Did you know that New Jersey has nearly a dozen lighthouses open to the public? Whether your kids are old enough to climb them or not, there's plenty to do and see on a lighthouse tour. Most are located near beaches or state parks full of family-friendly diversions so they make great destinations for day trips. This is an affordable—sometimes even free—summer activity your whole family will love, so we're rounding up a few of our favorites.
For more Shore fun, check out our Jersey Shore Family Guide.
Please note: Although most of the lighthouses are open year-round, hours vary from season to season, so visit websites or call ahead before setting out on your trip. Don't forget that some lighthouses also require children meet height requirements before journeying to the top!
Absecon Lighthouse (Atlantic City)
Absecon Lighthouse is NJ's tallest at 171 feet, providing incredible views of the Atlantic City skyline. Built in 1857, the black and yellow lighthouse recently underwent extensive restoration. Climb up 228 steps to the top or visit their educational museum, gift shop and replica of the Lightkeeper's house. They also offer many great children's programs including super-fun themed parties on "Wacky Wednesdays" and a "Keeper Sleeper" program that invites kids 6-12 to stay overnight and experience life as a lighthouse keeper 150 years ago. Hours: Thursday-Monday 11-4 (Sept. to June), Daily 10-5 (July & August)609-449-1360
Climb to the top of the Barnegat Lighthouse for spectacular views or explore the forest trail for seaside hike. Photo by Daniel D'Auria via Flickr.
Barnegat Lighthouse (Barnegat Light)
No trip to LBI, one of our favorite Jersey Shore beaches, is complete without a visit to Old Barney! It’s a steep climb to the top but you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views: Island Beach State Park to the north, Long Beach Island to the south. The park also contains a Maritime Forest Trail, a short and easy hike that’s perfect for little kids. Explore the 1/5 mile loop and view local birds and plants such as holly and sassafras along the way. You can bring your own food to picnic on site or stop by Kelly’s Restaurant or Mustache Bill’s Diner, both within walking distance of the lighthouse. Open daily 10-4:30 from Memorial Day to Labor Day, weather permitting. 609-494-2016
Take the steep climb to the top of the Cape May Lighthouse for a view of Southern Jersey. Photo by Kenneth Norris via Flickr.
Cape May Lighthouse (Cape May)
Located at the southern tip of New Jersey, Cape May Lighthouse is a wonderful destination with plenty for everyone to do. Take the kids to climb the lighthouse or check out the many attractions available in Cape May Point State Park. You can visit NJ’s last remaining World War II Lookout Tower, go hiking, try fishing or enjoy bird watching (this is one of the best spots in the Northeast). Plus the city of Cape May is only 2 miles away – stay for the day and spend some time strolling its streets and viewing the gorgeous Victorian homes. Open daily throughout the summer, hours vary. 609-884-5404
Hereford Inlet Lighthouse (North Wildwood)
While the Wildwoods are probably best known for a great boardwalk, Hereford Inlet Lighthouse is truly picturesque; it’s surrounded by beautiful gardens in the English country style and the lighthouse itself looks like a darling Victorian cottage. Your kids will love chasing butterflies in the garden and watching squirrels at the feeding station. In addition to being a working lighthouse, Hereford is also a museum. Tour the grounds and get a glimpse of an early 20th century lighthouse keeper’s life. Open 9-5 daily (May to October) 609-522-4520
Sandy Hook Lighthouse (Sandy Hook)
The oldest operating lighthouse in the United States, Sandy Hook Lighthouse was lit for the first time in 1764. Surrounded by Fort Hancock and part of Gateway National Recreation Area, it’s a great location for a family trip! Tour the Lighthouse and Keepers Quarters, then stay the day to enjoy fishing or sunbathing on one of the seven beaches. There’s also hiking, bird watching, salt marshes and a maritime holly forest to explore. Just be sure to arrive early during the summer months as the parking lot fills up fast. Open for tours weekends year-round and weekdays April-October. FREE admission to lighthouse, but there is a parking fee in season. 732-872-5970
Sea Girt Lighthouse (Sea Girt)
Sea Girt Lighthouse was constructed in 1896 to bridge the gap between the Barnegat and Navesink Lighthouses after numerous shipwrecks. The last live-in lighthouse built on the Atlantic Coast, it was in disrepair until leased by the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee in 1981 and subsequently restored. Today the lighthouse is open for tours and there’s a lot to see! Spend time exploring its rooms: from the keeper’s office, on through the living quarters, and up to the tower’s lantern room. There are also many artifacts on display such as a 1903 keeper’s logbook, numerous historical photos and a 4th order Fresnel lens. Tours offered Sundays 2-4, except holiday weekends, April thru November. FREE. 732-974-0514
Twin Lights (Highlands)
The unique dual tower design of the Twin Lights makes it a must-see for lighthouse aficionados. Climbers to the top of the North Tower will be treated to stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. The on-site museum exhibits lighthouse and lifesaving station artifacts, and they offer many educational programs for visitors. Open daily 10-4:30 (Summer), Wednesday thru Sunday 10-4:30 (Winter). FREE. 732-872-1814
Bonus: National Lighthouse Day is August 7th. In celebration, several of the lighthouses host special events on this day. Some will also offer free or reduced admission. Please contact each lighthouse directly for details.
Top photo: The Sandy Hook Lighthouse is the oldest operating lighthouse in the country. It's open for tours year round. Photo by 3.26 via Flickr.
This article was first published in 2012 but has since been updated.