Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Watch Out, Drunk Lovers

If you're feeling particularly amorous after a night at the Princeton (21st Street, Avalon, 609-967-3456) and want to enjoy the comfort of the sands with your new paramour -- or if you're just drunk and stupid -- watch out. The cops patrol the beaches early in the morning, and they may be recording.

Yes, I know this is about a north Jersey shore, but I wouldn't be surprised if you found this technology at the south Jersey shores, too. After all, the Ocean City trash cans will be wireless next year.

P.S. My favorite part of this report is the chick with the big sunglasses. She's so eloquent.

What I'm Listening to: Preston and Steve on 93.3 WMMR.

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Cheap Eats Suggestion for Atlantic City

Even though Atlantic City is the largest chapter in my book, I haven't written about it on the blog for one simple reason: I finished that chapter first. It was the town most open in the winter. A lot of the best things about the shore close up shop in the colder months, so to Atlantic City I went, where most places are open and ready for business. It's interesting walking their Boardwalk (always with a capital B in Atlantic City because their Boardwalk was the original) when a cold wind is slapping you in the face. It's much less crowded, too.

If you've ever been to Atlantic City, you know that it's a town of extremes. You can buy the flashiest Tiffany's diamond at their shop in the Pier Shops at Caesars, (One Atlantic Ocean, Atlantic City, 609-345-3100), then walk a few blocks and be in a place you might not want to be in the day, let alone at night.

The same could be said for what you'll find in Atlantic City's 11 casino hotels. On one hand, if you're a regular customer, you'll pay next to nothing or nothing for your room and enjoy a slew of other comps, including free food. If you're not a frequent flier, you might be charged up the wazoo.

If you're the later (or even the former), you might be looking for a good deal on food. You can skip the casino restaurants (except for the take out window at A Dam Good Deli in the Tropicana Casino & Resort) and head to Angelo’s Fairmount Tavern (2300 Fairmount Avenue, Atlantic City, 609-344-2439). There’s no fuss or muss at this corner tavern, but the food is good and served in larger than life portions. The menu leans toward Italian, of course, and is chock full of seafood, pasta and fried foods. They make their own wine, too, and I can personally tell you -- it's good stuff.

My tip to you if you're looking for savings at the casinos: sign up for one of those frequent customer doo hickeys. Many of the programs work between a few casinos, and they can save you big time in the long run. I wasn't a fan of Atlantic City when I started the book, and in a lot of ways, I'm still iffy about it. But I find myself turning there more often when I'm looking for things to do. That's saying a lot when you considered that I hate gambling. You might get bit by the bug, too. Save yourself some cash in the meantime.

What I'm listening to: Writer's Block by Peter Bjorn and John.

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Fabulous Fifties

If you've ever been to Maggie's (2619 Dune Drive, Avalon, 609-368-7422), you know that it's a casual eatery with good food and good prices. You also know that the servers' t-shirts say "No Whining," which is what Maggie told her grandkids if they dared to complain. I'm going to get one of those t-shirts and tack it to my office wall. I took most of today off and feel recharged and ready to go -- no sulking or whining necessary.

So yesterday I mentioned that I had lunch at Pink Cadillac Diner (609-522-8288, 3801 Atlantic Avenue, Wildwood) and that they serve up the best BLT I've tasted while working on the book. I'm not lying -- just look at the picture. Everything in the sandwich was in proportion -- just enough tomato, not so much lettuce that the bread tears apart, and the bacon's nice and crispy. My only complaint is that I had to pay extra for fries. I hate it when restaurants do that -- the fries should be included. It's like offering PB&J but charging extra for the J.

That's a small quibble. The Pink Cadillac Diner dishes up good food, and you can't beat the retro diner look, which includes a lot of chrome, diner booths and checked patterns. Plus, you'll get a show. If you ask, they'll put on Bruce Springsteen's Pink Cadillac, and the servers will do the Pink Cadillac shuffle. You can join in, too. It's not a difficult dance routine.

If you want that '50s, '60s or even '70s vibe to stretch longer than just a meal, you absolutely must check out Summer Nites (2210 Atlantic Avenue, North Wildwood, 866-ROC-1950), which I wrote about in the August issue of SJ Magazine. Unlike the Pink Cadillac Diner, you can't tell the wonderland inside from looking at the building. That's because Summer Nites isn't one of the many Doo Wop buildings that still stand in the Wildwoods, but an old home converted into a bed and breakfast. Every room is themed, from the furniture to the light switches. You've never lived until you've seen a gold lame couch like the one inside the Elvis Suite, or Marlyn Monroe coming out of a jacuzzi (as a mural painted on the wall -- get your head out of the gutter). My favorite room is the '70s room, which is the newest at the B&B. I might have ask inn keeper Sheila Brown where she got that bedspread. It, like the room, is groovy.

A few housekeeping notes: My brother Mike, who is apparently calling himself a "Red Headed Mastermind," has started a blog. I always did have the best ideas first.

If you've been reading through to the end of every post, you know that I include what I'm listening to and sometimes what I'm reading. I'll only post what I'm reading when I start a new book. If you want to know what I thought, well, hire me to write a review! With no further ado...

What I'm listening to: 20 Years of Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys.
What I'm reading: My Movie Business by John Irving.

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Change of Plans

I didn't plan on hitting the Sea Isle City boardwalk last night. But after getting in my car to go to The Mirage, I changed my mind and went in the other direction to eat while watching the water lap up onto the water at Deauville Inn (Williard Road at the Bay, Strathmere, 609-263-2080). No offense to The Mirage -- I needed to relax. The stress of getting this book done is starting to get to me, and I knew actually seeing the water for once on my last tour of the shore would do me good. On the way back to the shore house I'm renting in Avalon, I stopped at Yum Yum's (31 JFK Boulevard, Sea Isle City, 609-263-2345) for my favorite shore treat: soft serve vanilla ice cream in a pretzel cone.

If you're not from the Jersey area, you might be scratching your head at the concept of a pretzel cone? Yes, it's a cone made of pretzels. My dad always put pretzels in my ice cream, so when someone came up with the genius idea of wrapping a sheet of pretzel into a cone -- bam! Instant success, at least with me. The contrast of sweet and salt is delicious.

Instead of sulking off into my car with my cone (and I was doing a bit of sulking last nigh), I took a walk up onto the boardwalk, or what Sea Isle City calls a boardwalk -- it's concrete, not wooden boards. There was a band, a woman telling really bad jokes, and the kind of people who make the shore what it is in the summer: parents with kids in strollers, their hands already sticky from their ice cream; older couples enjoying the night and the music; and tons of teenagers dressed in their summer finest hoping to catch the eye of another bored teenager. I could have done without the teenagers, but they're such a spectacle. Does that girl really think it looks cool to wear black Uggs when it's hot, hazy and humid outside?

Walking down the boardwalk with my ice cream was the kind of recharge I needed, and then I did something even more radical: I packed up early and went home so I could play with my dog and sleep in my own bed. As much as I love the shore, I can only take so much solid research time before I start sulking. So today I'm writing at you from my messy Collingswood office, a stack of research notes and brochures and fliers by my side, waiting to be picked apart and turned into what you will (hopefully) be reading this spring as you prepare to get an ice cream cone and watch the show on the boardwalk.

Special thanks to Allison Winn Scotch, Citizen Mom and Phillyist.com for linking to the blog!

What I'm Listening to: The Weight is a Gift by Nada Surf.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

What's for Dinner?

For the last few months, I've scoured 45 miles of Jersey coast to find the best places to eat, from pancakes to ice cream, crab cakes to steaks and back again. Yet it's dinner time and I have no idea where to go.

Sad, isn't it? Part of the problem is that I'm tired, bordering on exhausted. I don't want to drive far, but I don't want more junk food. I could go back to an old favorite, but shouldn't I be headed to a new-to-me-restaurant so I can combine my work and play (and count it as a tax deduction to boot)? Plus, I'm still a bit full from lunch at Pink Cadillac Diner (609-522-8288, 3801 Atlantic Avenue, Wildwood), which has the best BLT I've tasted since starting my shore research. It's a fun place, too -- enough so that it'll get a post of its own in due time.

I think the big winner is going to be The Mirage (7888 Dune Drive, Avalon, 609-368-5133). It's in my notes as a place to check out. I walked by the restaurant/bar before, which is part of Desert Sand Resort -- the menu online looks good, and I know it has a bar. Hopefully, the Phillies game will be on, and I don't want a repeat of what happened a few weeks ago.

What I'm listening to: Friend and Foe by Menomena.

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That's One Wired Beach Tag

Ocean City beach fans, you're about to go high tech. According to an Associated Press article, visitors to Ocean City beaches will be required to wear wristbands that are connected to either their credit cards or bank accounts so that the price of beach tags, food, and parking will be charged directly to them. The changes should be ready by next summer. Beach tag prices won't change -- well, at least that's what Ocean City officials are saying now.

Sounds pretty cool, but this means you're "I left my tag at my shore house," excuse won't work -- beach tag checkers will have hand held devices to check up on your story.

Here's my advice: skip the lies. If you see a beach tag checker, who is usually 17-20 years old and looks miserable that he or she has to march up and down the sand yelling at people instead of sitting on a life guard chair yelling at people, get up and go in the water. They're not going to find you there. I go to the beaches at the higher streets in Avalon where there aren't any beach tag checkers (though, yes, I did buy a badge this year), and the in the water trick worked every time in years past.

I also like the part of this story that says garbage cans will email city officials when they're full, which leads me to one important question: How did Oscar get a Blackberry before me?

What I'm listening to: Putting the Days to Bed by The Long Winters.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Yummie for My Tummy

Most people go to the shore to do three things: go to the beach, shop and eat (which can also include that other ever popular shore activity, drinking). I have never seen so many bakeries and pastry shops as is concentrated at the Jersey shore, and every single one of them was packed to the brim -- at least in Ocean City on Saturday.

But bakeries aren't the only ones getting in on the act. Shore restaurants cater to that "I'm on vacation and the calories don't matter" mentality, which has made finding good-for-me-things to eat at the shore a challenge.

One place I love is Green Cuisine (302-96th Street, Stone Harbor, 609-368-1616). I went out of my way today to get one of their Greek pitas for lunch because I knew that something bad was in store for me at dinner. Green Cuisine not only has amazing, healthy wraps and pitas (that are served with fruit instead of chips), but also a smoothie bar, and a waiting area packed with interesting magazines for when you're, of course, waiting.

That's not to say I don't enjoy an unhealthy meal or two. Tonight's dinner was the buffalo fries at Concord Cafe (7800 Dune Drive, Avalon, 609-368-5505. They're just fries with the buffalo wing sauce and blue cheese. Geoff, one of my roommates at the shore house, had the Carribean jerk chicken sandwich, and he just reminded me that "it was very good," and that Forrest Gump is an awesome movie.

I like Concord Cafe. It's a little restaurant attached to the Concord suites, and the bartenders are funny and personable. They even told my friend that a certain item he wanted to order was not the best thing on the menu, so he changed his order. Plus, they have baseball on TV, and aren't afraid to yell at the Phillies if they are stinking it up.

Even shore parties are orgies of bad food. I went to a Night in Venice party on Saturday night and had pasta salad, scallops, mozzarella and tomatoes, garlic bread and chicken nuggets (which were supposed to be for the kids), topped off by a build-your-own sundae.

For most people, this kind of food binging isn't THAT big a deal, but it can be when you're down here all the time, like I have been. Thank you, Green Cuisine, for making my food choices that much easier.

I'm writing tonight from the dining room table of the shore house I've rented this summer. Well, I'm not the only one who rented it. Travel writing doesn't pay that much. We have about 10 people in on the house, and we're never here all at the same time, so it doesn't get too crowded. Most weekdays, it's just me, but tonight Geoff, who has no problem helping me check out restaurants for the book, is sticking around because he's golfing in the area tomorrow morning. He's watching good ol' Gump while I blog. No links for me -- tomorrow is the Wildwoods. Here's hoping the humidity slacks off before I gear up for another day of research.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Research Essentials

So what does a travel writer take with her when she's working 'in the field'? (don't I sound like an archaeologist? Maybe I should pick up an Indiana Jones hat). I have to remind myself of this each time I pack, which I'll be doing in a second, so here's what I need:

To start, I carry a carry a lightweight, roomy, waterproof shoulder bag, much like the one you see here. I put my reporter's notebook, three pens, watch, wallet, sunglasses, protein bar, business cards, digital camera, tissues, quarters (for parking meters) and cell phone into the bag. This time around, I'll also have a map on which I've marked locations I want to visit.

Bugt that's not all -- I keep suntan lotion in my car (the spray on kind because travel writing is a lonely occupation...who would do my back?), along with my iPod, decent shoes(since I generally work in sneakers) and a cardigan sweater because some of the shore restaurants set their air conditioners to Arctic.

This weekend, I'll also be packing a rough draft of the Ocean City chapter. I've spent two days typing up notes from work I've already done, and I've scoured website guides, promotional materials from the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce (which you can picked up inside the Music Pier), newspaper and magazine articles to get names, addresses and phone numbers of restaurants, shops and places to stay.

I use those notes as a guide. If something interests me, like Upcakes at Dixie's Picnic (609-399-1999, 19 8th Street, Ocean City), then I'll make sure to stop there. But my best finds are places I never heard about that I found by accident, like Katina's Gyro Restaurant Restaurant (501 9th Street, Ocean City, 609-399-5525) and Madamde's Port (324 96th Street, Stone Harbor, 609-967-3332). To find those gems, I'll park my car near the area I'll be researching and start walking, stopping in every store and restaurant along the way. I'll go in, look around, take notes, maybe take a picture, pick up any fliers or business cards, walk out, and write down what I saw. Yes, it's tedious, but it's the only way to do the research right, I think.

If it's Friday and I don't have anything else to do, why am I not on the Atlantic City Expressway on my way to the shore? A few reasons: first, I have stuff to do. I can't stop my other freelance work while writing the book -- I do have a mortgage. Second, my sister isn't coming to get my dog until tomorrow morning. And third, Guster is playing at the Festival Pier tonight, and I plan on venting some of the book-writing stress by dancing my tush off. Fa fa, fellow Gusteroids! Don't forget your ping pong balls!

Special thanks to Philebrity for pimping the blog today. Your bitterness makes me whole.

What I'm listening to: Satellite EP by Guster.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Yappy Hour

I admit it -- I'm a dog lover. Ever since Emily, my Jack Russell Terrier, invaded my life, I've been hooked. But having a dog has thrown a wrench in my book writing plans. Emily's not allowed to come with me. I rented a shore house with a bunch of people, and while it's a nice place with central air, dogs are not allowed. Fortunately, I have a big family and two dogwalkers that are willing to lend a helping hand.

In general, the Jersey shore isn't the most dog-friendly places, which I wrote about in a recent issue of Fido Friendly magazine. Dogs aren't allowed on the boardwalks or on the beach in the summer, and most hotels, inns and bed and breakfasts are staunchly "no dogs allowed." There are a few exceptions, of course. And I think they'll do better business for it.

My favorite so far is the Billmae Cottage (1015 Washington Street, Cape May, 609-898-8558). It's run by Bob and Linda Steenrod, two of the nicest people I've encountered on my travels for this book, along with Mary Ann and Jay Gorrick, who run the nearby Inn at the Park (1002 Washington Street, Cape May 08204, 866-884-8406). Bob is the head of Cape May's chamber of commerce, and also a minister (the online kind). He performs wedding ceremonies around Cape May, which is the third largest destination wedding spot in the country.

He and his wife are, like me, dog lovers. That's why the Billmae Cottage doesn't just accept dogs, but embraces them. Their cottage isn't a B&B but a B&D -- bed & dog. Every night around 6pm, they host Yappy Hour on Billmae's wrap around, gated porch. Dogs and their owners are invited to come out to gab, nosh, drink and sniff -- well, the last one applies to dogs only, of course.

I was in Cape May last Thursday with my mom, celebrating my 27th birthday, and we decided to stop by the Billmae Cottage to see what Yappy Hour was all about before we headed off to dinner at the Blue Pig Tavern (251 Beach Avenue, Cape May, 888-944-1816). The first dogs to greet us were Jameson and Guinness, Bob and Linda's husky/lab puppies. Even if they're babies, they're already bigger than my little 12-pound dog. They were joined by Bandit, a daschund, and my personal favorite, Petey, a hyper Jack Russell Terrier who was so much like my Emily that I was tempted to call in and check on her. Petey and his owners weren't even staying at the Billmae -- Bob and Linda invite their like-minded friends (and their dogs) over to enjoy the scene.

A yappy hour isn't without its hazards. Jameson and Guinness are playful puppies, but don't recognize their own strength, and there's usually an accident or two on the porch, which is why Bob and Linda keep a very full watering can handy. But it's a friendly event, and I was sad to say goodbye to the people, and the dogs, even if I knew that an excellent dinner was waiting for me. Maybe me and Emily will come by in the fall after all this book research is done, and when you can get away with taking your dog on the beach. I bet she'd love sniffing along the shoreline.

What I'm writing to: Guster on Ice, Live from Portland by Guster.
What I'm reading:
Legends of the Chelsea Hotel by Ed Hamilton.

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Lonely Planet

I'm not going to tell you that travel writing doesn't have its perks -- it does. I'm learning more about a place I love than I ever thought possible, and I get to live at the shore for work. But it's a very singular and sometimes lonely job. As nice as it would be to bring a friend along to do research, it's usually not a good idea. I have a system for finding the information I need, and a friend pulling me back to "try on that cute dress " or maybe eat at the same restaurant we tried last night or go out and have a few drinks -- well, that doesn't go along with my schedule. And a morning hangover does not do my body, or my research, good. So most of the time I'm flying solo.

Yes, it can be lonely. Lucky for me, I'm used to being alone. I work alone, even when I'm not travel writing, and I live alone (though, guys, I am single). That's usually fine with me. I work better that way. The only time the solo thing stinks is dinner time. A few weekends ago, I decided to check out a very nice Italian restaurant in Avalon that will remain unnamed. I brought my book, my appetite, and my notepad (though tucked into my bag).

"Just one?" asked the waitress, who looked to be about 19 years old.

"Yup," I said.

"Really?" she replied.

Not a great start. She was kind to me in a way you are to ugly puppies through the rest of the meal, which is annoying. Just because I'm by myself doesn't mean that I don't get hungry, and I can only take so many Wawa sandwiches in one summer. The food was tasty, but I'm not sure the restaurant make the final cut. And, no, I'm not a bitter person...but it's a new restaurant that was empty for the summer season, and I wonder if it'll still be in business by the time my book comes out. And being treated like a leper didn't help.

Anyway...there are ways to get around the solo traveler thing when it comes to meals. The easiest is to eat at the bar (this Italian restaurant didn't have one). It takes care of the staring at the blank seat across from you thing, and there's usually a TV on somewhere. Plus, you might run into solos like yourself. It's even better if something is going on at the bar that night, like Quizzo. I hit up Quizzo at the Rock n' Chair (2409 Dune Drive, Avalon, 609-967-3300) a few Sundays ago, sat at the bar and started chatting with the lady next to me, who happened to be a local on a Quizzo team of locals. One team member's husband was the bartender, and the entire team gave me insider information on where to go and what to do -- the kind of places and events that I might not have learned on my own. In exchange, I helped out their team, and we won that night. Go team Dazed and Confused!

You can also stick to breakfast and lunches for your restaurant tastings, which is also better for your wallet (yes, everything is tax deductible, but you still have to front the cash -- and, no I don't have an expense account). The reading a book thing helps me, too, and I'll sometimes jot notes in the margins about the restaurant, which doesn't draw as much attention as a notebook would. Other than that, I'll put on my thick skin, remind myself why I'm there, and see what looks good for desert.

What I'm Writing to: Best Days by Matt White.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Weird Ocean City

Today's shore town on my "to do" list: Ocean City. Most of the chapter is done (thank goodness), but I still have some research to do about the shops on Asbury Avenue, which I'll wrap up on Saturday before the Night in Venice parade that is, FYI, starting an hour later this year for any of you crashing your friend's bay-side houses. Things won't get going until 7:30.

Today, though, was for the events section. Ocean City has the usual types of shore events, like baby parades, car shows, and fireworks. But one listing jostled looks a long buried memory: Weird Week.

Weird Week is just what the name implies -- weird. This year's events will take place August 13-17, starting every day at 11 am in front of the Music Pier.

I never spent a lot of time on the Ocean City boardwalk during the day when I was a kid -- we always went to the Avalon beaches and then, if we went to Ocean City, it was at night to ride the rides and eat ice cream. But something must have inspired my parents to head up to OC that day because I remember my brothers standing on a pedestals in their bathing suits with beach towels turned into capes for a Superman look-alike contest. I didn't get a make-shift cape but my mom's purse slung around my shoulder in an attempt to be Lois Lane. Not that we had a shot. Competition was fierce. Some contestants even made up interpretative dances, much like the one you can watch here.

And that's not even the strangest event Ocean City has every year. I took a quick tour through South Jersey Video Magazine, which has captured some of the odd things that happen at this supposedly-quiet town, including The Doo Dah Parade, Martin Z. Mollusk Day, and French Fry Sculpting. And, yes, I believe that is the same woman singing in the Mollusk Day and Weird Week videos. If I see her at this week's Weird Week, I'll report back on the blog. I'll take pictures, too. Any bets on who she'll be dancing as this year? I hope it's either Harry Potter or a Transformer...

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bargain Alert

If you're like me, you know that August means one thing (well, aside from the oppressive heat and humidity that washes over the area): bargains. Rock bottom, basement bargains. It's still hot in September, so I know that I'll get at least two months out of that tank top, even more if I wear it under a hoodie this fall. The deals were even better when I was in college. I went to the University of Tampa, so I'd be shopping for my back-to-school wardrobe from those clearance racks, probably saving enough to pay for the flight back to school.

If you look, you'll be able to score a few bargains at shore stores, though the deals won't be nearly as good as what you'd find at the Gap sale rack (unless, of course, you're at the Gap Outlet in Atlantic City, but I'll get to that in a minute). And unlike at the mall, you won't see major discounts until right around Labor Day as opposed to the usual post-Fourth of July price drops.

Of course, there are a few exceptions:

My long-time favorite is The Attic, which is next door to Suncatcher Surf Shop (9425 2nd Avenue, Stone Harbor, 609-368-3488). The Attic is a catch all for what doesn't sell, or the odd sizes out, from Suncatcher and its sister store, Mimi's. Last time I stopped in, everything was 70 percent off. And there's no fine print or exceptions. EVERYTHING is deeply discounted. Some of the items sold are pricey to start, so even a slash through the price's heart isn't going to put it in a bargain hunter's price range. I've still managed a few steals. The first was a Juicy Couture tank top (and that was before anyone ever started to wear those valour track suits as going-out wear). I've picked up jewelry, bathing suits, and fleece jackets for me and my brothers. This year, I scored a pair of Roxy espadrilles, which I consider a coup since the shoe sizes tend to run small at the Attic. I guess no one wanted the size nine. Too bad for them. I picked up the pair for about $15.

Another shop to check out is Hot Stuff (3252 Dune Drive, Avalon, 609-967-7700). Look carefully for this one -- the clothing store is nestled inside a home decor shop, but there's usually a rack of sale clothes outside. Ask about the discounts because they're not clearly marked. I was there last weekend, and most of the jeans were 50 percent off. This was quality denim, too.

If you're in the mood to bargain shop until you drop, then head over to Atlantic City to The Walk (1931 Atlantic Avenue, Atlantic City, 609-872-7002), which is a bundle of prime time outlet stores. Most of the prices are bargains to start, and now the summer stuff needs to move to make room for fall shopping, you could hit the bargain jackpot. Your best deals will be at the Gap and Banana Republic outlets, especially if all you want are staple wardrobe pieces. Young women (or women who still like to dress like they're young) will appreciate the price slashes at the Guess? outlet. Guys, you can enjoy this one, too -- they do have men's clothing as well.

Not everything is always value, priced, though. I was disappointed at what American Eagle had to offer -- the stock didn't seem to be any different than what you'd find in a 'regular' store. I still don't feel like plunking down a few hundred dollars for a Coach bag, no matter how many rabid devotees were pawing the merchandise last time I stopped in, and I still score better deals on Reebok running gear at TJMaxx and Marshalls.

But to each his (or her) own. I picked up a cute white cotton t-shirt adorned with the image of a blue seahorse at Hot Stuff on Saturday. My mom nearly choked when she saw how much I paid for it, but I thought it was a steal. When I find something is perfect to wear out to a bar at the shore, to a movie date, and with shorts to Sunday brunch, I think I'm getting my money's worth.

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What to do in the Wildwoods

I'm working on "The Wildwoods" chapter today. No, that's not a typo -- it's called "The Wildwoods" because this section of the book covers three different towns on one five-mile island. I had no idea that North Wildwood, Wildwood and Wildwood Crest were three separate entities with three separate mayors. That says excellent things about how they work together in marketing themselves as a vacation spot.

One of great parts about the Wildwoods, and one of the things that I think has brought it out of the slump it hit in the 1980s and 1990s, is the events. There's things to do all year at the Wildwoods, and I'm kicking myself for not checking into this earlier because I've already missed the Sensational’60s Weekend, Wildwoods International Kite Festival, National Marbles Tournament, Polka Spree by the Sea, North Wildwood Original Italian-American Festival and the Cape May County Lifeguard Championship.

But not all is lost. This weekend is the Co-Ed Beach Ultimate Beach Frisbee Tournament. It'snot for the light Frisbee player. It's a fierce spot. When I interned at a news service in Washington, DC, I spent many lunches on the national mall watching the afternoon games. I'll be in Ocean City on Saturday for the Night in Venice parade, but hope to hop down to the Wildwoods Sunday to catch the beach-side action.

The non-summer seasons are busy in the Wildwoods, too, with an annual Irish Fall Festival, Halloween House Decorating Contest, Barbershop Quartet Weekend, Fabulous '50s Weekend and Wildwood Holiday Spectacular. As much as I joke that I'm not going anywhere near the shore after I finish the book, the Wildwoods might still be calling.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

A Little Piece of Mexico in Avalon

A big chunk of my book is dedicated to places to eat at the shore (tough job, I know). I found that most eateries fall into one of three categories: sandwich shop, pizza, Italian. I don't have a problem with any of these three types of restaurants, but I've had a heck of a time figuring out how to describe each one to make them sound unique.

That's one of the reasons I appreciate a place like Tortilla Flats (609-967-5658, 2540 Dune Drive, Avalon) -- that, and the stellar Mexican food served at this tiny BYOB.
They're so popular that they ordered a take-out only store up the street.
Start your night off with the tortilla chips, freshly warmed, and salsa (add a side of guacamole for an extra kick). The portions are larger than life, so you'll either be too hungry to eat until lunch the next day, have lunch in the form of leftovers -- or both. You can't beat the setting, either. Paper decorations hang from the ceilings, creating a cozy, low-ceiling feel, and the tiles are authentic Mexican. Don't worry about the BYOB problem if you want a margarita. They'll mix it up for you -- just add your own tequila.

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Bowling at the Shore

I wish I could start this blog with a happier post, but it just so happens that today is one of those days where you want to curl up in a ball and watch cartoons all morning. This isn't shore weather. Shore weather involves a nice sea breeze, low humidity and plenty of sun sun sun. The temps should then cool off a bit overnight, enough so that you can put on a light sweatshirt and still want ice cream. Instead, it's chilly, rainy and damp today, a day more suited for fall than the end of July.

What would be a good thing to do today? When I was a kid, I spent my summers at the South Jersey Shore (which is what this blog is going to be all about) in Avalon Campground. Yes, we stayed in a trailer, but we also had plenty of things to do -- go to the beach (if mom drove us), ride bikes through the woods, hang out by the pool, play a video game or two at the clubhouse. But on rainy days -- well, most of those options weren't available.

Our favorite thing to do was go bowling at the Showboat Hotel & Casino. Not only did we get to go bowling, which is obviously fun for four young kids, but we could walk past the casino areas, which was full of noise and lights (also obviously fun for four young kids). My mom would play a quarter slot or two, rarely win, but we'd cheer her on from the sidelines anyway.

But the bowling alley at the Showboat has long since closed. Instead, you can head down to Wildwood to bowl at 3J's . They're usually closed on Monday, but when it rains, they open up their doors and alleys to you and your antsy kids.

I won't be bowling today. Instead, I'll be working on my book, which is the reason behind this blog. The South Jersey Shore: Atlantic City through Cape May: Great Destinations will be published in April by Countryman Press. It's part of a series of informative, thorough and at times funny travel guides about great areas of the country. Being a life-long Jersey girl, I can't imagine why they didn't have a South Jersey shore book earlier, but it could be that not everyone gets the area like those who live here do. If you're from Philadelphia or the Philadelphia suburbs, you don't go to Ocean Grove, Belmar or Seaside Heights. You don't go up. You go down the shore. This book will give you the ins and outs of what's fun to see and do, along with a few stories of my adventures (or misadventures) in the course of doing research.

I thought I knew this area like the back of my hand. But my second day of research proved that I was completely wrong. Lucky for you, you can follow along as I discover what I should have known was there all along.

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