Where's the best place on our fabulous Jersey Shore to plant your umbrella this summer? Depends what you're looking for. Our intrepid beachcombers weigh in with their favorites.
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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
The eight miles of sandy beaches seem endless here—and so do the activities on this 2.5-mile boardwalk. Ocean City Bicycle Center opens at 7 am. Rent an adult trike, kid's bike, cruiser or surrey, and scope out the shops and eateries at a leisurely pace. You’ll be glad you got a little exercise before caving to the aroma of fresh donuts wafting from Brown’s Restaurant. Come early—the line can be a mile long on summer mornings. For a little excitement, check out Playland's Castaway Cove. This amusement park, the oldest in Ocean City, boasts 11 thrill rides, as well as 19 family favorites like the Antique Cars and the Ferris wheel. Grab a slice for lunch at one of Mack & Manco Pizza’s three locations, then beat the heat with a matinee at the Strand 5 movie theater. For dinner, Clancy’s by the Sea offers patio seating, which provides great views overlooking the ocean and the beach. Save room for sweets at Shriver’s, where you’ll be torn between salt water taffy, creamy fudge and other confections. Then burn off your sugary snacks at Gillian’s Wonderland Pier with its 35 rides and attractions. —AJC
Best: Nude Beach
Gunnison Beach, Sandy Hook
You’re in for an eyeful when you venture to Gunnison Beach. Not only do you get some of the best views of Manhattan and Brooklyn, but the two-mile stretch of sand is also the largest nude beach on the East Coast and the only legal nude beach in New Jersey. Past the signs that read “Beyond This Point You May Encounter Nude Sunbathers,” anything goes, so expect to see a whole new kind of beach bum. The crowd is super friendly and judgment free, but the amenities are minimal—a small snack shack and volleyball net. Beach badges are not required (where in the world would you pin one?), but parking is $10. Apply sunscreen liberally—and don’t gawk at your neighbors. —EMF
Best: Surfing Beaches
Inlet Beach, Manasquan
Surfing in New Jersey is generally an exercise in either patience or fearlessness. When the water is warm, you’ll often wait weeks for decent breaks. When the water is cold, the waves are epic but often beyond the skill level (and temperature threshold) of most casual surfers. Enter Inlet Beach, the Garden State’s most consistent year-round surfing spot. The beach’s reliable surf can be attributed to its enormous jetties, which corral approaching waves into long, glorious breaks even in the flat summer doldrums. Things get particularly interesting just before storms and during late-summer swells, when it’s not impossible to find standup barrels as the inlet breaks at 15 or 20 feet. However, Manasquan’s reliability comes at a price. The spot can get crowded on summer weekends. Also, when the waves get epic, Inlet Beach attracts a lot of hardcore locals who have a rather inflexible sense of surf hierarchy. Treat fellow surfers with respect and you’ll be just fine. And when the surf’s down, pay a visit to Inlet Outlet, Manasquan’s only surf shop and a local institution for more than three decades.—ND
Whale Beach, Upper Township
Go down to Sea Isle City, turn left at Landis Avenue, and keep going until you pass Taylor Avenue. Once the homes and crowds begin to disappear, you’ve arrived at Whale Beach, one of the Jersey Shore’s best-kept (until now) surfing secrets. Frequent sandbars create nice, long, clean breaks all summer, and the lack of crowds allows everyone to have his or her own little slice of wave heaven.—ND
Long Beach Island (southern tip)
The most crowded break on LBI can be found at Holyoke Avenue in Beach Haven. But go a little farther south to the island’s southern tip, and you’ll find great waves and far fewer people. An imposing jetty creates an intimate and consistent cove of long, tidy lines. Make sure you bring some bug spray—the greenhead flies can get pretty intense. But the waves are worth it.—ND
Best: Gay-Friendly Beaches
Diversity helps make Asbury Park a standout destination. Here, buff and bronzed Speedo-clad men roam comfortably on the beach and boardwalk alongside preppy young couples equipped with diaper bags and beach pails. The lively boardwalk starts at Convention Hall—the restored concert venue—on the north end and runs to the dilapidated (and closed) Casino Pier at the south end. In between there’s a bit of everything—even a miniature water park and putt-putt course for the kids. Mostly, though, it’s about food and drink and music: Grab a beer at Tim McLoone’s Supper Club, tapas at Langosta Lounge, a hot dog at Mayfair Boardwalk Grill, or join the crowd for music at the Stone Pony. Paradise, in the Empress Hotel, is the late-night hangout—equal parts gay revue and nightclub. Asbury Park has been cleaning itself up over the past several years and it shows. The vibe is funky—and all are welcomed. —LP
This quaint community is literally adjacent to Asbury Park but figuratively miles away. A long-time religious retreat, Ocean Grove is known for its Victorian homes, Great Auditorium, B&Bs, summertime churchgoers—and more recently, a growing gay community. The pristine boardwalk is lined with benches, street lamps and potted flowers but nary a shop, bar or restaurant. For that (minus the bar), head to Main Avenue, with its boutiques, gift shops, pizzerias and a few fine restaurants. A crowd favorite is Nagle's Apothecary Cafe for ice cream. On the beach, generations of families co-exist with the quiet gay population. Restrooms and showers are convenient on the south end of the boardwalk, near the fishing pier. Parking can be difficult, even with blocks of on-the-street free parking. (Free shuttle buses run from nearby Neptune Midtown School on Saturdays only.) —LP
Best: Upscale Beaches
There’s a case to be made to skip the beach while visiting Spring Lake and just wander the tree-lined streets looking at the gorgeous Victorian homes with their perfectly manicured lawns. But don’t skip the beach—it’s two miles of pristine sand (no food, no drinks, no dogs) bordered by the longest noncommercial boardwalk in the state—a magnet for astonishingly fit joggers and young couples pushing strollers. There’s plenty to do off the beach: Enjoy a bloody Mary on the porch of the Breakers Hotel and restaurant, stroll past the quaint shops on Third Avenue, fish along the shores of Spring Lake and grab a slice at the Spring Lake Gourmet Pizzeria. You can also splurge on dinner at the Black Trumpet at the Grand Victorian Cafe or Whispers at the Hewitt Wellington. For overnight stays, there are plenty of B&Bs from which to choose. —LP
There is absolutely nothing to do in Mantoloking except go to the beach, which may be its lure. There are no restaurants, bars, hotels—or public restrooms. But, the beach is a spectacular stretch of uninterrupted surf (no jetties), which makes it a surfer’s delight. Wooden walkways lead over the dunes to the mostly unguarded beaches (one area, south of Herbert Street, has lifeguards). There are lots of rules here—no food, no drink (unless in a re-usable container), no dogs, no getting too close to the waterfront homes—but all that tends to make for a tranquil experience.—LP
Best: Party Scene
A certain reality TV show would have you believe Seaside Heights is the party town of the Shore. Forget that. Belmar has just as much going on in terms of nightlife, but with less neon-lit intensity. Start your night at 10th Avenue Burrito, with some of the best Mexican food around. Or head to Ragin‘ Cajun, a hip BYO. On the north end of town, the party really gets going at 507 Main, which offers a front-room dance scene (with DJ) and a back-room concert (with a live band). Connolly Station is an old-timey, pub-style bar—with band or DJ on various nights. On the south end, the Boathouse Bar and Grill boasts one of the few outdoor patio set-ups in town. After closing time, satisfy your late-night munchies at Jimi’s Main Street Cheesesteaks (where the line often extends down the street) or the WindMill, with its out-of-this-world french fries and short-order fare. —BS
Best: Pet-Friendly Beaches
Island Beach State Park
Island Beach is for lovers of animals, both wild and domestic. One of the few undeveloped barrier beaches on the north Atlantic Coast, it is home to a large osprey colony, as well as red fox, blue herons, peregrine falcons and more than 400 species of plants. Man’s best friend also is welcome in designated areas of the park’s sandy beaches, as long as he or she is leashed (maximum length six feet). Dog-friendly areas are the non-swimming beaches located approximately five miles into the park, after Swimming Area #2. Most visitors with four-legged friends pack picnic lunches. Located near the entrance to the park, Ebby’s Café Alfresco is a popular pit stop for a giant sub or specialty sandwich. Check in with the park office before bringing your furry pal, as there are certain times of the year when birds nest and dogs are prohibited. —AJC
Don’t be misled by the oceanfront signs saying pets aren’t allowed on Stone Harbor’s beach. Last year, borough officials opened more than 40 blocks of beachfront, from 80th Street to 122nd Street, to leashed canines from 7 pm to sunset. During the day, the 82nd Street Park is popular for dog-toting families. Your pup can take in the fresh air and green grass while your family enjoys the playground, baseball and soccer fields and basketball and tennis courts. At night, take Fido for a stroll downtown, where the staff of Paw Prints hands out treats to quadrupeds. —AJC
Written by Ashley J. Cerasaro, Nick DiUlio, Emily Faherty, Lauren Payne, Brett Savage, Drew Anne Scarantino.
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