The Jersey Cape Beaches

The undeniable allure of the beaches more than anything else has enticed visitors to Cape May County for literally centuries.

The undeniable allure of the beaches more than anything else has enticed visitors to Cape May County for literally centuries. Even with the myriad of attractions and activities that complement the beaches, it's always the gentle thunder of crashing waves, the unique smell of salt air, the feel of fine sand, the sight of children splashing at the water's edge and the cool ocean breezes to temper the brilliant sunshine that draw millions to Cape May County's beaches year after year.

From Ocean City south to Sunset Beach in Lower Township, Cape May County is flanked on the east by some of the world's best beaches. And, perhaps the greatest thing about the area's beaches is that their purposes are as varied as the people who enjoy them. For some, a vacation means doing nothing more than laying in the sun and splashing in the ocean to cool off every now and then. For others, it's constructing an elaborate sand castle or taking a long walk at the water's edge. Still, others enjoy sitting in a chair where the water meets the sand and delving into the latest bestseller. And then there are those who spend all their time in the water - surfing, boogie boarding, swimming and body surfing.

Ocean City's beach stretches for about eight miles, providing ample room for recreation and relaxing. Surfing beaches are designated at Seventh Street and Waverly Beach in the north end. Beach tags are required for all Ocean City beaches. Just south of Ocean City is Strathmere, part of Upper Township. Protected by a beach patrol, this stretch of sand has long been viewed as being off the beaten path, sandwiched between Ocean City and Sea Isle City. Strathmere's beaches are free.

Sea Isle City may be just 2.2 square miles in area, but it packs in scores of great beaches with a variety of activities — from surfing to volleyball — along the strand. Beach tags are required on all protected beaches. Avalon and Stone Harbor share the barrier island beachfront known as Seven Mile Beach with small sailboats dotting the tranquil and picturesque setting. The two communities share beach tags, so traipsing from one to the other is easy. Catamarans can be launched from the beach between 44th and 48th streets in Avalon and surfing and rafting are permitted at various beaches along the island.

The beaches in the Wildwoods begin at Hereford Inlet, home to the Herford Inlet Lighthouse and stretch for more than five miles through North Wildwood, Wildwood and Wildwood Crest to Diamond Beach. North Wildwood's beach is fronted by bayberry-laden dunes in some spots, but time and tide have eroded most of the city's magnificent dunes. The beach widens as it nears Wildwood where motels and the world-famous Boardwalk provide the backdrop for some of the best and biggest beaches on the East Coast. Continuing into Wildwood Crest, the expansive beach offers an array of activities for beach-goers of all ages. The Wildwoods beaches are free — no beach tags needed — but Diamond Beach at the southern end of the island is private and there is a fee for entry.

History and style set the tone in Historic Cape May with the resort's beaches charming Victorian inns and residences lining the beachfront. The beaches here are fun and carefree for families who enjoy lolling in the sunshine, erecting sand castles or surfing. Beach tags are required at all Cape May beaches. Cape May Point, a tiny community at the tip of the Cape Peninsula between Cape May and Lower Township, is home to quiet beaches, the historic Cape May Lighthouse, Cape May Point State Park and the surrounding environmental areas. Beach tags are required in Cape May Point.

Nearby is Sunset Beach where the remains of a World War I era concrete ship, the USS Atlantus, are still somewhat visible just offshore. Also known for an abundance of Cape May Diamonds, Sunset Beach is not protected by lifeguards and is not a swimming area. Beaches on the Delaware Bay side are pristine and worth a visit to admire the landscape, the ecology or just to relax, especially late in the day to enjoy spectacular sunsets. Swimming is not recommended since the beaches are not protected, however, bay beaches are less restrictive, allowing kayaking, Hobie Cat sailing, fishing and other activities.

The beaches bordering the Atlantic Ocean are what make Cape May County one of the nation's premier beach resort destinations.