The beaches of the Jersey Shore get a lot of attention, and for good reason. It's hard to compete with endless waves and sand, and those toned lifeguards.
But most of the towns that we of the Philadelphia area know as the Jersey Shore are made up of barrier islands, which means we can also enjoy the bays and inlets that separate those islands from the mainland.
Sure, you can visit food and drink spots that take advantage of bayside views (Twisties in Strathmere and Mike's in Sea Isle, for example), but there are plenty of family-friendly activities, too.
Skyline Cruise, Atlantic City. To get a different view, and a historical perspective on "America's Favorite Playground," take a skyline cruise, run by Atlantic City Cruises. You'll see the city from the ocean and the bay with a live telling of Atlantic City's story to go with it. The hour-long tours run daily at 11 a.m. from June 6 to Sept. 11. Worried about seasickness? Unlike dolphin or whale-watching tours, which can go fast and farther out into the Atlantic Ocean, the boat sticks closer to shore and moves at a more relaxed pace, which keeps swaying to a minimum.
Bayside Center, Ocean City. Ocean City's Bayside Center is a former mansion turned into a town learning center and bayside meeting spot. Inside, it has a lifeguard museum, touch tanks, and displays about the rich ecosystems of the Jersey Shore. There are summer camps for kids, too. Outside, there's a dock, fishing pier, and ramp, all recently renovated. It's a popular resting spot for kayakers, and a place to watch the annual Night in Venice Parade, a boat parade that sails by this year on July 16.
Wetlands Institute, Stone Harbor. Take a walk along the Salt Marsh Trail, a 125-foot pier that takes you right to marsh environments and life. You can also climb the observation tower and get a 360-degree view of the southern part of the Jersey Shore - without all the lighthouse steps.
A must see: The Terrapin Station. It's all about the diamondback terrapin, which is a turtle that lives and breeds in the area, and it shows why they're crucial to the local environment.
Sunset Beach, Cape May Point. Lots to see and do on this Delaware Bay beach. It's one of the few Atlantic coast beaches where you can see the sun set into the water. While you're waiting, hunt for Cape May Diamonds (which are pieces of quartz tumbled by the surf until they're opaque and smooth), and check out the wreck of the Atlantus, a concrete ship that's stuck just offshore. You can also watch the flag-lowering ceremony, which runs through Labor Day. Each day, a different veteran's casket flag flies on the beach's flagpole, and at sunset, Taps is played to honor that and all veterans. This is also a dog-friendly beach. Look out for marriage proposals - very frequent at this bayside spot.
Skyline Cruises by Atlantic City Cruises, 800 N. Hampshire Ave., No. 6, Atlantic City. Launching daily at 11 a.m. June 6 to Sept. 11. Admission is $17 for ages 16 and older, $8.50 children for ages 5 to 15, $14 senior citizens ages 62 and older, $14 for students with ID. Information: 609-347-7600 or www.atlanticcitycruises.com.
Bayside Center, 520 Bay Ave., Ocean City. Open daily June 25 to Sept. 5 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free. Information: 609-525-9244, www.oceancitychamber.com/baysidecenter.asp.
Wetlands Institute, 1075 Stone Harbor Blvd., Stone Harbor. Open through Oct. 15, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from mid-June to Sept. 5, 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. From Oct. 16 to May 14, 2012, Tuesday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $8 for ages 12 and older, $6 for ages 2-11. Information: 609-368-1211 or wetlandsinstitute.org.
Sunset Beach, Sunset Boulevard, Cape May Point. Flag-lowering ceremony through Labor Day at sunset, weather permitting. Free.
Jen A. Miller is author of "The Jersey Shore: Atlantic City to Cape May." Read more at www.downtheshorewithjen.com.