11 Top-Rated Beaches near Philadelphia
You might think of Philadelphia as a typical East Coast, urban city, but drive over the Ben Franklin Bridge, onto the Atlantic City Expressway, and sixty 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 or 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.
1 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, cafes, 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.
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, normally just under $10 per day for adults or $40 for a season pass. 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.
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. The 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; they're $6 for the day, $12 for the week, or $28 for the season. 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, new boutique hotel right on the dunes.
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. The AA Heart of Wildwood Motel is as good as any, with a great location on the boardwalk, a nice rooftop deck, and a swimming pool.
4 Sea Isle City
The next town over from Ocean City, Sea Isle City also offers a quaint, small-town beach experience. There's a beachfront promenade lined with shops and cafes 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. This small city just redeveloped its bayfront and marina area; there's a boardwalk here and a new pedestrian 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
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. 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.
6 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 a large, modern, beachfront luxury hotel that recreates a Victorian seaside resort.
7 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). 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 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, cafes, 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 Hotel is the city's only new hotel and is a well-designed, centrally located, stylish option.
8 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 cafes. 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 property located right on the boardwalk, directly in the heart of the retail area. Rehoboth Beach is about a two-hour drive from Philadelphia.
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 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.
10 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. 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 $8 per day or $45 for a season.
11 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 cafes offer little areas of boardwalk seating. It's great to watch the parade of people walk by as you eat. It's a carnival atmosphere with many rides, miniature golf courses, and plenty of pizza and ice cream shops. As with other cities in this list, summer is the peak season, with some businesses and hotels closing during the off-season. The summer season is considered to be between Memorial Day (the last weekend of May) through Labor Day (the first weekend in September). White Sands Oceanfront Resort & Spa is a popular hotel located on the boardwalk with more amenities than many of the other small hotels and motels.