Perched 400 feet above the Atlantic, hanging below a large, bright blue parachute, are a man and woman parasailing. They soar through the sky like a pair of shorebirds while a towrope tethers them to a speedboat racing through the coastal waters of Stone Harbor, N. J.
The picturesque beach town of Stone Harbor, which this summer celebrates its 100th anniversary since being incorporated, is located on the southern end of a narrow barrier island between The Wildwoods and Ocean City.
Beachgoers over the age of 12 must carry beach tags that are sold in daily, weekly, or seasonal increments. In part, the fees help support healthy living sand systems full of trees, shrubs, and plentiful reed grass. The dunes themselves rise to more than 40 feet in some places.
Thanks to a tight grip on development, Stone Harbor remains a small, quiet, residential seashore town. The borough attracts a summer population of upwards of 25,000 people, but that number pales in comparison to other Jersey shore resorts. Its streets are lined with elegant Victorian and American Foursquare-style houses snuggled alongside vine-covered, single-story cottages, many of which date back to the early 1900s.
The town’s quaint shopping district centers on 96th Street, where you’ll find upscale clothing shops, charming art galleries, scores of specialty shops, intriguing restaurants, a bookstore, and a vintage ice cream parlor. There’s even an old-timey movie theater for rainy afternoons.
A boutique hotel, The Reeds at Shelter Haven, opened its doors last June on the corner of 96th Street and Third Avenue. The name references the elegant Shelter Haven Hotel, which was constructed in 1912 on the same spot. Comprised of 37 rooms and suites, The Reeds is a three-story, cedar-shake building that overlooks Shelter Haven Bay. Design touches include wrought-iron cattails, glass mosaic walls, and driftwood inspired chandeliers. New amenities this season include paddle boarding and early-morning yoga classes.
The Reeds offers one of the best one-two dining punches of any South Jersey resort. The Water Star Grille takes full advantage of its generous panorama of the bay and gorgeous sunsets. It features an outdoor kitchen, a lively wraparound bar, and casual deck dining under chic orange umbrellas. Indoors at the more intimate SAX, a fresh burst of culinary energy is delivered by executive chef Tim Hamill.
Ringo Starr visited Stone Harbor in June; well, sort of. Tucked across from The Reeds is Ocean Galleries, with its ever-changing display of local artists’ watercolors, nationally recognized artists’ originals, popular beach prints, and high-end reproductions. The Beatles’ iconic drummer’s artwork sold for $1,800 to $8,000, with all buyers invited to a meet-and-greet reception with Starr in Atlantic City.
A short stroll up Third Avenue brings you to Springer’s Homemade Ice Cream, where lines leading to the clapboard building sometimes span an entire block, but few complaints are heard once the scrumptious handmade ice cream is tasted.
Ristorante Luciano is one of the town’s most pleasurable dining experiences. Its walls are adorned with a handful of well-chosen black-and-white photos of an earlier era. Luciano is the chef, brother Joe is the front man, and their mother still makes the pasta daily. Don’t miss the homemade cheese gnocchi—a Stone Harbor gem. Reservations at the BYOB are a must, as the 75 seats go quickly.
Also a BYOB, Jay’s on Third has a lovely and thoughtful menu driven by fresh ingredients and splendid creativity.
Locals favor Donna’s Place at 107th Street for breakfast and lunch. Taylor Swift worked there as a teen.
Stone Harbor’s Farmers Market, staged each Sunday morning in July and August, is a landmark in its own right. There’s also Kenny’s Fish Market, where you can get your selections cooked to take out or you can buy your favorites and cook them as you prefer.
When the sun goes down, the Windrift Resort Hotel on 80th Street is party central. Renovated in recent years, it boasts five distinctive bars and lounges with four live music spots. The best addition is the ocean view bar and restaurant, located on the second level. The Windrift books some of the region’s best bands. Wednesday nights you can find “Dueling Pianos” at a downstairs bar. Tuesdays are famous for “Wing Night.” Stop by and try a Beergarita or two.
You can find wild life of a different variety at the Wetlands Institute. Situated on 6,000 acres of coastal wetlands, the Institute is a living laboratory where more than 40,000 visitors each year learn about life on this thin ribbon between land and sea.
Pay a visit to the 21-acre Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary. Internationally known by ornithologists, it hosts thousands of beautiful colonial water birds. Guides educate visitors on the delicate ecosystems of the sensitive shore areas and marshes.
Stone Harbor has always been an unassuming, quiet community first, and a beach resort second. For those looking for a laid-back holiday, you can’t do much better than the ocean breezes, plentiful wildlife, multitude of dining options, and a beguiling small town charm. Happy 100th, guys!