These are crazy times we’re living in, and I think I can say with confidence that life during a global pandemic has taken its toll somehow on each and every one of us. Since you’re here reading this blog post, you likely want to hear my two cents – so without further adieu… after 5 full months of anxiety, lockdown, uncertainty and paranoia, I’m here to advocate for living your life as normally as possible while still complying with the rules and regulations in your state. Our physical health is important but so is that of our mind and spirit. If you haven’t loosened the restrictive reigns yet, I urge you to let that weight lift off of your weary shoulders as you allow yourself to see glimpses of normalcy and let the fear of the unknown drift off to the back (or even middle) burner of your brain. This doesn’t mean you can be reckless or disrespectful of the rules – but the rules are in place for a reason, and I’m here to say that we all have permission to take them at face value and not overboard.
Here in New Jersey, we’re in a decent patch where our numbers remain trending low even after outdoor dining, indoor shopping and larger outdoor gatherings have reopened. Our “Stay At Home Order” has long been lifted, without significant spikes and with a death rate that continues to drop (even though new daily positive cases remain). We can have indoor gatherings of 25 people or less, and outdoor gatherings are capped at 250 which actually opens a lot of metaphorical doors for us Jersey locals! Masks are required indoors, and outdoors they are only required if you cannot remain socially distant. Things can change real quick if we’re not all respectful of each other’s space, but with this in mind and the confidence in the facts reported daily by our Governor, my family and I decided to take a “staycation” to a home right on the shoreline of New Jersey’s southernmost region – the seven mile island of Avalon and Stone Harbor. While the warm weather is still sticking around, if you live here in NJ – now is your chance for a mini getaway and below you’ll find some inspiration on places to go and things to do all varying by your current comfort level!
We found our home on VRBO. It took extra cleaning precautions due to Covid, and we were required to bring all our own blankets, sheets, pillows, towels, washcloths, etc. My mom bought them all SUPER cheap so that we didn’t have to lug them home with us after the trip. It cost a little extra having to “dress” the beds for the week, but worth the spend in my opinion!
Our first lunch (Saturday) was outdoors at The Princeton, and our first dinner was right next door at their sister restaurant Circle Tavern. In between the two meals, we settled into the house and took a trip to the Avalon Market to stock the fridge. Masks were worn inside the grocery store. It’s a little tight, so have your list ready, get in and get out if you’re skittish. They have lots of healthy options and local vendors that sell food there, too. Right next door is Avalon Coffee Co, which often had a socially-distant line outside where people waited for their fresh bagel sandwiches. I walked there every morning bright and early to get my steps (and carbs) in.
Day 2 was Sunday and we spent it at the Beach. VERY easy to socially distance yourselves. Every beachgoer was respectful, no group sat too close to another, and at no point at all did we feel crowded. Our home was footsteps from the boardwalk so we were able to go back and forth to the kitchen to refill our cocktails and prepare some sandwiches. That night, we went to The Whitebrier for dinner. Of all the places we dined, this was probably my least favorite if I’m being honest. Service was just OK. Half the outdoor space was on a patio and half the space was down below with live music and more of a breeze. Unfortunately we were stuck on the patio and I think I had some FoMo!
Day 3 was Monday. Stephen and I left the baby at home with the family and took off for a private breakfast date at Fishin’ Pier Grille. Delicious! Freshly made pancakes and “pork roll” (but here in Central Jersey it’s strictly Taylor Ham…. don’t @ me).
We did a quick 2 hours babyless at the beach and then the ladies got ready and headed to Cape May for the remainder of the day. The guys met us in time for dinner. In Cape May, you can expect to see more crowds – especially at night – but if you’re more relaxed like we are, nothing too uncomfortable because frankly, everybody keeps it moving and there’s a swift flow of people-traffic. In Cape May, some wore masks outdoors and some did not. We all, however, wore them any time we went into or out of a store. There were some SUPER cute shops! My favorite by far was Victorious, a super trendy boutique set in a giant pink victorian home.
I bought a turban-style headband that was actually made by the woman who worked there! Super cool that the owner of the shop allows her to sell her own pieces there too. She goes by Thurbanista on Instagram. For dinner we stumbled upon Elaine’s which was AWESOME. Picture this: A boutique hotel set in several victorian-style buildings, who basically decided that Covid meant they could throw the most lovely garden party. Right out on the front and side lawns were first-come-first-serve tables dressed in modern umbrellas and string lights. A large bar on one end, a small bar on the other – the small bar equipped with ready-made alcoholic slush machines and large-sip straws. The food was fantastic, the vibe was a whole aesthetic, and the drinks were on point. A+ PLUS. Once again – literally no need for any social distancing, because nobody was near each other, aside from using the restroom.
Day 4 was Tuesday, and we spent it at the beach again! In the afternoon, I managed to escape with my mom and aunts to Dune Drive, the town of Avalon’s “main street”. There are a few small shops here too and my favorite was The Preppy Palm! I bought two dresses and a pair of earrings while my aunt purchased a Frida Kahlo doll for Indie. The Avalon Surf Shop, She Be Surfin and Closet are also some fun boutiques to pop into in town! For dinner, we went to Polpo – an Italian restaurant that specializes in seafood. Nice vibe, a little tight – you could tell they really tried to seat as many tables as their sidewalk would let them, so if you’re still a little squeamish possibly bumping shoulders with a stranger – then dine here on the early side! Food was great, though! On the way back we got ice cream from Sundae Best Homemade Ice Cream. This was a fan favorite on our last trip to Avalon in 2014, so we had to come back. Nobody was allowed inside the shop, but they went cashless and took your order from outside and the ice cream tasted just as good as if I’d watched them scoop it myself!
Day 5 was Wednesday. I “braved” the beach on my own while Stephen took a few work calls. By “on my own” I mean with other family members so trust me when I say it was still worth the effort! For dinner we ate at the Avalon Brew Pub, which is attached to the Icona Hotel. They are a microbrewery and they specialize in beer so unfortunately the cocktails were not up to snuff for my liking, but we thoroughly enjoyed the food. The atmosphere was much like The Whitebrier where they crafted two totally different vibes in their outdoor sections and (again) I was wishing we had gotten seated on the other side. The desirable part was a sandy, string-lighty tiki aesthetic directly off the foot of the beach. Really pretty. However, we were seated at tables that were practically indoors. I mean…. if you’re missing indoor dining that badly, go sit on the covered patio at Avalon Brew Pub. We had to wear a mask into the restaurant, and then were taken out back to a patio that was fully enclosed on 3 sides and had privacy shrubs on the fourth. Not my cup of tea for the lack of views and the lack of a good margarita. If you can get yourself seated on the nicer (and more airy) side, and you enjoy beer, this place will be right up your alley. You can also take a sunset walk right on the beach after dinner.
Day 6 was Thursday and little did we know it would be our last! Stephen joined us again at the beach but dipped out early to drive and pick up lunch from Brady’s Hoagie Dock. It was SO GOOD. I had a buffalo chicken cheese steak and some of the best onion rings I’ve ever tasted. I’m so glad he had the impulse to try this place because it was by far the best lunch on the “island”. For dinner we found ourselves back in Cape May! This time we visited White by Vivian Rowan Design… a boutique owned by one of my brother’s friend’s moms. When we came to Avalon in 2014, my brother and his girlfriend bought me earrings from here and told me how much I’d have loved it if I had seen it. When we went earlier in the week, they were already closed, so we made it a point to swing by on our last trip to Cape May. I’m so glad we did! Such a beautiful store. From bags to jewelry and even some unique pieces of furniture, I was smitten! (I also came home with a bag and a new pair of earrings). For dinner we went to the Blue Pig Tavern, set in the courtyard of the Congress Hall Hotel. This building is historic, and you can only get inside to see it if you’re a guest or if you have a dinner reservation and WOW am I glad we made that dinner reservation!!! We wore masks indoors to admire the ground floor and outside it was spacious and breathable (more string lights!). Rocking chairs galore, people playing badminton on the grass, and high-end food. A margarita that certainly made up for the one I had the night before! I have to assume that if you’ve read this far you’re from the tri-state area, so maybe you’ve been to (or heard about) Pinknic? Pinknic is a yearly rosé festival on Governor’s Island with live music sets where everything is pastel pink and everyone is dressed to the nines. Being at that festival the first year they ever had it made me feel like I had time-traveled and I was getting so many similar vibes and feels being at the Blue Pig Tavern. (From what I understand, the vibe at Pinknic is slightly different nowadays but a few years ago it had a very “southern debutante” aesthetic.) The space is VAST and the comfort level was at an all time high because everything was pristine, their system was effortless and everyone stayed away from each other. One last ice cream cone, and we were headed back to the house for our last sleep.
Day 7 was Friday. We woke up to torrential rain. Stephen and I headed to Avalon Coffee Co and Duck Donuts (although this time we drove) for one last breakfast before we opted to pack up the house and head north a bit early. The restaurants would have been rained out and the beach was certainly not an option. Had this happened earlier in the week we would have stuck it out, but what point was it if we had to be out by 9am the following morning? So we cancelled our last dinner reservation (which was supposed to be at The Diving Horse) and we headed home after a wonderful and really-only-slightly-different vacation.
I hope these details have been helpful if you’re looking to get away but you’re just not sure it’s worth the effort: trust me… IT IS! And if you’re just not there yet and are still feeling worried, that’s OK too. For us and our family, we play by the rules and we’ve been having a pretty decent summer! A few more notable things: Cape May is 30 minutes from Avalon so a car is definitely a must to take those day trips. Hotels ARE open and functioning, but personally I’d prefer a private house during Covid at least at this point in the game. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, VRBO is a great site to find some beautiful homes and hosts that will ensure everything is spotless for your arrival. Beach passes can be purchased on the boardwalk on a weekly basis, and I recommend finding a home as close to that boardwalk block as possible to avoid having to lug lots of stuff. If you have any more questions about where we went, what we did, or how safe we felt…. please don’t hesitate to send me a DM on instagram! Having this time away from the monotony of life lately was seriously refreshing and much-needed and I highly recommend following in my sandy footsteps. Happy and Safe Travels, New Jerseyans!