One summer, we landed in Wildwood because of our interest in neon signs and mid-century architecture.
The thing that attracted us to Wildwood were the dozens of mid-century motels still standing, though sadly, many have been razed to build condos.
There are three distinct towns on the barrier island: North Wildwood, Wildwood, and Wildwood Crest — where the greatest concentration of mid-century modern resorts still operate. The motels, are themed, with Vegas-like neon signs, plastic palm trees, and fantastical architecture.
Doo Wop Motels in Wildwood Crest
In Wildwood Crest, which is the family-oriented southern stretch of beach, you’ll find the Jolly Roger, the Astronaut, the Apollo, the Gondolier, the Safari, the Aztec, the Tangiers, the Viking, and many others.
The architectural style is known as Doo Wop, Googie, or Populuxe. These terms describe the kitschy style of Wildwood’s 200 motels built in the 1950s and 1960s.
According to Wikipedia:
Doo Wop motels generally include U-shaped or L-shaped designs of two or three stories, asymmetric elements, swimming pools, adjacent parking or second story sun decks over parking spaces, plastic palm trees, angular walls or windows, flat overhanging roofs, prominent neon signs and railing, bright colors, and a contemporary or fantasy theme.
The themes or sub-styles are classified as: Modern/Blastoff, Vroom, Chinatown Revival, Tiki (Polynesian Pop), and Phony Colonee.
The Doo Wop Preservation League has been working valiantly to preserve and restore the funky mid-century motels that are the signature of the Wildwoods.
Save Your Hotel Points for Someplace Else
There is one chain hotel on the island and that is a modern Day’s Inn. Wildwood is not the place to use your hotel points! Like other beach towns, you will find the lowest rates during the shoulder seasons — before school lets out and after Labor Day.
We drove into town on a the late weekday afternoon, without any reservations. We landed at The Shalimar, which we loved! It gets decididly mixed reviews on Trip Advisor, but it was right up our alley.
We Loved the Shalimar!
The Shalimar was built in 1961, and featured zigzag balconies and light purple paint. It was completely renovated in 2006, and the rooms were decorated in a retro style. The motel is a long block from the beach, and many rooms have an ocean view from the balcony.
This place was made to order for families. There is miniature golf and a ping-pong table on site. The heated swimming pool is small but kid-friendly, with a diving board, a slide, and a baby pool. There are outdoor grills you can use if you want to eat on the sun deck, and many rooms have complete kitchens.
The Beaches on Wildwood Crest
The beaches in Wildwood are beautiful — really wide sand beaches with plenty of room to spread out. Unlike many New Jersey towns, beach access is free.
The beaches are clean with numerous life guard stations, and the Atlantic ocean serves up big waves.
Down on the Boardwalk
There are tons of amusements for kids in Wildwood. The boardwalk runs for over two miles, with the usual arcades, shops, and pizza joints.
There are also the amusement piers, all five of them, with a water park, a giant water slide, carnival rides and games, a roller coaster, ferris wheel, and more.
My daughter and husband especially enjoyed the go karts!
The Doo Wop Experience Museum
The Doo Wop Experience and Neon Sign Garden is a showcase of architecture, design, music, and pop culture.
There’s a retro soda fountain inside where you can get a root beer float.
We went on an escorted bus tour of the Doo Wop motels. This volunteer-led tour is fabulous! The Doo Wop Preservation League also publishes a self-guided walking tour.
Great Italian Food in Wildwood
The pizza was great of course, but I didn’t expect to find fine bakeries, expresso, and fancy gelato ice cream!
When Cash Back Credit Cards are King
A Wildwood beach vacation is the kind of trip where a cash back credit card is a real advantage.
Because I like independent hotels and funky properties, I favor the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®. This credit card comes with a $400 bonus for new applicants — after spending $3,000 in the first ninety days. The $400 can be redeemed for travel expenses, such as lodging at independent motels. The card earns 2x points on all purchases, which I like to think of as a dedicated vacation fund. What’s more, you get back 10 percent on your points redemptions. See my definitive review here.
Four days was not enough time to do everything we wanted to do in Wildwood. We drove through Cape May on the way out, to see the Victorian homes. There, we caught the Cape May to Lewes, Delaware Ferry, which was a relaxing end to our beach vacation.
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