Once overrun by — you guessed it — wild woods, and inhabited only by bold Native Americans, the Wildwoods in Cape May County now host more than 9 million visitors each year.

The resort's popularity took off in the middle of the 20th century — a motel construction boom on the island accompanied what many consider to be the "birth of rock and roll."

Map of the Wildwoods in New Jersey. (Google Maps)
Map of the Wildwoods in New Jersey. (Google Maps)

The family-friendly stretch from North Wildwood through Wildwood Crest became a yearly destination for many. And as interest grew, so did the number of options for tourists.

Whether you're a frequent visitor looking to shake things up on your next trip, or you're interested in taking southbound exit 4A off the Garden State Parkway for the first time, here's a rundown of some things you may like to see and do during the summer, when "every day's a holiday and every night is a Saturday night."

Morey's Piers/Water Parks in Wildwood, NJ

Mariner's Amusement Pier, part of Morey's Piers (Kip Dawkins)
Mariner's Amusement Pier, part of Morey's Piers (Kip Dawkins)

Three waterfront amusement piers dot the boardwalk, each highlighted by signature roller coasters — The Great White (Adventure Amusement Pier), the Sea Serpent (Mariner's Amusement Pier), and The Great Nor'easter (Surfside Amusement Pier).

Mariner's and Surfside offer several ride options for kids of all ages and adults, and offer unique dining options. Adventure is geared more toward the thrill-seeking crowd and less toward children.

Morey's Piers also runs two water parks — Ocean Oasis and Raging Waters. Options at each go from relaxing, like the Endless River, to extreme, like Cliff Dive. Both parks offer water-play areas for the kids, as well as cabana and locker rentals.

Splash Zone, Wildwood (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)
Splash Zone, Wildwood (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)

A third water park, Splash Zone, is located on the street side of the boardwalk in Wildwood. You can't miss it — a maze of slides is topped by a giant yellow bucket that dumps 1,000 gallons of water every three minutes on brave waders below.

Ride the tram car through Wildwood, NJ

The Wildwoods Boardwalk Sightseer Tram Car Photo Caption: Wildwoods Boardwalk
The Wildwoods Boardwalk Sightseer Tram Car (Wildwoods Boardwalk)

It's 2.5 miles from one end of the boardwalk to the other, so you may need a lift from time to time.

The blue and yellow tram cars — specifically their vintage "watch the tram car, please" warning that blares endlessly on busy nights — are among the most iconic features of the 5-mile island.

You could say this ride gives you the most bang for your buck. On a summer night, you could spend 30 minutes riding from the northernmost point to the southernmost point of the boardwalk, and that would cost you $4.

Download the tram car app to get a free ride with your first purchase.

The boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ

Entrance ramp to boardwalk in North Wildwood (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)
Entrance ramp to boardwalk in North Wildwood (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)

Neither of the above options would be possible without the massive boardwalk, featuring more than 70,000 wooden planks, that runs through Wildwood and North Wildwood.

You don't have to step onto a pier in order to enjoy your time on the boards. The boardwalk is jam-packed with shops (including a mall), eateries, arcades, and other entertainment options, such as an aquarium.

During the summer months, a fireworks display runs every Friday night at 10 p.m. off the boardwalk, weather permitting.

Where to eat in Wildwood: MudHen

Mudhen Brewing Co., Wildwood
Mudhen Brewing Co., Wildwood

MudHen Brewing Company is arguably the most popular dining option in the area for locals and tourists, and it's only been around since April 2018. It's conveniently located on the main strip that takes visitors out of and onto the island.

Beyond a full restaurant menu, MudHen serves eight to 12 rotating beers that are brewed on-premises. Guests can grab a seat or pull up a stool in the main dining room, the upstairs lounge, the "garage" bar, or the outdoor seating area.

MudHen has a year-round live music schedule.

Where to eat in Wildwood: Duffer's

Duffer's via Instagram
Duffer's via Instagram

Restaurant. Ice cream parlor. Arcade. Miniature golf. Gift shop.

The Wildwoods are home to several must-visit eateries. But this spot along Pacific Ave. doesn't just serve food — it's a one-stop shop for parents looking to score some points with their kids.

Part of the charm of Duffer's is its "Victorian atmosphere," as the business describes it. There have been upgrades to the indoor dining room, but the architecture, servers' outfits and overall vibe of the restaurant continue to transport customers back in time.

Historians and local leaders consider the Wildwoods to be the birthplace of rock and roll.

Doo Wop legacy of Wildwood, NJ

Neon motel signs in Wildwood Crest, NJ - Photos: Chris Coleman
Neon motel signs in Wildwood Crest, NJ - Photos: Chris Coleman

About 100 so-called Doo Wop motels remain in business on the island. Take a drive down Atlantic or Ocean Avenue after sunset and you'll get a neon-laced tour of the space-age architectural style that took over the Wildwoods in the 1950s and 1960s, and continue to help the Wildwoods stand out from any other resort destination.

Historians and local leaders consider the Wildwoods to be the birthplace of rock and roll. Chubby Checker used the island to introduce the Twist dance craze, American Bandstand made several summertime appearances there, and Bill Haley and the Comets launched the hit "Rock Around the Clock" from a Wildwood hotel.

Those truly interested in the history of the island can visit the Doo Wop Experience, a museum, located across from the Wildwoods Convention Center. Outside is a neon-sign garden where you'll find fully-restored signs from classic Wildwood motels that have been demolished or remodeled.

What are the beaches in Wildwood, NJ like?

Americans Begin To Celebrate Fourth Of July Holiday Weekend At Jersey Shore
Getty Images

The beaches in the Wildwoods are among the few beaches in New Jersey that are completely free — there's no badge required, meaning there's also no line to get on the sand.

The five-mile stretch runs along Wildwood Crest, Wildwood, and North Wildwood. It's easily accessible from the boardwalk and through use of several entryways in the Crest and Wildwood.

A word of warning, though: these beaches are the widest on the East Coast, so in some spots, you may be walking the length of a couple football fields in order to reach the water.

Wildwood recently expanded parking to the beach, based on availability. Paid lots and metered parking are also available.

Fun on the water in Wildwood, NJ

Silhouette of strong man jumps on the jetski above the water at sunset

The land isn't hogging all of the fun in the Wildwoods. Casual and thrilling options are available at both the lake and ocean sides.

Among the activities that can be booked all summer long: a dolphin-watching speedboat tour, parasailing, jet-ski and paddleboard rentals, boat rentals, and fishing and crabbing piers.

Just for the kiddies: a Pirate Adventures cruise runs five times per day out of Starlight Fleet along Park Blvd.

Nightlife in Wildwood, NJ

Various bottles at a bar arragged in rows

North Wildwood parties hard during the in-season months, until 3 a.m. many nights.

Take New Jersey Avenue as far north as it'll let you, and you'll run into the destination for many of-age tourists on Friday and Saturday nights.

Some spots seem to shift to new themes and ownership every few years. A couple of staples continue to rock every summer with live entertainment, including Keenan's Irish Pub and Flip Flopz Beach Bar & Grill.

Other nightlife options on the island include MudHen (mentioned above), The Deck at Holly Beach, Old City Pub, Goodnight Irene's, and Cattle 'n Clover.

See the Wildwoods sign

WIldwoods sign
WIldwoods sign (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)

Come over the bridge into the Wildwoods and take Rio Grande Avenue toward the ocean, and you'll find what's likely the most photographed spot on the entire island.

A few signs welcome you to the Wildwoods on the way in, but this arguably is the real welcome sign in leaders' and tourists' eyes, standing 17 feet tall and surrounded by oversized (unpoppable) beach balls.

The public plaza is right along the boardwalk, next to the convention center.

Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ
Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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