Wooden roller coasters, boardwalk arcades and doo-wop hotels make a stay at the Wildwoods in New Jersey a trip not just three hours away, but one that feels many years back in time.
The Wildwoods is three contiguous beaches on the Jersey Shore: the quieter, family-oriented beaches of North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest and the city of Wildwood, with its famed two-mile boardwalk and amusement parks.
While each area offers distinct activities and amenities, all three have a retro look and feel. Garish colors, neon signs and fake palm trees decorate hotels, gas stations and even the local McDonald's.
The pride of the Wildwoods is the large assortment of doo-wop hotels, a reference to the futuristic architecture inspired by the Space Age during the late 1950s and 1960s. They tend to be small, and amenities are limited, but they offer the basics: air conditioning, outdoor pools, TVs and, in a nod to the 21st century, Internet connections.
At Wildwood, the beach that stretches out from the boardwalks is flat and expansive. At the quieter Wildwood Crest and North Wildwood, the beach is more narrow and dappled with wind-swept dunes. Unlike many New Jersey beaches, the beaches at the Wildwoods are free. That is a good thing with the arcades and amusement parks so close by.
At $2 per dart throw to pop a balloon and $3 to try your luck for a prize at a water-gun game, you'll soon blow your budget if you're not careful.
Try to convince the kids that hunting for seashells is as challenging as sinking a basketball in an undersized hoop, and that boogie boarding on the waves is as much fun as sliding down a tube in the water park.
* StarLux Boutique Hotel and Meeting Place : 305 E. Rio Grande Ave., Wildwood, 609-522-7412; thestarlux.com. One of the city's doo-wop hotels, the recently renovated StarLux features Space Age architecture, chrome and lava lamps. Rooms, suites and even Airstream trailers are available for rent. All come with refrigerators and microwave ovens. The StarLux is one block from the beach and close to the Wildwood Convention Center and amusement parks. In-season rates: $132-$360.
* Bolero Resort and Conference Center : 3320 Atlantic Ave., Wildwood, 609-522-6929, boleroresort.com. One of Wildwood's newest hotels, the Bolero features an exercise room, indoor pool and sauna. Rooms and suites are available. Some packages include a full breakfast in the hotel restaurant, and there's live entertainment at night. In-season rates: $101-$150.
* The Aloha : 210 JFK Beach Drive, North Wildwood, 609-522-5566; alohaoceanfront motel.com. The Aloha offers one- and two-bedroom suites with a heated pool, game room and Internet access. Rates: $100-$200.
* Groff's Restaurant : Magnolia Avenue and the Boardwalk, Wildwood, 609-522-5474; groffsrestaurant.com. This family-owned restaurant has been making traditional comfort foods like roast turkey and gravy and pot roast since 1925. End the meal with a slice of one of Groff's famous homemade pies. (You can download a voucher for a free slice on the restaurant's Web site.) Entrees: $13.95-$31.95.
* Little Italy : 5401 Atlantic Ave., Wildwood Crest, 609-523-0999; littleitalywild wood.com. Little Italy restaurant dishes up large portions, so even if you pay a bit more for your dinner, you can probably eat leftovers the next day. The restaurant has a large selection of pasta dishes as well as seafood specials like flounder francaise, charbroiled swordfish and broiled stuffed shrimp. Entrees, served with salad and bread: $11.95-$24.95. Early-bird specials are available Sundays through Fridays.
* Dragon House Chinese Restaurant : 3616 Pacific Ave., Wildwood, 609-522-2320. Friendly, efficient service, good food and reasonable prices are the hallmark of this popular restaurant. The General Tso chicken is tender and the wontons hearty. The restaurant is open late during the summer. Free delivery is available. Entrees: $8.25-$14.95.
* Morey's Piers : 3501 Boardwalk, Wildwood, 609-522-3900; moreyspiers.com. Morey's consists of three amusement parks and two water parks spread over six blocks in the heart of Wildwood. Don't miss the 156-foot-tall Ferris wheel, which offers spectacular views of the island. For an old-fashion thrill, try the Great White wooden roller coaster. Ticket packages start at $20.
* Hereford Inlet Lighthouse : 111 N. Central Ave., North Wildwood, 609-522-4520; herefordlighthouse.org. This is not your typical lighthouse tower, but a residence lighthouse and the only one of its kind on the East Coast. Built in 1874 and furnished with period antiques, the lighthouse is listed on the national and state historic registers. Admission: $6.
* Dolphin and whale watching: : A number of outfits offer sightseeing cruises, including Starlight Fleet, 6200 Park Blvd., Wildwood Crest, 609-729-3400; and Captain Schumann's, 4500 Park Blvd., Wildwood, 800-246-9425, doowopdolphin.com.