Looking for a beach destination on the Jersey Shore that is a little off the beaten path? Tripping over suntanners at a crowded beach littered with trash, towels, and beach umbrellas is definitely not my idea of relaxing, so let me introduce you to one of my favorite offbeat places on the Jersey Shore!
Sandy Hook in Northern New Jersey offers 7-miles of serene, clean, and undeveloped beaches. I know right, in New Jersey?
Though there’s no beachfront water park or Hard Rock Cafe here, Sandy Hook offers a unique experience that brings its visitors closer to its’ nature and history.
So, read on for a guide on how to visit Sandy Hook, New Jersey. In this post, we’ll be covering…
- Practical Info for Visiting Sandy Hook
- A Brief History of Sandy Hook
- How to Get to Sandy Hook
- Things to do in Sandy Hook
- Additional Tips for Visiting Sandy Hook
Practical Info for Visiting Sandy Hook
Sandy Hook’s beaches are actually the closest Jersey Shore beaches to NYC. A short, 35-minute ferry connects Manhattan and Sandy Hook during the beach season. The summer season is the park’s busiest time, with ideal weather conditions and warm waters.
Beach go-ers have 6 different beaches to enjoy, 5 of which are life-guarded during the summer. The guarded beaches are South Beach Areas C, D, E, Gunnison and North Beach. Beach D is considered the best beach, making it the most popular.
North Beach is a lot less crowded, though it takes about 20-minutes to walk out to the ocean. In my opinion, it is totally worth it. As soon as I started to question my life choices, I finally found myself at the ocean, gazing at the most incredible view of New York City. If you don’t feel like walking out and back from North Beach, there is a viewing platform by the parking lot that offers a similar view.
Gunnison Beach is another popular beach in Sandy Hook, but for different reasons. The Southern part of the beach is the only legal nude beach in New Jersey. If you have children, you can relax knowing there are plenty of signs put up warning you about nude sunbathers before you actually get to this point. You have to admit, that is one way to avoid awkward tan lines!
Though you would be crazy to swim in the cold Atlantic waters during the offseason, there are plenty of other reasons to visit.
Besides beautiful beaches, the area offers a wide variety of recreation activities. There are many hiking and biking trails through the lush and diverse maritime forest, eerie, abandoned military batteries and ruins, and phenomenal bird watching and fishing opportunities.
The peninsula has been protected by the National Park Service for over forty years and is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.
A Brief History of Sandy Hook
The Dutch originally settled this area in 1660. It was the first place in New Jersey to be discovered and settled by the Dutch. By 1673, an English Quaker named Richard Hartshorne gained control and bought most of the land in the area. Sandy Hook was becoming an important area, especially due to the nearby busy New York Harbor.
After a series of shipwrecks, New York City merchants came together to fund the first ever lighthouse in the USA, which was finished in 1764.
For almost an entire century, Sandy Hook has also played a pivotal role in the US military. From the Spanish-American war to the Cold War, the military bases on Sandy Hook have intimidated and prevented potential attacks and attackers, saving millions of lives in the New York City metropolitan area.
Today, the entire Sandy Hook peninsula has been recognized as the Fort Hancock and Sandy Hook Proving Ground National Historical Landmark.
Many of the military forts and batteries still stand today. Fort Hancock, where the military members and their families lived, is an eerie place to explore. The countless rows of yellow homes seem so ghostly lifeless and abandoned. While some buildings remain well-maintained, others have collapsed or caved in.
How to Get to Sandy Hook
The Seastreak Ferry
There are plenty of ways to get to Sandy Hook. The most fun way would be taking the Seastreak Ferry. The ferry departs from numerous ports in Manhattan and runs daily services between Sandy Hook and Manhattan during the summer. During the rest of the offseason, Seastreak continues to run ferries between Atlantic Highlands and Manhattan. More information about the ferry schedule during the offseason can be found on their website.
During the summer, tickets for the ferry directly to Sandy Hook must be reserved online. During the rest of the year, tickets can only be bought at the ports themselves. A roundtrip ticket costs $50, and the ride takes about 35-minutes. If you visit during the summer, your first ferry ride is $20 off!
The speedy trip across New York Harbor is stunning and worthwhile in of itself. Plus, the ferry has its own bar, serving coffee, beer, wine, and cocktails! Drink up while you can, because alcohol isn’t allowed on the park grounds. How rude! On a lighter note, the ferry service conveniently offers shuttle services to and from the two ferry ports in both Atlantic Highlands and Sandy Hook, and between beaches.
For a fantastic day trip, take your bike along with you on the ferry. This will allow you to take advantage of the newly paved bike path along the scenic length of Sandy Hook. From the port in Fort Hancock, hop on your bike and follow the Sandy Hook Pathway. You will head 8.7-miles along the peninsula’s scenic beaches and through the historic town of Fort Hancock before looping back where you started.
If you think you can handle another 7-miles of bike riding, head to Atlantic Highlands for a delicious, fresh, and rewarding seafood dinner. Atlantic Highlands is just across the bridge from Sandy Hook and can be recognized by the pastel blue homes and seafood restaurants that line its humble mountains. Harborside Grill is a great option if you’re looking for satisfying seafood, a laid back atmosphere, and to-die-for sangria pitchers!
Driving to Sandy Hook
Another easy way to get to Sandy Hook is by driving. By car, it is roughly 1.5 hours from Philly or Trenton, 2 hours from Wilmington or Allentown, and 1 hour from Jersey City. Most visitors coming by car enter through Middletown, NJ, using the Highway 36 Bridge.
Do note that between Memorial Day and Labor Day, from 7 am to 5 pm, there is a $20 daily parking fee charged. You will receive a daily pass that allows you to leave and re-enter as you please. Frequent visitors can choose to purchase a season pass instead.
Things to do in Sandy Hook
1. Enjoy the 6-miles of coastline!
During the Summer, most people flock to Sandy Hook for their beaches. These clean, pristine beaches seem like a world away from the city, and are the perfect place to sit back, relax or enjoy some watersports (more on this below).
My recommendation? Visit North Beach for scenic views of the ocean and the NYC skyline. Large boats make their way through here on their way to or from the city. This is the perfect spot to lay a blanket out on the soft sand and listen to the waves, enjoy a picnic, watch the sunset, or collect seashells.
2. Go kayaking or paddleboarding
For some fun in the ocean, visit Beach C Baysite Lot C to Sandy Hook Kayaks. Here, they rent out kayaks and paddleboards. They also rent out personal inflatable islands for only $60/hour. The islands can even hold beach chairs and a cooler. I’ve never heard of such a thing, but it sounds amazing!
The kayaks and paddleboards can be used at the two canoe launches in Sandy Hook, both located along the bay side of the peninsula. Kayaking the gentle waters of Horseshoe Cove during the sunset is such a peaceful experience. Sandy Hook Kayaks even offer sunset tours for those wanting a group tour experience.
3. Go for a beautiful walk
Another must-do when visiting Sandy Hook is enjoy the walking trail along Sandy Hook point as the sand turns into salt marshes. These marshes are some of the best places in the park to view the variety of birds that come and go through the area, as well as deer.
4. Go Camping
If you find it hard to leave the beach, you don’t have to! Sandy Hook offers overnight primitive campsites along the ocean between May and October.
Let the beat of the Atlantic lull you to sleep, and witness a stunning sunrise in the morning. Campsites must be reserved ahead of time and can park one car.
5. Explore Sandy Hook’s military history
Bikers and hikers may enjoy the paved trail that weaves its way around the peninsula. Explore the deep military history that has left its mark on the peninsula.
Walk along Officer’s Row to see dozens of yellow brick buildings, some of them refurbished and others half-destroyed. Hurricane Sandy did a lot of damage to these homes, and the NPS is working on restoring them.
One of these homes, the History House, has been restored and refurbished in order to replicate a WWII era home. The House is open for tours from Memorial Day to Labor Day, from 10 am to 5 pm. The only store in Sandy Hook, McFly’s on the Hook, is also located in Fort Hancock.
There are also numerous military batteries to explore. Some of them, like Mortar Battery, allow you to walk inside and transport yourself to another time. One of the best views in all of Sandy Hook can be found on top of Gunnison Battery, just outside of Gunnison Beach. New York City and the beautiful Verrazano-Narrows Bridge can be seen from the top of the battery very well on a clear day.
6. Visit Sandy Hook Lighthouse
The oldest lighthouse in America also offers tours running from May to late October.
This is the only way to get inside the lighthouse and the best way to learn about its history. Tours are first come, first served, and they can be booked at the visitor’s center.
If you’re visiting during the offseason, it is still worthwhile to visit the lighthouse and admire its architecture from the outside.
Additional Tips for Visiting Sandy Hook
Know the rules when it comes to bringing pets
Dog owners will be happy to hear that dogs are allowed at the recreation area and on some of the beaches. Dogs must be kept on a leash on all trails. The bayside beaches at Plum Island and Horseshoe Cove are pet-friendly all year round, and they provide a calm surf for dogs to play in.
All of the other beaches are pet friendly only during the off-season (Sept. 16 through March 14).
Familiarize yourself with the food options
During the summer, food trucks frequent the beaches to provide food and beverages. There are also snack bars on the established beaches and a restaurant on Beach D. During the off-season, McFlys on the Hook is the only place to get food on the peninsula.
Choose the ferry
As I mentioned before, taking the ferry to Sandy Hook is the way to go! The ride is fantastic and it offers a different perspective on New York City. Don’t forget your bike- Sandy Hook and Atlantic Highlands are both very bike-friendly. Plus, taking the ferry is more environmentally friendly, and you won’t need to bring or find a designated driver after those sangria pitchers!
I hope you enjoyed this guide to Sandy Hook!
Sandy Hook, New Jersey is a breath of fresh air compared to the hectic cities that surround it. It will forever be cherished as a place people can come to relax, be mellow, and enjoy what nature has to offer. Who knew some of the most beautiful beaches on the East Coast could be only 30-minutes from Manhattan?