A Jersey Shore beach
Shinya Suzuki / Flickr

The Best Beaches on the Jersey Shore

After seeing a cartoonish version of the Jersey Shore on MTV, we can understand why you might want to pass on a visit. But the real shore is nothing like what appeared on the small screen. This vast expanse of sand and sea has over 100 miles of excellent surfing waves, nature preserves, amusement parks, and seafood shacks (both high-end and low). Explore some of the 50-plus beaches in the area and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you find. Here are our picks for the best stretches of sand that Jersey has to offer.
Surfer at Manasquan Inlet
Arturo Pardavilla III / Flickr
Best for Watersports: Ocean City
We can’t think of a watery activity that Ocean City doesn’t have. Get your feet wet with standards like boating, paddleboarding, kayaking, wakeboarding, and tubing—or rocket through the waves on board a 44-foot speedboat. Find all of these boat and equipment rentals at Totally Tubular Watersports, Screamer Speedboat & Dolphin Watch, and Baycats. If surfing is your sport of choice, Ocean City has you covered there too, but we’d recommend heading to Manasquan Inlet about an hour north instead. This spot has some of the best waves on the East Coast. 
Rides at the Point Pleasant Boardwalk
joiseyshowaa / Flickr
Best for Families: Point Pleasant
The Point Pleasant Boardwalk — complete with games, arcades, restaurants, a fun house, and even an aquarium — is as much of an attraction as the sand it borders, if not more so. Small children will love Jenkinson’s, the amusement park beside the beach. It features over 25 different rides, including an old-timey Tilt-A-Whirl, bumper cars, and a couple of small roller coasters. Toward the back of the park, older kids can find a handful of rides for them, like the Starship which uses centrifugal force instead of seatbelts to keep passengers on the ride as it spins around. Other adventurous teens might opt to visit Point Pleasant Parasail instead: here parasailers can soar through the air while wearing a parachute as a motorboat below pulls them along. Those who would rather keep both feet on solid ground might prefer to work up an appetite in the batting cages or by playing a game of mini golf at one of three courses onsite. In addition to the wealth of expected ice cream options along the boardwalk, there’s saltwater taffy (a shore staple) and other carnival favorites like funnel cakes, cotton candy, and fried Oreos. 
Lobster roll from Quincy's
Paul Weibel
Best for Dining: Cape May
Cape May is well known for the Victorian gingerbread homes lining many of its beaches. But it deserves equal fame for its cuisine. The silly cloth hot dog hats worn by the employees at HotDog Tommy’s small food stand may not scream highbrow dining, but one bite will make you a believer. Try a dog with your pick of unconventional toppings ranging from carmelized onions to mashed potatoes to mac and cheese. For a more traditional seaside meal, Quincy’s Original Lobster Rolls, just steps from the ocean, serves fresh, delicious seafood (one of their lobster rolls is pictured above). If you’re looking to splurge a bit, savor the chef’s tasting menu at Peter Shields Inn & Restaurant, where you’ll eat in one of five candlelit dining rooms or overlooking the sea on the front porch. We’d also recommend the elegant Blue Rose Inn & Restaurant—the kitchen’s roasted pork pappardelle with mascarpone, smoked paprika, and ancho chiles is not to be missed. 
Long Beach Island
Stephen Harris / Flickr
Best Classic Beach: Long Beach Island
The LBI beach sits behind high dunes of light-colored sand instead of a boardwalk, so it can feel pleasantly secluded, especially on weekdays when fewer out-of-towners converge on the area. Three miles of nature reserve lie at the southern tip of the island. The northern end is home to the historic Barnegat Lighthouse—what’s a classic American beach without one? Climb the 217 steps to the top and you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous views.
drinks at Belmar
Dolvita108 / Pixabay
Best for Partying: Belmar
Locals may love to hate the stars of Jersey Shore for giving the region a bad rap, but you can’t deny that Snooki and company know how to party. Nicole Polizzi herself (that’s Snooki’s real name) tweeted about Belmar’s own D’Jais, and cast member Deena Cortese cited this longtime local gem as “my best place” in a season four episode. D’Jais provides ocean-view outdoor dining and four bars. It also features dance music and extended happy hour specials on most summer nights. Bar Anticipation is a huge club with a tropical-themed outdoor area with private VIP cabanas, live palm trees, and a waterfall. Bar A has three Olympic-size volleyball courts with imported sand as well. If you plan on playing to win, though, you’ll want to hit the courts before you hit the bars. Belmar also claims the largest fleet of party and charter boats in New Jersey. 
Stone Harbor birds
US Fish and Wildlife Service / Flickr
Best for Escaping Crowds: Stone Harbor
Stone Harbor keeps its sands blissfully throng-free by dedicating significant parcels of land to nature preserves. The town’s Wetlands Institute offers wildlife tours, fishing, and salt marsh safaris on 6,000 protected acres. Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary, meanwhile, is a huge draw for birders. Another sign of this quaint town’s commitment to caring for the environment over catering to tourists: there are no commercial amusements to be found. Additionally, Stone Harbor does not permit alcohol on its beaches, helping maintain serenity on the sand.
Asbury's gay pride parade
Josiah Lau Photography / Flickr
Best Gay-Friendly Beach: Asbury Park
Home to the state’s largest Gay Pride Festival (held each June), this strip of sand welcomes everyone. It is home to The Empress Hotel, which houses Paradise, a gay bar and nightclub featuring “Femme Fatale Fridays” (a drag show) and movie screenings on Monday. Though this beach is a mecca for the LGBTQ crowd, everyone can enjoy Asbury’s quirky boardwalk shops and excellent food stands and restaurants. Our top picks are the Korean fusion tacos at MOGO and the gourmet pizzas and live music at Porta. Travelers of all kinds should also be sure to see who’s performing at the Stone Pony, the rock club and concert space known for launching Jersey legends Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, and others.

Pictured above: Asbury Park's Pride Parade