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Sandy Hook's First 3 miles: Bay Side Hikes, Light-Saving Station, Kayaks, SUP

Updated: Apr 20, 2022

Photo by Bruce Neumann. All other photos by R.C. Staab

Sandy Hook beaches can be very, very popular. On a busy hot summer weekend, in-the-know drivers get there before 10 am to snap up one of the 4,000 parking spots available. At 4,001 cars, the park closes its entrance to all cars.

The choice parking spots are grabbed in the first few lots beyond the tool booths to Sandy Hook, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area of the National Park Service. Surfers head to The Cove north of the rock jetty by Lot C while ocean swimmers congregate in front of the beach pavilion. On the bay side on windy days, kite-boarders perform amazing stunts. But even when the lots are full, it's easy enough to walk to the beach and head in any direction about an eighth of a mile to find a quiet spot.

All photos by R.C. Staab
Bayside trail

Bay Side Water Sports: Inflatable Island. Surf. Kite Board. Paddle. Kayak. Take an Eco Tour. Do SUP Yoga. Swim. Bike. Run. Walk.

In the three-mile stretch of beach past the entrance, park in Lot C, where Sandy Hook Kayaks rents kayaks and paddle boards that are used in the calmer waters of the Sandy Hook Bay. They also offer eco tours, SUP yoga class and renting inflatable islands where you can sit on a beach chair and float in the bay.

Take a break from the water by walking, running or biking along the pathway by the pavilions. The first section offers views of the ocean, and then the path dips into the brush past Lot E for a mostly unfettered six miles of paved trails.

Historic Life-Saving Service Station at Lot E

Before there was the United States Coast Guard, there was the United States Life-Saving Service. In 1848, NJ Congressman William Newell advocated for a law to establish eight unmanned lifesaving stations from Sandy Hook to Long Beach Island and to provide "surf boat, rockets, carronades and other necessary apparatus for the better preservation of life and property from shipwreck". By 1878, the volunteer life-saving role was assumed by a new federal agency, the Life-Saving Service, which refurbished, replaced or built 40-plus stations from Sandy Hook to Cape May and many more along the nation's coastlines. (This Jersey Shore Walk 2022 series of articles spotlights life-saving station buildings still in use -- public and private.)

Although closed as a visitors center at the moment, the Historic Life-Saving Service Station No. 2 at SpermacetiCove was actually the third building here. The 1894-structure is a Duluth-type building, named for the Minnesota city where the first one of its kind was built. The iconic tower is one that is typically repeated in stations that still stand along the Jersey Shore. From 1871 through 1914, the Service aided 28,121 vessels, and rescued or aided 178,741 persons. It's unofficial motto: “Remember, you have to go out, but nothing says you have to come back.”

From the pedestrian walked, in the northeast corner of Lot E, one can now walk the boards for a closer inspection of this photogenic reminder of 19th century life at the Jersey Shore.


Discover Inspiring Photos of Cape May, the Battle of Monmouth, Philly, Lancaster County and More

Bruce Neumann's photographs capture familiar scenes of the Jersey Shore, Philadelphia, Boston and Lancaster County. To peruse and purchase his prints in a variety of printed forms and framing, visit his website at Fine Art America.


Paddle Over to Bahrs Landing for Lunch or Dinner

Across the Sandy Hook Bay from the entrance is Bahrs Landing, the closest option a take-out or sit-down meal. With its expanded outdoor seating plus Moby's Outdoor Deck, you don't need fancy

Stop by Bahrs Gift Shop for the Other 99 Things at the Shore

Get the scoop on quiet beaches, historic sites and outdoor adventures with the #1 NJ Travel Guide. Say hi to owners Jay and Becky Cosgrove


summer attire to enjoy their fresh seafood, including Jack Bahrs’s famous 1917 Manhattan clam chowder (red), as well as German specialties such as wiener schnitzel. It’s so popular that the 2022 Super Bowl featured a TV spot for an electric car with fictional Meadow Soprano arriving ot AJ at Bahr's. It's also a reference to Tony Soprano when he takes Carmela on a ride in the “Whitecaps” episode of The Sopranos. Next to the main restaurant, the owners run the seasonal Mobys Lobster Deck, with cherry stone clams and oysters, live lobster, and sandwiches served on paper plates.

A Dog-Friendly Beach

Even during the warmest months, dogs can find a respite at Sandy Hook. Pets are permitted on ocean-side beaches from September 15 to March 15 but are allowed on a leash on bay-side beaches year round from Plum Island to Horseshoe Cove.

Forget Coney Island. Let's Go to NJ

At the narrowest part of Sandy Hook, the Shrewsbury River, Raritan Bay and the Atlantic Ocean almost touch. What better place to develop New Jersey's first day-trip beach resort and siphon off some of the beachgoers to packed Coney Island. That's just what the Sandlass Family did in the 1880s, developing Highland Beach as "the nearest available ocean beach on the New Jersey coast." At their resort, visitors could ride the Highland Beach Gravity Railroad (one of the nation's first roller coasters), shower and change clothes in the bath house, listen to music at the pavilion, drink at the bar and, of course, shop. Eventually, Highland Beach was usurped by more exotic beach locations in the South and the Caribbean. For a time, the "resort" became a local draw as the Sandlass Beach Club, then a state park and eventually the National Park Service took ownership of the beach club area and most of the northern peninsula.

Tips for Visiting the Southern End of Sandy Hook

What's New: There's a relatively new LED sign at the park's entrance and new signage throughout.

Access & Parking: State Route 36 is the only access to the park via car. The first lots, particularly Lot B, fill up quickly. The largest lot is Lot E. At Fishing Beach Road, parking is along the road and only a few dozen cars can be accommodated. Daily admission is $20 per car from Memorial Day to Labor Day and $100 for the season. There is no fee for people walking, running or biking into the park. The Seastreak Ferry operates summer service from Manhattan directly to Sandy Hook on the bay side near Fort Hancock and the Coast Guard station.

Amenities: In season, food trucks are scattered in Parking Lots B, C, D & E. Changing

rooms and toilets are available in Lots B, C, D & E.

Starring Role: In Jersey Girl, Ben Affleck gloomily sits on the beach at Sandy Hook looking across at his failed life in Highlands.

This spring, summer and fall, follow Jersey Shore author and expert R.C. Staab as he recounts his walk of the 139 miles of the Jersey Shore coastline from Sandy Hook to Island Beach State Park, from Old Barney to Beach Haven, from Brigantine to Cape May. Read stories about each beach town at


Best summer yet at the Jersey Shore.

Get the scoop on seafood, salt water taffy and ice cream joints with the #1 NJ Travel Guide. Plus discover quiet beaches, historic sites and outdoor adventures. Get your authographed copy by clicking here: 100 Things to Do at the Jersey Shore Before You Die.

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