Sea Isle City, New Jersey: The Other Side of Jersey Shore

MTV producers and a group of sloppy twenty-somethings may have given the world a bad impression of the Jersey Shore, but there are still many coastal Jersey towns that are as yet untouched by The Situation’s ab flashes and Snooki’s drunken antics.  Sea Isle City is one such town which, through the years, has managed to retain a small-town feel while still keeping up with the times.


Sea Isle is a popular summer destination for residents of the Pennsylvania/New Jersey/Delaware tri-state area because it truly does offer something for everyone.  After getting off the Garden State Parkway at exit 17, you’ll soon cross the bridge into the town center.  There you’ll be greeted with a view a small amusement park on your right, while directly ahead is a quaint boat and lighthouse in the center of the boulevard, and if you look up and to your left, you’ll see a water tower that says “Smile, You’re in Sea Isle City.”  And you probably will.

What to Do:

For families, there are the clean beaches, the amusement park and playgrounds.  There is also a boardwalk (a more appropriate name is Promenade, as it is actually made of asphalt, not boards), with shops offering everything kids need for vacation souvenirs.  You’ve got your town-branded T-shirts and sweatshirts, hermit crabs with an average lifespan ranging from three days to twenty eight years, jewelry, beach toys, boogie boards and candy.

Where to Drink:

For the young single crowd there is a lively bar scene that draws people from surrounding towns who come to hear the local cover bands and enjoy the drink specials.  Looking for that perfect bar with no room to move and quarter inch of beer on the floor?  Head to the Ocean Drive (the O.D. to regulars), where you can listen to popular bands and get Jell-O shots from the waitress who walks around with a can of Redi-Whip in a holster.  This place also hosts a “No Shower Happy Hour,” where everyone goes right from the beach for drink specials.  Looking for a place with a little more wiggle room?  Try the Springfield Inn, a larger venue with a larger outdoor section right off of the promenade, which during the day holds The Carousel, where you can go for your mid-day Coors Light or Strawberry Daquiri.  If you’d prefer a more low key evening, try O’Donnell’s Pour House, where you can go for dinner and stay for drinks and to listen to guys with shaggy hair and glasses play guitar and sing.

What to Eat:

Though not a restaurant mecca, there is certainly some good food to be had.  There are a number of pizza places but two of the best are Azzura’s (try their white pizza) on 51st Street and Landis Avenue, and Basilico’s on 43rd Street and Pleasure Avenue, which has a great Italian menu beyond pizza.  Braca Café, on JFK Boulevard in the center of town is one of the oldest and best spots for a higher end menu and also has  signature cocktail called the 302 that is a right of passage for anyone who goes to Sea Isle City to drink.

If you’re at the beach, you’ll of course have to eat some fresh seafood.  The bay side of the island holds several seafood restaurants set among the docks and boats.  Try Mike’s Seafood at 43rd street and Park Street for fresh caught fruits of the sea enjoyed on the water, or Carmen’s, on 43rd Street and the bay, where the owner’s fishing boat, “Rufus” is docked next to the tables after it’s taken out to catch the day’s specials.  One gem hidden in the same area as the seafood restaurants (recently christened “Fish Alley” with a large sign arching over the main street) is Andrea Trattoria II, located on Park Road, between 42nd and 43rd street.  Though it’s not a seafood restaurant, it holds its own by serving a delicious array of Italian cuisine.

Breakfast is big in Sea Isle City and the best bets are Dock Mike’s on 46th Street and Landis Avenue for their extensive menu of every kind of breakfast food you could ever want (remember to order by number) and Valerie’s on 63rd and Landis.  Valerie used to be a waitress at Dock Mike’s but opened her own place a few years ago and it’s taken off.  I suspect many people go there not only for the great food but also to catch a glimpse of Valerie and her glorious platinum blond bouffant hair.  She’s been known to come into the dining room from the kitchen, spatula in hand, to check on her customers but her hair always steals the show.  It’s a homey, local place and the ambiance just adds charm to the delicious food.

Along with being a great place to visit in its own right, Sea Isle City also affords easy trips to Cape May for antique shops and restaurants, Wildwood for water parks and knife fights and Atlantic City for concerts and bad decisions.  Next time you’re looking for a place to go at the Jersey Shore, it is definitely worth a look.

September 3, 2010

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