Hundreds were on the sand in Point Pleasant Beach before 7 a.m., listening to a free concert by last year's American Idol, Kris Allen.
"It's the first weekend of summer. You gotta be at the Jersey shore!" said Danielle Gaeda of Gillette, who had recently turned 21 and was eager to partake of the bar scene. At Jenkinson's, she and her friends got an early start, with drinks flowing before most folks had their morning coffee.
Maria Castagna was alternating between a Bud Light and a screwdriver, while her friends opted for vodka and lemonade.
"It's a nice morning drink," she said.
Hovering around them was Chris Santiago, who insists on using the title "Emcee" before his name. He was networking furiously to promote a standup comic named Johnny Salami, mostly to young women.
His T-shirt may or may not have helped his rap; it read "I'm not a gynecologist, but I'll take a look."
"I left the Bon Jovi concert after just five songs so I could get down here in time," Santiago said, referring to Thursday night's show by New Jersey's other favorite-son rocker. "I'm here to socialize, buyin' rounds of drinks for pretty ladies."
Around the corner, beachgoers could pose for photos with a bright blue macaw, and get autographs from cast members of the hit TV show "Glee."
Further south down the coast, Ocean City was to engage in its annual bizarre Memorial Day weekend rituals. They start with lifeguards turning a large wooden key to symbolically unlock the ocean (does anyone re-lock it after Labor Day?) Then a group of 60 merchants join in the annual "Businesspersons Plunge." Led by a woman dressed as a mermaid, they will clutch briefcases and march into the surf as "Pomp and Circumstance" plays on loudspeakers.
The mermaid sticks around for the summer, but she dresses up as Underdog for other festivals.
The beaches themselves took a pounding over the winter, with a series of storms between October and March creating serious erosion along the state's 127-mile coastline. But many beach communities have been using heavy equipment to rebuild sand dunes and beaches; some have trucked in tons of sand.
"The accumulated weight of the storms was the worst in the last 20 years; that's the bad news," said Jon Miller, a coastal scientist with Stevens Institute of Technology. "The good news is New Jersey was actually in relatively good condition heading into this past season. Although the beaches were eroded, we were in a pretty good position to absorb it."
Much of the sand that was lost over the winter is sitting in large sand bars just off the coast that are visible from the air, he said. Natural wave action, and particularly late summer swells associated with distant hurricanes, usually bring much of that sand back onto the beaches, he said.
More New Jerseyans plan to hit the roads this holiday weekend.
AAA Mid-Atlantic predicts 742,000 Garden state residents will travel by automobile this weekend, up nearly 8 percent from last year.
Nationally, AAA projects the number of Americans traveling this weekend will increase 5.4 percent compared to 2009. Approximately 32.1 million travelers are projected to take a trip of 50 or more miles away from home, up from 30.5 million last Memorial Day weekend.
At $2.70, New Jersey's average gallon of regular gasoline is 44 cents higher than last year, but still less than the national average of $2.77.