The tradition of going “down the shore” for summer vacations goes back decades for folks who live in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. Families have been packing up the station wagon, mini-van or SUV to make the journey for generations.
At the Jersey Shore—which runs along the Atlantic coastline for about 130 miles, from Sandy Hook to Cape May—families spend time building sand castles, boogie boarding, fishing, and strolling the boardwalk, where there’s typically rides and delicious food.
The family beaches (or shore points) in New Jersey vary up and down the coast. Some beaches are wider than others, some have boardwalks and amusements, and some are quieter than others. But all New Jersey beaches bring generations of families together. Here are our picks for the best family beaches in New Jersey.
1. Ocean City
Ocean City, New Jersey (not to be confused with Ocean City, Maryland, several miles south) is the quintessential family-friendly beach. About 90 minutes from Philadelphia, this shore town offers eight miles of sandy beach, and a classic, 2.5-mile boardwalk.
Lifeguards keep an eye on the surf, ensuring boogie boarding and swimming conditions are always safe. After playing on the beach, walk up to the boardwalk to enjoy its amusements. The Ocean City Boardwalk features classic toddler rides, as well as thrill rides for teens.
Ocean City is a dry town, meaning no alcohol is sold on the barrier island. Those of-age are welcome to drink alcohol while visiting (though it’s prohibited on the beach); you’ll just have to purchase it elsewhere before you arrive.
Recommended Hotel: Port-O-Call Hotel
Related: Best Baby Beach Tents
2. Asbury Park
Asbury Park, about 90 minutes from both New York City and Philly, has seen a revitalization in recent years, welcoming new restaurants, shops and upscale hotels.
Singer and songwriter Bruce Springsteen first put this beach town in the spotlight with his 1973 debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park. Springsteen got his start at The Stone Pony music venue, and the bar and the beach town remain an iconic live music destination today. Music festivals and concerts take place throughout the year at this northern New Jersey beach town.
Public restrooms, locker rentals, playgrounds, lifeguards and free Wi-Fi can be found along Asbury Park’s mile-stretch of sand. The Asbury Park Boardwalk (which doesn’t offer any rides) features restaurants, shops, small water parks, mini-golf and the Silverball Museum Arcade, filled with pinball machines from the 1930s to present day.
Recommended Hotel: The Asbury Hotel
3. The Wildwoods
The Wildwoods in South New Jersey are comprised of Wildwood, Wildwood Crest, West Wildwood and North Wildwood, and their names are all derived from the wild flowers found in the area. This family beach in New Jersey became a booming resort town in the 1950s during the Doo-Wop era, and lays claim to the birthplace of rock and roll after the song Rock Around the Clock was first performed in Wildwood. Several Doo-Wop-style motels still exist and have been historically preserved.
Wildwood offers one of the widest beaches in southern New Jersey. You’ll easily find a spot along the five-mile stretch of sand to park your beach chairs, umbrella, beach cooler and all the beach toys. It’s also one of the few free-access beaches in New Jersey.
The Wildwood Boardwalk is one of the best in New Jersey and the U.S., with 38 blocks (just under two miles) filled with three amusement ride and water park piers at Morey’s Piers. If slowly seeing the sights and people watching is more your family’s speed, you can take a ride on the famous Tramcar that runs down the center of the boardwalk and repeats the now-famous phrase, “Watch the Tramcar, please!” Along with the free beaches, the Wildwoods offer tons of free festivals and parades throughout the year, plus free weekly fireworks and daily live music in the summer months.
Recommended Hotel: Port Royal Hotel
4. Point Pleasant
This family beach in New Jersey is ideal for families since most everything is within walking distance. Pop the kids in the double stroller and hit the boardwalk or the mile-long beach.
Tourism in Point Pleasant has been growing since the 1870s when old farms were subdivided into vacation home lots, and resort guest houses started to pop up. In 1928, Charles Jenkinson, an entrepreneur, opened the Jenkinson’s Pavilion and transformed the once-sleepy beach town. The original soda fountain shop has since become the classic shore spot, Jenkinson’s Boardwalk, the highlight for families visiting Point Pleasant. The mile-long boardwalk, which remained owned by the Jenkinson family until the late 1970s, offers rides, games, restaurants, ice cream shops, an arcade, fun house, mini-golf, ropes course, an aquarium and much more.
Recommended Hotel: The White Sands Oceanfront Resort & Spa
Related: The Best Family Beach Games
5. Stone Harbor
Stone Harbor is a quiet, more affluent Jersey Shore beach town, originally marketed in the late 1900s to wealthy Philadelphia residents who were seeking a second home. In 2017, Forbes ranked Stone Harbor 228th among the most expensive zip codes in the U.S. Today, many of those homes are vacation rentals that can sleep as many as 16 people! Families from all backgrounds can visit this pretty beach town for sand castle-building and boogie boarding by day, and games around the kitchen table at night. Fun Fact: Singer and songwriter Taylor Swift used to stay at this family beach town in New Jersey.
Recommended Hotel: The Reeds at Shelter Haven
6. Long Beach Island
Long Beach Island—more commonly known as LBI—is 18-miles-long and a quarter-mile wide, with popular shore points including Beach Haven and Ship Bottom. You’ll find the beaches here to be less crowded, which means more room for your beach wagons and beach tents.
While there’s no boardwalk in LBI, you’ll find something just as good: Fantasy Island Amusement Park, a small amusement park with old-school rides, and the Thundering Surf Water Park, with several tube slides, a toddler area, and a FlowRider.
The Barnegat Lighthouse (aka Old Barney) is a favorite in Long Beach Island. Its original design didn’t have a flashing light and mariners found it to be inadequate until it was redesigned by an Army engineer in the mid-1800s. Today, families can climb the 217 steps to the top of the lighthouse to enjoy panoramic views of Long Beach Island.
Recommended Hotel: Hotel LBI
This quiet New Jersey beach town dotted with old-school, one-level beach cottages (and large multi-level vacation rentals) sits just across the bridge from Atlantic City. Days here are spent going to the beach and grilling in the backyard for dinner. The Brigantine beaches allow 4-wheel drive vehicles on the sand with a permit, too. Families can load the car up with all the beach gear and just drive right onto the sand—no heavy lifting required!
This somewhat sleepy town is ideal for multi-generational families since you can enjoy the peace and quiet. Yet there’s no chance of boredom either with comedy shows, live concerts, casinos and great restaurants about five minutes away in Atlantic City.
Recommended Hotel: Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa
Related: What to Pack for the Beach with Kids
8. Cape May
Cape May sits at the southern-most tip of New Jersey, and is recognized as the country’s oldest seaside resort town, evident in its candy-colored, Victorian-era buildings. The beach town is also recognized as a National Historic Landmark, the only town with that title in the U.S. The large, white-sand beaches here run about 2.5 miles long, and the Cape May Promenade, a paved, beachfront walkway that’s perfect for morning bike rides, runs about two miles. Candy and ice cream shops can be found along the promenade, along with a small arcade. The Cape May Zoo, which is free, and Cape May Lighthouse, 199 steps to the top, are also fun places to explore while visiting this family beach in New Jersey.
Cape May is, of course, a great place to visit in the summer, but it’s really become a year-round vacation destination. Christmas light displays, Victorian house tours, and several wineries and breweries can be enjoyed in the slower seasons.
Recommended Hotel: ICONA Cape May
9. Seaside Heights
Seaside Heights is more than the MTV show Jersey Shore that made it so infamous. This family beach in northern New Jersey has been calling itself “the home for family fun” since 1913, well before Snooki laid claim here. Only 20 minutes from Point Pleasant, home to Jenkinson’s Boardwalk, Seaside offers its own two-mile boardwalk and two piers filled with amusement rides (kiddie rides and thrill rides), a water park, arcades, boardwalk food, shops, mini-golf and more. The Sky Ride (aka ski lift) is a must-try while visiting this Jersey Shore town. The calm ride runs above the beach and boardwalk, offering great views of the action below. The beaches here are wide, and families love spending time fishing, crabbing and boating while visiting Seaside Heights.
Recommended Hotel: Belmont Motel