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July 31-August 1

The Jersey Shore

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With Virginia Beach so close, many a Richmonder has never set foot on the Jersey Shore. Change that this year. Ditch work a few hours early on Friday, pack up the kids and grandmom, and head up I-95 for the five-ish hour trip. Cape May may be quainter and Atlantic City may be glitzier, but for the real Jersey Shore experience — hot, lazy days and breezy boardwalk nights — there's no place like Ocean City. It's a dry town, and sort of old-fashioned: The town still hosts an annual baby parade on the boardwalk.

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Book a couple nights at any of Ocean City's motels near the boardwalk and beach, such as the Pebble Beach Motor Lodge at 900 Wesley Ave. (starting at $118 per night).

Saturday morning, pack up the beach blankets, shovels and pails, sunscreen and cold drinks and hit the beach. Beach tags are required and can be purchased at many locations, but it's more convenient to simply wait for the beach tag "police" to come by and just purchase tags on the spot. Restrooms are located at 1st, 6th, 12th, 34th and 58th streets. Drop your blanket accordingly.

If some in your party enjoy combing shops more than beaches, direct them to Asbury Avenue, an old-fashioned avenue of antique shops, galleries and boutiques.

After a full afternoon of sunning (or spending) regroup at the hotel for the evening activities. You've got lots of options. You could do a full meal — Italian is the cuisine of choice here — and no one does it better than Cousin's at 104 Asbury Ave.

But the real Ocean City culinary experience is to eat from one end of the boardwalk to the other. Along the way you can have a slice of true boardwalk pizza at Mack & Manco's at 7th, and waffles and ice cream at Prep's Pizzeria & Dairy Bar at 10th. At 9th is Shriver's, where you can watch taffy artists spin the colorful goo into something that actually becomes not only edible but mouthwatering. The most important eating stop of the night is Johnson's Popcorn at three locations on the boards. Just look for the red-and-white awning. Johnson's has been an Ocean City boardwalk fixture since 1940 and draws crowds to its little booths with the alluring sight and smell of caramel corn being mixed up in large copper kettles. Buy a refillable tub. They'll ask you if you want the lid on. Say no. Then they'll give you a giant mound of warm, sticky caramel corn and hand you the lid. Eat your way down until you can snap the lid in place.

For the kids, the boardwalk is the ultimate thrill. Kiddie rides abound at Playland and Wonderland piers. Wonderland boasts a 137-foot Ferris wheel that's an Ocean City landmark. Ride tickets cost 75 cents each (most rides are four to six tickets) and can be purchased in bulk at a savings. There's also a killer mini-golf course on the boardwalk with a giant pirate ship the kids can explore.

After a night on the boards, the kids will be exhausted. Here's where bringing grandmom comes in. Tuck them in, say goodnight, get your good clothes on and dart over to Atlantic City, about a 20-minute drive. There, the boardwalk is one casino after another. Casino hopping can be fun if you're just looking, but frustrating if you're really playing. Stake your claim at the Trump Plaza at Mississippi Avenue, one of A.C.'s more elegant casinos. The gaming tables — blackjack, craps, baccarat, for example — seem to cater to the above-average player but there's a slot machine for every budget, from the low-brow nickel slots to the high-end $1 Embassy Slots. Play for a bit (set a limit!) and then catch the inimitable Tom Jones at the 10 p.m. show. (Tickets are $55 each; call 1-800-232-2465 for info.)

Sunday morning, pack up early and head straight for any of the numerous bike rental shops along the boardwalk. The little ones will love it if you rent a surrey (with the fringe on top!) or even tandem bicycles. Bikes are $5 an hour, surreys are $10. Pedal along the 2-mile boardwalk and stop for breakfast at any of the waterfront cafes before hitting the highway and heading home.

Once you've gotten a taste of the Jersey Shore — and Johnson's Popcorn — you'll want to go back. Maybe a whole week next

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