Forget orange tans and voluminous hair, the real Jersey Shore is where it’s at! For lessons in geography, geology, history, ornithology and plain old beach fun, Sandy Hook Beach, in Monmouth County, NJ, seems to have it all.

The beach, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, is home to the nine-storey Sandy Hook Lighthouse, the oldest working lighthouse in the US, which was built in 1764. As you stand on Sandy Hook Beach and take in its beautiful waters and beach, the skyscrapers of Manhattan beckon from the other side of the water. The lighthouse has, for centuries, guided mariners away from the dangerous shoals of NJ’s coast, and into the southern end of NY Harbor.

My sons, age 10 and 8, were fascinated by the 103-foot octagonal lighthouse and its history. When it was built, this handsome, white-washed lighthouse stood just 500 feet from the tip of Sandy Hook. Now, thanks to longshore currents over the past 246 years, which have transported sand and gravel to the shoreline, it stands 1.5 miles inland from the tip.

Of course, we couldn’t just stand and gawk at the lighthouse. We took a tour of it, too. Through a vestibule on the south side, we began our ascent up its steep, spiral staircase. Where the stairs end, an iron ladder begins, which leads to the beacon platform. Not an easy climb even for the fit, but the kids were enthusiastic about being ahead of the more cardiologically challenged in the group (i.e. the adults).

And there it was. A stunning 360-degree panoramic view of the world of the Sandy Hook peninsula and beyond! Not to be ignored was the 45,000-candlepower beacon, the savior of mariners past and present, a thing of beauty in emerald green glass, measuring 4 feet wide, 8 feet high.

The Sandy Hook Lighthouse is located within the defunct Fort Hancock Military Reservation in the middle of the penisula. At the fort itself is the Sandy Hook Nike missile defense station, one of a few stations nationwide that’s still intact.
While most of the fort’s gun batteries are off limits due to structural issues, Battery Gunnison, with its two six-inch cannons, is sturdy enough to take the weight of the curious (see the slideshow).

As we explored, there were lots of other people hiking, biking, surf fishing and bird watching. Great value for a $10 entrance fee per car. And yes, there’s plenty of pristine beach at Sandy Hook, too!

What : Sandy Hook Beach and Lighthouse, Monmouth County, NJ
Where : Gateway National Receation Area
Highlands, NJ 07732
Phone : 732.872.5970
Hours : 5:00am to 10:00pm
Lifeguard hours: 10:00am – 6:00pm
Cost : $10 per car

4 replies on “Day Trip: Sandy Hook Beach and Lighthouse”

  1. I grew up 20 minutes from Sandy Hook and always thought it was a crappy beach because there is no boardwalk. Now as an adult I realize it’s the best beach because of that same reason. I love exploring all the nature the Hook has to offer. On one side you’ve got the beach, on the other is a bay with lots of tide pools full of marine life, how cool?! I’ll be spending a few days in Keyport this June and you can bet I’ll be riding my Vespa down to Sandy Hook most of those days to spend a few quiet afternoons before my move to Philly.

  2. Also, 9 stories?! No wonder I had to be escorted down when my first grade class took a tour of the light house and I had a little freak out on the way up. That’s some scary stuff for shrimpy little 5 year old.

  3. Great story, Bernadette. Sandy Hook is one of my favorite places in NJ. You can see some beautiful sunsets by Fort Hancock. There is this sort of eerie beauty down there with all the deserted houses. My kids love it there, too, and I am so appreciative of this pristine piece of land surrounded by a sea of over-development. I like the undeveloped beaches juxtaposed with the NYC skyline. Also a great place to see migratory song and shore birds. But I avoid Sandy Hook on hot weekends in the summer. The crowds, oh the crowds. But some say nobody goes there anymore; it’s just too crowded.

  4. I loved in March when we had the heat wave, we took our dog, little boat and a picnic and had a wonderful afternoon on the bay side – only saw one other person walking a very happy doggie!
    Will avoid it all “summer” due to the crowds… urghh!

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