For boaters, just a glance at a chart is all that's needed to fall in love with the southern tip of New Jersey, full as it is with white sandy beaches and calm bays. Add in the lively entertainment and good eats, and some might argue that there's too much to do here for a single visit, so you'll likely have to plan multiple trips to see all that the area has to offer. But, that's ok! Boating in Southern New Jersey is a Summer pastime sure to draw you back again and again.
Never will your approach to a major harbor be more forgiving. Arriving through the Cape May Canal or Cape May Inlet, you'll find that the channels in this area run straight and wide. For the canal option, enter at Brandywine Shoal Light and favor the north side before easing out into the middle; there's no need to worry about the swinging bridge, as it's always raised. If you're coming from the inlet, simply steer between the jetties and straight into Cape May Harbor.
South Jersey Marina, in the northwest corner of the harbor, and Canyon Club Resort Marina, on the northeast side, are both great places to start your weekend adventure. South Jersey Marina is closer to the town of Cape May and within reasonable walking distance, while the more sprawling Canyon Club offers a pool, additional amenities and shuttle transportation to downtown.
Cape May itself is filled with Victorian charm. You'll see plenty of unique architecture, such as the Emlen Physick Estate, and even a few horse-drawn carriages. Bikers shouldn't miss the scenic 12-mile loop that offers spectacular ocean views.
The wine and distillery industries are both bustling here. Nauti Spirits Distillery produces handcrafted specialties such as vodka, gin and rum using primarily ingredients grown on their preserved, 60-acre coastal farm. The Cape May Winery offers tastings and tours throughout the year, and is known for their award-winning chardonnay.
For restaurants, head to 410 Bank Street for French New Orleans cuisine with a Caribbean flair, or The Lobster House, a locals' favorite and adjacent to South Jersey Marina. There are dozens of other dining options worth checking out, including the Ebbitt Room, the Washington Inn and, for casual family eats, Lucky Bones Back Water Grille.
If you would like to spend even more time on the water, consider visiting the Cape May Whale Watcher. Bottlenose dolphins are seen on a daily basis, and humpback whales are often spotted within a couple of miles of Cape May Inlet.
It's a straight shot up the ICW and to the north and east of Cape May Harbor to Schooner Island Marina, the gateway to the Wildwoods. Pass the Middle Thorofare Bridge and you'll find the facility just before the George Redding Bridge on the starboard side.Excellent for fisherman and beachgoers, Schooner Island Marina features floating docks, a fuel dock, swimming pool, bikes to borrow, and can accommodate vessels up to 110 feet in length. It's also within walking distance of several restaurants and convenience stores and the famous Wildwood Boardwalk.
The boardwalk is where you'll want to start your tour. It stretches for two and a half miles and sports more than 100 amusement rides and attractions, ranging from world-class roller coasters and wet-and-wild water parks, to carnival-style midway games, flashing arcades and a myriad of retail shops and eateries. You'll find the most rides at Morey's Piers, and boardwalk treats such as hand-made funnel cakes, frozen custard and fried Oreos and Twinkies along its entire length.
As with Cape May, dining possibilities abound, as this barrier island boasts hundreds of independently owned restaurants. Consider the casual Beach Creek Oyster Bar & Grille for surf and turf with a great outside bar and excellent live music. Boathouse Restaurant is known for its seafood and steaks, panoramic harbor views and tropical cocktails. Urie's Waterfront Restaurant is another great choice for steaks and seafood. Whale watching is big here too, with at least four outfits to choose from. Big Blue Sightseer has the longest history, spanning more than 50 years.
For the next day's explorations, tie up at the Senator Frank S. Farley State Marina, connected to the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino, offering easy access to the big resort, and features a dockside restaurant don't pass on the mahi tacos. The marina also has plenty of transient dockage and is a great jumping off point.
A quick jitney or cab ride will put you on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, the famed promenade known for its beautiful waterfront views, great beaches and dozens of confection shops and amusements. Don't miss a visit to the Absecon Lighthouse, New Jersey's tallest lighthouse with 228 steps and breathtaking vistas.
Enjoy a special dining experience at the Chart House in the Golden Nugget, overlooking the Atlantic City skyline. This fine seafood eatery offers classic dishes with a creative twist. A short ride away is the historic Knife & Fork Inn, a legendary landmark for more than 100 years that offers classic and contemporary dishes and a fascinating history sprinkled with celebrity sightings since the Roaring Twenties.
Fishing is also quite good here. The area is known for stripers and tasty summer flounder. For easy fueling, with high-speed pumps, visit Kammerman's Marina across from The Golden Nugget.
Start your day in the Brielle area by pulling into Hoffman's Marina East, just a half mile inside of Manasquan Inlet on the starboard side. This is another easy approach with a deep, wide inlet, no shoaling concerns and a straight shot into the dock.
Hoffman's can accommodate boats up to 120 feet in length and there are plenty of transient slips available here but make sure to call ahead to reserve one. It's a very clean, full-service marina with a pool, marble-and-tile restrooms and a particularly attentive crew. Hoffman's also has its own restaurant: Waypoint 622, a family-friendly place specializing in seafood and American fare and sporting a large patio bar that overlooks the water. If you want to head into nearby Brielle, you'll find plenty of additional choices for dining such as Simko's Grill, within easy walking distance of the marina.
Head across the river to the very family-oriented Jenkinson's Boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach to investigate the amusement park. Sea lovers of all ages will also appreciate Jenkinson's Aquarium, especially the shark exhibit. Castaway Cove Miniature Golf is a great activity for the kids, while adults can enjoy a little down time at Martell's Tiki Bar, a great place to chill out, take a dip or catch a nap.
Kayaking is available at various points along Manasquan River, as is stand-up paddle boarding. The crew at Hoffman's Marina East can point you in the right direction for rentals. If you love fishing, there are open boats, charter boats and plenty of beach and dock access should you want to wet a line for blues, stripers or fluke.
And if you don't catch anything, don't worry. With all that the New Jersey shore has to offer, you'll be back soon.