During the last four years, I have been exploring as many beaches in New Jersey as I can. Living in Philly, it’s not hard for me to go down the shore most of the weekends from May to September. Beach towns and family resorts dot the 130 miles of NJ coastline, so I have plenty of options when I need a beach day!
While everyone has their opinion on which NJ beach is best, they can all agree that taking a vacation to the Jersey shore is one of the best things to do in New Jersey. From collecting shells and sea glass to enjoying a range of different watersports, there are lots of fun things to do down the shore. Depending on where you go, you may see dolphins or whales, not to mention some beautiful, natural scenery and historic landmarks.
I’ve found that every NJ beach I go to has a distinct personality and something different to offer. So, whether you want to party, spend time with family, relax in nature, or simply find a free beach in New Jersey, I can help you out.
In a nutshell, these are the 10 best beaches of New Jersey:
- Cape May
- Ocean City
- Island Beach State Park
- Asbury Park
- Long Beach Island
- Sandy Hook
- The Wildwoods
1. Cape May, the best beach in New Jersey
No one will argue against the fact that Cape May is one of the nicest beaches in New Jersey. Cape May is located on NJ’s southern tip, the country’s oldest seaside resort town and the only city to be named a National Historic Landmark.
The moment you arrive, you’ll see exactly what makes Cape May so special. Picturesque Victorian mansions and colorful homes line the streets, along with vintage thrift shops, B&Bs, and a variety of restaurants. Super scenic and charming, Cape May is an absolute beauty, and its family-friendly ambiance makes it one of the best New Jersey beaches.
You’ll need to purchase a beach tag to go on the sand, but it’s worth the $8. After a morning on the beach, I recommend strolling along the promenade or checking out the nearby attractions like Cape May Point State Park, the Cape May Lighthouse, Sunset Beach, or one of the wineries. Exit Zero is one of my favorite restaurants in town; many people come for the artsy atmosphere and stay for the delicious food.
Cape May isn’t the most exciting place on the Jersey shore, but it’s an idyllic spot where you can bike, birdwatch, and parasail. It’s not uncommon to see dolphins from the shore, although if you want a closer look, consider a Cape May whale and dolphin watching tour like this 2-hour sunset cruise.
2. Ocean City, the best beach in New Jersey for families
Ocean City repeatedly makes the list of top NJ beaches, and it’s not hard to see why. It has a great beach, a fun boardwalk, and a family-friendly ambiance that keeps people coming back.
A daily beach tag in Ocean City is just $5, and you’ll have no problems finding a spot on the long stretch of white sand. Lifeguards are on duty all summer long, and the beaches are among the cleanest in the area.
Ocean City is also one of the best beaches in New Jersey with a boardwalk, and it’s especially popular among families with children. Bikes are permitted on the boardwalk, although it’s preferable to ride in the morning when the temperatures are lower and there are fewer people. The nearly 2.5-mile boardwalk includes two amusement parks, arcades, mini-golf courses, shops, restaurants, and other attractions. Gillian’s Wonderland Pier is a staple here and has been around for nearly 100 years.
If you’d rather spend time in nature, Ocean City offers kayak, parasail, paddle-board, and dolphin watch opportunities. You’ll also find plenty of hotels as well as several B&Bs and campgrounds. Overall, OC is the best family beach in NJ, plus it’s a dry town, so while you can’t buy alcohol here, you can BYOB.
- Where to stay: Blue Water Inn
3. Island Beach State Park, one of the cleanest NJ beaches
Island Beach State Park is another pristine place to visit down the Jersey shore. Nestled in Barnegat Bay, it’s a magnificent bay beach in NJ with lots of open, natural spaces.
The park is a preserved barrier island, which explains its untouched state. The entrance fee is $6 per car ($12 for non-NJ residents), and parking is easy to find. You’ll come across an interpretative center on the island, as well as Fisherman’s Walkway, a wooden path leading directly to the beach. Be aware that ocean swimming is only allowed in the designated one-mile stretch of coastline.
Given its more undeveloped environment, Island Beach is one of the quieter NJ beaches, and it’s a great place to hike and bike. There are plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities along the marked trails, or you can take a canoe or kayak on the water to find wading birds and falcons at the bay. The Park has one of the largest osprey colonies in New Jersey, so keep your eyes peeled!
This New Jersey beach is next to the Sedge Island Wildlife Management Area, where you can learn more about the surrounding sand dunes, salt marshes, and maritime forests.
- Where to stay: Hershey Motel
4. Asbury Park, one of the best north Jersey beaches
In the past decade, Asbury Park has become one of the most beautiful beaches in New Jersey. The revitalized area welcomes people of all backgrounds, making it a spirited place for summertime fun.
It’s a bit of a trip to get to this northern New Jersey beach, but it’s worth it. Along with the beach, there is a fun boardwalk, the Silverball pinball arcade museum, various restaurants, theaters, art galleries, and the Carousel Building, a historic Beaux Arts-style music venue.
The nostalgia of this place is undeniable, and it’s what makes this one of the more popular beaches in New Jersey. For example, The Stone Pony opened in 1974 and hosted Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, and other artists. Some other hotspots on the Asbury Park Boardwalk include the Supper Club and the Wonder Bar.
This family-oriented Jersey shore town has beach playgrounds, a Splash Park, and all kinds of amusements, so it’s perfect for a weekend getaway. Beach tags cost $6 ($9 on weekends), and the beach’s northern end is dog-friendly. In addition to all the water sports you can do here, I recommend checking Asbury Park’s calendar of events since there are many annual festivals.
- Where to stay: The Asbury
5. LBI, some of the least crowded beaches in New Jersey
Long Beach Island, or LBI, is an 18-mile barrier island with some of the best beaches in New Jersey. If you want a true “beach day,” you’ll find plenty of surf, sand, and sun along the coast of LBI.
With six shore towns, LBI is home to many top-rated New Jersey beaches. As you cross the Manahawkin Bay Bridge, you can go north to the more affluent resorts or south to some of LBI’s most popular vacation spots. Each beach is worth a visit, as they all offer something unique.
Go north, and you’ll hit Surf City and the peaceful bay beach of Harvey Cedars. Barnegat Light is on the northernmost tip of LBI, a captivating town with a 150-year-old lighthouse and lots of watersports.
To the south, you’ll find Ship Bottom and scenic Long Beach. A bit further south is Beach Haven, an awesome family resort with great brunch spots and LBI’s only amusement park.
If you’re traveling with friends or family and want to experience water recreation and boardwalk attractions, Beach Haven is your best bet. For those seeking more serenity, the northern beaches of LBI should do the trick!
6. Manasquan, one of the best beach towns in New Jersey, USA
Manasquan is one of those lovely north Jersey beaches that you must visit. It’s so great that singer Bruce Springsteen calls it his “happy place.” In Manasquan, you can enjoy amazing food, a waterfront promenade, white sands, and much more.
The well-kept mile-long stretch of beach is a peaceful paradise and the ideal place to relax. The area is family-oriented, with public restrooms right off the beach. One of the best things about Manasquan is that it doesn’t have the commercialism of other shore towns.
Mixed with the friendly locals, you may find some young out-of-towners hitting the nearby bars and clubs on Main Street. Manasquan has an artistic downtown area, so there are things to do here day and night. Gee Gee’s pizzeria and arcade is a crowd favorite for its crave-worthy food and down-to-earth staff.
Daily beach tags cost $10, and you can walk to the southern end of the coast to watch the surfers at Manasquan Inlet. It’s also worth visiting the conservation area of Fisherman’s Cove, where you can watch birds and wildlife.
While visiting Manasquan, keep in mind that it’s close to several other great NJ beaches like Ocean Grove, Asbury Park, and Spring Lake.
- Where to stay: Inn on Main Hotel
7. Sandy Hook, one of the best free beaches in New Jersey
There aren’t many secluded beaches in NJ, but Sandy Hook is one of them, and it’s a gorgeous place to spend the day. This place is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts, and the beautiful beaches are a bonus.
Here, you can canoe, kayak, hike, and bike to your heart’s content. Multi-use paths and wildlife trails wind through the salt marshes and holly forest, and the waters are great for windsurfing and kiteboarding.
In addition to seven miles of shoreline, the area includes the Gateway National Recreation Area. As you head north, you’ll discover landmarks like Fort Hancock, Battery Mills, Sandy Hook Lighthouse, and the Nike Missile Site, remnants of the area’s military history.
Sandy Hook is a barrier peninsula that extends into New York Harbor, so it’s a bit of a trek getting to this New Jersey beach. Once there, you can take in the views of Manhattan, take a ferry to NYC, or stay in Jersey and enjoy the ocean and bay beaches.
Moreover, this is one of the few free beaches in New Jersey, although you’ll have to pay for parking. Lots B, C, D, and E lead to family-friendly beaches, while those traveling north will find the nudist Gunnison Beach.
- Where to stay: BeachWalk at Sea Bright
8. Avalon, one of the top south New Jersey beaches
Avalon is another lovely New Jersey beach for those who want to bask in the sun or enjoy gentle ocean waves. This wide beach is good for families and those who prefer a low-key weekend.
Located in Cape May County, this south Jersey beach boasts clean sand, high dunes, and free parking. Beach tags cost just $6, and there aren’t many crowds, so it’s a heavenly place for a day trip. Enjoy surfing, rafting, paddleboarding, and beach volleyball before grabbing a bite at one of the nearby cafes or ice cream parlors.
Avalon belongs to Seven Mile Island and shares the region with its sister beach, Stone Harbor. Both are nice, kid-friendly beaches in NJ, although Stone Harbor tends to be ritzier. Given the short distance between the two towns, it’s no problem visiting both.
Of course, Avalon has enough amenities to keep you satisfied, like shops, mini-golf, and restaurants. It’s also absolutely gorgeous and one of the more popular beach wedding spots in Jersey.
- Where to stay: ICONA Avalon
9. Brigantine, a relaxing beach town in New Jersey
Sometimes referred to as “The Island,” Brigantine is a natural beauty that’s easily accessible from Philadelphia. There aren’t many attractions in Brigantine, but if you’re looking to simply chill out on the sand, it’s perfect.
This relaxing south Jersey beach is nice and quiet, making it a relaxing oasis for those who are tired of city life. If you love being on or in the water, in Brigantine, you can kayak, jet ski, surf, and swim. Plus, the sandy beach is very clean, so you can spend hours blissfully sunbathing.
Something that makes Brigantine unique from other beaches in New Jersey is its shipwrecked history. In the 1700s and 1800s, hundreds of ships met a disastrous end in Brigantine’s shoals. Legend has it that Scottish pirate Captain Kidd fell in love with a local Jersey woman and left a buried treasure in Brigantine. You won’t find gold here, but you will see the nearly 100-year-old Brigantine Lighthouse.
Brigantine is the best New Jersey beach near Atlantic City, and you can see the AC skyline in the distance. While the glory days of AC are long gone, if you’re interested in visiting the casinos or the iconic boardwalk, it’s an easy visit from Brigantine.
- Where to stay: Legacy Vacation Resorts – Brigantine Beach
10. The Wildwoods, one of the best New Jersey beaches with a boardwalk
Many people have treasured memories of vacationing in The Wildwoods. The family resort has one of the best boardwalks in New Jersey, which extends nearly 2.5 miles and includes three amusement piers and two waterparks.
The amusements here are endless; rides, games, mini-golf, beach bars, arcades, cafes, and the famous tram car. You can’t visit Wildwood without hearing the boardwalk shuttle wail, “watch the tram car, please!” Another distinct feature of Wildwood is its wide beach. There is about a half-mile between the boardwalk and the ocean, so while it’s a trek, you’ll be rewarded with five miles of free New Jersey beaches.
Wildwood is family-friendly, although the downtown area is where most of the tourists and party crowds gather. Wildwood Crest is much calmer and upscale, while North Wildwood is a favorite among longtime vacationers for being quiet and clean.
During the day, enjoy the gentle waves on the beach, then stroll the boards for great people-watching and witness the piers come to life as the sun sets. Wildwood has a rich 1950s Doo-Wop heritage, which you’ll notice in the neon hotel signs throughout town. There is even a Doo-Wop Museum and bus tour that you can take.
Wildwood is a short drive to AC in the north and Cape May in the south, but there is so much to do in this New Jersey beach town, that I’m sure you won’t want to leave.
I hope you enjoyed reading about the top New Jersey beach resorts! The truth is, there are over 40 beaches in this state, so narrowing them down to the top 10 wasn’t easy. Wherever you end up going, I know you’ll have a great time!
Along with this list of NJ beaches, I’ve included a map to help you locate each town I mentioned.
As I said, everyone has their opinion on which is the best beach in New Jersey. So, if you want to share your experience or ask me a question, leave me a comment below. Enjoy your vacation on the Jersey shore!