FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Indulge in the Simple Pleasures of a New Jersey Beach Vacation

by Kristy Alpert

Mar 4, 2024

PHOTO:
© JAMES KIRKIKIS | DREAMSTIME .COM

February 2024

© JAMES TARABOCCHIA | DREAMSTIME.COM

I couldn’t help but smile as I watched the confused looks sent my husband’s way while he fervently dug a hole in the sand, obviously unsure why a grown man would be digging so intently while the rest of the beach lounged lazily along our spot on the Jersey Shore. I gave the couple next to us a wink as I draped a towel over the hole and lay down, face first, letting my pregnant belly settle perfectly into the make- shift beach lounger my husband had dug for me.

That first visit to the New Jersey shore happened just days after moving to the state — at seven months pregnant — and little did I know its beaches and boardwalks would soon become my family’s playground, retreat and place of indulgence while we settled into life on the East Coast. It was where we taught my son to walk in the sand, where we brought friends and family when they came to visit, and where we eventually would bring our newborn daughter to bask in the sun with her older brother … exactly three years after that first visit.

Unlike beach towns in other parts of the country, the beaches that line the New Jersey coast are designed for more than just sprawling on the sand or splashing in the shallows, each filled with its own signature attractions, culinary specialties and exclusive activities. Carnival-style rides border boardwalks teeming with tasty treats, as boutiques share walls with tourist shops and original saltwater taffy houses. There is something for everyone down the shore, whether the group is looking to relax in a spa or on the sand, get their hearts pumping on a roller coaster or at a casino, or even try out something new at a restaurant or vineyard.

New Jersey’s roughly 130-mile coastline boasts more than 60 designated beaches — although in New Jersey, you’ll hear them referred to as “shores” — and each carries an individual persona that sets it apart from the others. Some tout casinos and cocktail clubs while others are better known for putt-putt courses and aquariums. The beaches and the towns they’re part of could almost serve as an algorithm for a personality test, where each specific beach tends to attract similarly minded people. Ask anyone from New Jersey which shore is theirs, and you’ll get a pretty good insight into that person’s interests or disposition … as well as an earful on why their shore is the best. For instance, families with young kids tend to frequent Point Pleasant Beach for its famous Jenkinson’s Boardwalk (with aquarium), while nature lovers often flock to the no-frills beaches of Sandy Hook for its untouched beauty and stunning lighthouse.

© TAYLOR CREEK MEDIA | DREAMSTIME.COM

Asbury Park has long attracted music fans with its historic venue, The Stone Pony, and in recent years the town has opened a number of trendy restaurants and clubs alongside a handful of upscale boutique hotels. The white sandy beaches that take up the northern half of Long Beach Island — Loveladies, North Beach, Harvey Cedar and Surf City — are so relaxed and under the radar that even some celebrities seek refuge among the beachfront properties of the island, but you’ll often find these beaches filled with young professionals looking to unplug. Even Cape May, which claims to be the nation’s oldest seaside resort and is best known for its Victorian architecture and romantic tree-lined streets, has developed a following all its own.

There are, of course, the beaches that attract a younger crowd, like the bachelor/bachelorette party haven of Atlantic City and the nightlife-centric scene of Seaside Heights (where they filmed season 1 of The Jersey Shore). Although finding your perfect beach may seem vital to enjoying a Jersey Shore vacation to its fullest, it’s important to know New Jersey beaches welcome all, and you’ll often find teenagers celebrating milestones, families building sandcastles, couples squished together beneath the shade of umbrellas, and even runners getting their miles in on the sand … all on the same beach.

PHOTO: © SALETOMIC | DREAMSTIME.COM

It’s not uncommon to pay a small fee for parking and another fee to set up on the sand at many of the towns along the Jersey Shore — although some beaches are free, such as Atlantic City and Wildwood, and many offer season passes — but proceeds from the admissions often mean cleaner beaches and more amenities. Travelers don’t need to bring much when visiting the shore since there are tons of food options on the boardwalks and even places to rent umbrellas and chairs. However, most locals bring their own chairs and umbrellas … and a cooler full of sandwiches. Funnel cakes and hot dogs are a given “down the shore” (a phrase locals use often), but lesser-known gems include frozen custard from Kohr’s (try the orange cream swirl cone), lemonade from Pucker in Asbury Park, TLC’s Polish water ice, and chowder fries (none compare to Harvey Cedars Shellfish Co.’s version).

New Jersey beaches (with some exceptions) strictly prohibit glass bottles and alcohol, but the bars on the boardwalk and further in town make up for it with ice-cold drinks and even cooler atmospheres. The patio at Donovan’s Reef at Sea Bright proves as stunning as its views, the dog-friendly Beach Bar at Asbury Park is an icon unto itself, and the 9th Avenue Pier remains the place to be at sunset … bonus if there’s a live band serenading the setting sun.

PHOTO: © WBLANCHARD | DREAMSTIME.COM

Shark sightings are rare — except at Jenkinson’s Aquarium, Point Pleasant Beach, where they feed the sharks regularly every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday — but dolphin sightings have become more and more prevalent along the outer reaches of the shore. One can legally surfcast (fish from the shore) and pier fish without a fishing license in New Jersey (although anglers must first register online with the New Jersey Saltwater Recreational Registry Program), with striped bass, fluke and kingfish the typical catches of the day.

© JON BILOUS | DREAMSTIME. COM

These days, most of the homes occupying the best beachfront real estate are rental properties, so it’s fairly easy to book an entire bungalow or even Victorian cottage when planning in advance. Otherwise, most of the hotels lie within walking distance of the beach and boardwalk, with many new luxury and boutique properties bringing a new wave of elegance into their oceanfront communities. The recently renovated Reeds at Shelter Haven in Stone Harbor has long been a favorite for romantic getaways, but The Asbury’s unexpected design and exclusive rooftop cantina books up nearly as quickly from its shared Asbury Park location. The Wave Hotel’s signature architecture is just as chic as its guestrooms, which each feature balconies to take in the sights and sounds of Long Branch Beach. The most recent addition, a Nobu Hotel, opened inside Caesars Atlantic City in early 2024 with a cool hotel-within-a-hotel aesthetic.

Despite the many renovations and new openings that put a more polished finish on the Jersey Shore ambience, the core experience remains the same, which is why so many travelers return year after year. Some come to relive childhood memories while others seek to create new memories, but for the rest of us, the Jersey Shore offers a place to discover the simple pleasures of being entertained, unwinding and, sure, indulging a bit as well.

LODGING
The Asbury
Rooftop movies and DJ-hosted pool parties add to the allure of this fresh addition to Asbury Park. All 110 rooms are pet-friendly, with doggie room service options.
210 Fifth Ave., Asbury Park
$$$

The Reeds at Shelter Haven
This 37-room coastal chic boutique hotel is the answer to Jersey Shore luxury. Perks like oversized bay windows sweeten the stay, but the Salt Spa proves the hotel’s prized gem.
9601 Third Ave., Stone Harbor
$$$$

Wave Resort
This 67-room hotel takes a modern approach to the Jersey Shore aesthetic, with sleek guest- rooms and design-centric public spaces. Many visitors come just for the Wave’s amazing restaurants alone.
110 Ocean Ave. N., Long Branch
$$$

DINING
Amelia’s by the Sea
This family-owned and -operated restaurant resides within Spring Lake’s Grand Victorian Hotel. Take in ocean views while dining on dishes that blend old-school Italian and continental cuisine.
1505 Ocean Ave. N., Spring Lake
$$$$

Grana BYOB
Chef Carl Messick pours his vast culinary background into his 68-seat dream restaurant, which is why it’s one of the hardest reservations to score, especially for his exquisite tasting menus.
413 S. Broadway, Cape May
$$$$

Stella Marina Bar & Restaurant
Fresh seafood, served in an upscale dining environment, makes all the difference for this rustic Italian fare. The views are as impressive as the wine list.
800 Ocean Ave., Asbury Park
$$$$

INFO TO GO
Atlantic City International Airport is one of the bigger airports along the Jersey Shore, aside from a few private and municipal airfields. Flights come in from cities in Florida and Philadelphia regularly. Driving is another option, where it takes roughly an hour and a half to reach the shore from Philadelphia International Airport, an hour and 15 minutes from Newark Liberty International Airport and about two hours from John F. Kennedy International Airport. Frontier Airlines operates from Trenton Mercer Airport, only an hour’s drive to many of the top spots along the Jersey Shore. Once in town, one can easily get around by car, on foot or even by bicycle, with plenty of options for renting a bike while in town.

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