Historic Destinations to Explore at the Jersey Shore

Need a break from the beach? Consider visiting these storied spots.

Sandy Hook Lighthouse

Sandy Hook Lighthouse is the oldest operating lighthouse in the United States. Photo: Courtesy of Mike Boucher

While the Jersey Shore is best known for its beautiful beaches, lively boardwalks and world-class casinos, many of our Shore towns have deep-rooted historical significance.

Here are a few destinations New Jerseyans should be sure to check out this summer. 

[RELATED: The Ultimate Guide to Summer 2023 at the Jersey Shore]

Fort Hancock and Sandy Hook

To enter New York Harbor prior to the 1900s, ships needed a deep channel. That meant sailing along the coast of Sandy Hook. It was in 1764 that the Colony of New York built the Sandy Hook Lighthouse to assist navigation. But in 1776, Sandy Hook peninsula was captured by the British, and unlike most of New Jersey, both the Sandy Hook Lighthouse and New York City remained in British and loyalist hands until the war’s end in 1783. Today, visitors can tour the lighthouse, which is the oldest one operating in the United States, and enjoy area trails and beaches.

Harriet Tubman Museum

Harriet Tubman lived in Cape May in the early 1850s, working to help fund her missions to guide enslaved people to freedom. She lived among many other notable abolitionist activists who are also featured in the museum’s exhibits. Cape May served as a destination to which fugitive enslaved people escaped via the Underground Railroad, and the museum educates the community about the history of the African American community in Cape May and the surrounding area.

New Jersey Maritime Museum 

In Beach Haven, on the southern end of Long Beach Island, you can explore an extensive collection of maritime history and artifacts. Visitors can learn about the many shipwrecks that have occurred in the waters along the New Jersey coast. There is an entire room dedicated to the SS Morro Castle, an American ocean liner that caught fire and ran aground in 1934, resulting in the loss of 137 passengers and crew. The museum also features a Jersey storm-photo collection and rotating exhibits of shipwreck artifacts recovered by local divers. 

Count Basie Center for the Arts

Summer down the Shore is not complete without checking out a concert, and one of the most historic places to do so is the venue named after Red Bank native and renowned jazz musician William “Count” Basie. The building opened in 1926 as the Carlton Theater and, in 1984, was renamed the Count Basie Theatre, and later, the Count Basie Center for the Arts. Performers such as James Brown, Olivia Newton-John, Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi have graced the historic auditorium, which was recently renamed the Hackensack Meridian Health Theatre. The venue is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in America. 

Absecon Lighthouse

Ascend 228 steps to the top of one of the oldest American lighthouses, and the tallest in New Jersey (third tallest in the country), to check out breathtaking views of the Atlantic City skyline. First lit in 1857 and placed on New Jersey’s Register of Historic Places in 1970, the Atlantic City lighthouse features a replica of the 1925 keeper’s house and contains exhibits on tidewater, shipwrecks, Jonathan Pitney and General George Meade, as well as its original Fresnel lens. 

Steve Adubato, PhD, is the author of five books including his latest, Lessons in Leadership. He is also an Emmy® Award–winning anchor on Thirteen/WNET (PBS) and NJ PBS. Check out steveadubato.org. Steve has appeared on CNN, FOX5 in NY and NBC’s Today Show, and his “Lessons in Leadership” video podcast with co-host Mary Gamba airs Sundays at 10 am on News 12+. Steve also provides executive leadership coaching and seminars for a variety of corporations and organizations both regionally and nationally. For more information, visit stand-deliver.com.

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