Summer has ended but it feels like we barely had a chance to enjoy the warm weather or the freedom it brings. Haven’t gotten a chance to get a little sand between your toes or walk along the boardwalk yet? While New Jersey beaches are typically open from Memorial Day through Labor Day, that doesn’t mean all classic “beach day” activities are out of the question in the off season. Here are some easy ways to fill a day with some of your favorite summer pastimes all year long, whether you want to head down the shore or stay a little closer to home.
Go for a swim
The first thing on a list of classic beach day activities is going for an ocean swim and the off season possesses two main differences: cold weather and no lifeguards. While no lifeguards means swimming at your own risk. Some people can’t let those last warm days slip through their fingers.
However, once it gets colder, we will have to resort to some indoor options and luckily there are a few. You can always stay at a hotel on the beach, many of which have reopened and are taking extra precautions to keep their guests safe during the pandemic. Whether you are more of a Cape May or an Atlantic City type, there are plenty of different hotels to choose from with indoor swimming pools and even access to their own private stretch of beach.
Of course, if all you want out of the faux-summer experience is to get in a few laps in the pool, you might find it easier and less expensive to just sign up for a membership at your local YMCA or JCC.
Hit the beach
The big bonus to going down the shore after Labor Day is the beach gets a bit quieter and you might actually find a place on the sand to leave your towel. The sand will still mold into a perfectly good castle, no matter the season. The chilly weather might just mean you will want to wear a jacket.
The quiet of the off season also makes for the perfect atmosphere to relax on the beach with a good book. Not to mention the cooler weather makes lounging in the sun a little more comfortable, or better yet, a good game of beach volleyball more bearable. One thing is for sure, just because it gets cold doesn’t mean you can’t still hang out with your friends, have a picnic, get sand in unusual places, and enjoy the beauty of the beach. Each shore town has its own unique feel even in the winter, so make sure to poke into the local shops and restaurants while you’re there.
Play on the boardwalk
While the boardwalk is undoubtedly an iconic part of any summer day at the beach, there isn’t any reason not to visit one of New Jersey’s top piers in the off season. Many boardwalk arcades are open year-round on the weekends and some of the piers have rides open into October. Boardwalks like Jenkinson’s in Point Pleasant and Morey’s Pier in Wildwood have rides for everyone and all the best arcade games.
Even once the very last pier ride closes, NJ still has Six Flags, Funplex and the new American Dream mall to satisfy any mid-winter amusement park needs. American Dream also has an indoor water park, which is open year-round for that extra splash of summer fun. It is kept at a tropical temperature every day and has areas for lounging, so even in winter, that classic beach day is just a drive away.
There are also many arcades popping back up all over the state. It isn’t just down at the boardwalk that you can find these gaming havens anymore. Some places, like the new Yestercades, are designed to play on nostalgia and are specifically themed around as many vintage game machines as they can get their hands on. Other local arcades have a mix of pinball machines, classic games, modern video games, skeeball and pool. You can even win tickets and cheap prizes to fully complete that arcade experience.
Take up surfing
Lots of classic beach things might be seasonal but it seems that surfing is a little less weather dependent. Plenty of surfing schools in NJ book private and group lessons throughout the year, even in the winter months. Winter can actually be the best time to go surfing, but experience matters. Winter brings bigger and more intense waves, stronger winds and freezing temperatures that are a great thrill but only if you are prepared for them. Luckily these surf schools prioritize safety and won’t put new surfers in situations they aren’t ready for.
Consistent practice is how you get from newbie to pro. If surfing is something you think you will really get into, you can go for a multiple-lesson package which will bring you back to the beach week after week. Some of these schools have classes in longboarding and stand-up paddleboarding as well. Most of the schools provide or have rental options for surfboards, ankle leashes and other necessary equipment.
Set out on a boat
Whether it’s fishing, whale watching or just getting out on the water for the day, casting off from shore has a sense of freedom and adventure that simply can’t be replicated. The wind on your face, the smell of the water in the air and the ability to literally leave everything on land behind for a while are all essential ingredients to a good day out on the water.
If you have a boating license, the season simply doesn’t have to end. Marinas and boating clubs all over the state will rent boats to anyone with a valid license all year round. If you are not an experienced boater but want to get out on the water anyway, there are plenty of places that run charter boats into one of the state’s many bays. Many of the charters are specific to activities like going on a small fishing trip or a lighthouse tour.
For many, the beach is about relaxing so a boating tour along the New Jersey coast with a nice diner to go see the sunset or the autumn foliage is a perfect off season activity. You can also rent private yachts for special occasions and sail up the Hudson River to see the city lit up. Whale-watching trips get a little harder to find in the winter months but you can head down to the Cape May Whale Watcher where they are still taking out boats into early December with a guarantee that patrons will get to see at least a few whales, dolphins or other aquatic mammals.
What’s your favorite way to recreate a New Jersey beach day in the off season? Let us know in the comments!
Main photo by katie manning