The Jersey Shore — you can dress it up, or dress it down. Here’s a somewhat counterintuitive guide to keeping it low-cost on pretty pricey Long Beach Island and pampering yourself in honky-tonk Wildwood.
The best way to economize is to stay on the mainland or just off the island in Beach Haven West, or with friends with a house. But there are bargains, both on and off, at various rental websites. The best-paying deal of all is saved for those who want a spiritual experience, either at the Harvey Cedars Bible Conference, where, for example, rooms for the June 9-11 Singles Weekend go for as low as $95 a night.
Elsewhere on LBI, Mustache Bill’s Diner in Barnegat Light is a low-price, big-portions must, as is a walk up or around the great Barnegat Lighthouse and the Barnegat Light Museum and Gardens. Also tremendous: roaming through Barnegat’s vast dune system, with its lovely memorial benches hidden along the way. All free.
As is the free shuttle up and down the island (see if you can spot the Little Free Library in a tree along the way in Holgate). Both ends of LBI are gorgeous natural treasures.
Don’t miss the free Harvey Cedars sunset concerts. Stroll Viking Village in Barnegat Light to shop Cassidy’s Fish Market for fresh stuff; Off the Hook for takeout seafood; and Frank’s Produce for great greens, cheese, and bread. Surf City’s Boulevard Clams serves up fine whole-belly fried clams, Okie’s Butcher Shop in Surf City has your meat for the grill, and White’s Market in Barnegat Light is great for beach sandwiches and Coke in glass bottles. In Harvey Cedars, check out Foodies and the Cheese Shop.
Yoga? Try LBI Foundation for the Arts and Sciences in Loveladies, where you can also sign up for paddleboard yoga. Culture? The M.T. Burton Art Gallery in Surf City offers a nice just-looking browse (the sculptures outside would cost you real dough), as well as Tuesday night pottery classes for some of the highest-brow, artsiest camaraderie around.
Stay, for example, at a historic Victorian bed-and-breakfast like Enchantras or Sea Gypsy in the city’s Church District along Magnolia Avenue (or the Candlelight Inn, if we’re counting North Wildwood). At Enchantras, a lavender-trimmed beauty dating back to 1907, Suite 2 has a fireplace ($150-$250 a night). The nicely decorated Sea Gypsy features a Victorian main house, an Arts and Crafts-era bungalow with suites (one named after William Morris), and a newly renovated carriage house with literary-themed family suites (Emily Dickinson, anyone?) that top out at $210 a night.
Continue treating yourself well at One Fish, Two Fish, Wildwood’s classy BYOB at 5209 Pacific Ave., where chef Ryan Allenbach oversees an eclectic menu including crab cakes ($30) that boast a Champagne tartar. Or take in the sweet pea risotto, grilled octopus, and vanilla chai-braised short rib at another BYOB, Pacific Grill. Or go old school at Nino’s Family Restaurant at Magnolia and the boardwalk.
There’s even a spa, the Massage Center at the Bolero Conference Center and Resort, 3320 Atlantic Ave. Try a LaStone Therapy, $140 for an 80-minute session using “54 basalt stones.” Go ahead, tack on the “Raindrop spa treatment” — $53 for 25 minutes — in which “a sequence of highly antimicrobial essential oils” are dispensed “like little drops along the spine and massaged into the vertebrae.” Thank me later.