There are five free ocean beaches in New Jersey: Atlantic City, where the glittering Boardwalk casinos provide a counterpart to the sun and surf; the Strathmere section of Upper Township in Cape May County, and the three beaches that collectively make up the Wildwoods: Wildwood, North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest. Due to natural currents and geography, these three beaches are super-wide. (Some beachgoers even complain it's actually TOO far from the boardwalk to the water.)
Cape May County offers beaches on Delaware Bay with a slower pace and calmer water, without the amenities of many oceanfront swimming spots. Many shore towns also host free fireworks displays on or near July 4.
There's no better place to engage in people-watching than on the boardwalks of the Jersey shore, and almost all of them are rebuilt and good as new in the second summer after Superstorm Sandy. The most popular include Seaside Heights, Wildwood, Point Pleasant Beach, Atlantic City, Belmar, Ocean City and Asbury Park. The smell of the ocean, the screech of seagulls and the aroma of fried food are all part of the boardwalk experience in many of these spots. A few steps westward, take a walking tour of immaculately restored and preserved Victorian homes in Cape May and Ocean Grove.
The Jersey shore is full of spots to drop a baited line or a wire trap over the side of a bulkhead, and come up with a bucket full of tasty blue claw crabs. They're biting now and will be through the end of September. And the beaches and jetties are prime surf-fishing spots after the lifeguards pack up and leave in the evenings.
Free concerts on the sand abound at the Jersey shore this time of year. Two of the biggest will take place in Atlantic City when country superstar Blake Shelton performs on July 31, and Lady Antebellum follows on Aug. 3.
The world-famous pageant that began in Atlantic City as a way to extend the summer tourism season for another weekend is back where it belongs after a brief desert fling in Las Vegas. Though tickets are required for the indoor competition events, the contestants greet the public in a free introductory outdoor event Sept. 3, and can be seen regularly on the Boardwalk during the two-week run-up to the Sept. 14 crowning of the new Miss America. The traditional ''show-us-your-shoes'' parade on the Boardwalk is adding more free viewing areas this year for the Sept. 13 event.