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A (Longish) Day Trip to Wildwood, NJ

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Doo-wop motel in Wildwood, NJ


I admit this “day trip” location – a three-hour drive with no traffic problems – is a bit too far for a real day-tip and I did stay the night in this fun-looking motel. (Just $95/night mid-week in early June before the schools let out).

I loved this funky motel with fake palm trees, outdoor party areas and original ’50s-era tile in the bathrooms. Then I discovered it’s no anomaly but part of the “Doo-Wop” style of motel architecture that makes Wildwood NJ so special and a blast to visit if you enjoy that sort of thing. I sure do. (Click here for a story about it on Curbed Philadelphia.) 

Doo-wop motel in Wildwood, NJ

I discovered that palm trees and party decks over parking lots are everywhere in Wildwood.

Doo-wop motel in Wildwood, NJ

From wiki and other sources I learned that a building boom began here after the completion of the Garden State Parkway in 1955. Over 300 motels were built in the 1950s and 1960s. and the ones that remain make up the Wildwoods Shore Resort Historic District.  The term doo-wop was coined by Cape May‘s Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts to describe the unique, space-age architectural style, which is also referred to as the Googie style.

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. References to popular culture or history were also common. The themes or sub-styles have been classified as: Modern/Blastoff, Vroom, Chinatown Revival, Tiki (Polynesian Pop), and Phony Colonee. The Blastoff style is reminiscent of the jet-age airports of the 1950s and 1960s. The Vroom style includes forward-thrusting building elements.

As a Greenbelter I was intrigued to read that “A tangent of Streamline Moderne (Art Deco’s slightly-more austere sibling), Googie went on to heavily influence retro-futurism (think: The Jetsons and Disneyland’s Tomorrowland).”

The Caribbean is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Gondolier_Doo-Wop NJ


Many of the remaining 100+ Doo-Wop motels are completely intact while others have gone upscale, like the famous Caribbean, with its newly renovated rooms that

have been professionally designed by New York-based interior designer Darleen Lev, and are a re-interpretation of classic 1950s kitsch, combining vibrant colors and giddy optimism with a flare for the exotic. A mix of authentic and retro-reproduced Eames-era furnishings along with enchanting “Caribbean Deco” colors and shapes now define the motel’s interior spaces, from the lobby to the lounge to the new “Doo Wop” rooms.

Doo-Wop motels in Wildwood, NJ

Condos in Wildwood, NJ

Fortunately these old motels now have supporters and even a preservation league, and the craze of tearing them down for condos may be over for good. Examples like the condo on the left here are far too common – condos for Anywhere, USA. The one in the right at least gives a nod to Wildwood style through color and those space-ace diagonal lines.

The Beach and Boardwalk

Wildwood’s boardwalk is famous for its length (3 miles) and a width that varies but in one spot holds an entire amusement park. Bikes are allowed on the boardwalk every day until noon. Click here for great photos of the boardwalk at night.

The beach is also very wide. Oddly wide! So wide that the part closest to the sidewalk is used for sporting events, concerts, and monster truck rallies. So it’s a bit of a schlep to get to the actual ocean.

wildwoodWhere is it?

Wildwood is about 10 miles north of Cape May, NJ. You can drive the whole way or, if you’re not in a hurry or are going there from the Delaware or Maryland beaches, take the ferry from Lewes.

Send us YOUR Day Trips, even the Longish Ones!

You’re invited to add your own day trip (within 3 hours or so of Greenbelt) to our growing collection. (Click here for the “Day Trip” category of blog posts.) Just snap some photos and send them with your comments to editor@greenbeltonline.com.

Follow Susan Harris:
Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012, and that first blog has grown into this nonprofit community website. She also created and curates the Greenbelt Maryland YouTube channel. In 2021 Susan joined the Board of Directors of Greenbelt Access TV. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog at GardenRant.com.

2 Responses

  1. Julie
    | Reply

    We were there several years ago, and I’d love to go back. Thanks for reminding me! Your description was perfect. Except I remember a boardwalk with a big Ferris wheel at the end of the pier. Still there?

  2. Barbara S. Glick
    | Reply

    I didn’t know about the architectural pull of a visit to Wildwood-now I really *have* to go. Thank you Susan!

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