This article was last updated on June 6, 2023. It was originally published on May 29, 2019.
BEST FAMILY FUN
Beach Haven (Long Beach Island)
Most of the towns on LBI are quiet retreats; Beach Haven, on the other hand, is hopping, with plenty of fun attractions for the whole family. LBI’s only amusement park, Fantasy Island, bustles with arcade games and kid-friendly rides. A short walk away, waterslides and mini-golf await at Thundering Surf, one of Jersey’s great water parks. For shoppers, there are plenty of browsing and dining opportunities in Bay Village. For a rainy-day diversion, the Museum of New Jersey Maritime History has two floors of artifacts and underwater finds that are sure to fascinate. Of course, the main attraction is Beach Haven’s mile-square stretch of guarded ocean beach, but families with young ones are happy to discover the calmer waters (and play area) of Taylor Avenue beach on LBI’s bay side.
Point Pleasant Beach
Fun House isn’t just an attraction on the Point Pleasant Beach boardwalk; it’s an appropriate metaphor for this seaside playground, with its world-class aquarium, live entertainment, amusement park, wide beaches and array of dining options and shops. Want to get the kids out of the sun? At Jenkinson’s, one of Jersey’s top aquariums, 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 on Richmond Avenue to feast on burgers. End a great day at Hoffman’s—which made our list of 24 iconic Shore ice cream spots—where you can indulge in delicious homemade flavors from strawberry bon-bon to peanut butter nugget.
BEST QUIET FAMILY FUN
With its small-town charm, laid-back shopping district and varied restaurants, Stone Harbor offers fun for the whole family—at a slower pace than many of its Shore neighbors. The beaches are never crowded and are within walking distance of all points in the town. 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; rent bikes for a tour of the cycling-friendly island; unwind at the luxurious Salt Spa; or catch a film at the town’s three-screen theater. For fun on the water, you can rent a kayak or a stand-up paddleboard from Harbor Outfitters for some flat-water paddling on the calm bay. For a better understanding of the bay’s ecosystem, visit the Wetlands Institute, which has an ambitious schedule of tours and nature-oriented festivals. Cap off the day with a trip to Springer’s Homemade Ice Cream, a Stone Harbor staple since the 1920s.
With one mile of uncrowded beaches and an old-fashioned boardwalk, Sea Girt is ideal 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 Tavern, a turn-of-the-century saloon, for some traditional pub fare. For people watching, grab a table for lunch at the Parker House—but be ready for long lines.
The sandy beach seems endless here—it’s eight miles long—and so do the activities on the 2.5-mile boardwalk. At Ocean City Bicycle Center, rent an adult bike or trike, kid’s bike, cruiser or surrey, then scope out the beach scene 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, right on the boardwalk. (Go early—the line can be a mile long on summer mornings.) For seaside rides and attractions, check out Gillian’s Wonderland Pier. For an encore, there’s Playland’s Castaway Cove, which boasts the GaleForce triple-launch coaster plus plenty of family favorites, like the Ferris wheel. Grab a slice for lunch at Manco & Manco Pizza, which landed a spot on our guide to New Jersey’s best pies. Save room for sweets at Shriver’s, where you’ll be torn between saltwater taffy, creamy fudge and other confections.
BEST AMUSEMENT PARK
There’s perhaps no more exciting place in New Jersey than Morey’s Piers, the three amusement parks clustered in a 12-block span of the Wildwood boardwalk. Combined, the parks boast more than 100 rides and attractions. Mariner’s Amusement Pier has the air of a traditional amusement park, with classic rides such as the Teacups and the Giant Wheel. Surfside Pier feels like a seaside carnival, with endless games and the glow of neon lights. Adventure Pier is the spot where thrill seekers kiss the sky on rides like SkyCoaster and SpringShot. But the entertainment isn’t limited to roller coasters and ring tosses. Nostalgia-minded adults can visit the Doo Wop Experience Museum—one of Jersey’s lesser-known but terrific museums—to learn more about the architecture, music and arts that made Wildwood famous in its neon-infused heyday. Finally, grab a bite at Santorini, a popular spot for coastal-cool fare.
BEST DINING SCENES
Dining options abound in Cape May, which also happens to be one of our favorite historic towns in the state. George’s Place is our go-to breakfast spot, but the Mad Batter also has a decades-long track record of making people happy. Speaking of happiness, people form lines at Hot Dog Tommy’s, a sidewalk institution just off the beach. Want to grab a pint? Head to the C-View Inn, the tavern said to be Cape May’s oldest.
Asbury Park is brimming with great restaurants. One of the city’s hottest spots is Asbury Festhalle & Biergarten, a German-style beer hall featuring over 50 beers on tap and various selections of schnitzel. If you’re looking to grab some breakfast before hitting the beach, Toast has everything from pancakes to crab cakes. Barrio Costero offers a modern take on Mexican food alongside innovative cocktails. For a fresh slice, Talula’s serves pizza and sandwiches with gourmet toppings like housemade fennel pork sausage, all on their own sourdough crust and bread. Enjoy the Stella Marina, an intimate, upscale Italian restaurant located on the boardwalk. Seafood is the star at the Bonney Read, while French fare reigns at the romantic Pascal & Sabine.
BEST NIGHTLIFE SCENE
Even if gambling isn’t your thing, there is plenty of nightlife to enjoy in the Garden State’s casino capital, from Tropicana to Premier in the Borgata. The latter boasts tiered booth seating, a horseshoe-shaped mezzanine and an A-list roster of guest DJs. If you want to swim after the sun goes down, Harrah’s Pool After Dark is the ideal party spot—and its marquee bistro Vibe, with its over-the-top performances and fare, made our list of adventurous things to do in New Jersey. The pool, enclosed in a 90-foot-high glass dome, has several Jacuzzis and cabanas, plus an indoor/outdoor deck and a gaming loft. Did we mention Atlantic City also attracts some of the biggest names in music and comedy all year long? After you’ve worked up an appetite, check out the local dining scene.
If shopping rivals sunning on your list of favorite Shore activities, Pier Village in Long Branch is the destination for you. Just across the street from the boardwalk, the Pier Village shopping plaza is lined with fun boutiques. Then, after you’ve explored Long Branch, grab a bite at Avenue, one of our perennial favorite oceanfront restaurants. And for a sweet treat, try Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.
BEST UPSCALE BEACH
You might be tempted to skip the beach while visiting Spring Lake and just wander the tree-lined streets looking at the classic Victorian homes and perfectly manicured lawns. But don’t: It’s two miles of pristine sand (no food or drinks allowed!), flanked by the longest non-commercial 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 through shops on Third Avenue, fish along the shores, or grab a slice at the Spring Lake Pizzeria. You can also splurge on dinner at Whispers in the Hewitt Wellington Hotel. And if you want to stay overnight, B&Bs abound.
BEST PARTY SCENE
The town has made a concerted effort to broaden its appeal and play down its rep as party central. To a large degree, it has—but the south end of Belmar is still hopping. D’Jais, across the beach on Ocean Avenue, remains a hot spot. Away from the waterfront, Boathouse Bar & Grill on Main Street boasts an outdoor patio. Also on Main Street: Beach Haus, one of our favorite Jersey Shore breweries.
BEST SECLUDED BEACH
Strathmere (Upper Township)
Tucked between bustling Ocean City and Sea Isle City, this cozy 1.5-mile hamlet requires no beach tags and remains under the radar for most beachgoers—landing it a spot on the list of our favorite hidden beaches. Approach the beach from 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 Ocean City views, watch dolphins commute, or try kayaking, surfing, fishing and even kiteboarding—all without kitschy shops and boardwalk hubbub. For a break from sun and sand, grab a cold beer at hole-in-the-wall Twisties, or on the outdoor deck at the popular Deauville Inn. Just don’t tell anyone you heard about Strathmere from us. (Even the town’s oval car decals say “Shhh.”)
BEST NUDE BEACH
Gunnison Beach (Sandy Hook)
You’re in for an eyeful when you venture to Gunnison Beach. The two-mile stretch of sand—which also has views of Manhattan and Brooklyn—is 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 nonjudgmental, but 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 $20 per vehicle. Apply sunscreen liberally, and don’t gawk at your neighbors.
BEST LGBTQ-FRIENDLY BEACHES
Diversity is part of what makes the revitalized 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 on the north end and runs to the landmark 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 dining and music: Try the tapas at Langosta Lounge, cocktails at the Asbury Park Yacht Club, or a well-dressed hot dog at Mayfair Boardwalk Grill. At each stop, the people watching is fabulous. Paradise, in the Empress Hotel, is the late-night hangout—equal parts gay revue and nightclub.
Literally, this quaint community is adjacent to Asbury Park—but figuratively, it’s miles away. A longtime religious retreat, Ocean Grove is known for its Victorian homes, the Great Auditorium, B&Bs, summertime churchgoers and 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, where you’ll find boutiques, gift shops, pizzerias and a few fine restaurants. Beach-wise, restrooms and showers are convenient on the south end of the boardwalk. Parking can be difficult, even with blocks of free street parking.
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 reliability 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 possible to find standup barrels as the inlet breaks at 15 or 20 feet. The spot can, however, get crowded on summer weekends. When the surf’s down, pay a visit to Inlet Outlet, Manasquan’s favorite surf shop and a local institution for more than three decades.
Whale Beach (Upper Township)
Go down to Sea Isle City, turn left at Landis Avenue and keep going until you pass Taylor Avenue. When homes and people begin to disappear, you’ve arrived at Whale Beach, one of the Jersey Shore’s best-kept surfing secrets. Frequent sandbars create nice, long, clean breaks all summer, and the lack of crowds allows everyone their own little slice of wave heaven.
Holgate (Long Beach Island)
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 of Holgate, 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.
BEST PET-FRIENDLY BEACHES
Fisherman’s Cove (Manasquan)
Located on 55 acres of marshland along the Manasquan Inlet, Fisherman’s Cove Conservation Area has a designated Dog Beach Park where leashed canines are welcome year-round. The park includes a sandy beach where dog owners can rest and relax in between dips in the cool inlet water. Open from 7 am to dusk, the beach is free and conveniently located less than a quarter-mile from Manasquan’s oceanfront beach. And it’s just over a mile from the borough’s downtown district, which includes shops, food and the Algonquin Arts Theatre.
Island Beach State Park (Seaside Park)
Island Beach is for lovers of animals, both wild and domesticated. One of the few undeveloped barrier beaches on the north Atlantic Coast, it is home to a large osprey colony, as well as red foxes, blue herons, peregrine falcons and more than 400 plant species. Dogs are welcome south of the ocean-swimming areas, as long as they are on leashes no longer than six feet. (Check in, however, with the park office before bringing Fido; there are certain times of the year when, while birds are nesting, dogs are not allowed. Canines are specifically prohibited on the Spizzle Creek Bird Blind Trail out of respect for the wildlife there.) Most visitors with four-legged friends pack picnic lunches when visiting what is arguably the Jersey Shore’s most natural wonder.
Don’t be misled by the oceanfront signs saying pets aren’t allowed on Stone Harbor’s beach. The borough has opened the northern end of the beach between 80th and 83rd streets for leashed canines, before 9 am and again from 6 pm until dusk. 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, or basketball and tennis courts. At night, go for a stroll downtown, where the staff of Paw Prints hands out treats to quadrupeds.Click here to leave a comment