The moment the mercury starts rising and summer Fridays go into full effect, it seems the entire population of New Jersey—plus countless NYC and Philly locals—head “down the shore” to cool off (or heat things up) at one of the state’s beautiful and action-packed beaches. With 130 miles of shoreline and one unique coastal town lined up after another, visitors have no shortage of spots to choose from. Each beach area is long on sand and personality, and whether you’re looking for family-friendly entertainment, resort-like luxury, a serious music scene, or quiet solitude away from the crowds, you can easily find the spot that matches your vibe. From top to bottom, here are the beaches that draw us in—and make us appreciate every single minute of a Jersey Shore summer.
Note: Most spots in NJ charge a fee for a daily “beach badge,” so we’ve included that cost here.
Feeling the heat in NYC? Hop on the Seastreak Ferry and within the hour, you could be lounging along a stretch of sand that offers a view of the city skyline. Run by the National Park Service, Sandy Hook offers plenty to do beyond sunbathing. Rent a bike and cruise along the 7-mile multi-use pathway, launch a kayak in the water along the bay, do guided yoga on the beach, or hike the stairs of the 250-year old lighthouse. Sandy Hook is also a prime spot for birding; bring your binoculars (and a tent for overnight camping) and get up close and personal with the winged residents of this coastal refuge.
Beach Badge: Free; vehicles $15/day
After crumbling infrastructure, a devastating pier fire, and Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the seaside city of Long Branch, investment money poured into the area restoring the once-popular seaside resort to its former glory and then some. At the heart of this revitalization is Pier Village, which has a carousel, boutique shops, upscale dining, and the brand new Wave Hotel. This 67-room property offers ocean views from every room, an outdoor pool deck with fire pits, a spa, and blowdry bar. Of course, the ultimate draw for visitors is still the beach—Long Branch named its excellent stretch of sand for the Seven Presidents who visited the area in its original glory days. In 2016, the city cut the ribbon on the newly restored boardwalk.
Beach Badge: $7/day
The town made famous by Bruce Springsteen is undergoing a complete revitalization with a new vibe and venues that have earned it the nickname: “Brooklyn on the Beach.” While the original Stone Pony is still the place to be for concerts, the defunct Salvation Army Boarding House has been transformed into The Asbury Hotel (a hip destination resort with a rooftop bar and a movie theater), and the Asbury Ocean Club (luxe surfside resort with suites and residences) opened Summer 2019. Asbury Lanes got a new life as a music venue, diner, and upscale bowling alley. Thanks to its deeply rooted art, music, and cultural scene (and preservation-minded local leaders) Asbury retains its funky creative character and strives to be inclusive to all. Its scenic one-mile stretch of beach (along with the town itself) is one of the most LGBTQ-friendly in New Jersey. When the sun starts to scorch, families can cool down at the Asbury Splash Park or check out the pinball machines at the Silverball Museum Arcade. Pet owners can let their dogs run free after 6 p.m. at Bradley Cove (also known as “Dog Beach”).
Beach Badge: $5-7/day
Built by the same developers who created Asbury back in the 1920s, Bradley Beach has evolved into a lovely low-key beach town with a mix of simple attractions that appeal to families and couples. Its beachy dunes (which greatly protected the town during Hurricane Sandy) were originally built over a base of snow fencing and ... 20,000 Christmas trees. Like most Jersey beaches, you’ll need to pay to get on in the summer (Bradey was the first to require a fee back in the '20s) but those funds go towards keeping those sugary white sands pristine. Bradley Beach is home to the deliciously popular Lobsterfest, which draws 30,000 attendees for one glorious, crustacean-filled weekend every summer.
Beach Badge: $9/day
Some beach trips are for chilling, and some are for partying. Belmar—once known for its extreme revelry—now affords its visitors ample opportunity to do both. By day, you can dig your toes into the sand along the wide swath of sandy beach that lies just beyond the town’s new $8 million, 1.3-mile boardwalk. Once the sun goes down, the nightlife heats up. Head to the town marina, home to NJ’s largest party boat fleet, or join the throngs bar hopping at the Beach Haus Brewery, the infamous D'Jais, and the Headliner. Check out Bar Anticipation (technically in nearby Lake Como) for outdoor drinking and live music.
Beach Badge: $8/day
If you want an ultra-clean beach that’s free of the bells, whistles, and overstimulation that characterize so many Jersey Shore spots, then Spring Lake will definitely draw you in. The gorgeously maintained 2-mile swath of sand has an excellent boardwalk with no commercial shops, so you’ll want to pack your own picnic before you arrive or visit the municipal pavilion that sells simple snacks. Stroll along the boards, people and pet watch (you might see more than one dog in a baby stroller as they’re not allowed on the actual boardwalk), or head right for the water. If you want to make a weekend of it, book a stay at one of the Historic Inns of Spring Lake and dine on fresh seafood at Ray’s Cafe in nearby Sea Girt.
Beach Badge: $10/day
Experienced NJ surfers have long had Manasquan in their sights. It’s one of the (relatively) big wave surf spots in the state, and much of the action is located down near the Inlet, where jetties, sandbars, and weather come together to create the right conditions for catching long barreling “right handers.” If you’ve never popped up on a board before, the Pink Pineapple Surf School will get you riding at one of the beginner breaks. Manesquan beach is less commercial and crowded than nearby Point Pleasant, and there’s a paved path where you can jog or cycle along the water (dogs are also permitted in some places). The area is a prime spot for fishing: Drop a line over at Fisherman’s Cove Conservation Area or hop on a boat with Fish Monger Charters.
Beach Badge: $9/day
Point Pleasant Beach
Point Pleasant is purpose-built for families—and its delivers on the fun, no matter how often you visit. The town’s name is synonymous with Jenkinson’s Boardwalk, a one-mile entertainment area that’s packed with classic attractions, including an amusement park, arcade, fun house, ropes course, and mini-golf courses. The boardwalk also offers plenty of dining and drinking options for grown ups, including Jenk’s Club, which features live bands and DJs all summer long. With so much to do, it’s easy to forget the beach—but it’s still a huge draw. Get there early to secure parking (which can be tough) and a choice patch of sand.
Beach Badge: $10/day
Island Beach State Park
Created by a mix of storms and tides, IBSP is one of the last uninhabited barrier islands that exists in New Jersey. With 3,000 acres of wild coastal sand dunes and both bay and ocean beaches, it’s an ideal spot for a nature-minded day trip. Wildlife thrives here, and you may spot foxes and osprey during your trip. Even without commercial attractions, there’s plenty to do, including sailboarding, surfing, canoeing, fishing, nature trails, and of course, relaxing on the sand. While it’s not a commercial zone, the beach does post lifeguards at the main swimming beaches, and offers public restrooms along with a concession with food, drink, and beach gear.
Vehicle Entry Fee: Starting at $6/day for NJ residents, $12/day for non-residents
Long Beach Island
LBI (as the locals call it) is actually an 18-mile-long barrier island that’s no more than a half mile wide at its widest point—so you can enjoy sunrises along the ocean and sunsets over the bay. Climb up the lighthouse at Barnegat Light (“Old Barney”) for a bird’s eye view of the island before taking to the water for paddleboarding, surfing, or ocean swimming. The vibe north of the causeway (in the towns of Surf City, Loveladies, North Beach, and Harvey Cedar) is decidedly laid back. In the south (Ship Bottom, Holgate, Brant Beach, and Beach Haven), you’ll find plenty of action. Families flock to the Fantasy Island Amusement Park, Thundering Surf Water Park, mini golf, and enjoy scheduled events all summer long.
Beach Badge: $7/day, $20/week
Just over the causeway—but the proverbial “million miles away” from the hustle of Atlantic City—you’ll find Brigantine, more simply known as The Island. It offers a generously wide, soft stretch of sand, and is one of the few beaches in New Jersey to allow 4-wheel drive vehicles (with permits). Brigantine is a popular surf spot, with most of the action taking place around The Jetty. Cove Beach to the south is a popular place for sunbathers and festival events. Brigantine is a pet-friendly spot: Leashed dogs can run along the city-run end of Brigantine Beach all year long. If you’re staying for longer than the day, head even further north along the beach to the 46,000-acre Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge, home to rare species of migrating birds.
Beach Badge: $10/day, $15/week; $200/season for 4x4 vehicles
Ocean City's charms are centered around classic family fun in the sun (it’s a dry town, so partiers tend to go elsewhere). It does serve up 8 long miles of powdery sand beaches (with 14 access points, public restrooms, and lifeguards on duty) and magnificent 2.5-mile boardwalk lined with snack stands, arcades and amusements. Jump on one of 30 rides Gillian’s Wonderland Pier (including a giant Ferris wheel, bumper cars, carousel and log flume) or bomb down twisty slides at the OC Waterpark. If you’d rather hit the waves than stroll the boards, OC’s got plenty of action. The town has been named one of the best surf spots in America and its produced some of the sport’s biggest names.
Beach Badge: $5/day, $10/week
Stone Harbor & Avalon
You can enjoy the simple pleasures in Stone Harbor and Avalon, two quaint seaside towns that share a sparkling 7 miles of beach. Enjoy sailing, shell collecting, and beach yoga by day, and community organized games of bocce, cornhole, and beach volleyball just before sunset. While parking is limited for day-trippers, it helps keep the beach calm and uncrowded. On the warmest summer days, dig your toes in the sand at the north end of Avalon—the land juts out a mile further into the Atlantic than nearby barrier islands and catches beautiful breezes. In need of a little retail therapy? Avalon’s Dune Drive, two blocks off the water, has shops and boutiques you won’t find at other NJ beaches, including Lululemon, Lilly Pulitzer, and The Preppy Palm.
Beach Badge: $6/daily, $12/weekly
Call “The Crest” by locals, this dramatically wide, 2.5-mile-long section of beach stretches from the Wildwood Boardwalk (where you’ll find multiple amusement and water parks) to Diamond Beach (which borders a 2-mile-long wildlife refuge). Unlike most NJ beaches, there’s no fee or beach tag required to get on sand, which—coupled with far more affordable lodging than in nearby Cape May—make it a very popular spot for budget-conscious vacationers. Take to the water for dolphin-spotting cruises, parasailing, waverunner riding, or boogie boarding; then come ashore to relax, read, and sunbathe. Each summer, The Crest hosts the popular Sand Sculpting Festival (free to enter), where creative geniuses create masterpieces using nothing more than sand, water, plastic tools—and their imaginations.
Beach Badge: Free
Where the Garden State runs out (literally Exit 0 off the Parkway), you’ll land in the irresistibly charming town Cape May. Strolling along shaded blocks lined with beautifully restored Victorian-era homes and sprawling flower gardens, you can easily imagine what seaside life was like over 100 years ago. Install yourself on the immaculate sandy beach along Cape May’s 2-mile promenades: The cheekily named “Poverty Beach” is popular due to its proximity to shops and the Washington pedestrian mall. Go a little further west to catch spectacular views of the Lighthouse and the uninhabited stretch of land leading up to it. Cape May boast one of the most impressive restaurant scenes anywhere on the East Coast. Don’t miss incredible craft cocktails and locally sourced dishes at the Ebbitt Room, then hit up the “underground” music scene at The Boiler Room, located beneath Congress Hall, America’s oldest seaside resort.
Beach Badge: $6/daily, $18/weekly