For our last summer getaway we headed to the beach in Stone Harbor and Avalon, New Jersey. Now the Jersey Shore doesn’t necessarily bring lovely beach vacation images to your mind, especially thanks to the show by that name. But at the very tip of the Jersey Shore, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Delaware Bay, there is a beautiful stretch of beaches perfect for a low-key seashore vacation.

Stone Harbor and Avalon are part of the Seven Mile Beach located 34 miles south of Atlantic City and 20 miles north of Cape May on a lovely seven mile long barrier island. The land was purchased by Aaron Leaming in 1723 and for 100 years it was primarily used for cattle grazing. Then in 1887 the spot caught the eye of Philadelphia businessman Frank Sidal who headed The Seven Mile Beach Company and started to develop the area into a beach resort. It’s said Stone Harbor’s name comes from Captain Stone, a English Seaman, who sought refuge from a storm here around this same time.

My first trip to Avalon was in the mid-90’s and I loved it! Gorgeous beach, huge beautiful beach houses, lots of bike riding on the flat roads, great little restaurants and shops, huge Italian influence via Philadelphia, few hotels, not very touristy, sunshine…perfect ingredients. Last summer I returned for the first time in seven years, this time spending more time in Stone Harbor as my girlfriend has a condo there. Not much had changed…still the same perfect seashore destination with 122 blocks of tons to do!

Where to Stay

As I mentioned, there aren’t a ton of hotels. The few nice ones are clustered around 80th Street and Dune Drive. We’ve enjoyed two stays at the newly renovated Concord Suites just on the ‘border’ of Stone Harbor and Avalon one block from the beach. All 90 suites have two double beds, bathroom, living/dining room, kitchenette so its perfect for a few days or even a week! There are also two pools and several sun decks. The Windrift is another option. They’ve ‘updated’ their look and feel to be a bit more hip. Right on the beach it’s also a great place for lunch, sunset drinks on their outdoor decks overlooking the beach or live music/bar at night. Main street Stone Harbor is an easy 15 minutes walk or 5 minute bike from both. Avalon town center is about a 15-20 minute bike ride. The other option is renting a house or condo through one of the real estate companies like Diller Fisher or Avalon Real Estate.

Things to Do

For us, it all starts with biking! That’s our preferred mode of transportation while here, and across the island there are 35 miles of paved flat roads. Rentals are easy from Harbor Bike or Hollywood Bike. Obviously there’s plenty of beach to enjoy (you will need a pass during high season, they sell them at most entries to the beach), surfing, fishing, crabbing, boating, golfing (regular and mini), tennis. I’ve been to two yoga studios and liked both…Stone Harbor’s Shape Wellness and Avalon’s Sol Luna Yoga. There are plenty cute beach shops in both towns and free weekend/family events in the summer. Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary is a National Natural Landmark on 21 acres of forest, wetlands and ponds.

Eating, of course!

  • Breakfast: Brian’s Waffle House (2408 Dune Drive) in Avalon is yummy!! Or pick up pastries from the Bread & Cheese Cupboard on Stone Harbor’s main street (96th) and grab coffee around the corner on at Coffee Talk on 97th.
  • Lunch: Italian, pizza, hoagies, cheesesteaks…yum!! Stone Harbor Pizza and Circle Pizza in Avalon are great pizza spots. Bradley’s Steaks & Hoagies has delicious options! Golden Inn Beach Club is a great spot for a bite and live music / fun bar on the sand during the weekend days.
  • Dinner: My recommendations are all Stone Harbor as that’s where we’ve spent most time of our time the last three trips. Marabella’s is always our first stop…low key Italian place with awesome food!! Quahog’s Seafood Shack is an awesome place to sit outside under cover. The Back Yard Restaurant is a cute place open for 25 years literally in someone’s backyard on 81st Street in Stone Harbor. A little more upscale and great food! Also note most restaurants are BYOB so you’ll need to bring your own wine/beer to dinner. Fred’s Liquor Store is the spot in Stone Harbor and Avalon to pick it up if you don’t bring some from home.

It was the perfect spot for a last summer beach weekend!

Update August 26, 2013

Just returned from a week in Stone Harbor at the Concord Suites, now our 4th trip in the last four summers. So clearly still loving it. While of the above recommendations still stand, here are a few new things to check out…

  • The Reeds at Shelter Haven: This brand new boutique hotel on the bay side just opened for the season, and what a great addition to Stone Harbor. We enjoyed cocktails on the outside deck while sun set then a table water-side for a delicious dinner.
  • Golden Inn Happy Hour : Just off the beach at 78th Street, the Golden Inn’s Beach Club has a daily “No Shower Happy Hour” from 3 to 6pm with live music and drink specials.
  • Paddle Boarding on the Bay: If you’re interested in paddle boarding, Stone Harbor’s bay is perfect for it. Several places rent them, as well as kayaks if that’s more your speed.
  • Yoga on the Beach: This is the perfect way to start the day, clouds or sun. Check out Just Breathe, Yoga for details.
  • Zumba Outside: The Stone Harbor Recreation Center offers Saturday and Sunday morning Zumba classes in their great new outdoor facility. There are many other types of classes to try too. See more here.