At the northernmost tip of the Jersey Shore lies Sandy Hook, a Gateway National Recreation area. Sandy Hook is not just seven miles of ocean beach, but an historic area as well. Home to the oldest operating lighthouse in North America, guiding in ships since 1764, home to Fort Hancock, which defended the harbor from 1895 to 1974, and also the site of the first US Army Proving ground.
We enjoyed a nice day at the beach here, as the place is clean and not overcrowded. Then we took a rather interesting tour of some of the historic area. Nature tours are available here as well. You can find a helpful visitors center when you first enter the park, and the ranger there will provide you with all kinds of information, pamphlets, and current activities. There was something for everyone here - the area is popular with sunbathers, history buffs, windsurfers, fishermen, and hikers.
On the bay side, fishermen are permitted to cast with rod and reel, and we watched others scoop up crabs and bait fish in nets. Fishing is permitted on the ocean side, but this does not distract from the sunbathing, as there are not too many people doing this, and it is not allowed in the swimmers area. We watched as a fisherman put his pole in the water and pulled out a large fluke within minutes.
Alcohol is permitted on the beach, but signs do implore visitors to keep the area clean, and to take trash with you. Nude sunbathing is also allowed here, but do not be afraid to bring children, because it it only allowed on one of the beaches, and there is a sign notifying which beach it is. Kids can be taken to one of the areas instead where there are showers, restrooms, and concessions.
We enjoyed Sandy Hook as a day outing. It was about a two and a half hour drive from NYC, but there are many little bed and breakfasts where we would have enjoyed staying.
I must recommend a restaurant that we really enjoyed, "Something Fishy," located in the center of town. An indoor/outdoor cafe, the servers were really friendly here, and the seafood unbelievably fresh. We enjoyed a bucket of steamers, a salad, wine, and a split a delicious seafood fra diablo for under $40 for two. If you visit, check this place out.
You can obtain more information by doing a search of the web, or by calling 732-872-5970. The visitors center also has postings of ongoing activities at www.nps.gov/gate