In the mythology of King Arthur Avalon was an island, an earthly paradise in the western seas, where Arthur and other heroes were carried at death. Also known as "The Island of the Blest," Avalon was said to be the abode of Oberon, King of the Fairies, who was endowed with magical powers.
Its namesake is the island jewel of Avalon, N. J. Set between The Wildwoods and Ocean City, Avalon and Stone Harbor share a barrier island that was originally dubbed “Seven Mile Beach.” Traveling south Dune Drive, the main drag, connects Avalon and Stone Harbor.
They say Avalon is “cooler by a mile.” And, it really is. It juts out into the Atlantic Ocean about a mile farther than its neighboring Jersey shore towns. That’s one mile further than any other New Jersey beach town. The Intracoastal Waterway lies to the west and the Atlantic Ocean on the east. Avalon’s newly protected pristine beaches are habitats for both surfers and terrapin turtles. You’ll also find the beaches far less crowded.
While boardwalks, amusement parks, and commercial development have overpowered most of the Jersey Shore, Avalon and Stone Harbor have stayed relatively sprawl-free. Seven Mile Beach has preserved a large portion of the natural vegetation-covered dunes that protect its wide beaches. Its dunes are one of the few remaining high dune systems on the East Coast--the highest on the Jersey Shore. It creates the perfect home for plants and small animals indigenous to the area.
In its earliest days the barrier island that was covered with an abundance of juniper tree and was utilized by fishermen, game hunters, sailors and for grazing cattle until the late 1800s when a developer from Philadelphia purchased 3,000 acres for a resort town. In 1914, its neighbor to the south, Stone Harbor was incorporated. The three areas in the northern part of the island--Peermont, Holiday Beach, and Avalon--gradually merged and became one community under the name of Avalon.
“The town was then named by the Rev. Charles H. Bond, secretary of the Seven Mile Beach Company,” said Avalon History Center Director Joseph Angemi Jr. “Bond was a devoted fan of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and named the island after the place of legend where King Arthur was said to be buried.”
By the late 1950s Avalon experienced a building boom. Today, all but a few blocks of the island's shoreline are fronted by large, well-spaced homes that give the area the feel of an exclusive private enclave.
Ever wonder why is Dune Drive so wide? Originally, it was the site of the town’s railway and all its activity. It wasn't until 1946 that the road was paved to Stone Harbor. And it wasn't until 1972, until the imposing causeway, today known as the 30th Street Bridge, was completed. Unlike nearby beach towns, there has never been a commercial boardwalk on Seven Mile Beach.
The 21-acre Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary is internationally known by ornithologists and bird lovers a site that formerly hosted thousands of beautiful colonial water-birds such as the black-crown night heron, snowy egret, great white heron, little blues and tricolor herons. Stone Harbor’s Wetlands Institute is devoted to teaching about the delicate ecosystems of the sensitive shore areas and marshes and how to preserve them. Hawks, raptors, songbirds and seabirds visit the wetlands. It is a significant wading bird breeding habitat and migratory songbird stopover. But beware some of the beaches may be closed because endangered birds—piping plovers and least terns—have chosen to nest there.
Hop aboard one of the Miss Avalon's four-hour charters; stay inshore (5 to 15 miles out) for blues and striped bass, or head out to open water for marlins or sharks on an overnight trip. Its surf fishing tournament runs from Sept 15 - Nov 14. Looking for a stronger workout? Rent a kayak from Moran’s Dockside and get up close view of Avalon's pristine back-bay ecosystem.
The fall season in Avalon and Stone Harbor vacations mean better rates and less crowding. Even though it's too cold to swim, many of the shops, stores, and restaurants are still thriving. There are few events staged, including the Chamber's Annual Seafood Festival (Oct. 6-7) that features fresh seafood vendors, chowder contest, live music, vendors and more.
The Windrift Resort Hotel is “party central” in Avalon. Celebrating its 45th anniversary, last winter the “Drift” underwent a major facelift of the hotel, rooms, pool, and dining and bar facilities. It boasts five distinctive bars/lounges with four live music spots. The best addition is the spectacular ocean view bar and restaurant on the second level. Tuesday wing nights attract especially large crowds and some of the region’s best bands. Try a Beergarita or few. Wednesday you find “Dueling Pianos” at a downstairs bar. And as always, everything at the “Drift” is just steps from the beach.
Start your mornings at Kohler’s Bakery on the corner of 27th & Dune Drive where you will find several dozen patrons coming and going for those habit-forming “sticky buns,” coconut macaroons and cream donuts that many recall from their childhood days at the beach.
Dune Drive is filled with one-of-a-kind stores and restaurants. Check out the Avalon Seafood & Produce Market for “Gourmet to Go” apps, meals, sides and desserts. Café Loren is the town’s first fine dining BYOB. Dine at the Seafood Grille and you order directly from the chef.
At the Princeton the beer flows, the bands play, and everyone meets for a good time. A longtime watering hole the “new” Princeton refers to three distinct areas within the same expansive space on the corner of 21st Street and Dune Drive. You may also drink and dance weekend nights away at the Whitebriar’s Mermaid Inn.
There is a lively happy hour with their signature cocktails at Fuze at 79th Street, but the focus is where it should be: on the food itself. Sashimi, Crispy Calamari and Rock Shrimp Caramelized Day Boat Scallops and Citrus Poached Shrimp got our evening rolling.
It’s all right here in Avalon, a treasured island all its own.