It’s the first holiday weekend of the summer season, and despite the weather forecast being pretty mediocre for shore-going, expect the roads to be packed. Really packed.
According to AAA, there will be an estimated 977,000 people traveling in the state of New Jersey this Memorial Day weekend, which accounts for any trip longer than 50 miles. The trek from Philly to Atlantic City, for example, is 60 miles. Per AAA’s South Jersey representative Rich Bradley, those nearly one million people translate to 881,000 vehicles on the roads between Friday and Monday. “And chances are,” Bradley said, “you’ll be behind every one of them.”
Not if we can help.
Here are five tips for possibly avoiding that ridiculous shore traffic. Protip: If you’re reading this after noon, you’re already dead.
1. Avoid the Expressway to the Parkway
Look, we get it. You love the southern Jersey beaches you went to as a kid. That perfect slice of Manco’s pizza. The go karts under Mariner’s Pier in Wildwood. The Auntie Anne’s on the promenade in Sea Isle because there’s like nothing else on the promenade in Sea Isle. We’ve been there. (Literally, hundreds of times.)
No matter what your beach of choice may be, do not try to take the AC Expressway to the Garden State Parkway. Not this weekend. Not any weekend. “You’re looking at a 60-mile parking lot, then you’re looking at a 30-mile parking lot,” Bradley joked. (Note: He wasn’t joking.)
If at all possible, avoid the Expressway, which is awful as soon as you get over the bridge into Jersey and pretty much awful until exit 7s, where it becomes unbearably awful.
The best way to get to the southern beaches is admittedly circuitous, but more enjoyable. Try to take Rt. 30 all the way down to just outside AC, then hop on Rt. 9 to your beach of choice. Rt. 30 isn’t the fastest way to the shore, no, but traffic shouldn’t be too bad and you can stop at every farm stand from Hammonton to Absecon on the way down. Oh, if you’re hungry near Chesilhurst, stop at Brother Bear’s BBQ. Yep, it’s just a big truck on the northbound side of the road with a couple of huge smokers. You’re welcome.
2. The really scenic routes
There are parts of Rt. 30 that are wonderful, easy drives. And there are parts that go through every small town from Camden to Collingswood and Lawnside to Lindenwold. Here are some less direct ways than all the lights on Rt. 30 that could prove faster — or at least less stop-and-start — on a busy holiday weekend.
• Take Rt. 70 to Rt. 73 to Rt. 30. That avoids the miles of potential traffic on the White Horse Pike through Haddonfield and Somerdale but still gives you a chance to experience the miles of traffic on Rt. 73 through Marlton and Voorhees. I mean, seriously, who thinks it’s a good idea to drive in New Jersey on a holiday weekend in the summer…other than almost a million people?
(Protip #2: Take the Ben Franklin bridge to Rt. 70 to Brace Rd., near Ponzio’s Diner, and turn right. Take Brace Rd. about half a mile to Pearl Croft Rd. and make a left. Take that through a neighborhood to Kresson Rd. and make another left. Take Kresson Rd. to Springdale Rd. and make a right. Springdale turns into White Horse Rd. at Evesham Rd. Take White Horse Rd. to the next light and make a left on Rt. 561, then take that all the way until it hits Rt. 73 at Palace Diner and avoid almost all the awful highway traffic I just mentioned. And yes I just took you to two Jersey diners without even trying. There are more diners coming.)
• Take Rt. 73 past the AC Expressway ramp and get onto Rt. 322. Actually, if you can bear the I-95 South traffic down to the Commodore Barry Bridge, you can even take 322 the whole way down the shore. There are even some farm stands there. Rowan University is also on that path, so traffic does bottleneck a little because of the circles on their campus, but it’s not as bad as exit 7S. Nothing is.
• Take Rt. 55 Rt. 40. If Rt. 42’s got you down, get off in Deptford and try Rt. 55. Be mindful, the first few miles of the drive is awful. It’ll make you wish you were stuck in Expressway traffic. But most of the drive down 55 is fast and you can pick up Rt. 40 to connect to the Parkway, Rt. 9 or even Rt. 50. Just hope you don’t get caught behind a truck.
• Take Rt. 38 or Rt. 70 to Rt. 206. Hellllllllo farmland. This is the most out of the way route to get to the shore for sure, but you can bet there won’t be traffic on most of your trip down Rt. 206. Plus you get to visit the wonderful yet seldom-touristed towns of Tabernacle and Shamong. Feel free to stop by Leisuretown on your way through. Pass Hog Farm Rd. and it’ll be on your left. Then drive through the Pine Barrens, watch out for devils, and connect to Rt. 30 to all your major southern beachy thoroughfares.
3. Take a train to AC
Who really wants to drive this weekend? Nobody. So don’t. Take public transportation.
NJ Transit runs from 30th St. Station to the Atlantic City Rail Terminal for a cost of $10.75. It’s about a five- or six-block walk to Caesars and the boardwalk, but that’s through the not awful parts of AC with tons of swanky new shops.
Or you can take the El to PATCO at Eighth & Market to Lindenwold Station for $3.00, then walk downstairs and hit the NJ Transit train there for $5.25. Pack a bag (or a suitcase) and you don’t even have to worry about driving or taking a rideshare to the train station. Oh, and you can catch a bus from AC to Wildwood if a boardwalk full of casinos isn’t your thing. It’ll only take two hours or so from there.
4. Try the northern beaches
For most people in Philly and the surrounding suburbs, anything north of Atlantic City is considered a northern beach. I had friends who went to LBI every summer and it was like they were vacationing in Nantucket it was so far north — and from where I grew up, LBI is actually latitudinally south. Alas, if it wasn’t Wildwood or Cape May or Sea Isle or Ocean City, it wasn’t the Jersey Shore we knew. It was one of those northern beaches where Mets fans went.
And yet, From Philly to Surf City, LBI is 62 miles. Take Rt. 70 to Rt. 72 and you’re there. It’s not the circle with the Red Lion Diner. It’s the next one, with the Wawa. No, the other Wawa. Without traffic, and getting through Philly unscathed, that’s about a 1.5 hour drive.
Philly to Wildwood? 90 miles via the Expressway to the Parkway. So, sure, while you think it will only take you an hour and a half, you’re looking at a cool 2-to-2.5 hours in the car for sure. You could take Rt. 55 down through Millville, but even that’s 82 miles.
Other non-LBI northern beaches:
When we say northern beaches, we’re not talking Sea Bright or Keansburg north. More like central north. Almost an hour closer than Cape May north.
AAA wasn’t able to provide data as to which roads will be the most congested, but it’s hard to imagine any highway being as mobbed as the Garden State Parkway this weekend. Bradley called making that drive to the southern beaches a “right of passage” for people from Philly and the ‘burbs. But fun fact: You can get to every northern Jersey beach from Philly without ever going on the Parkway.
Point Pleasant is 75 miles away from Philly — 15 miles closer than Wildwood! — and is a straight shot up I-95, I-295 or the NJ Turnpike, then across the state via I-195, past Great Adventure, then down Rt. 34.
Estimated time? Less than LBI. Way less than Wildwood.
And if a nice boardwalk with fun things for kids and adults isn’t your thing, don’t get off 195 at Rt. 34. Take it until it ends, and turns into Rt. 138. That will turn into Rt. 35 and take you to Belmar, which is probably the closest thing the northern beaches has to Ocean City — if OC wasn’t a dry town — and it’s only 10 miles longer of a drive, with surely less traffic.
(Protip #3: Seaside Heights is the northern version of Wildwood. Don’t go to Seaside Heights. But, you could to go Lavalette or Ortley Beach. Best way? Take the Ben Franklin Bridge to Rt. 70 and stay on it for 60 miles. Take Rt. 37 through Toms River until you see water, then make a left. You can also take Rt. 70 until it ends, then pick up Rt. 88 and take that to Point Pleasant. There are a lot of one-lane stretches on Rt. 70 though, so be okay with passing slower cars or trucks.)
5. Avoid the busy beach towns altogether
There’s something to be said about walking the boards and picking up a box of salt water taffy from Fralinger’s or a cone Kohr Bros. But there’s also something to be said about getting more than three square feet of sand for all your stuff. You want to throw a frisbee? Good. Luck.
Or, try less touristy towns like Avalon, Stone Harbor or Brigantine. There may be some private/resident-only beach areas to deal with, but you’ve driven this far already, so you can get creative. And this isn’t to suggest those beaches won’t be crowded. Just less so.
Also try Margate — yeah, there’s Lucy the Elephant — or Longport, which has a great area for families, rather than Ocean City. If you do try Ocean City, try the beaches down near 50th Street, where there are just houses and fewer tourists (except all the shoobies who read this before you) because it’s way past the boardwalk.
There’s also the south beach of Brigantine, which after a few hours in the car might be a good spot to settle in with fewer people. Plus, it’s right across the Absecon inlet from Atlantic City. Take 30 (or the Expressway) to Brigantine Blvd, past Borgata, Harrah’s and the Golden Nugget and through Brigantine. All the glitz and glamour of being near the casinos without losing any of your money. Except on tolls and gas and maybe parking and probably beach tags.
Enjoy the weekend. And if you’re planning to come back Monday, leave Sunday.