What to Do, See and Eat in Island Heights: An Enchanting Throwback in Time

The waterfront and the arts scene are top-notch.

Boats during Sailfest in Island Heights
Sailfest in Island Heights is the largest sailing festival in New Jersey. Photo: Courtesy of the Rotary Club of Toms River

If you are an artist or a sailor, or simply someone who loves Victorian architecture and beautiful water views, you will be enchanted by the borough of Island Heights. Tucked into a pocket of the north shore of Toms River, this 1-square-mile Ocean County town feels like a throwback in time, with its stately former sea captains sitting proudly along the banks of River Avenue. Across the street is the 125-year-old Island Heights Yacht Club, where sailboats skim along the river.

Founded in 1878 as a Methodist camp-meeting site, the town of just 1,650 residents attracts day-trippers who come to watch a regatta or take a sailing lesson, and artists who find a wealth of paint-worthy spots to set up their easels. One world-renowned artist, the trompe l’oeil master John F. Peto, moved to Island Heights in 1889 and lived there until his death in 1907. 


September 2023 cover of New Jersey Monthly

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Art or history buffs can see where Peto lived and worked at what is now the John F. Peto Studio Museum on Cedar Avenue (which is one of NJM’s favorite under-the-radar museums), or visit the Island Heights Cottage Museum on Simpson Avenue to get a sense of life here in the late 19th century. With a reputation as an artists’ colony, Island Heights is also home to the Ocean County Artists Guild, which hosts exhibits, events and classes.

The waterfront comes alive with Sailfest on the second Saturday in September, New Jersey’s largest sailing festival featuring music, food and boating.

For those seeking a bit more action, Seaside Heights is just across the causeway, where boardwalk amusements and beaches await. 


Xina Restaurant, just before the causeway to Seaside Heights, is a large, family-oriented fish and sushi restaurant, where the portions are large. Also located nearby is Aqua Blu Kitchen & Cocktails, a New American bistro that is in Toms River.


The Avon Hotel in Toms River is a two-star hotel just outside of Island Heights en route to the Shore, where rooms go for about $150-$215 a night.

Want to keep exploring? Check out more of our 12 favorite small towns to visit now.

Island Heights Yacht Club, 65 River Avenue; John F. Peto Studio Museum, 102 Cedar Avenue; Island Heights Cottage Museum, 105 Simpson Avenue; Ocean County Artists Guild, 22 Chestnut Avenue; Xina Restaurant, 3430 Route 37, Toms River; Aqua Blu Kitchen & Cocktails, 3410 Route 37, Toms River; Avon Hotel, 2215 Route 37 East, Toms River

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