Visiting Sandy Hook Beach with Kids
There is no shortage of options for NYC beach-goers. We have the Rockaways, Coney Island and Jacob Riis all within city limits, plus the Jersey Shore and the often-overlooked beaches in Staten Island within day-trip distance. Each beach has its own special vibe and its own reasons to put on your flip flops and head to the ocean.
Sandy Hook is another kid-friendly beach destination that's just a short ride away from NYC on the Jersey Shore. And best of all: No car? No problem! A ferry can take you right to Sandy Hook beach from Manhattan. Bring your boogie boards and beach blankets and make your way to Sandy Hook for an unforgettable afternoon at the seashore: Here's what to know before you go.
The Seastreak Ferry ride is part of the daycation! Photo courtesy of Seastreak
Getting to Sandy Hook Beach
There are two options for getting to Sandy Hook: driving or taking the ferry. The ferry is decidedly more fun: Seastreak Ferry leaves from Wall Street and from 35th Street in Manhattan, and takes you right to Sandy Hook's doorstep in 40 minutes (give or take). Kids under 5 travel free!
The boat ride itself feels like a part of the relaxing beach day. The bar on board offers coffee, beer, wine and cocktails. Seats are comfortable and the vibe is mellow and kid-friendly. There is a shuttle from the ferry that will drop you off at the beach of your choice: Lot E, Lot D or Gunnison Beach. Keep in mind that Gunnison Beach is "clothing optional," while the other two offer a more traditionally family-friendly atmosphere.
For what it lacks in novelty, driving makes up in terms of convenience (especially with little children). You don't have to schlep your beach stuff on the subway, you can leave whenever you want, and parking is a piece of cake. The main downside is the beach traffic. Though the drive itself was fairly straightforward, the road bottlenecks over a bridge to get to the Sandy Hook Peninsula. The last few minutes of the trip there were the longest—we could see the beach, but we had to wait in stop-and-go traffic to get to the entrance to the park. (The upside is that the scenery is gorgeous!) We didn't see much signage on our way to the kiosks, but parking costs $15, so plan ahead and make sure you bring cash. Once you are headed toward the beach, turning around to find an ATM is nearly impossible.
Running down the dunes is just as much fun as playing in the water!
Parking, Food, and Services at Sandy Hook
After you enter the park, you have your pick of multiple parking lots that offer bathrooms and beach access. Some entrances are more popular than others. We first stopped in Lot C, but there were no food options, so we continued to Lot D where there was a small selection of food trucks. Many of the food trucks take cards, which was great, since parking cleaned out our cash supply. There were some picnic tables available, but we opted for a shady spot on the sidewalk where we could eat our lunch. There are very few garbage cans to be seen, so bring a bag and plan to take your trash with you when you leave.
Get to the beach early to grab a spot close to the water.
Especially if you have a lot to carry (hello, beach trips with kids), this beach is really convenient: The walk from the parking lot to the water is short, which is great if you forget something in the car or need to get to the restrooms. The downside of a short distance to the water is that prime lounge space does fill up. Hardcore beach goers should plan to arrive early to stake out the best possible spot.
What to Do and See at Sandy Hook
If your family happens to get tired of hanging out on the beach, there are plenty of family-friendly activities around the park. Historic Fort Hancock and the Sandy Hook Lighthouse are worth a visit, and parking at Fort Hancock is free. The lighthouse is available for tours in the afternoon, and kids over 48 inches are able to climb to the top. Across the road from Lot C on the bayside, there are kayaks available to rent. There is also a bike path that snakes along the shoreline starting at the entrance to the park. Dogs are welcome year-round on the bay side of the peninsula, but only welcome on the ocean side during the off-season.
It's never fun to head home, but at least the parking lot is close.
Sandy Hook was a fantastic beach day for the whole family. We drove home through the town of Highlands and had fun spotting boats docked in the marinas. We ate crab cakes on the water at the family-friendly Inlet Cafe, and debated transportation options for our next visit to Sandy Hook. Next time, I think we'll try the ferry.
Photos by the author unless otherwise noted