There are certainly plenty of great things to see and do at the Jersey Shore, but its 127 miles of beachfront will always be the main draw.
And while a bed of sand and a horizon of salt water waves are the key components, the differences beyond that can be vast, with beach experiences ranging from natural to urban, boho to urbane.
So, whatever you may be looking for, here are some lesser-known spots that offer unique perspectives.
Want to see how things looked long ago?
Head to Island Beach State Park, located just south of Seaside Park on the Barnegat Peninsula. Here you will find a 10-mile preserved barrier island — no duplexes, no boardwalk — with beaches, rolling dunes, a maritime forest, tidal marshes, and a spectacular view of the Barnegat Lighthouse from its southern tip. New Jersey residents pay $10 (nonresidents, $20) per carload to drive in, park, and use recreational areas for swimming and fishing. A three-day surf-fishing permit costing $75 ($90 for nonresidents) allows visitors to drive four-wheel-drive vehicles onto certain sections of the beach, and park and fish. 732-793-0506, islandbeachnj.org
Want to take everything but not have to carry it?
Just north of Atlantic City, Brigantine allows you to drive four-wheel-drive vehicles on the beach for the day when you obtain a permit from the city for $175 per vehicle for the season. So load up your camper, SUV or whatever with the family, cooler, beach chairs, umbrellas, fishing rods, and volleyball nets to access specific beaches along the south end of the island at Lagoon Boulevard, at Harbor Beach Boulevard and Seaside Road, and at the north end of the island at 14th Street North. 609-266-2891 or bb-nj.com
Want a wonderful beach day — for free?
Some think the scourge of the Shore is having to pay for beach tags. Most municipalities are charging between $5 and $10 per person for a daily beach tag this summer. But while these towns insist they need that revenue to clean up after all the visitors and keep the strands in tip-top shape, others offer their public beaches at no cost.
Those towns include Atlantic City, with its urban backdrop of casinos and hotels, Wildwood and its entertaining honky-tonk boardwalk, and Strathmere, with its more subdued vibe of newly refurbished dunes and beach houses in the background. Each offers amenities, from public restrooms with outdoor showers in Atlantic City and Wildwood, to rustic porta-potties in Strathmere.
Want some history while you’re sunning?
Fascinated by finials? Wowed by widow’s walks? All googly-eyed for Victorian gingerbread? Consider a beach day in Cape May, Spring Lake, or Ocean Grove, where the view landward provides a look at pretty architecture from days gone by. Unlike most of the Shore’s tear-’em-down-and-build-’em-back-bigger mentality, these towns have made concerted efforts to preserve historic structures. You can dive deeper into the Shore’s historic preservation efforts with tours and further reading at
capemaymac.org, springlakeboro.org, oceangrovehistory.org.
A few others worth a look
Seven-Mile Beach (Stone Harbor, Avalon) for immaculate soft sand, hypervigilant lifeguards, and peace (plus good parking).
Ocean City’s beach is next to the most kid-friendly, ride-packed boardwalk of them all.
Longport Dog Beach in Somers Point will welcome your pooch all day, all year — and no leash required.
Want more of the Shore? Pick up a copy of our 2017 Shore Guide, packed with the sights, sounds, and tastes of summer.