Seagulls and Salt Water Taffy: Exploring Coastal New Jersey

By Taylor Smith

New Jersey is gifted with approximately 217 miles of coastline. During the summer months, it is not uncommon to hear discussions of your neighbor’s “shore” house or when the family reunion is planned at one of the local beach rentals. In fact, ask anyone who was raised in New Jersey what their fondest childhood memories are and they will undoubtedly mention summers spent “down the shore.” For such a small state, each beach is unique in its own way. While Ocean City is alcohol-free and kid-oriented, Asbury Park is rock and roll, and Spring Lake is country club chic.

No matter where your summertime memories reside, the shore is entwined within many New Jersey residents’ identity and it can’t be ignored.

SANDY HOOK

Sandy Hook is a narrow barrier spit located in the Northeastern corner of New Jersey. The community was notoriously hard-hit by Superstorm Sandy with roadways, homes, beaches, and businesses suffering severe losses. Thankfully, summer 2014 looks bright.

This sliver of land mass encloses the southern entrance of Lower New York Bay, making it a convenient stop for ships before anchoring in New York Harbor. The now defunct Fort Hancock located in Sandy Hook was once an important U.S. military base defending the New Jersey coastline and the entrance to New York Harbor and is now part of the National Parks System.

Getting to Sandy Hook from New York is part of the appeal. The journey is a 30-minute ferry ride from Manhattan. Sea Streak operates regular ferries to Sandy Hook. Exchanging Manhattan in July for Atlantic Ocean views and fresh, salt air comes as a welcome relief and change of scenery. It is also recommended that visitors bring bikes onto the ferry, which they can then use on the 5.5-mile long “multiuse path” through Sandy Hook. Another attraction is the Sandy Hook Lighthouse built in 1764. It is the oldest working lighthouse in the US and was originally built as a guiding light for ship captains entering New York Harbor.

Not to be overlooked are Sandy Hook’s beaches, which feature public conveniences like restrooms and snack bars. Sandy Hook’s North Beach and South Beach are family friendly and monitored by lifeguards. For those who are interested, Gunnison Beach is a registered nude beach, which means that clothing is entirely optional.

ASBURY PARK

Even before Bruce Springsteen immortalized this Shore town on his debut album cover, Greetings From Asbury Park, the place was known as a top destination for live music. Modern-day musicians with strong ties to Asbury Park in addition to Springsteen include Bon Jovi, Patti Smith, The Ramones, and The Clash.

Now more than ever, Asbury Park maintains a vibrant nightlife. Popular clubs dating back to the 1960s and 1970s include The Stone Pony, The Saint (formerly known as the Clover Club), and Asbury Lanes, a functioning bowling alley and music venue. Both the downtown and boardwalk have undergone recent renovations and visitors will find that these areas are filled with newly opened restaurants, hotels, and condominiums.

Another fun attraction is the Jersey Shore Premium Outlets, located just ten minutes away by car in Tinton Falls. These outlets are a point of interest for shoppers from all over New Jersey. Here, you can purchase a coveted Kate Spade bag, find the perfect Theory dress, or buy a new jacket from Burberry.

With beaches, bars, and local theater’s celebrating LGBT causes and events, Asbury Park has become a popular destination for the gay community. This is also reflected at Asbury Park’s beaches, where the Jersey Pride celebration is usually held in June of each year.

SPRING LAKE

Spring Lake is a small beach resort town located in Central New Jersey. Historically, the town was a much frequented vacation spot for the wealthy families of the Gilded Age who also built homes in Newport, Rhode Island and Bar Harbor, Maine. The largely residential community maintains an attitude of quiet sophistication reflected in the well-kept lawns and seaside mansions that line the streets.

The town’s two-mile stretch of beach is pristine since all food and drink is prohibited. Instead, visitors should plan on enjoying their picnic on the boardwalk or frequent one of the restaurants in town. A change of clothes is appropriate since the local restaurants are somewhat upscale. Enjoy a glass of wine at the Breakers Hotel and Restaurant or feast on a delicious seafood meal at the Island Palm Grill. Black Trumpet, the in-house restaurant at the Grand Victorian Hotel, offers fresh local catches alongside Porterhouse Porkchops and Cavatappi Pasta. Time will really stand still at Whispers Restaurant at the Hewitt-Wellington Hotel. The atmosphere is upscale yet unhurried and diners will appreciate the opportunity to linger over their meal while admiring the hotel’s gazebos and lush seaside gardens.

BAY HEAD/MANTOLOKING

Bay Head and Mantoloking were decimated by Superstorm Sandy. Local residents found their beloved homes split in two, underwater or dragged and dropped into neighboring towns. Geographically speaking, the area has been permanently altered. The National Guard quickly descended, and homeowners have focused all of their energy on restoring and rebuilding. While far from complete, a great deal of progress has been made in repairing local homes and roadways.

Due to their location, Bay Head and Mantoloking are very popular summer destinations for Tri-State residents. However, even strung together, the communities are small and land is at a premium. While the beach is somewhat short and narrow, the sand and water are clean. This is a quiet beach. No food, drinks or loud music are permitted.

Bay Head Yacht Club and Mantoloking Yacht Club promote serious sailing, rowing, tennis, socializing and yachting. Just five minutes away, the Manasquan River Golf Club in Brielle is another fun recreational center.

ATLANTIC CITY

The HBO series Boardwalk Empire has emphasized Atlantic City’s history as a prohibition-era hot spot for debauchery. However, modern day Atlantic City is filled with world-class entertainment and family fun beyond the well-known gambling and gaming facilities. In fact, the beachfront city is a year-round destination offering high-end shopping, concerts, celebrity appearances, and exotic bars and restaurants. Since the installation of direct train service from Manhattan and Philadelphia, Atlantic City has become a popular weekend getaway.

The massive Borgata hotel and casino, Harrah’s Resort, Revel Casino Hotel and the Pier at Caesars are always filled with excited revelers and crowds. Such places provide Las Vegas-quality entertainment with performances by Celine Dion, Cirque du Soleil, Jamie Foxx, and Fergie.

The Water Club, a 36,000-square foot spa with 16 treatment rooms, an infi nity lap pool, fi tness center, and gourmet restaurant, is one of the latest non-casino Atlantic City attractions. Another fantastic addition is the expansion of the Tanger Atlantic City Outlets, now featuring 100 outlet stores including Michael Kors and Lacoste.

The Chelsea, a luxurious boutique hotel, offers the perfect getaway for a fun and relaxing weekend. The Sea Spa, located on the ground floor includes a heated saltwater pool and a tempting list of spa treatments. Guests of The Chelsea have full access to Chelsea Beach on Atlantic City’s oceanfront, complete with white cabanas, lounge chairs, and full bar service. Before you leave, work up a sweat at Chelsea’s fitness center outfitted with the latest athletic equipment, large screen TV’s, and chilled water.

OCEAN CITY

Located on a barrier island that lies between Great Egg Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean, Ocean City is extremely family oriented.

The town was once a favored vacation spot for Grace Kelly and her family, which owned a summer home here dating back to 1929. Due to the town’s Methodist roots, Ocean City is completely dry, meaning no alcohol can be found within the town’s borders and public drinking is prohibited.

One of the main attractions is the 2.5 mile-long boardwalk. During the day, the boardwalk is busy with casual shoppers, strollers, joggers and bike riders. At night, Gillian’s Wonderland Pier and Playland’s Castaway Cove amusement parks fill the air with delighted screams and laughter. There are also several miniature golf courses and a waterpark filled with serpentine slides all located directly on the boardwalk.

Many leave the boardwalk having visited Johnson’s Popcorn to purchase salty sweet caramel popcorn, and Shriver’s Salt Water Taffy & Fudge, which makes authentic salt water taffy in flavors like banana chocolate, strawberry and peppermint. The boardwalk is also filled with fun, surf-oriented shops where visitors can buy a tie-dye colored boogie board, shell jewelry, beach cover-ups, a hermit crab, and peach-colored polo shirts for the kids.

If you are unable to secure a beach rental, Port-O-Call Hotel and The Flanders Hotel are two excellent choices. Port-O-Call Hotel is oceanfront and offers a few dining options and an outdoor pool for those kids who refuse to get covered in sand. The Flanders Hotel is an Ocean City icon, having stood on the boardwalk since 1923. Just a few strides from the beach, The Flanders Hotel offers comfortable suites that include a small kitchen, spacious bedrooms, living area, pool, and sundeck.

CAPE MAY

When the Garden State Parkway’s exit numbers wind down to 0, you know you’ve arrived at Cape May. Bearing absolutely no resemblance to the images of the shore seen on reality television, Cape May is historic and filled with well-to-do homeowners from Manhattan, Washington DC, and New Jersey.

Between the detailed Victorian homes and white sandy beaches, Cape May features beautiful scenery. The town is also a popular spot for beachside weddings and is a major destination for bird watchers. Another option is to escape the summer heat with a visit to the Cape May Winery where you can taste-test a wide selection of wines, or simply relax on the back porch overlooking the vineyard.

Food lovers will relish a trip to Cape May where the number of restaurants seems to outnumber the number of locals. Casual options like the popular Uncle Bill’s Pancake House are always available, but it is worth visiting SeaSalt, 410 Bank Street or Peter Shields Inn & Restaurant for a taste of fine dining, shore-style.

If you plan an overnight visit, Congress Hall beachfront hotel and resort is a wonderful choice. Guests can relax in rocking chairs overlooking the Grand Lawn or rent bikes to tour the resort’s 62-acre Beach Plum Farm. Also, don’t miss Congress Hall’s Blue Pig Tavern, which offers delicious cocktails, American fare and the sweet smell of salt air.

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