Best: Family Fun Beach
Point Pleasant Beach
Fun House isn’t just an attraction on the Point Pleasant Beach boardwalk; it’s an appropriate moniker for this seaside playground with its first-class aquarium, live entertainment, arcades, wide beaches and array of dining options. Rent bikes from the colorful fleet at Shore Riders Bike Rentals and cruise the boardwalk while the line winds down at Perk’s Café, a popular breakfast spot featuring candied French toast and fresh fruit. Then hit the beach at Martell’s, where you can enjoy alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages from its Tiki Bar. Want to get the kids out of the sun? At Jenkinson’s Aquarium, they can view sharks, penguins, alligators and seals—even sea stars and stingrays in the touch tank. For dinner, head over to Frankie’s Bar & Grill to feast on 10-ounce sirloin burgers. A $5.95 children’s menu offers six selections served with fries and a glass of milk or soda. End a great day at Hoffman’s, where you can indulge in delicious homemade ice cream—from strawberry bon bon to peanut butter nugget.
Best: Family Quiet Beaches
With its small-town charm, laid-back shopping district and numerous restaurants, Stone Harbor offers fun for the whole family—at a slower pace than many of its Shore neighbors. The beaches are never overcrowded and are within walking distance of all points in the town (which for the most part is just two or three city blocks wide). Shoppers flock to 96th Street, but the town has plenty to keep the kids entertained as well. Peek through the windows at the Original Fudge Kitchen to see the sweet stuff being prepared; pop into Island Studio to paint your own pottery; or play a rooftop round of mini golf at one of Tee Time’s two locations. For fun on the water, you can rent a kayak or a surfboard from Harbor Outfitters for some flat-water paddling on the calm bay, or sign the family up for one of their guided ecotours. Satisfy the kids’ pizza cravings at Peace A Pizza, which serves offerings such as chicken parmesan and mac-n-cheese pizza. And cap it all off with a trip to Springer’s Homemade Ice Cream, a Stone Harbor staple since the 1920s. On summer Mondays, bring a blanket to the firehouse lot at 7 pm for family nights featuring magic shows, jugglers, puppets and songs.—DAS
There are no public changing rooms in Bay Head, and food and beverages are prohibited on the beach. But the strand is never crowded, bathers are protected by lifeguards, and you can rent kayaks, surfboards and bikes right in town. For dinner, bring the family to Theresa’s South, a casual and creative offshoot of the popular Theresa’s in Westfield. Later, stop in for ice cream at Dorcas of Bay Head, a classic soda-fountain sidewalk café. Don’t miss the Summer Surf Movie Nights at the Beach House Classic Boardshop on select Fridays throughout the summer. —DAS
With one mile of uncrowded beaches and an old-fashioned boardwalk, Sea Girt is perfect for a quiet family getaway. The boardwalk begins at the foot of the Sea Girt Lighthouse and runs to the south end of town. Hungry? Check out Rod’s Olde Irish Tavern, a turn-of-the-century saloon, for some traditional pub fare.—DAS
Best: Secluded Beach
Strathmere, Upper Township
Some folks in Upper Township are not happy with New Jersey Monthly. Why? Because in last year’s Shore Guide, we spilled the beans about their beloved gem—Strathmere. (Seriously, they yelled at this reporter last summer.) Well, the secret is out, and yes, Strathmere is as unique as it sounds. Tucked between the busier Ocean City and Sea Isle City, this cozy 1.5-mile stretch is quiet, shoobie-free and requires no beach tags. Approach it from two-lane Commonwealth Avenue (where you can always find free street parking, even in the height of summer) and stake out a sandy spot for the day. Enjoy sunbathing at the shoreline, take a walk to the northern end of the island for views of OC, watch the dolphins commute, or try ocean kayaking, surfing, fishing, even kiteboarding—all without kitschy shops and boardwalk hubbub. For a break from sun and sand, grab an ice cream at the Old Shack or a cold beer or two during happy hour at hole-in-the-wall Twisties or on the outdoor deck at the popular Deauville Inn. Just don’t tell anyone you heard about it from me. The town’s oval car decals even say “Shhh.” —EMF
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