The Wildwoods of New Jersey are a beach community unlike any other. Few towns have such an extensive claim to parts of music history, not to mention one of the best boardwalks and beaches in New Jersey. But those outside of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic may have no idea that this treasure of a town even exists. So let’s take a closer look at the beaches, boardwalk, and of course, Wildwood Doo-Wop style that has made the area a summer destination for decades!
The Wildwoods: Wildwood Crest, Wildwood, and North Wildwood
While many people may refer just to Wildwood, there are really three separate Wildwoods on Wildwood Island – Wildwood Crest in the south, Wildwood in the center, and North Wildwood (predictably) to the north. Functionally, they’re all very similar, and you’ll probably walk or drive from one to the other without even realizing it.
For decades after European settlers first encountered the area, Wildwood was used for farming. Only in the 1870s did permanent settlers begin to move to the island in a community named Angelsea. The area was absorbed and became part of the fast-growing Wildwoods in the early 20th century and became a major resort community over the following years.
Boardwalks are a can’t miss part of the Jersey Shore, and Wildwood has one of the state’s finest. Boardwalks in Wildwood trace their history back to 1903, but the current version dates back to 1920 when a local official had workers tear up the boardwalk in one night and move it closer to the water to avoid public opposition.
The Wildwood boardwalk stretches nearly 2.5 miles over 38 blocks, constructed with more than 70,000 wooden planks. The most bustling parts are located between E. 19th Avenue in the north and E. Montgomery Avenue in the south. This is where you’ll find dozens of delicious, unhealthy boardwalk food stands, suspiciously difficult carnival games, and terrifying (for multiple reasons) amusement park rides.
Are your feet a little tired from walking up and down the boardwalk or to and from the beach? (More on that later.) Hop on the Wildwood boardwalk’s iconic and somewhat menacing tram cars. For just $4 each way, you can hop on the trams, which run for two miles along the boardwalk and take about 30 minutes for a full trip. They operate right in the middle of the boardwalk, so be warned and keep an eye out for them!
The Ride of Your Life – Morey’s Piers
In addition to the hundreds of shops and restaurants that line the land side of the boardwalk, Wildwood’s boardwalk also includes attractions like the thrill rides of Adventure Pier, the classic rides of Mariner’s Pier, and the original Surfside Pier. They’re all operated collectively by Morey’s Piers, a family-owned group that’s been running amusement parks in Wildwood since the 1960s. Rides require tickets and cost roughly $2.75 to $11, depending on how many tickets are needed and the quantity you purchase them in.
Wildwood Doo-Wop And Music History: Rocking Around The Clock
For a relatively small city on the South Jersey shore, Wildwood has played an outsized role in music history. The post-World War II years were an incredible time for music in Wildwood. Thanks to the large number of high-quality venues and seaside location, the town drew major names like Johnny Mathis, Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr., Fats Domino, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and many more.
Some have even gone as far as calling it the “birthplace of rock and roll!” In 1954, Wildwood’s Hof Brau Hotel was home to the first-ever performance of Billy Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around The Clock.” The song is credited with helping launch the new genre of music into the mainstream in a way previous rock records hadn’t.
Three years later, the iconic show American Bandstand filmed its first national broadcast from the Starlight Ballroom in Wildwood. But, even more notably, Wildwood is the home of the Twist. Yes, THAT “Twist.”
Then-18-year-old Chubby Checker first performed what would become his most popular song in Wildwood in 1960. It’s all just a small part of the significant role of the Jersey shore in music history.
While the venues that hosted these historic performances are sadly long gone, some parts of Wildwood are still planted firmly in the mid 20th century.
Wildwood Doo-Wop Classic Motels
In Wildwood, doo-wop means a lot more than just music. Arguably, it’s the world’s top remaining spot showcasing doo-wop style architecture, and much of that heritage remains in the island’s classic motels. What is doo-wop architecture? The Wildwood Doo-Wop Preservation League defined it to PennLive as:
a crazy high reader sign (preferably with lots of neon), kidney-shaped pool with plastic palm trees, colorful and curvy balcony railings, “Jetson” decorations, a creative night lighting scheme, and motel lounge in the shape of an object (be it a spaceship or beach ball).
It’s an aesthetic embraced by a large part of the town. Doo-wop reflects the era of Wildwood’s prime, and provides the town a unique style that sets it apart from other Jersey shore towns.
Wildwood’s Wide Beaches: Worth The Trek
If you stand on the boardwalk at certain points, the ocean can seem miles away at times. First-time visitors to Wildwood are often shocked by the extremely wide beaches throughout the island – some as wide as 500 yards or more! Walking across these scorching sands at the peak of summer isn’t much fun for anyone. And it can be especially difficult for seniors or people with limited mobility.
Why are the beaches so wide here? The answer to this and many questions about the shape of the Jersey Shore lies in the erosive forces of the tides, which push sand south and west along the coast. These same forces are the ones that helped destroy the now-lost city of South Cape May. Due to both natural geography and the construction of inlets and jetties to the south in Cape May, a considerable amount of sand that would otherwise continue past Wildwood gets stuck instead.
Regardless of the reason, it’s worth being prepared for the trek and not trying to carry too much to your beach spot for the day. One major upside of Wildwood’s beaches? They’re all free – something that’s not the case for most of the other beaches you’ll find along the Jersey Shore.
Getting To Wildwood, NJ
By Car: Wildwood is an island with three roads leading on and off. The northern and central routes onto the island both connect to the Garden State Parkway, at NJ-147/N. Wildwood Boulevard and NJ-47/Wildwood Boulevard, respectively. To the south, Ocean Drive connects with NJ-109, just past the end of the Garden State Parkway. As with much of South Jersey, the Parkway provides the primary north-south route through the area, along with US-9.
Wildwood is approximately 85 miles from Philadelphia. You can complete the drive in roughly two hours or less under normal conditions. From New York City, the roughly 155-mile drive will take closer to three hours.
By Ferry: From starting points in Delaware, Maryland, and further south, the Cape-May Lewes Ferry may be a good option for reaching Wildwood. The ferry departs several times a day from terminals in Lewes, DE, and North Cape May, NJ. The ferry takes both vehicles and foot passengers, though those traveling without cars should arrange for transportation at their destination. Wildwood is a roughly 20-minute drive from the Cape May terminal, and tickets are relatively affordable for both cars and individual riders.
Wildwood Beach Walk Video
This video takes you along the beaches of Wildwood, starting in Wildwood Crest. It’s the late morning of Sunday, June 13th, 2021, and thousands of people are already spread across the miles of wide, sandy beaches. Enjoy this bit of slow TV:
I filmed this video using a GoPro Hero8 Black with a chest mount. It’s an extremely convenient and affordable way to produce long-form videos like this without a big hassle.