The LBI Vibe and the Mainland
LBI has long been viewed as one of the best places to surf in this part of the U.S.
May 11, 2022 at 8:00 AM in Things to Do
One look at a map–whether it’s the Discovery Map, Google Maps, a trusted road atlas, or some other kind of map–shows that Long Beach Island is all about the sea, sand and surf.
Aptly named and affectionately known as LBI, this eighteen-mile-long barrier island off the coast of New Jersey contours the Atlantic side of Ocean County much like a long, slender jib off of a sturdy sailboat. Sandy beaches, scintillating sunrises, sometimes rollicking waves and an eclectic collection of beach towns stand out as just a handful of the reasons why LBI ranks as one of the beloved surfside destinations of the east coast. With the thickest part of the island measuring not more than a half mile wide, you’re never far from a beach where vistas inspire and play takes priority over all the rest. Plus, it’s Jersey, baby, so you can’t beat the laidback vibe.
Dutch Captain Cornelius Jacobsen May established a footing here in 1614. It later became a whaling and fishing outpost, and then the seeds of tourism were planted during the nineteenth century when affluent Philadelphians arrived by train and ferry. Folks from Philly have been coming ever since along with a good number of mainlander New Jerseyans and an increasingly large amount of New Yorkers. Most have second homes (or condos) here, others commute (mostly into Philadelphia) and more and more have retired on the island. Not surprisingly, this community of almost 10,000 residents balloons up to nearly 150,000 during the summer months.
And, of course, there are lots of folks that come here to eek out the best of their prized vacation, to soak up the warmth of a New Jersey hot and humid summer day, frolic in the cool waters of the Atlantic and while away hours on one of LBI’s soft, sandy beaches. There’s not a boardwalk here and the lack of one just adds to the feel that the beach is always at your doorstep no matter your place of lodging. Just follow any sand-swept road in an easterly direction to land there.
Know that there’s only one way onto the island and one way off, which is on Route 72 via the Manahawkin Causeway. People funnel in here off the Garden State Parkway and find just about everything they need and want on the island. Generally speaking, everything north of this causeway tends to be more high-end and residential; whereas the development south of it is more concentrated and commercial. It’s worth noting that this bifurcation was closed for nearly two weeks during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy when portions of LBI suffered from extensive flooding brought on by the nine-foot storm surge and the eighteen-foot seas that pounded the island during the storm.
On LBI you can find your fill of everything that delights beachgoers from places that rent kites, bikes, SUPs, sailboats, kayaks, fishing boats and more to shops where you can buy all kinds of Crayola-colored beach toys, togs and accessories. Long viewed as one of the best places to surf in this part of the U.S., here you can catch some good-sized swells, especially if you come on the heels of big weather. Those looking for more mellow family fun may content themselves with a fun game of putt-putt at one of the many mini golfs on the island.
Either way, food always factors into the equation and here you can have your fill of sweet and salty eats from custard to chowder, pancakes to crab cakes and, of course, heaps of coffee, seafood and ice cream for the whole crowd.
Brackish Barnegat Bay borders the east side of the island and once you cross the causeway, you’re over in Manahawkin. Here you can enjoy an authentic coastal experience at Mud City Crab House & Seafood Market. Sitting at their backyard picnic table savoring a steamy plate of blue claw crabs and a frosty ale speaks to all the senses, particularly those that register the best of summertime memories. Hit their seafood market if you want to serve up a feast back at your place. Their sister restaurant–right next door–The Old Causeway Steak & Oyster House is also about good food and good times. The place really gets hopping on Friday and Saturday nights when they host live entertainment. For a mellow time, enjoy their acoustic happy hours during the summer. Chill music, chilled white wine and maybe a little shrimp ceviche from the raw bar–now you’re talking.
Also of note on this part of the mainland is Historic Smithville, New Jersey. What started as a one-room stage coach stop, over time blossomed into a beloved village filled with sixty unique shops, resplendent grounds and gardens, cobblestoned walkways, foot bridges and one superlative restaurant, Historic Smithville Inn. For a charming place of lodging, reserve at the Colonial Inn Bed and Breakfast. Their carousel, train and paddle boats further add to the bucolic setting of this endearing destination. Spend an afternoon or a few days but be sure to check out their event calendar ahead of time because there’s something fun happening here almost every weekend.