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SUMMER FUN GUIDE: Island Time

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Eighteen miles from tip to tip, LBI is short on glitz and long on simple down-the-Shore charm.

Long Beach Island locals talk about how much their southern Ocean County, N.J., barrier island has changed over the years. The only boardwalk was washed away by a storm in 1944. A few landmark structures have given way to new multimillion-dollar homes; others have been painstakingly restored to their Victorian graciousness as private residences and B&Bs. Generations-old businesses have changed hands and sometimes even identities, bringing a taste of trendy to communities steeped in tradition.

But compared to the gambling-palace gilding of Atlantic City and the condo-ization of the Wildwoods, LBI has maintained much of its original appeal as a down-to-earth down-the-Shore destination. Located about an hour north of Atlantic City (Exit 63 off the Garden State Parkway; follow Route 72 across the bridge over Manahawkin Bay), the island is 18 miles from tip to tip and anywhere from two to six blocks from the Atlantic to Barnegat Bay. Its communities offer a wide range of personalities, perspectives and price points.

If it’s a family vacation you’re after, make a right turn after the bridge and head south on Long Beach Boulevard, the island’s one and only main drag, to Beach Haven. As you approach the town (or borough, as they call it), the road becomes Bay Avenue. But even if you don’t catch the name change, you’ll know you’ve arrived when the kids catch site of the amusement park in the middle of the downtown area.

Brick-covered walks, stately lamp posts, a classic late-19th-century carousel and lots of Tiffany trimmings give LBI’s only amusement park, Fantasy Island (320 W. 7th St., 609-492-4000, fantasyislandpark.com), an old-time feeling. But if it’s thrills you’re after, skip the bumper cars and take a ride to the top of the 65-foot-high Ferris wheel for a breathtaking view of the bay and ocean. Or you can experience all the hair-raising dips and curves of a high-speed roller coaster in the virtual Max Flight. Rides are pay-as-you-go, or purchase a POP (pay one price) wristband ($25).

Right next door, Thundering Surf Waterpark and Adventure Golf (8th Street and Bay Avenue, thunderingsurfwaterpark.com, 609-492-0869; pictured above) has six giant single- and double-tube water slides, smaller slides and Dancing Fountains for the younger set, and a lazy river for floating. (Two hours: $20.95/adults, $7.95/toddlers and senior citizens. Golf: 36 holes $11.95/adults, $9.95/kids under 11; 18 holes $8.95, $7.)

And there’s more entertainment at The Show Place Ice Cream Parlor (204 Centre Ave., part of the Surflight Theatre; 609-492-0018, surflight.org). A singing and dancing waitstaff serves up kid-size Funny Face sundaes and all kinds of fancy ice cream concoctions with Broadway show names. If you haven’t eaten for a week, you might be tempted to order the Anything Goes—12 flavors of ice cream and two of sorbet, seven toppings, banana wheels, wet walnuts, whipped cream and cherries.

With 18 miles of ocean-side beach, you’re bound to find a prime spot on the sand on LBI, even in Beach Haven and other popular family gathering spots like Ship Bottom (the first town at the end of the Route 72 causeway connecting the island and the mainland) and its neighbor to the north, Surf City. Long Beach Township (which encompasses 16 communities and two-thirds of the LBI coastline) has 12 miles of divided beach, including the comparatively quiet sandy stretch at Loveladies. If you have little ones, you might prefer the calmer waters of one of the island’s numerous bay beaches.

Beach badges are required for everyone over the age of 12 and range in price from $5 to $8 daily and $15 to $20 weekly. (Some offer discounts for seniors.) Most of the rental homes, B&Bs and other accommodations provide badges with your stay. You’ll probably want to pick somewhere that provides off-street parking as well, because available on-street spaces, while free, are often scarce.

Beneath the waves right off of LBI are thousands of shipwrecks dating from the 1800s through World War II. The state’s artificial reef program has created active habitats for a wide variety of sea creatures. LBI Scuba (342 W. 9th St., Ship Bottom; 609-494-5599, lbiscuba.com) takes certified divers 60-80 feet under the sea for guided explorations ($85/person).

If you thought the view from the Ferris wheel at Fantasy Island was good, you should see it from 300-500 feet up as you fly solo or in tandem with LBI Parasailing (6th Street and the bay at Lighthouse Marina, Barnegat Light, 609-361-6100; 83 Tebco Terrace, Holgate, just south of Beach Haven, 609-492-3366; lbiparasail.com). Cost is $60/person; catch the early bird special and save $5.

New this year: Cameras mounted atop the circa-1859 Barnegat Lighthouse, at the island’s northernmost extremity, capture a 170-feet-above-sea-level panoramic perspective and relay the images to the landmark’s recently renovated Interpretive Center. But if you can handle the climb up Old Barney’s 217 steps (and don’t mind paying $1 to do it), the live view is worth the effort.

Surrounding the structure itself is Barnegat Lighthouse State Park (609-494-2016), where free interpretive programs explore the environment, including the flora and fauna that inhabit one of the last remnants of maritime forest on the island. From the base of the lighthouse, a concrete walkway with handrails stretches a quarter mile out into the Atlantic so visitors can fish, watch the boats and maybe catch a glimpse of the playful harbor seals and harlequin ducks that hang out here.

While you’re in Barnegat Light, make sure you get a taste (both literally and figuratively) of the fishing life that has long been a staple of the island’s economy. Viking Village (19th Street and Bayview Avenue, vikingvillage.net) is home port for a commercial fishing fleet that includes scallopers, long liners (named for the “long line,” with multiple baited hooks for catching tuna and swordfish) and smaller inshore gillnetters that bring in blues, weakfish, monkfish, dogfish and shad. As a result, Viking Village is one of the largest suppliers of fish and seafood on the Eastern Seaboard. You can take a free, Friday morning “Behind the Scenes Dock Tour” (609-494-7211) and see the island’s resident movie star, the Lindsay L, a long-liner that had a featured role as the Hanna Bodin in the film The Perfect Storm.

Be sure to sample fresh seafood at Viking Village Off the Hook (1905 Bayview Ave., 609-361-8900, vikingvillage.net) or grab an order of anything from a cup or quart of scallop bisque to a broiled, fried or teriyaki combo ($7.95-$26.95). Get it to-go or enjoy it on the outside patio. Afterwards, browse the adjacent clothing, décor and gift shops housed in tiny converted century-old portside fishing shacks.

If the urge to shop strikes while you’re on the other end of the island, Bay Village and Schooner’s Wharf (9th Street between Ocean and Bay avenues) in Beach Haven has 23 stores where you’ll find everything from leisure wear to lingerie to luggage. There’s also an assortment of enticing edibles, including freshly made fudge and local favorite New England and Manhattan chowders.

Accommodations on the island run the gamut from beach-block B&Bs to a retro-on-the-outside, contemporary-on-the-inside boutique hotel.


  
Its convenient location in Beach Haven’s historical district isn’t the most compelling reason for choosing Julia’s of Savannah (209 Centre St., Beach Haven; juliasoflbi.com, 609-492-5004; pictured above) as your home away from home. Owners Tom and Angela Williams’ hospitality is.

While all nine rooms in their restored Victorian B&B are cheerful and cozy, some have extra luxuries like private porches, whirlpool tubs, fireplaces and an old-fashioned claw foot soaking tub. Angela’s breakfasts are creative and plentiful, showcasing New Jersey fresh fruits. Afternoon tea, beach badges, chairs and bicycles are included ($240-$395).

For those traveling sans children, The Sand Castle Bayfront Bed & Breakfast in Barnegat Light (710 Bayview Ave., 609-494-6555, sandcastlelbi.com) offers a peaceful hideaway, with fireplace rooms and suites, heated swimming pool, outdoor Jacuzzi, enclosed sun deck and exercise room ($275-$410; includes full breakfast, bikes, and beach badges and chairs).


 
Last summer, Philly/Main Line restaurateur Marty Grims and partner Brian Sabarese took the site that was Widas Branch Beach Hotel in Brant Beach (just north of Beach Haven) and transformed it into daddy O (4401 Long Beach Blvd., 609-361-5100, daddyohotel.com; pictured above), a chic 22-room boutique hotel, dining and nightspot. The retro name seems to suit the breezy spirit of this new kid on the beach (well, actually a half-block away), with its vintage whiteboard, cedar-shingle exterior. Ultra-contemporary room décor includes Murano glass-studded walls, sleek lacquer mahogany headboards, flat-screen televisions, and marble and natural wood baths (rates include continental breakfast, beach badges, chairs and umbrellas; $200-$350/weekdays, $255-$375/weekends).

Dine outside in the garden or in the red-hot dining room. Specialties include the Philly cheese steak (red-wine-braised short rib, goat cheese, truffle oil, frizzled onions and the requisite “Whiz”) and Szechuan Kobe beef meatloaf with wasabi mash and char sui glaze (lunch $7.50-$17, dinner $13-$36). At happy hour (4-6 p.m.) or after dinner, linger in the lounge sipping an “O” cocktail (orange, banana, coconut and pineapple rums and juices) or a Key lime pie martini complete with graham cracker “crust.”


  
Another totally revamped dining spot is the Gables (212 Centre St., Beach Haven; 609-492-3553, gableslbi.com; pictured above)—formerly Green Gables—where executive chef Paul Simon creates a fresh new menu every day using produce from local farms, organic meats, free-range chickens, sustainable fish and homemade ice creams and sorbets (entrées average in the $30 range). If you really want a substantial sampling of chef Simon’s kitchen craft, order the multi-course prix fixe ($84.50) tasting menu.

Don’t want to wait for Sunday to savor a leisurely brunch? The Gables serves it every day, offering a menu that features a wide range of options, including Sicilian poached eggs with crispy prosciutto and Parmesan, brioche French toast with roasted banana butter and candied pecans, and tarragon chicken crepes with wild mushrooms, caramelized onions and baby lettuce salad. The dining room is candlelight-and-crystal romantic, the fountain courtyard fragrant with flowers.
 

 


Summer on Stage
Winnie the Pooh, The Wizard of Oz and Snow White are among the children’s productions scheduled at Beach Haven’s Surflight Theatre (Engleside and Beach Avenues; 609-492-9477, surflight.org).
All 6 p.m. performances feature the professional resident cast. Tickets are $9 (all ages). Later in the evening, the Surflight features headliners such as the Smothers Brothers (in July) and Broadway musicals including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (with John Davidson) and Aida ($27/adults, $17/children).

All a Board
LBI is a hot spot for surfers, who are welcome to bring their boards to a number of areas not designated for swimming, including Holyoke Avenue in Beach Haven and, heading north on the island, between North First and North Third streets in Surf City and Hudson Avenue in Harvey Cedars. Even if you can’t keep your balance on a board, you can buy a bath mat shaped like one at “The Original” Ron John Surf Shop (901 Central Ave., 609-494-8844, ronjons.com), a fixture since 1959.

Good Catch
In summer, when the blues are biting, rent a rod (or bring your own) and head out to sea with John Larson on his twin-engine catamaran Miss Barnegat Light (609-494-2094, missbarnegatlight.com). Larson takes out fishing parties ($45/person; bait is free) 8 a.m.-2 p.m. daily from Barnegat Light Yacht Basin on the northern end of the island. Or you can rent your own craft—from a three- to four-person bay-runner to a nine-person pontoon—at Eric’s Bait & Boats (9th Street and Bayview Avenue, Barnegat Light; 609-494-2447).

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