The Jersey Shore is a rite of passage for most New Yorkers. You may scoff at it or try to avoid it altogether, but you will eventually find your perfect little slice of local beach paradise, and continually be drawn back to it each season. As this summertime season approaches—and as we continue to stay safe, smart, and socially-distanced in this transitional, limbo-like period of a possibly post-pandemic world—consider bookmarking our pick of the best beaches in New Jersey for your next seaside dip and splash.

One thing to remember: For the most part, beaches in New Jersey charge for individual admission or charge admission by vehicle. Similar to last season, due to COVID-19 capacity rules, many Garden State beach towns will be selling badges only in advance, so check each beach town’s website for more info. (You can also download the Viply app, which a good majority of beaches are using for mobile admission.)

Lastly, beaches marked with an asterisk (*) are accessible via New Jersey Transit train stops on the North Jersey Coast Line, oftentimes within walking distances to the sand or short Uber/Lyft rides.

RELATED: 16 Summer Weekend Getaways from NYC That You Should Book ASAP

Best Beaches in New Jersey SEA BRIGHT
PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHAEL COLARUSSO:MONMOUTH COUNTY

1. SEA BRIGHT, NJ

Those looking for a quick escape from the city should pack their beach towel and put a pin on the map for Sea Bright, one of NJ’s most pleasant beaches in northern Monmouth County. “It’s also famous as the town where Tony Soprano temporarily purchased a beach house for Carmela in The Sopranos,” R.C. Staab, author of 100 Things to Do at the Jersey Shore Before You Die, reminds us. Similar to Sandy Hook, another beach on this list, vehicle-less folks can easily take a Seastreak ferry to Highlands, then transfer to a quick Uber ride—a nice way to also save time when traffic is rough in high season. Beaches are sandy, and have playgrounds for the littles, plus a bunch of outdoor showers to clean off afterwards. There’s no busy commercial boardwalk in Sea Bright, but travelers to town certainly won’t feel isolated either, with plenty of restaurants, bars, shops and convenience stores on the main drag of Ocean Ave (Route 36), located just steps from the beach.

Pro Tip: Especially during busy high season holiday weekends, Sea Bright’s coveted parking can fill up quickly, so get there early to snag your place in one of the cheaper spots, which can be secured via the mPay2Park app. Otherwise, you might risk paying upwards of $30 or more for parking in a private lot.

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Best Beaches in New Jersey CAPE MAY
Walter Bibikow/Getty Images

2. CAPE MAY, NJ

A too-adorable-for-words town filled with charming architecture is part of the allure of many visitors here, and Cape May’s beaches can’t be beat, either. Hugging the entire length of the town, you’ll never be bored of all the walkable options, but that shouldn’t stop you from setting out and exploring points further, either. In fact, two of Cape May’s most interesting beaches, Sunset Beach and Higbee Beach, are a short car or bike ride from town. Jazz festivals, the Lighthouse at Cape May Point State Park and humpback whale watching cruises are reasons to book a longer stay and make this a week-long summer vacay, as many families from the Tri-State area do.

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Best Beaches in New Jersey AVON BY THE SEA
PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHAEL COLARUSSO:MONMOUTH COUNTY

3. AVON-BY-THE-SEA, NJ*

Slightly more under-the-radar, Avon-by-the-Sea is a small Monmouth County town home to eclectic shops and chef-driven restaurants, as well as a pavilion with dining and beach amenities. Visitors here step off the blocks filled with well-kept beaches to grab shade under a very Instagrammable pergola, which has benches positioned to face the sea. Other charms include spotting the Little Free Library boxes filled with books, and all the cute beach bungalows and larger Victorian-influenced homes.

New for this season, Avon-by-the-Sea is welcoming its first apothecary, Seed Apothecary, a sister business to the town’s first and only vegan restaurant, Seed to Sprout. Seed Apothecary will offer shoppers everything from organic teas, honeys, tinctures, immune boosters, herbs, skin care products, hair tonics, shaving products and more. Yup, we’ll be there.

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Best Beaches in New Jersey ISLAND BEACH STATE PARK
Theo Wargo/Getty Images

4. ISLAND BEACH STATE PARK (BERKELEY, NJ)

Protected from development and treasured as a hidden gem by in-the-know Jersey residents, Island Beach State Park has an untouched feel and attracts visitors for its white sand beaches, diversity of flora, bird watching and comparably low entrance fees (weekday non-residents at $12/vehicle; weekend non-residents at $20/vehicle, with cheaper entry if you’ve got proof of NJ residency). Roughly a 20-to-30-minute ride south of Seaside Heights—but worlds away in personality—the park is a reserve on a barrier island with rugged dunes and surrounding beach forest. Swimming, kayaking and fishing are permitted in certain areas of the park, but make sure to check first because rules are strictly enforced. Four-wheel drive vehicles are also permitted on the beach if you have a proper permit.

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Best Beaches in New Jersey ASBURY PARK
PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHAEL COLARUSSO:MONMOUTH COUNTY

5. ASBURY PARK, NJ*

A draw for many LGBTQIA+ folks, Asbury Park’s beaches are nice enough, but you really come here for the scene of it all, which can be quite different in vibe depending on where you decide to plop down. Expect either lively and packed with people and music (read: near the Convention Hall) or more chill and relaxed (read: North Beach, north of the Convention Hall). The Ocean Avenue boardwalk bustles from end to end, with quality restaurants, a hip live music and entertainment scene—some outdoor and indoor happenings are already a go depending on your current comfort level—plus events at the historic Convention Hall & Paramount Theater, and much, much more. For accommodations, the trendy Asbury Ocean Club Hotel is just steps from everything, and has posh, contemporary rooms and a prime roof deck pool which overlooks the sparkling Atlantic Ocean.

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Best Beaches in New Jersey OCEAN CITY
Courtesy of Pua Hana Tiki Boat Tours

6. OCEAN CITY, NJ

Eight miles of coastline, superior sand and lots of room to spread out, the beaches of Ocean City, NJ paired with the town’s quaint charms and family-forward atmosphere make it a popular place to land a summer rental. Zander Buteux, Growth Lead at VacationRenter, a platform designed to help travelers find the perfect rental faster and easier, tells us there are 83 rentals in this small city, many at affordable prices and just steps from the sand.

Starting in May, rides on Pau Hana Tiki Boat Tours will commence in the resort town, and if you just clicked that link, you know you should probably book before it fills up. Offering guests a two-hour, Caribbean-inspired experience on a floating tiki-style boat—complete with barstool seating, a thatched straw roof, and open-air and therefore COVID-safer layout—our crystal ball tells us Pau Hana rides will be all over your IG feed this season.

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Best Beaches in New Jersey LONG BRANCH
PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHAEL COLARUSSO:MONMOUTH COUNTY

7. LONG BRANCH, NJ*

At roughly an hour from New York—sans traffic—Long Branch wins points for being one of the closest beaches in New Jersey. Expect clean, soft sand beaches that are family-friendly, and even some Euro flair. The beautiful French restaurant Avenue and its beach club and bar give a certain stretch of the sand here a French Riviera feel, and after a day curled up with the breeze and a good book, you can explore Pier Village, which is filled with shops, eateries, a specialty food market and more. Just steps away, the oceanfront pool and rooms at the nearby Wave Resort are arguably one of the Shore’s most sophisticated places to hang your (beach) hat.

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Best Beaches in New Jersey MANASQUAN
PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHAEL COLARUSSO:MONMOUTH COUNTY

8. MANASQUAN, NJ*

Squan”, as it is affectionately referred to, has some of the finest beaches in Monmouth County, not to mention a popular dog beach for the pups. On a visit, catch some rays, then go see the historic and well-preserved life-saving station which has been on site in some form since the 1800s and was occupied by the Coast Guard up until the mid-90s. The pleasant downtown of Manasquan—about a mile from the beach—will again be hosting pedestrian plazas and additional space on its main streets for outdoor dining this summer.

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Best Beaches in New Jersey SANDY HOOK
VIEW press /Getty Images

9. SANDY HOOK (HIGHLANDS, NJ)

The funky, eclectic town of Highlands, NJ greets visitors before passing over the Route 36 bridge and into Sandy Hook, a beach area so major that it is protected by the National Park Service. You’ll quickly see why—a pure little slice of seashore heaven, this strip of land and its beaches curve like a spine toward New York’s lower bay. In fact, from certain vantage points and on a clear day, you can see the Manhattan skyline, a surprising backdrop as you dig your toes into the sand.

Another clear advantage of choosing Sandy Hook, beyond its natural beauty, for a beach day: You don’t need a car to get there. City dwellers can take a Seastreak ferry from E. 35th St. and get dropped off and walk or bike to the beach (As of press time, a round trip is $50 and there is no charge for bikes, either).

Pro tip: “Sandy Hook has a maximum number of parking spaces, when all are filled, the park closes to new traffic until there are enough spaces to reopen,” their website warns late risers.

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Best Beaches in New Jersey PT. PLEASANT BEACH
© 2011 Dorann Weber/Getty Images

10. PT. PLEASANT BEACH, NJ*

Sometimes, it’s all in a name, and that is especially accurate of the beaches in this northern Ocean County town, roughly an 80-minute ride from Times Square when traffic isn’t, well, too bad. What we love most about Point Pleasant are the clean, wide, sandy beaches and Jenkinson’s Boardwalk. It’s arguably one of the Garden State’s best-known and has just as much fun for families as it does adults without kids—imagine a place where mini golf, carnival rides and games, an aquarium, restaurants, and lots of live entertainment and places to party all meet.

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Best Beaches in New Jersey BARNEGAT LIGHT
Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce

11. BARNEGAT LIGHT, NJ

The archetypical red and white-painted lighthouse at Barnegat Light is visible from the beach in this Jersey Shore town, but instantly will give visitors Cape Cod vibes—minus the grueling I-95 traffic you’d have to endure to actually get there. At Barnegat Lighthouse State Park, you’ll find a beach which backs up to picnic tables, a perfect place to enjoy an al fresco, summertime smorgasbord of your favorite foods. (Just make sure to properly dispose of your trash—OK?). Because of Barnegat Light’s unique location on the barrier island of Long Beach Island—which consists of six distinct towns—there’s also a bayside beach producing gorgeous sunsets that visitors can check out to mix things up.

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Best Beaches in New Jersey BELMAR
Brent Guiliano/EyeEm/Getty Images

12. BELMAR, NJ*

Belmar has always been a popular beach with both New Yorkers and Northern NJ residents (sometimes playfully—or maybe not—referred to as “Bennies”). The wide, sandy beaches here really do appeal to everyone, whether you’re in the mood to play music and indulge in some party vibes (while social distancing, of course), or are watching over your young ones as they build sandcastles. A dedicated fishing pier on the bridge between Belmar and neighboring Avon is another draw, as is the diverse, downtown district hosting breweries, cafes and restaurants, clothing stores, record shops and more.

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Best Beaches in New Jersey THE WILDWOODS
GoPetFriendly.com

13. THE WILDWOODS, NJ

You’ve most certainly heard of The Wildwoods, popular vacation rental towns in New Jersey, which also happen to be the site of one of the largest kite festivals in North America. Comprising the City of Wildwood, The Borough of Wildwood Crest and the City of North Wildwood, the towns are colloquially known by Jersey folk simply as Wildwood. But regardless of what you call it, the gorgeous, super wide beaches (basically made for social distancing) are popular because they’re free—yes, you read that right—a fact that keeps families coming back season after season.

And since no family is truly complete without their pet(s), and many are increasingly traveling with a furry friend these days, it’s worth noting how pet-friendly Wildwood is for visitors. “Wildwood has designated a section of their beach as dog friendly, and dogs on leash are welcome all day, every day. There’s even an off-leash area to burn off a little energy and socialize with other canines,” says Amy Burket, who runs GoPetFriendly.com, a website dedicated to pet friendly travel. “This dog beach is also impossible to miss, because it’s marked with one of the largest fire hydrants you’ll ever see,” she adds.

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Best Beaches in New Jersey SPRING LAKE
PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHAEL COLARUSSO:MONMOUTH COUNTY

14. SPRING LAKE, NJ*

Boasting some of the cleanest, most manicured beaches in all of New Jersey, Spring Lake is known for its quiet, relaxed expanses of sand generally frequented by families and couples seeking R&R. The adorable town at its backdrop looks straight out of a movie set, with a charming park, a downtown filled with shops, and picture-perfect, historic homes—not to mention straight-up mansions. This one could give the Hampton’s a run for its money any day and is a great Jersey alternative if you’re seeking a posh-er beach and beach town experience.

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Best Beaches in New Jersey STONE HARBOR
Robert D. Barnes/Getty Images

15. STONE HARBOR, NJ

Some of New Jersey's clearest water and cleanest, soft sand beaches are found in this Cape May County favorite. Gentle rolling sand dunes and white-and-red painted, old-timey lifeboats add to allure of Stone Harbor’s beaches, which are as popular with Philadelphians as they are Tri-State families. In our experience, most discover this town once, then continually return—due in part to its chillaxed, small town charm and just-the-right-amount of off-beach activities. Check out the well-rated Wetlands Institute, a nature center, or simply enjoy a pleasant stretch of Stone Harbor’s shopping and noshes at the many walkable eateries and restaurants situated at the center of the town’s two main in/out arteries, 96th St. and 3rd Ave.

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RELATED: 10 UNDERRATED BEACHES NEAR NYC

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