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13 Top-Rated Beaches near Philadelphia

Written by Freddy Sherman
Jun 8, 2020

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You might think of Philadelphia as a typical East Coast city, but drive over the Ben Franklin Bridge, onto the Atlantic City Expressway, and 60 minutes later, you'll find yourself on the beaches of Atlantic City. Philly is within a 90-minute drive of most of the New Jersey beach cities and within two hours of many of those in Delaware and New York as well. These beach cities give visitors a wide variety of beaches and a real variety of environments in which to enjoy them.

From the roller coasters of the Wildwood boardwalk to the Victorian mansions of Cape May, there's something for everyone. Whether you want your beach to have a carnival-type atmosphere, with crowds of people and a wide boardwalk, or be a remote, unspoiled location with miles of sandy dunes, you can find it all within an easy drive of Philadelphia.

Simplify your explorations with our list of the best beaches near Philadelphia.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Ocean City, Maryland

Ocean City
Ocean City

The highlight of Ocean City is its long, wide, wood-planked, old-school boardwalk. The raised wooden boardwalk, as is found in many East Coast beach towns, offers miles of shops, stores, restaurants, cafés, and accommodations, with no roads or cars to separate them from the sand.

The original family beach town, founded by a church group, Ocean City retains some of its conservative family values: the town still has some laws that force shops to close on Sundays, and no alcohol is served or sold, anywhere.

Ocean City is on an island, with several bridges connecting it to the mainland. Like in many beachfront towns, there's a bay on one side and the beach and open ocean on the other. The core of the beach activity is around 8th Street, where the city's municipal music pier is located. The pier, and the auditorium that sits upon it, host concerts throughout the year. The main public beach area is wide and guarded by lifeguard stands every few hundred yards.

Beach fees are charged for visitors 12 and over, normally around $10 per day for adults or $20 for a season pass (if purchased before May 31). The Port-O-Call Hotel is the city's only high-rise, beachfront hotel, and it sits right on the boardwalk. Try for a room facing the beach as the other side faces the parking lot.

2. Avalon, New Jersey

Avalon
Avalon

Perhaps the wealthiest of all the New Jersey beach cities, Avalon is known for its wide, unspoiled beaches and sand dunes, as well as the huge mansions that line them. The town has a more laid-back, upscale feel and has more expensive shops and fine-dining restaurants than its other South Jersey neighbors.

Avalon's beaches are extremely clean, with grassy dunes separating the line of houses from the beach and then the water. The city bills itself as "cooler by a mile" because the land juts out into the ocean a mile farther than the other Jersey beach towns.

Avalon is mainly residential; the business area is known as Stone Harbor. The entire island is fronted by a seven-mile-long beach. There's no boardwalk, and most of the beach retains a beautiful, natural feel, especially because the dunes block out the houses.

Beach tags are required for both Stone Harbor and Avalon. There are designated surfing and rafting beaches, and there are basic facilities (bathrooms and outdoor showers) every half mile or so along the beach.

There aren't many hotel options within Avalon, but the ICONA Avalon is a bright and airy boutique beachfront resort right on the dunes.

3. Wildwood, New Jersey

Wildwood
Wildwood

Like the Coney Island of the Jersey Shore, Wildwood retains its reputation as a place where the party goes on all summer long. The city sports a long, wide wooden boardwalk and has multiple amusement piers. These are small amusement parks located on long piers jutting out into the ocean.

The five miles of wide, sandy beaches are free, which can mean big savings for families. The beach is very flat and huge, in that at low tide, it can take 10 minutes to walk from the edge of the boardwalk to the waterline. Like with most of the New Jersey beach cities, the sand is white and soft.

Most of the hotel choices are small motels, a block or two away from the boardwalk. You can stay on the boardwalk at the Shore Plaza Beach Resort, technically located in North Wildwood. Most of the amusement piers are about a 10-minute walk away.

4. Sea Isle City, New Jersey

Sea Isle City
Sea Isle City | Christian Scheidegger / photo modified

The next town over from Ocean City, Sea Isle City also offers a quaint, small-town beach experience with bit of a nightlife scene.

There's a beachfront promenade lined with shops and cafés and miles of white, sandy beaches. The line of houses is separated from the beach by a raised, grassy line of dunes, which also helps protect against flooding.

Sea Isle City just redeveloped its bay front and marina area: there's a boardwalk here and a new pedestrian-only street connecting the bay to the beach. Locals are serious about outdoor activities - the area has designated beaches for kayaking, kiteboarding, rafting, and surf fishing. There are also volleyball courts on some of the city beaches.

5. Long Beach Island, New Jersey

Long Beach Island
Long Beach Island

Long Beach Island is located off central New Jersey and has a lot of varied beach towns along its 18-mile length. Towns like North Beach and Harvey Cedar have ultra-luxury summer homes and marinas filled with expensive yachts, while towns like Ship Bottom and Beach Haven have amusement parks, miniature golf courses, and lots of things to eat and buy.

LBI, as it's known, is a popular destination for New York City weekenders - it's less than two hours from the city and less than 90 minutes from Philadelphia.

All along the island, the beach is wide (about 200 feet from the dunes to the sea) and separated from houses or development with a tall grassy line of dunes.

The Spray Beach Hotel puts you right on the sand in Beach Haven. It boasts a heated pool and hot tub and rooms with either pool or ocean views. A second annex across the street has efficency units, junior suites with kitchenettes.

6. Cape May, New Jersey

Cape May
Cape May

Located at the southern tip of New Jersey, Cape May has been a popular summer resort destination since the Victorian era, and it retains many Victorian gingerbread mansions. The city provides a unique environment and celebrates more of its history than other New Jersey beach cities.

Cape May's beaches are clean and beautiful. There's a beachfront boardwalk and a pedestrian mall along Washington Street.

Congress Hall is the nation's oldest beachfront resort, first opened in 1816. Now totally rebuilt as a large, modern, beachfront luxury hotel, it recreates a Victorian seaside resort.

7. Asbury Park, New Jersey

Asbury Park
Asbury Park

If you're a Bruce Springsteen fan, a trip to Asbury Park makes a great combination of beach fun and music history (he played here frequently during his early years and named one of his most famous albums after the city). It's also still home to the music club he first played in, the Stone Pony, which still features performances from artists both new and established.

Asbury Park is on the New Jersey coast, but only about an hour from New York City, so it's a popular getaway for people who live in Manhattan. It's also a 90-minute drive from Philadelphia. There is a wonderful faded glory to the seaside resort, but it still has a popular and vibrant music scene.

The beach is fronted by a wide, wooden boardwalk, which is lined with shops, cafés, amusement parks, water parks, miniature golf courses, and other tourist-related businesses. There's a leash-optional dog beach at 8th Avenue, which is a fun experience whether you're a dog owner or not.

The Asbury is the city's only new hotel, opened as a place to stay for those stylish New Yorkers on getaway trips.

8. Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Rehoboth Beach
Rehoboth Beach

Little-known outside the mid-Atlantic region, Rehoboth Beach is another great family beach destination. There's a long, wide stretch of patrolled beach; an old-school wooden boardwalk; and miles of cool little local shops and cafés. It's an easy two-hour drive from Philadelphia.

The highlight of any visit is attending a concert at the open-air bandstand, located right on the boardwalk. The ocean off Rehoboth Beach is especially clean - the National Resources Defense Council rated it (and that of all the beaches in Delaware) the best water quality of any coastal US state and awarded it five-stars, their highest rating.

Shoppers will like that there's a huge Tanger Outlet Mall just outside town with almost 200 name-brand retail outlets.

The Boardwalk Plaza Hotel is a large resort located right on the boardwalk, directly in the heart of the retail area.

9. Margate, New Jersey

Margate
Margate

Home of the only elephant on the Jersey Shore, Lucy, Margate is the town next to Atlantic City. Lucy is a 65-foot-tall wooden elephant, a restored beachside remnant of the city's Victorian history that can be toured.

When its neighbor, Atlantic City, began to develop in the late 1970s, Margate also began to develop as a luxurious residential community offering close proximity to the excitement of Atlantic City. The beaches here are huge. Hundreds of yards of flat white sand separate the boardwalk from the waterline. There's a nice business district, too, with shops and a range of restaurants.

By not allowing hotels, Margate retains a regular population of locals and returning summer residents. There is a small bed and breakfast, the Carisbrooke Inn, located in Ventor, the next town over.

10. Seaside Heights, New Jersey

Seaside Heights
Seaside Heights

Seaside Heights is another barrier island, north of Long Beach Island. The resort was featured on the MTV show Jersey Shore and can live up to the show's reputation for out-of-control singles. Its proximity to New York City makes it a popular weekend and summer getaway destination.

There's a wide, wooden boardwalk; amusement piers; and plenty of fun things to see and do. The beach here is wide and flat with hundreds of yards of smooth white sand separating the ocean from the boardwalk area. Fees are required to use the beach, normally around $10 per day or $50 for a season.

11. Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey

Point Pleasant Beach
Point Pleasant Beach

Also north of Long Beach Island, Point Pleasant Beach goes for a more family-friendly atmosphere compared to some of its neighbors. There are fun attractions along the mile-long, wide, wooden boardwalk, and the city's cafés offer little areas of boardwalk seating. It's great to watch the parade of people walk by as you eat.

The town is great for family vacations, especially during the summer, when the many rides, miniature golf courses, and plenty of pizza and ice-cream shops evoke a carnival atmosphere. As with other cities in this list, summer is the peak season, with some businesses and hotels closing during the off-season.

The White Sands Oceanfront Resort & Spa is a popular hotel located directly on the boardwalk, with more amenities than many of the city's other small hotels and motels.

12. Dewey Beach, Delaware

Dewey Beach
Dewey Beach | Lee Cannon / photo modified

Dewey Beach, another Delaware beach resort town, is the adult alternative to Rehoboth Beach. The entire town is less than two miles long and only two blocks wide, but it has a big beach, a lot of restaurants, shops, and an active music and nightlife scene.

While it has a lot of things for adults to do after dark, Dewey Beach remains a great family vacation destination. The beach is great for kids, and both accommodations and food are inexpensive. There are also some historic sites and monuments, so a vacation can include a bit of education.

The Beach House Dewey is a budget hotel, right on the sand, a few blocks down from the city's nightlife area. It's right across the street from the Bottle & Cork, the town's main music performance venue.

13. Brigantine Beach, New Jersey

Sunrise over Brigantine Beach
Sunrise over Brigantine Beach

This historic New Jersey beach island, called "The Island" by locals, is just outside Atlantic City. It retains a small-town feel with a lot of small motels and hotels. It's a barrier island, and throughout history has been the site of a lot of shipwrecks, some of which can be seen at low tide.

Aside from the big beach, popular tourist attractions include the city's iconic lighthouse and the state's only marine mammal stranding center. The marine mammal center has a sea life museum and an observation tank.

The La Sammana Resort is a stylish newer hotel on Brigantine Avenue in the city's shopping district (a few blocks from the beach). Rooms have a kitchenette, and the hotel has a nice rooftop pool and terrace with ocean views. For added value there's free parking and free Wi-Fi.

Frequently Asked Questions

What's the best time to visit the beaches near Philadelphia?

Most of the businesses and many hotels in New Jersey (and Delaware) beach towns close down for the winter. The season starts over the Memorial Day Weekend holiday (the last weekend in May) and goes through the Labor Day holiday (the first weekend in September).

How do I get to the beaches near Philadelphia?

New Jersey has a major north/south highway, the Garden State Parkway, which passes all the city's beach resorts. It's easy to reach from anywhere in the northeastern part of the U.S. The Delaware resorts are off DE-1, which connects directly to US-95.

The easiest way to reach the beaches is by car. Most hotels and resorts offer free parking, and it's easy to get there on major highways. Greyhound and Flixbus offer bus service to most of the resort cities.

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