victorian Homes in Cape May, Especially the Emlen Physick Estate
As one of the oldest seaside resorts in the country, you can find Cape May vacation advertisements that date as far back as the mid-18th century. The beautiful beach town you see now has one very unique aspect which makes it a fun place to walk around and sightsee: after San Francisco, it has the largest concentration of Victorian architecture in the country!
The reason for this is that two different fires in 1869 and 1878 destroyed many of the original buildings in town. When it came time to rebuild the city, the ornate Victorian designs were the most popular. Specifically, the “stick style” by architect Frank Furness was extremely popular and something you can only see in its purest form in a few places today. This style describes the intricate wooden trim around the home exteriors and gives them their gingerbread-like appearance.
One of these “stick-style” places you can visit in particular is the Emlen Physick Estate. The 18-room home was originally built in 1879 for Dr. Emlen Physick Jr. and acted as a residential space until the last owners, the Newcomers, sold it in 1967.
Now, here’s where you can really see an example of the Jersey Shore community coming together and showing its pride. When the estate was slated for demolition in the sixties, they all united to save it, starting a preservation movement all around Cape May!
Today the estate acts as a museum to learn more about what life would have looked like during the Victorian Era. You can also join a guided trolley tour to take you around Cape May’s Historic District and learn more about this special beach town.
Learn More about Black History at the Harriet Tubman Museum of New Jersey
Another interesting historical fact about Cape May, Harriet Tubman once lived here! As I mentioned in the introduction, this town played a big role in the Underground Railroad. Tubman specifically came here for two summers during the 1850s to work and fund her journeys in guiding those fleeing slavery. In fact, during the 1800s upwards of a hundred freed slaves settled in Cape May, and many of their descendants still call the townhome.
Until now, much of this lesser-known history has been passed down orally, and there’s been no real place for outsiders to learn more. That has all changed with the opening of the Harriet Tubman Museum of New Jersey in spring 2021. It’s housed in the Howell House, which was once the Macedonia Baptist Church. With numerous artifacts and different exhibits, you can learn more about the Black experience in early America and Cape May. If you visit in time, you might also get to see the famous Journey to Freedom statue by Wesley Wofford.
Explore Salt Marshes at the Wetland Institute
Founded by Herbert Mills, former executive director of the World Wildlife Fund, the Wetland Institute encompasses over 6,000 acres of wetland in Stone Harbor. Its main goal is to protect this important ecosystem and help educate the public on why salt marshes are so necessary to preserving the Jersey Shore we all love.
Visiting these beautiful lands is easy with the relatively new elevated walkway and a loop can take you through the marshes to see a new kind of Jersey Shore landscape. During the spring and summer months, you can also enjoy bay boat rides and watersports like paddleboarding and kayaking.
Spend an Idyllic Afternoon at Beach Plum Farm
The Jersey Shore may be best known for, well, its shore, but there’s a whole side that many visitors don’t realize exists. Only two miles from downtown Cape May, Beach Plum Farm is helping lead the way into sustainable agriculture. This working farm is set around 62 acres and practices what’s known as regenerative agricultural practices. With their methods, they’re constantly rotating crops and farm stock and have produced over a hundred kinds of fruits, vegetables, chickens, eggs, and Berkshire hogs.
There are so many ways to come and visit Beach Plum Farm. Spend an afternoon enjoying the pastoral property. Check out their fresh produce. Take a look at their shop full of local products. Grab a bite at The Farm Kitchen with its constantly changing menu. Even better, if your trip dates coincide, reserve a spot at one of their dinner series. If you really want to spend time at the farm, you can also book a stay at their historic cottages.
Grab a Beer at Source Farmhouse Brewery in Colts Neck
Located in what was once an 1800s dairy barn, co-founder Phil Petracca describes his approach to brewing with the word terroir. This French term is often found in sommelier circles to describe the environment in which the grapes are grown and how this affects the wine’s resulting character.
Source Farmhouse Brewery utilizes this same thought process when it comes to its beers. They focus on what they can source locally while experimenting with which flavor profiles go together. This means their beers on tap often change with the seasons, making every visit a new experience.
On top of the delicious brews, they made sure to create a warm, friendly environment for anyone to come and enjoy themselves. Not only will you have seating on the second-floor mezzanine and rooftop terrace, but there’s an outdoor beer garden and plenty of space for a little game of cornhole.
Monmouth Battlefield State Park
For those interested in American Revolution history, you don’t want to miss visiting Monmouth Battlefield State Park. Nearly 250 years ago on an incredibly hot day, one of the longest battles of the war for independence was fought here. The sun was so brutal that the casualties on each side weren’t caused by gunfire but heat exhaustion.
Today, of course, the park no longer witnesses that kind of bloodshed. Instead, it’s a beautiful landscape where visitors can walk or hike around to enjoy nature and imagine what kind of life-changing events happened here centuries ago.
Catch a Live Show at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park
A visit to the iconic Asbury Park is always a must if you’re planning a trip to the Jersey Shore! Stroll its vintage boardwalk, check out the incredible Jersey Shore Roller Girls, and don’t miss a live show at the legendary Stone Pony.
Since it opened its doors on a freezing, snowy night in February 1974, Stone Pony has earned its place as one of the greatest venues in rock ‘n’ roll history. Through the decades, it’s seen just about every live music act you can imagine. I’m talking Joan Jett, Van Morrison, Meatloaf, Santana, Weezer, and so, so many more.
Just check their website for upcoming shows now that live music is back. You never know, you might just catch the next Bruce Springsteen or Maroon 5 performing!
Check out Transparent Clinch Gallery in Asbury Park
For even more rock ‘n’ roll history, stop by the Transparent Clinch Gallery. Both an art and music venue, it’s also become a sort of community hub that allows visitors to see images of some of the most famous musicians of all time photographed by one of the most well-renowned rock ‘n’ roll photographers of all time, Danny Clinch.
Even if you don’t know Clinch’s name, you’ve most certainly seen his work, whether it’s in the form of album covers, magazine covers, music videos, and more. Either visit the gallery when it’s open Thursdays through Sundays or check their calendar for upcoming shows.
And those are all the unique things to do at the Jersey Shore that don’t just involve sand, sun, and sea! There’s just something about the diverse history, the way this community takes pride in its roots, and how the land is both protected and shared to all who visit that makes me love the Jersey Shore even after years of traveling the world.