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The List: Grab the Sunscreen and Hit One of New Jersey’s Top 10 Beaches

Whether you want to catch a glimpse of the reclusive red fox or drop in ‘The Pocket’ and ‘shred’ a few waves — or almost anything else — New Jersey’s 700 public beaches can fill the bill

surf beach

New Jerseyans are always looking for the best spot to lay their towels in the summer, and with 130 miles of coastline and more than 700 beaches (63 public), there’s plenty of sand to go around. This year, vacationers made it clear that bigger is better when it comes to the Shore.

The New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium (NJSGC) recently released its 2016 Best Beaches Report based on more than 10,000 votes cast in a public poll. The results show voters prefer massive boardwalks, big rides, bright lights, and family fun.

Visitor data was not available for all of the beaches, so it’s hard to say which locations reliably draw the largest crowds, but the following list describes the top 10 as voted by the public.

Top two all around:

1. Ocean City

Ocean City is frequently voted one of the nation's best resorts by sites like Tripadvisor.com. It boasts eight miles of white sand shoreline. Along with taking the NJSGC top slot since the poll started in 2008, Ocean City also won Coastal Magazine’s Best Beach in America title. With a 2.5-mile boardwalk and lifeguards on duty, OCNJ prides itself on being a family-friendly beach. (It’s also a "dry" island, so no alcohol is allowed.) According to the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA), in 2015 Ocean City had an estimated 2,830,792 visitors. For fun off the beach, OCNJ features the historic amusement park Gillian’s Wonderland Pier and the Ocean City water park.

2. Wildwood Crest

Another family-friendly spot, Wildwood Crest’s free beaches were voted best for family vacations by the NJSGC in 2008 and have moved up to the overall best runner-up slot in 2016. The beach is known for its annual sand sculpting festival, 5K beach race, and summer music series.

Atlantic County

3. Brigantine

Brigantine Beach is a usually quiet spot outside of Atlantic City known as a “best-kept secret.” Away from the sand, visitors can stop by New Jersey’s tallest lighthouse (Absecon Light), which is one of the oldest lighthouses in the country, according to the island’s tourism website. There’s also the William Forsythe Wildlife Refuge at the north end of the island where visitors can go birding, spot rabbits -- and perhaps catch a glimpse of a red fox.

4. Atlantic City

Visitation has been down lately, according to the city’s sales and tourism barometer, as only 177,016 people hit the Boardwalk in the past year as of May (down nearly 50 percent from 2015). But the huge resort hotels, casinos and boardwalks at Atlantic City still put the beach firmly in one of the top slots for Atlantic County.

The iconic Steel Pier (first opened in 1898) remains a major tourist attraction, extending 1,000 feet over the Atlantic with more than 25 different rides. The pier’s owners are currently in talks with the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to restructure over $1.5 million debt, which could prevent a new observation wheel from being built. The wheel, currently in storage until the debts are paid, was supposed to be financed by a $10 million loan from the CRDA as a way to stimulate the city’s economy, according to the Press of Atlantic City.

Cape May County (Excluding Ocean City and Wildwood Crest)

5. The Wildwoods

A reliable favorite, Wildwood beach is known for attracting a more athletic crowd. The 5-mile stretch frequently hosts events like championship soccer, lacrosse, ultimate Frisbee, hockey tournaments, the National Marbles Championship, monster truck races, motocross races, and the Wildwoods International Kite Festival. Adventurous visitors can also rent jet skis, surf, and go parasailing, speed boating and wave running. The beach is also fairly safe. According to the USLA, the Wildwoods (Wildwood, Wildwood Crest and North Wildwood) saw over 2,200,000 people in attendance in 2015 and lifeguards made 145 rescues with no lives lost to drowning.

6. Sea Isle City

A great bet for young and old beachgoers alike, Sea Isle City is located in historic Cape May and has plenty of options for visitors who want to get away from the noise and crowds at the big boardwalks. There’s a Jersey Fresh farmers market, movies under the stars, guided beachcombing, and the Sea Isle City historical museum.

Monmouth County

7. Sandy Hook – Gateway National Recreation Area

Although it closed earlier last month due to high bacteria levels, Sandy Hook is open again and safe to enjoy.

This 7-mile ocean-and-bay-beach combo fills up pretty quickly with locals and North Jerseyans who don’t feel like making the trek down to Belmar or Point Pleasant. As a 1,665-acre barrier peninsula, Sandy Hook has an unobstructed view of the Manhattan skyline, and attracts photographers and nature lovers alike. For off-the-beach activities, visitors can head to Highlands for seafood, shopping and nightlife. History buffs will also want to check out the Twin Lighthouses commissioned by the federal government in 1828 and the first twin lighthouse to use electricity, according to the town’s website. For all the businesspeople looking to catch some Jersey rays on their lunch break, Wall Street is just a 45-minute ferry ride away. According to the USLA, a little under 2 million visitors (both beach and nonbeach) visited Sandy Hook in 2015 and generated revenue of more than $3 million.

8. Asbury Park

Easy to access by NJ Transit and full of Zagat-rated restaurants, Asbury Park is a popular destination for weekend vacationers. The beach itself is clean and classic, but the best activities are in the city itself. From Stone Pony Summer Stage concerts to a paranormal bookshop, the city has plenty of curiosities for the inquisitive sunbather like glassblowing and pottery shops. The Silver Ball Museum Arcade, opened this summer, houses more than 200 antique pinball games. Jeanne DeYoung, the director of tourism in Monmouth County said Asbury Park brought in $1,867,000 in beach-tag sales last year (daily rates are $5).

Ocean County

9. Seaside Heights

The mayor of Seaside Heights, Anthony Vaz, calls this beach and boardwalk “world famous” for its “sugar white sand and plenty of umbrella room,” in his web page letter to visitors. There’s a weekday fee of $7 and a weekend charge of $8 to enjoy the beach, but the Boardwalk Promenade and Casino Pier can be walked for free. During designated times, beach camping is allowed. At the north bayfront, Sunset Beach offers a toddler-friendly shallow swimming area and panoramic views of the sunset. Parking is free.

10. Point Pleasant Beach

With both public and private beach access, Point Pleasant attracts a mixed crowd of tourists and residents. There’s a boardwalk with pizza and prizes, and Jenkinson’s aquarium is located in the north end. Surfers know the areas called “The Pocket” and Manasquan for their “shreddable” waves according to the New Jersey Shore and online surfing communities like those on Reddit. Manasquan is also a hot spot for fishing, since it connects the Atlantic to the Manasquan River.

Carly Sitrin is a freelance writer who covers a variety of issues in New Jersey.

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