By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Sitting on the sand by the dunes, Steve and Tess Protesto took a look down the beach in both directions and saw … virtually no one.
Along with their 4-year-old son, Jason, who was busy playing with a toy tug boat in a tidal pool, the Protestos had a long stretch of the Sea Isle City beach all to themselves on a glorious autumn Sunday afternoon. Only the seagulls kept them company.
“It’s pretty neat. It’s very peaceful. It’s our son’s favorite place,” Tess said of the beach.
The Protestos drove down from their home in Media, Pa., to spend the weekend at the shore at their family’s vacation house on 43rd Street.
This time of year offers them the best of both worlds: The weather is still relatively mild and the throngs of summer tourists are gone, giving them the freedom to go shopping, have dinner or spend a leisurely day at the beach without having to fight the crowds.
“We’ve been at the playground, the beach, the pizza place and the candy store,” Tess said. “It’s surprising how many places are still open.”
People who visit the shore this time of year say they relish the solitude. Pam and Joe Graziano, of Havertown, Pa., strolled along Sea Isle’s Promenade on Sunday without having to share the oceanfront walkway with almost anyone else.
“Now, it’s so peaceful. It’s amazing what a difference a few months make,” Joe said, drawing comparisons between the bustling summer crowds and fall’s tranquility.
The Grazianos were spending the weekend at the summer home of Pam’s mother, Nancy Coogan, who has a place on 44th Street.
Pam said as soon as they drove over the bridge to enter Sea Isle for their shore getaway, they immediately felt calm and relaxed
“This is my favorite time of year to come down here,” she said. “It’s still nice out, but there are no crowds. But the restaurants are still open and there’s still plenty to do.”
Mike and Linda Gentile, of West Deptford, Gloucester County, had two possible destinations in mind for a trip this weekend.
They considered Lancaster, Pa., but chose Sea Isle instead, knowing that they wouldn’t have to contend with crowded highways and a crowded city at this time of year.
“I’m loving life right now. This is my time to come to the shore,” Mike said as he hugged his wife while they were sitting on a bench on the quiet Promenade.
Linda explained that trips to the shore allow her to reconnect with the place where she grew up. Her family spent vacations at a campground on Route 9 just outside Sea Isle.
“We just love it here,” she said.
Sunday’s temperatures in the high 50s gave only the slightest hint that winter is on the way.
Sea Isle has just begun to string the twinkling lights that are part of the city’s holiday decorations. Soon, the Victorian-style lamp posts lining the John F. Kennedy Boulevard entryway into town will be draped with garland and wreaths trimmed with red bows.
The city will be all dressed up for the holidays to put everyone in a festive mood just before Santa Claus comes to town. Santa will make his official appearance Friday, Nov. 29, for the Christmas parade beginning at 6 p.m. and a tree lighting ceremony in Excursion Park at 6:30 p.m.
With the holidays comes shopping – and sales. Sunsations boutique on the beach block of JFK Boulevard was offering a 50 percent sale Sunday to attract customers.
“Everybody loves a sale,” Sunsations owner Liz Essick said, laughing.
Mary Schneider was checking out a piece of jewelry to complement some clothing she had bought at Sunsations.
Mary and her husband, Eric, of Ivyland, Pa., visit Sea Isle on weekends to enjoy their vacation home on the bay.
This weekend, the Schneiders were winterizing their Sea Isle home. While she was in town, Mary took advantage of the relative peace and calm to get some shopping done.
“I come to Sunsations every time I walk past the store,” she said, drawing a smile and a thank you from Essick.
Schneider paused for a moment and then nodded toward the discounts throughout the store: “This is a good day to stop in,” she said.