Sandy Hook is a 7-mile stretch of beach and a national park all in one. Spend the day fishing, swimming, bird-watching, or simply laying out in the sun—all while taking in a great view of the Manhattan skyline. It’s easy to access from NYC: Take a 30-minute ride on the Seastreak ferry; there's also a shuttle bus service that will take you from the ferry dock to the beach. Access to the beach is FREE, and parking is $20 per day. A word of caution: Space is limited, and when Sandy Hook reaches capacity for the day (which it often does on weekends in the summer), the gates are closed, so get there early. While visiting Sandy Hook, grab some seafood in Atlantic Highlands, where there are some fantastic restaurants. Or try out the food trucks that set up shop in the parking lots near the beach.
Set up camp for the day at Long Branch. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala
Long Branch is one of the largest towns on the Jersey Shore. It has expansive beaches, and its waterfront had a big facelift a few years ago. Enjoy the boardwalk, great restaurants, shopping, and much more. One of the recent developments on the boardwalk is Pier Village, home to more than 30 shops and restaurants, including favorites like McLoone’s Pier House and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. There are multiple entry points to the beach, including at Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park. This is a low-key section of the beach with a playground, new skateplex, clean bathrooms, showers, decent concessions, and no amusement rides—something I try to avoid if I'm just looking to hit the sand. One important note: Tents and canopies are not permitted on the beach, only single pole umbrellas. Check out more of Monmouth County's best beaches, forests, and play spaces.
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The Asbury Park boardwalk has cool stuff for both kids and grown-ups. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala
Asbury Park has gone through a lot of changes over the past several years, but it has definitely cemented its cool cred with events like the Sea.Hear.Now music festival, which returns September 17-18. The boardwalk has gotten so popular that it has its own website. Check out family-friendly activities like the Asbury Splash Park, Asbury Eighteen mini-golf, and the Silverball Museum Arcade (filled with playable pinball machines), or get creative with the kids and take them to the Jersey Shore’s first public-access hot glass studio, Hot Sand. If you get hungry, the boardwalk is peppered with great eats like The Crepe Shop, Langosta Lounge, and Pop’s Garage, as well as funky food trucks. And, good news: Kids 12 and under are always FREE on the beach.
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Point Pleasant Beach, popular for amenities like chair rentals and amusement rides. Photo courtesy of Jenkinson's
Between the beaches of Monmouth County and the craziness of Seaside Heights lies a nice little stretch of beach in Point Pleasant. There are several major beaches that comprise the area, and Jenkinson’s is probably the most famous of the bunch, as well as the biggest. Not only are there beaches to explore, but the boardwalk area is host to many other kid-friendly amusements. Among the draws are Jenkinson’s Aquarium, an arcade, amusement rides, and a ropes course.
You can rent beach chairs and umbrellas right on the beach at Jenkinson's. You'll find four paid parking lots located nearby on Ocean Avenue between Broadway and Arnold Avenue and a large metered lot on Arnold Avenue, but parking is going to cost you. Arrive early to snag the very limited on-street parking in the neighborhoods off Ocean Avenue, but make sure you are parking in a legitimate spot; the cops in Point Pleasant beach hand out a lot of parking tickets during the summer. Other beaches include Martell’s, Risden’s, Maryland Avenue, and Bradshaw’s. Read more about Point Pleasant beaches.
Island Beach State Park, located at the end of Route 35 just past Seaside Park, is a preserved barrier island that offers both bay and ocean beaches. This state park is perfect for day trips, as you can bring a grill onto the beach and camp out all day long. Bathrooms are located at the main beach areas, and there are some by beach entrances. Keep in mind that if you park at one of the quieter beaches further down the island, you will have to haul your things (and kids) onto the beach from where you park—and it can be a bit of a walk, trust me! But it is worth it once you are able to let the little ones roam free and relax. Lifeguards are on the station from mid-June through Labor Day.
Check out the wildlife on IBSP, including foxes and osprey. Popular activities include biking, surf fishing, swimming, scuba, hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, and more. Leashed dogs are allowed in the park, but not on the main swimming beaches. Lifeguards are only present at the main swimming beaches. The gates open at 8am and close at dusk. The park fills up quickly in the summer, and the gates are shut when capacity is reached, so be sure to get there early.
This 18-mile-long barrier island offers beautiful white-sand beaches that are ready for your family to explore. There are five boroughs and 17 towns that make up LBI, and it can only be accessed by driving over the Barnegat Bay Causeway. Barnegat Lighthouse, or “Old Barney,” is located at the north end of LBI. This 150-year-old lighthouse offers panoramic views of Island Beach, Barnegat Bay, and LBI but is currently closed for renovations. Only one town on the island has an amusement area, and there is no boardwalk, but your kids will find plenty to keep them amused, like the Victorian-themed Fantasy Island Amusement Park in Beach Haven. Rides open on weekends starting Saturday, May 21. Plus, there are family-friendly events all summer long, from free concerts to children's movies at the local library on rainy days. There are several different beach areas to pick from; see pricing and details here.
Find more great New Jersey lighthouses in our roundup.
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Play in the surf on tAtlantic City beach. Photo by Peter M. Logan via Flickr
Atlantic City truly has something for everyone in the family, including casinos, spas, concerts, great restaurants, the ocean, a 7-mile boardwalk, golf, water sports, and shopping. The 5-mile-long beach is FREE and offers restrooms, changing rooms, outdoor showers, and lifeguards from 10am-6pm. For those looking for all the amenities and plenty of entertainment, AC is the spot. It has one of the largest Fourth of July fireworks displays in the country, and the fun doesn't stop there. We enjoyed a long weekend with the kids here and hit up the Bally's Beach, Ripley's Believe It or Not, and the double-decker carousel and kiddie rides at Steel Pier.
Parking is metered, and the limit is three hours, so you may need to move the car unless you stay at one of the hotels on the boardwalk. Those visiting from the Philadelphia area and parts of South Jersey have access to a quick, direct train ride via NJ Transit.
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Just south of Atlantic City lies picturesque Ocean City, with 8 miles of wide, soft, sandy beaches with ocean and bay shorefronts; a boardwalk that's bicycle-friendly; and plenty of amusement park rides and more family fun. There's a reason it's known as "America's Greatest Family Resort." Check out Gillian's Wonderland Pier for amusement park rides and mini-golf, Playland's Castaway Cove, or the OC Waterpark for cool water slides and some non-saltwater splashing. Wind down your busy beach day with the Ocean City Pops at the majestic, 1920s-built Ocean City Music Pier. It is important to note that Ocean City is a "dry" town, meaning no alcohol is served or sold here, which keeps it extra family-oriented. (Those in the know head to nearby Strathmere or Marmoa to pick up booze.)
Wildwoods free beach. Photo courtesy of Wildwoods, NJ
The Wildwoods, a short drive north of Cape May, is generally less expensive and packs in a lot of boardwalk entertainment, making it popular among families from New Jersey, nearby Philly, and elsewhere. It's made up of three towns: Wildwood, North Wildwood, and Wildwood Crest. You'll find terrific beaches, all of which are FREE to enter (a rarity in Jersey), as well as Morey's Piers, which offers distinct, mini amusement parks at each of its piers—like kiddie rides at Surfside Pier and thrill rides at Adventure Pier—plus two beachside water parks: Raging Waters and Ocean Oasis. The area hosts cool family festivals year-round, including a Fourth of July fete, a sand-sculpting contest, and a Fall Beach Jam, which is an overnight camping event for families. The atmosphere here is pure fun in the key of Americana, from riding the boardwalk tram to staying at one of the colorful hotels that dot the towns.
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Cape May is as renowned for its beaches as it is for its pretty, historic town. Photo by Allie_Caulfield via Flickr
Cape May is the last stop on the Jersey Shore, and boy, does it end with a bang. The historic Victorians, numerous B&Bs, serene beaches, and stunning wildlife make this area perfect for families or a parents' getaway. You can choose from a number of beaches, oceanside or bayside, including the popular Cove or Decatur Street. Poverty Beach is a favorite with locals and tourists alike, as is Broadway. You'll find bathrooms, restaurants, and shops all along the beaches adjacent to Beach Avenue. There are plenty of non-beach activities, too. Watch the sunset over the Delaware Bay, grab the ferry, whale-watch or bird-watch, climb to the top of the lighthouse, or just pedal around town. Kids will enjoy the FREE Cape May County Zoo, a picnic at the Cape May State Point Park (also FREE), or the Cape May-Lewes Ferry to Lewes, Delaware. Enjoy the state’s biggest annual strawberry festival in June and other seasonal entertainment all summer long. You'll find shopping, arcades, mini-golf, and casual and upscale dining—but head to Wildwoods if the kids are hungry for amusement rides.
Know Before You Go
- One unfortunate aspect of most NJ beaches is that you have to pay. Check with individual beaches for information about day and season badges. Kids are generally FREE, but the age range varies. (Read about favorite FREE NJ beaches.)
- Remember parking. You have to pay for parking at some beaches, so be sure to check ahead. Check to see what the meters take or if there are lots or even street parking.
- Some NJ beaches allow food and beverages, but some do not. Most beaches do not allow glass containers, so be sure to bring reusable water bottles.
- Dogs are generally not allowed on NJ beaches (although there are some areas, like a dog beach in Sandy Hook, that allows them), so leave the fur babies at home.
- Most Jersey Shore beaches have lifeguards, but some do not. If there is not a lifeguard, it should be posted before the beach entrance. You'll need to stay within the lifeguard-appointed swimming zones if you want to be in the water. Watch where they have the flags posted.
This article, first published in 2011, is updated annually.