jersey-shoreForget what you’ve heard about Snookie and the gang. The real Jersey shore is family friendly, lots of fun…and sometimes it’s even free. Check out these activities, which will give your clan a taste of the REAL Jersey shore:

1) Take to the beach in Wildwood. Yes, most Jersey shore locations do require beach tags, which will usually cost you $5-12 a day or from $20 to over $100 a season. Not so the beaches of Wildwood. All three beaches (North Wildwood, Wildwood and Wildwood Crest) are absolutely free… and growing in popularity as well as size.  Tired of the Doo Wop? Try Margate beaches on Thursdays or Sea Isle City on Wednesdays – both are “tagless” days.

2) Collect Cape May diamonds. Some of the prettiest souvenirs the shore has to offer are also free of charge. Cape May diamonds are actually seawater-smoothed pebbles of quartz found in abundance at Cape May Point, especially at Sunset and Higbee beaches. Take the kids to watch a sunset at this, the southernmost tip of the state, and gather a pocketful of the shiny, frosted pebbles as your take-home. Once used in Indian trading, they’re also great for crafts.

3) Check out Atlantic City – before the casinos moved in. The Atlantic City Historical Museum celebrates the “playground of the nation.” Show your kids memorabilia from the golden era of Steel Pier, when the diving horse ruled the wave. Or take your little princess to check out the extensive collection of Miss America souvenirs. Old fashioned bathing suits, vintage postcards and a giant Mr. Peanut are all housed here – and there’s free parking too!

4) See who has been rescued at the Sea Life Museum Marine Stranding Center in Brigantine. If your kids were as crazy about Dolphin Tales as mine were, they’ll love visiting the Stranding Center, which has responded to over 2500 rescue calls since its opening. Dolphins, seals, whales and sea turtles are brought here to be rehabilitated and eventually released back into the wild.

5) Walk with the animals at the Cape May County Park and Zoo. I may have saved the best for last. My family enjoys this zoological park, located in Cape May Court House, even more than they do the bigger (and more expensive) zoos in the city. Over 100 species of wildlife, including tigers, bears and buffalo, call the park home, and the walking trails through the giraffe and zebra plains rival Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge for up-close viewing. And the fun doesn’t end once you’re done with the animals. The park offers fresh water fishing, bike and jogging trails, tennis courts and a playground. The parking is free too, though donations are accepted at the front entrance.