by RYAN LOUGHLIN

There is a nasty rumor that has been circulating for years that the Jersey Shore only comes to life in the summer. Folks all around the tri-state area seem to believe that when the temperatures dip down low, the shore turns back into a pumpkin and lies dormant, waiting for the throngs of vacationers to return for another season of summer revelry. And while there is no denying the appeal our towns have during the warmer months, those who live here know that it’s the offseason that provides year-rounders the opportunity to enjoy the gems of South Jersey without standing shoulder to shoulder with flip-flopped intruders from Philly and North Jersey. So before you let yourself get too bummed out by the short days and cold nights, we have put together a Top 10 list of awesome activities to enjoy this winter before the summer craziness returns.

1. Relax at Smithville. While the crowds may be overbearing during the holiday season at this pinnacle of quaintness, once Santa has returned to the North Pole things quickly go back to normal at Smithville Village. That means it’s the perfect time to head down for a Saturday afternoon and explore the many shops, restaurants and attractions this enchanted hideaway has to offer. Smithville Village is located at 615 E. Moss Mill Road in Smithville. Go to HistoricSmithville.com for more info.

2. Cruise Cape May Zoo. Is there a more relaxing way to spend an afternoon than strolling through the zoo? We think not. And the Cape May Zoo stands out as one of the most affordable attractions on this list, as its entrance fee is a cool zero dollars. Yup over 250 species living on more than 85 exporable acres and you don’t have to pay a dime to see them! Of course donations are what keep places like this running, so if you can afford to give a little, we suggest you do so. The Cape May Zoo is located at 707 Route 9 in Cape May Court House. Go to CapeMayCountyNJ.gov for more info.

3. Explore Absecon Lighthouse. One of the simplest, yet most charming visual representations of the shore is a lighthouse. And the tallest and one of the most beautiful in the state is Absecon Lighthouse, located right in Atlantic City. Guests can visit year round and climb the 228 steps to the watchroom at the top. Cost to climb is $8 for adults, discounted rates apply for seniors, students and kids. This year Absecon Lighthouse celebrates its 162nd birthday and will have a party at Tennessee Ave. Beer Hall from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan 15. The event will feature specialty appetizers, live music and a unique selection of craft beers. Tickets are $50 each. For more info about the party call 609-449-1360. Absecon Lighthouse is located at 31 S. Rhode Island Ave. in Atlantic City. AbseconLighthouse.org.

4. Climb inside Lucy. A visual landmark and a symbol of Margate since its creation in 1881, Lucy The Elephant can be found on postcards and T shirts for more than a century, but how many of you locals have actually taken the time to step inside the belly of the big, gray beast that guards Atlantic Avenue? The offseason is the perfect time to cross that off your bucket list! Tours run every 30 minutes and take you on an adventure you aren’t soon to forget. Lucy the elephant is located at 9200 Atlantic Ave. in Margate. Go to LucyTheElephant.org.

5. Find new ways to win at the casino. One of the more frustrating aspects of visiting the casinos in Atlantic City is that they can get pretty packed in the summer. So if you are still bitter about not being able to get that reservation at Gordon Ramsay Steak at Harrah’s Resort this summer, we suggest you try again now. Thinner crowds mean more tables and staff members that are not swamped. Grab a drink after dinner, play some games and strut around like you own the place … for a little while anyway. Harrah’s is located at 777 Harrah’s Blvd. in Atlantic City. Go to Caesars.com for more info.

6. Check out the Aviation museum. Once an active dive bomber training station during world war II, Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum offers visitors a chance to see some incredible and historic aircraft up close and personal. An arsenal of fighter planes (over 26 aircraft displays in total) plus photographs and a variety of military memorabilia offer guests a chance to enjoy a hands on exploration of 1940s-era military aviation. The hangar is 92,000 square feet and is all indoors, making for a rain or shine experience like no other. Open Mondays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum is located at The Cape May Airport, 500 Forrestal Road in Rio Grande. For more info go to USNASW.org.

7. Go back in time at The Emlen Physick Estate Cape May is loaded with historic sites, but one of the most interesting is the Physick Estate. Built in 1879, this Victorian mansion is open for tours in which guests can marvel at the exquisite architecture, decorative arts and period pieces throughout. Fan s of the paranormal will enjoy searching for the many ghosts who are reported to take up residency at the estate including that of Dr. Physick’s Aunt Emilie who is known for her positive energy and great smile. A ghost with a great smile and positive energy? Nice change of pace. The Physick Estate is located at 1048 Washington St in Cape May. Go to CapeMayMac.org.

8. Embrace the ice at Flyers Skate Zone. As the old saying goes, if you can’t beat em, join em. So if the chill of the winter air looks to be sticking around for a while, it may be time to strap on a pair of skates and get out on the ice. While your local pond offers a certain unmistakeable charm, that experience comes with a certain amount of uncertainty and inherent danger. Flyers Skate Zone on the other hand offers public skating daily from 12:30-2:30 p.m. and from 8-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights with zero chance of falling through the ice to an inescapable watery grave. Score! Flyers Skate Zone is located at 501 N. Albany Ave. in Atlantic City. Go to FlyersSkateZone.com for more.

9. Take the dog to the beach. One spot that dogs seem to truly enjoy is the beach. The sand, the surf, the seemingly endless stretches of available play areas. We understand their enthusiasm. But sadly, most beaches simply don’t let our furriest of friends on them during the summer. But the offseason is a different story. Many (see: most) beaches will allow dogs during the less popular beach months, so grab a few tennis balls and your favorite retriever and head down to the sand (be sure to check the town’s website beforehand just to make sure it is indeed permitted, as each beach’s rules differ).

10. Find something fishy. At the A.C. Aquarium Gardners Basin is a hidden gem in itself. Though it’s located in Atlantic City, it somehow makes you feel like you are in a completely different environment. It’s picturesque waterfront views and laid back shops and restaurants help add to the vibe. But the crown jewel of Gardners Basin is the Atlantic City Aquarium. Inside you will find a myriad of exhibits and touch tanks featuring everything from sharks to horseshoe crabs and not a bit of frosty winter air to interfere with your good time. The aquarium is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Atlantic City Aquarium is located at 800 N. New Hampshire Ave. in Atlantic City. Go to ACAquarium.com for more info.

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Associate Editor, At The Shore/ACWeekly

Freelance reporter for At The Shore/Atlantic City Insiders from 2011-2015; Editor in Chief, MainStreetMarlboro.com,2014-2015; Writer for Zagat, 2013

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