A Weekend At The Jersey Shore

Forget what you may recall from the popular MTV series, the Jersey Shore is a great family beach destination. There are two wonderful kid-friendly beaches on the real New Jersey coast where my family spent many a summer vacation. Whether you like the quiet of Island Beach State Park, the lively boardwalk scene at Seaside Heights or would enjoy a combination of the two, the Jersey shoreline along the Atlantic is a classic destination for East Coast families from Philadelphia to Hartford and points inbetween.

And after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the Shore is looking really good — some might say better than ever.

Barnegat Lighthouse off the Jersey Shore at Island Beach State Park
The Barnegat LIghthouse is one of the landmarks of Island Beach State Park, one of the Jersey Shore’s most tranquil beaches.

Quiet Island Beach State Park

Island Beach State Park is located on the southern tip of the central shore area in Ocean County. Tucked between Seaside Park and Barnegat Inlet, the 9-mile stretch of beach is one of the only areas of the New Jersey shore that remains mostly untouched by developers. The park is separated into three sections: the northern and southern parts are “natural areas” and the central part is the recreation area. A bird and wildlife sanctuary, as well as a great place for fishing (striped bass and bluefish), Island Beach State Park is perfect for the outdoor, nature-loving family.

Portions of the beach are designated for surfing and scuba diving. Surf fishing is very popular. Walk the self-guided nature trails, each under a mile in length and toddler friendly. Other activities include canoeing, horseback riding, a five-mile bike path, and a bird blind (a camouflaged bird-watching area) to observe the osprey.

Lifeguards watch over swimmers daily. Take advantage of this beach’s amenities: modern bathhouses (with bathrooms and changing areas), outdoor showers and handicapped ramps on the beach. Keep in mind that while the beach is free, parking is not and during the summer season, expect to pay up to $10 per car ($20 for non-residents.) However, biking to the beach is free.

Also, be sure to bring a picnic, because Island Beach has no restaurants. Relax. This beach remains one of the most unspoiled, quiet, and secluded beaches for a restful vacation or day trip.

Lively Casino Pier in Seaside Heights, Jersey Shore

Aerial view of beach at Seaside Heights, Jersey Shore with Casino Pier in background
The beach at Seaside Heights with the Casino Pier and midway in the background.

If you want a little more action, Seaside Heights, a 10-minute drive north of Island Beach, provides countless attractions and plenty of noise. Stroll the fun-filled Seaside Heights Boardwalk, which has been widened over time to include even more fried foods, colorful rides and midway games. Don’t miss the fun on Casino Pier which is sure to entertain kids of all ages. And something very cool: the Retrocade Classic Video Game Arcade is a magnet for parents.

The Casino Pier and Breakwater Beach Water Park is a newer version of the same traditional Jersey Shore fun. Enjoy the waterfront pier, carousel and dozens of rides. Breakwater Beach Water Park’s large wave pool is a favorite; life jackets are available in various sizes for less confident swimmers. For the adventurous, dive into the water park’s twisting waterslides that travel at fast speeds. Climb up Salem’s Scream, a 50-fot-tall Aqua drop where the “floor” falls out from under you as you plunge into a waterslide. Luckily for grandparents, there is a soft play area designed especially for toddlers. After you dry off, stick around for the nightly magic show.

Beach & Evening Fun on the Jersey Shore

The Seaside Heights view Earthcam with live video feed of the boardwalk.
The Seaside Heights Earthcam gives you a ivestream view of the boardwalk so you can avoid the crowds.

The Seaside Heights gold sand beach is always busy unless you come early in the day. Mostly, there are visitors who come to catch the best surfing waves in New Jersey, locals with beach cottages and Jersey families who come to play in the sun. Plan for the newly reopened 2021 season. Beach fees are $9 per person daily, though kids under 12 and active and retired military personnel (and dependents) are free. Check the beach website for special discounts, senior pricing, weekly passes and information about hot private showers. Lifeguards are on duty daily.

Dine out in Seaside and the surrounding towns, where you’ll find everything from boardwalk fare to sit-down restaurants. Bobber’s Family Restaurant at 906 Boulevard (732/830-2086) is one of our family’s favorites. It’s now rated 4.5 stars on TripAdvisor with hundreds of reviews so I guess it’s survived the test of time.

Take advantage of the town’s entertainment almost nightly in July and August. The Seaside Heights events calendar features live music, outdoor movies and fireworks shows. Much of it is free. Older kids may even learn something from the history talks, sponsored by the Seaside Heights Historical Society, done by costumed reenactors in the Carousel Pavilion. Look out for Family Fun Days and special kids activities.

Make some time for Jenkinson’s Aquarium on Point Pleasant Beach. Activities are limited at the moment, yet they’ve kept families busy on rainy days for 30 years.

Trip Planning Details for a Jersey Shore Vacation Beach Vacation

Man on surfboard in the waves
Surfing is one of the top activities at the Atlantic beaches near Seaside Heights.

Do stay the night and try both beaches. There are a few vintage motel options accessible from either beach, as well as newer lodging options and Airbnbs.

Read up online about the Seaside Colony Motel and the Sunburst Motel which are frequently recommended. The Charlroy Motel, today run by grandchildren of the original owners when it was the Charlroy Manor, offers a family suite, which can accommodate seven people with two bedrooms (one with bunks), two bathrooms, a living room with sofabed and a kitchenette.

The Reeds at Shelter Haven, much newer, is a pretty, contemporary choice in Stone Harbor. Check out this elegant, luxury boutique hotel for breathtaking seaside views and sunsets on the bay. No matter where you stay, get beach passes to avoid the lines and save your time to check out the latest along the shore.

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