Sand and surf lure millions of people to the Jersey Shore every summer, but some of the region's most entertaining activities take place off season.
The revived Asbury Park Boardwalk draws crowds with new restaurants, boutique shopping and live music all year long. Bruce Springsteen made the The Stone Pony famous (and it continues to bring in big acts), but music lovers shouldn't stop there. Convention Hall and the Paramount Theatre also host rising and established artists of all genres.
Folks who prefer scenery to sounds should try the Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey. Held in October, it challenges all to visit 11 lighthouses stretching from Cape May to Sandy Hook. Kids will love the year-round arcade, aquarium and sweet shop at Jenkinson's Boardwalk at Point Pleasant Beach. Arcades also remain open throughout the year on the Seaside Heights boardwalk.
For sports fanatics, the popular Boardwalk Basketball Classic Tournament, the largest co-ed high school basketball tournament in the country, is a slam dunk in late December at the Wildwood Convention Center. The holiday season at the Shore should not be missed. In early December, you can take a free horse and carriage ride between noon and 3 pm starting from City Hall in Ocean City. Farther south, Cape May transforms into a Dickens village from mid-November through early January. Visitors can take a trolley ride past the decorated Victorian inns and peek inside some that offer guided tours.
Wrap up the holiday season on New Year's Day with a dip in the Atlantic as part of the Make-A-Wish Polar Bear Plunge on the beach at the Tropicana Casino Resort in Atlantic City. If the thought makes you shiver, head to the casinos or take the kids to Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum on the boardwalk to see some of the area's more bizarre exhibits. Car aficionados can see vintage automobiles on display at the Atlantic City Classic Car Show in February at the Atlantic City Convention Center.
Shopping remains a viable option even in the dead of winter. More than 60 shops and boutiques draw visitors to Spring Lake alone. When Spring finally comes, runners can get a nice tour of the area racing in the annual Spring Lake Five Mile Run in late May. The extremely popular Cape May Music Festival, also in late May, is another great way to get ready for the upcoming summer season.