As a summer-baby water sign (Cancerian), few places make me happier than the beach. That combination of salty air, ocean sounds, and warm sun soothes my soul and lowers my blood pressure. And with so many of my fellow New Yorkers retreating upstate, that ain’t me, babe. I’m not one for woods. Or bears. Or hawks that are hungry for small dogs. All of that is a hard no can do. Plus, I’m allergic to hiking.
But I’ve thought about life in a post-pandemic world and how remote work has opened up an expanse of thought regarding where to hang my hats. This brings me to a favorite spot, the South Jersey shore, aka the “Philly” shore, about an hour away from my hometown and one of the best stretches of beach around. Don’t tell New Yorkers.
Take the Hamptons.
Though I love the endless hydrangeas and beautiful shingle-style homes, the scene is too much. And you could go to Europe for a month for what it costs to stay there for a week. And though Montauk will always be a gorgeous energy center for me, the sea planes landing at sunset full of bros in Nantucket reds and Rolexes is a bummer.
So after many years of seeking a new destination, we found ourselves in Margate, located about 15 minutes from Atlantic City, which is supposed to be “up and coming,” but I’m not holding my breath. It’s still fairly gritty and, unfortunately, they have not figured out how to make AC desirable unless you are a pioneer, which you already know I am not.
For those unfamiliar, the Jersey Shore is large. You’ve got rock-and-roll Asbury closer to NYC. You continue down to Seaside Heights (made iconic by everybody’s favorite guidos and guidettes on The Jersey Shore) and further down the coast to sleepy Long Beach Island. Then you reach my favorite stretch of real estate, which goes from Ventnor to next-door neighbor Margate to Cape May. There are many beautiful towns to enjoy here. Ocean City has a fantastic boardwalk if skee ball, mini-golf, and frozen custard are your thing. Avalon and Stone Harbor feel blonde and preppy. And Cape May is famous for its charming Victorian homes and excellent shopping. It’s my favorite day trip from Margate, hands down. I love the shops, and Givens Circle is always on my list as a spot to secure my favorite Jungmaven tees or Black Crane cotton dresses.
But besides fun excursions, Margate has some of the nicest beaches on the East Coast. Broad expanses of beach and waters that are not nearly as rough as Montauk. And laid back Ventnor and its somewhat more upscale sister Margate (famous for Lucy the Elephant, which just enjoyed a restoration) hosts a large population of Philadelphia Jews. In many ways it is like coming home, with major mishpocha appeal.
So lovely beaches and bloodlines aside, could I live here?
Though Margate is an all-year-round town, this stretch of beach towns is notoriously seasonal, though the pandemic changed that. As a child, it would be rare for people to go to the beach past Labor Day, but that has changed, and the sense of Shining-like winter isolation is not as much a thing, though it is quiet.
And to be honest, that’s sexy to me. I’ve always fantasized about living somewhere quiet in the winter to learn something new, like cooking a coq au vin, reading a book a week, or dedicating the cold months to getting into tremendous shape without distraction. Think purposeful hibernation vs “Here’s Johnny!”
Margate has beautiful homes but lacks the pretension of the Hamptons. However, you can still find good shopping at stores like Knit Wit for summer wardrobe staples and gourmet markets like Casel’s, our favorite for everything from fabulous whitefish salad to the best snacks. There are also some great dining options. I love Tomatoes for a bit of a scene and sushi (weird with the name), and Steve and Cookie’s has inventive food with a friendly vibe. Big shout out to all the great breakfast joints like Hannah-G’s and my fav, Water Dog, who has the best breakfast sandwiches and always seems to be playing the Dead. If you’re a barfly, Maynard’s is a fun, lowkey spot for margs al fresco and classic rock. Because the Jersey Shore is classic-rock summer all the way.
And since Margate is only one hour from Philly and two and a half hours from New York, I could easily pop up to the big city for haircuts and cultural inspo. It is also super dog-friendly, relatively quiet, and lacks pretension. In the summer, there are many free concerts, beach yoga, and loads to do.
But you can’t talk about beach living without talking about climate change. Owning a house at the beach is beyond risky and potentially catastrophic. The price of owning in paradise just got a whole lot steeper, and that’s frightening.
And speaking of price, according to www.realtor.com, the median listing home price in May 2023 in Margate City, NJ was $1.8M, trending up 47.9% year-over-year. The median listing home price per square foot was $601. The median home sold price was $850K. So it’s not like the Hamptons, but like many places, there’s been a boom since Covid, which drove up prices. Next door neighbor Ventnor City is a good bit cheaper. In May 2023, the median listing home price in Ventnor City, NJ was $624K, trending up 10.6% year-over-year. The median listing home price per square foot was $403. The median home sold price was $533K.
Politically, most folks seem moderate and, interestingly for our crowd, residents in Ventnor City are typically middle-aged adults, with a median age of 49. There is a high level of fitness and, on any given morning, you will see people riding their bikes or running on the boardwalk or kayaking on the bay (a pastime akin to hiking on the sea, but different strokes).
There is a strong sense of community, and residents are friendly but not overbearing. In my experience, beach towns have a good vibe because buying at the beach is a lifelong dream for many people, and I, for one, feel inspired in places where dreams are fulfilled.
But good vibrations and dreams aside, could I live there?
Though I have never been a small-town girl, and I ran kicking and screaming from Philadelphia (a big city that didn’t suit me), there’s just something about this stretch of ocean that soothes my soul. I can also see creating a successful business there, like a pop-up boutique or a few other things I’ll keep under wraps so you don’t steal them. Being at the beach year-round would be a dream and perhaps worth leaving Brooklyn for. Plus, the demography allows one to think about retirement in a less fatalistic way. The city is close enough for emergencies and otherwise, but the ocean is there for peace of mind. So climate and health emergencies aside, the answer for this water sign is a resounding yes.
Talk to me in the comments. XO