A season begins on New Jersey’s “Best Beach”

Posted: May 27, 2014

OCEAN CITY, N.J. - Three generations and 74 years later, Anne Mills, of Lemoyne, Pa., still finds the beach and boardwalk here just as enchanting as she did the first time she saw it as a 3-year-old.

So it was no surprise to her that the Cape May County resort had been awarded a long list of accolades - including New Jersey's "Best Beach" - in the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium's 2014 Top 10 Beach contest announced last week.

"I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather be . . . it's perfect here for me," Mills said Monday as the long Memorial Day weekend ended just about as perfectly as it had begun - with ideal weather for the throngs who came to the Jersey Shore to play in the sand, run along the chilly surf, and stroll the boardwalks.

"The town looked like it was the Fourth of July instead of Memorial Day weekend," said Michele Gillian, executive director of the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce. "Parking spaces were very scarce everywhere."

Some, like Mills, are now down for the season, while others, like most of her extended family and thousands of others, would return home to school, jobs and other responsibilities before summer officially kicks in.

The picture-perfect weather over the weekend, which culminated with a variety of military remembrance services on Monday in Ocean City, Wildwood and Cape May, among other Shore towns, was the ideal start to a summer season with a lot of promise, Gillian said.

She was among the local officials celebrating Ocean City's "Best Beach" honors, the result of a survey by the Sea Grant Consortium and Richard Stockton College that has been conducted nearly every year since 2008.

The contest was suspended last year as the Jersey Shore recovered from Hurricane Sandy and the consortium ran a beach photo contest, instead.

With the results based on votes collected online, this is the first year that one resort has swept the top honors. Besides "Best Beach," Ocean City was named the best destination for a family vacation, best day-trip beach, and best beach for ecotourism, according to contest officials.

Mills, whose parents first brought her to the seaside resort by train and who has returned every year since to savor summer and "remember all the magical times," needed no survey results to affirm how special Ocean City is.

"I still feel that same excitement every time we come over the bridge into town," she said as she sat on a boardwalk bench slurping a chocolate ice cream cone. "So I always brought my children here to enjoy it like I did as a child."

Over the holiday weekend, she was joined by 16 members of her family - children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The nine other beaches named on the Top 10, in order, are Wildwood, Wildwood Crest, North Wildwood, Cape May, Belmar, Stone Harbor, Asbury Park, Sea Isle City, and Island Beach State Park.

This year was the first time that the towns known collectively as "The Wildwoods" - Wildwood, Wildwood Crest and North Wildwood - competed as individual destinations. Four out of the last five times the contest was held, the Wildwoods won the top spot. Contest officials did not comment on how it was determined that this year the towns would be listed individually for voting.

Long Beach Island, or LBI, which includes several resort locales, had also previously competed as a single entry. Competing individually, none of the LBI towns made the Top 10.

Towns along the shore take the contest quite seriously, according to Claire Antonucci, executive director of the consortium.

One town, Asbury Park, even put up a billboard soliciting votes, she said.

"New Jersey residents are more and more aware of the fact that they have been blessed with an incredible amount of beautiful beaches - 130 miles of coast," Antonucci said.

Ocean City's Gillian said she and others in the beach town are glad so many people love the place that is called "America's Greatest Family Resort."

"It's a real honor for us that so many people felt so strongly about their love of Ocean City," Gillian said.

jurgo@phillynews.com

609-652-8382

@JacquelineUrgo

www.inquirer.com/downashore

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