I suppose when most people say they're going to Atlantic City, they plan the kind of debauchery that most people only see on MTV: gambling, drunken beach house antics, tanning, and bottle service at the club.
When I go to the Jersey Shore, I look for abandoned buildings, lighthouses, boardwalks, and hiking trails.
Edith and I wanted to go exploring south of Atlantic City particularly for the historic district of Wildwood, an oceanside resort town that's still somewhat of a throwback to the 50s and 60s, when the "Doo Wop" architectural influence left its main drag lined with glittering neon signs and motels themed after exotic places most people only ever saw in movies. And that was the point - to give common people a taste of not just Hollywood, but Rio, the Sahara, Monaco... It's essentially the same aesthetic that allowed similarly-themed casinos to spring up in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, only a million times bigger, grander, and drunker. Each of these places shares the commonality of not really being its own thing: it's a conglomeration of many different things, like Epcot. Or Brooklyn.
Even farther south is Cape May, the southernmost tip of New Jersey. Cape May is very much its own thing, a New England-style seaside town with lighthouses and Victorian gingerbread houses (many now converted into B&Bs) and a rich history of World War activity.
There's even an old concrete German bunker from World War I on the shore of the beach at Cape May Point State Park, visible and visitable when the tide is low.
The nearby lighthouse shows a good view of it and the surrounding marshlands if you climb its 199 stairs to the top (and pay $7).
Nature trails take you through the wetlands that are teeming with frogs, muskrats, ospreys, red-winged blackbirds, and plenty of bugs.
We had the joy of watching a perched great egret preen itself undisturbed, as we tiptoed past and photographed the scenery.
We only had half a day in Cape May, but we could have busied ourselves for much longer - hiking, biking, kayaking, parasailing, and dolphin-watching.
It was an unexpected treat on our trip, full of simple pleasures and quiet happiness. It makes it hard to return to the clang of the casino where we spent the night, and the roar of the city upon our return.
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