4 Great Shore Adventures You Shouldn’t Miss

There’s lots more to do at Jersey’s beaches than bake in the sun.

All illustrations by Ali Macdonald

1. Tour an Oyster Farm

Barnegat Light

Interest in oysters is on the rise. They have complex flavors, a local connection, pair well with cocktails—and they’re supposed to make you kinda randy. The bivalve, once plentiful in New Jersey’s tidal waters, is making a comeback thanks to a new generation of resourceful oyster farmers. You can get a new perspective on modern oyster farming—literally waist deep—thanks to Barnegat Oyster Collective’s oyster farm tours. Founders Matt Gregg and Scott Lennox—both pioneering oyster farmers—take turns leading the tours that start at Van’s Boat Rental in Barnegat Light. The tours start with a five-minute scenic cruise on a 25-foot flat-bottom skiff with seating for eight (on shellfish crates). Your destination: a 12-acre oyster farm on Barnegat Bay. Here, oysters are raised in 400 steel-netting cages. Amid the salty summer air and sunshine, the farmers show the different stages of oyster growth, from juvenile oysters to market size. Oysters are then popped open for tasting—the freshest seafood you’re going to get, all while standing in the crystal-clear bay water. “It’s just a unique experience,” says Gregg. “You’re not just learning where oysters come from, you’re getting your hands and feet wet. Everyone we take out there says it was the best experience of their summer.” Oysters are filter feeders, which means they eat the microorganisms that can choke our bays of oxygen. The renewed interest in oysters has created careers for these young baymen. In short, oysters are good for both the local ecology and the economy. The 90-minute tour is $65 and requires advance booking. Tours run twice daily every Saturday and Sunday through Labor Day weekend, or weekdays by appointment. Check the website for exact times. You’ll need everything you would for a day at the beach—bathing suit, shades, towel, snacks, drink and sunscreen—as well as a pair of old sneakers or water shoes for walking in the bay. A fresh lemon and a jar of cocktail sauce also come in handy. —Jon Coen

801 Bayview Avenue; 609-450-9005

2. Catch a Kayak Nature Tour

Cape May

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Rollin A. Fritch is designed in part for intercepting smugglers. Sitting at her home berth at the Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May Harbor, she needn’t worry about me. As my kayak passes within 20 feet of her stern, all I’m carrying is a sealed float bag with two bottles of water, a turkey sandwich and a granola bar. By this point in my tour, I’ve become acclimated to my kayak, thanks to my guide, Jeff Martin, owner/operator of Aqua Trails. It’s a summer weekday, so the broad harbor is relatively quiet. Still, Martin (in a separate kayak) takes care as he leads me along the margins of the harbor, then across the choppy channel. Families of osprey watch our movements from their nests atop the channel markers. The morning breeze picks up, sending ripples across the water as we paddle around a sandbar. “You can almost set your watch by the breeze,” Martin tells me. A local high school marine-biology and oceanography teacher, Martin has an encyclopedic knowledge of these waters. We take a break on a small beach, and he explains the natural and man-made forces behind the creation and maintenance of the harbor. On the mudflats behind us, three kinds of seagulls and a pair of American oyster catchers with distinctive orange bills browse for insects and small crustaceans to lunch on. Back in the kayaks, we paddle past a clam factory and enter the calm waters of Upper Thorofare. The paddling is effortless here. We proceed under two low bridges into Mill Creek, an unadulterated salt marsh that serves as a nursery for numerous species of fish and a sanctuary for the local avian population. For several thrilling minutes, a parade of 3-inch-long menhaden (known locally as bunkerfish) skitters across the water’s surface like a shimmering wave. Any closer and they’d jump right into my kayak. In the distance, a common tern dives for food. A snowy egret wades patiently in the shallow water. Martin points out a semipalmated plover and several sandpipers. Stacks of mussels cling to the seaweed along the banks. Finally, the salt marsh empties back into the harbor. We cross the channel again and return to our starting point, having covered about five miles in two invigorating hours. My tour, packaged by Congress Hall, cost $60 and included lunch and a ride to and from the hotel. Or you can sign up directly with Aqua Tours for $45. Aqua Tours also offers kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals, sunset and full-moon tours, and camp for kids. —Ken Schlager

1600 Delaware Avenue; 609-884-5600

3. Take a Sandy Hook Bike Tour

Gateway National Recreation Area

This easy, self-guided, 12-mile ride up the spine of Sandy Hook is ideal for a family outing. The paved, multiuse path (also fit for runners or walkers) winds past oceanfront beaches and the rocky edge of Sandy Hook Bay on its way to Fort Hancock, the ghostly army base at Sandy Hook’s northern tip. The ride starts at parking area B, just beyond the entrance to the national recreation area (parking fee, $15). Cedar, juniper, cherry and holly trees shade much of the path. About two miles in, we pass two vintage Nike missiles on their launchers, vestiges of Sandy Hook’s incarnation as a military outpost. Tours of the Nike Missile Radar Site are available on a handful of select dates this summer (check the website). Eventually, the trail opens onto the grassy expanse of Fort Hancock, a former U.S. Army installation. At its peak during World War II, the fort—it’s more like a small town—was home to more than 7,000 soldiers. Its main military role was to protect New York Harbor from invasion by sea. In the Cold War era, the Nike missiles were installed to defend the entire East Coast. The fort was decommissioned in December 1974. The stately, yellow-brick living quarters of the fort’s Officers’ Row face the bay in various states of disrepair, their porches collapsing beneath the ravages of time. At the end of the row, the former Lieutenants’ Quarters serves as the History House (open 1-5 pm daily, through August). Behind Officers’ Row, the 103-foot-tall Sandy Hook Lighthouse watches over its surroundings, as it has for 250 years (tours available from 1-4:30 pm daily). The visitors’ center is located in the Lighthouse Keepers’ Quarters (open from 9 am-5 pm daily). The ride continues past the U.S. Coast Guard station, following the path to the right, then left toward the concrete-and-steel remains of the Nine-Gun Battery. The paved trail ends just beyond the battery. Here, we dismount and continue on foot up a sandy path to the North Beach observation deck for a view of lower Manhattan, about 15 miles across the open water. Turning back, we retrace the trail past the Nine-Gun Battery and head toward Gunnison Beach, Sandy Hook’s clothing-optional area. (No worries, you can’t see the beach from the trail.) We continue on Atlantic Drive, which brings us back to the main path south of Fort Hancock. From here, it’s a quick four miles back to our starting point. —KS

4. Sail the A.J. Meerwald

The A.J. Meerwald was built to carry loads of oysters dredged from the floor of the Delaware Bay. Its dredging days long behind it, the graceful, two-masted gaff schooner, originally launched in 1928, now serves as an educational and tour boat. Throughout the warm-weather months, tours are available on the Meerwald from several New Jersey ports. Built in New Jersey, the Meerwald has had a bumpy and complex history. When it began its seagoing career, New Jersey’s oyster industry was booming, and the ship’s owners, the Meerwald family, thrived. Then came the Great Depression and World War II. During the war, the ship was turned over to the U.S. Coast Guard and converted into a fireboat. The Meerwald changed hands several times in the ensuing decades. Eventually, the ship was donated to its current owner, the Bayshore Center at Bivalve, a nonprofit that raised the funds to restore the Meerwald and now operates it out of Port Norris, still on the Delaware Bay. In 1998, the Meerwald was declared the state’s official tall ship. The Bayshore Center utilizes the A.J. Meerwald for onboard educational programs, summer camps and charter trips, which help to fund its overhead expenses. Morning, afternoon, evening and themed (birding, oystering) sails—with Captain Johann Steinke at the helm—are available through early October from such New Jersey ports as Beach Haven, Cape May and Bivalve. Tickets for two-hour cruises range from $17.50 to $37.50. —Dominique McIndoe


Click here to leave a comment
Read more Jersey Shore articles.

By submitting comments you grant permission for all or part of those comments to appear in the print edition of New Jersey Monthly.

Required not shown
Required not shown