For most, the phrase “Jersey Shore” comes loaded with pop culture-inspired preconceived notions, often followed by eye-rolling jokes. But those in the know, well, know better. Insiders cherish the shore’s wide beaches that sport soft sand, along with the warm summer waves that offer swimmers and surfers the chance to make a splash. And while casinos may have brought Atlantic City fame, there’s fortune to be found at lesser known spots along the shoreline. Here are four beaches that will change the way you think about the Jersey Shore.
Located at the southern tip of Long Beach Island (often referred to as LBI), Holgate has one of the state’s last undeveloped barrier beaches. The Holgate Peninsula boasts more than 400 acres of barrier beach, dunes, and tidal salt marsh, and is part of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. During the summer, more than three miles of beach are closed to people so that beach-nesting birds (some threatened or endangered) and Diamondback Terrapins can move in. But there’s a way to safely and legally get access to the protected beach: take a docent-run nature walk. Tours run all summer, Wednesdays through Sundays at 10:30 a.m. Walks last about an hour and cover topics like shorebirds and beachcombing. Bring sunscreen, bug spray, and your camera. Walks are free, no registration.
There’s something about a six-story elephant standing in the sand that just makes you smile. A National Historic Landmark and the oldest roadside attraction in America, 134-year-old Lucy the Elephant calls Margate home. You can take in the view beachside for free or tour the popular pachyderm. Guided tours run every 30 minutes at the top and bottom of the hour. Beach access: $8 for adults, $4 for ages 3-12, free for children 2 and under.
Loved by families, Ocean City is an annual tradition that tends to stick from one generation to the next. Throughout the summer, lifeguards keep watch on the surf from wooden stands strategically placed along the sand. Beach badges are required for all beachgoers ages 12 and older. (Most New Jersey beaches require beach tags; funds are used to maintain beaches.) After spending the day on the sand, the boardwalk comes alive with shopping, miniature golf, amusement rides, and an assortment of food — with everything from pizza and pork roll to ice cream and caramel corn. Ocean City is a dry town, so you’d like some booze, you’ll have to bring your own before you hit the city limits. Beach access: $5 for the day or $10 for the week.
Head 18 miles north on LBI and you’ll find yourself in Barnegat Light, home to the island’s commercial fishing port, Viking Village, and Barnegat Lighthouse, perhaps better known as “Old Barney.” Climb the 217 steps to the top of Barnegat Lighthouse and you’ll be rewarded with panoramic seaside views. It’s a good trek up (and down) a single spiral staircase, but there are a few spots you can move off for a break, if needed. The lighthouse is open daily, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Memorial Day through Labor Day. Beach access: $3 for adults, $1 for ages 6-11, free for children 5 and under.