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