Skip to main content.
Meg Jernigan, Demand Media
Many of New Jersey’s ocean beaches have boardwalks. (Photo: Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images )
It might seem unlikely to mention Pennsylvania and ocean beaches in the same breath, but residents of the eastern part of the state can reach the beach in an hour or two. Tiny Victorian towns, flashy boardwalks and serene state parks offer something for everyone. Some towns require permits for day use of their beaches, and others provide free access. A few close when they get too full, so plan an early start.
The Sandy Hook unit of Gateway National Recreation Area (nps.gov) about 95 miles east of Bethlehem includes an historic fort, lighthouse and beaches on Sandy Hook Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Asbury Park, 13 miles south of Sandy Hook, famous as Bruce Springsteen’s stomping grounds, has a six-block-long boardwalk lined with amusement rides, arcades, eateries and bars, including the Stone Pony, made famous by Springsteen and other performers such as Bon Jovi. Avon-by-the-Sea, barely two miles south of Asbury Park, is a Victorian village with a quiet, non-commercial boardwalk and white, sandy beaches.
The Barnegat Peninsula stretches from Point Pleasant, about 10 miles south of Asbury Park, through Island Beach State Park to the Barnegat Inlet. Point Pleasant Beach’s boardwalk is home to an aquarium, arcades and restaurants. The village hosts an annual seafood festival in September. Eleven miles south, Seaside Beach has a mile-long boardwalk with amusements, boutiques and arcades. Island Beach State Park (islandbeachnj.org) offers 10 miles of Atlantic beaches, a hiking-trail system and views of the Barnegat Light across Barnegat Inlet. One mile of beach is lifeguarded, and portions of the southernmost end of the park are reserved for surfers and sailboarders.
Cape May, at the southern tip of New Jersey, is about 80 miles from Pennsylvania’s southern border with Delaware. The town, noted for its historic downtown filled with Victorian mansions, has numerous beaches, including the remote Higbee Wildlife Management Area and The Cove, a popular spot with surfers. Family friendly Ocean City, named “Least Angry and Least Depressed” city in the United States in a 2012 Gallup Poll, is about 30 miles north of Cape May. Eight miles of beach, much of it lifeguarded, stretch along the Atlantic, and coves on the bay side provide anglers and Sunfish sailboat enthusiasts a protected area to enjoy their sport.
Philadelphians need only hop on the Atlantic City Expressway to make the 60-mile drive to Atlantic City. An amusement pier, arcades and high-rise hotels join Las Vegas-style casinos along the four-mile-long wooden boardwalk, named first among the “Top 10 U.S. Boardwalks” by “National Geographic” magazine in 2012. Atlantic City beaches have no bathhouses, but there are restrooms at regular intervals and outdoor showers at lifeguard stations. Some hotels provide beach volleyball equipment, and grilling is allowed on the beach on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day. The Jackson Avenue beach is restricted to kayakers and windsurfers.
Meg Jernigan has been writing for more than 30 years. She specializes in travel, cooking and interior decorating. Her offline credits include copy editing full-length books and creating marketing copy for nonprofit organizations. Jernigan attended George Washington University, majoring in speech and drama.
Thank you for providing feedback to our Editorial staff on this article. Please fill in the following information so we can alert the Travel Tips editorial team about a factual or typographical error in this story. All Fields are required.