Updated: Apr 20, 2022
Coming over the Highlands-Sea Bright Bridge, the Atlantic Ocean spreads out on the horizon. It's the most memorable view from any road approaching the Jersey Shore. Head south at the end of the bridge to enter Sea Bright, the first town along the Jersey Shore.
In season, with time-limited parking along Ocean Avenue and only a handful of parking spaces on side streets, most people either head to the small beach parking lot at Anchorage Beach (just north of the Rumson Bridge) or the large parking lot downtown. From the downtown lot, walk across the street to Bain's Hardware (with all your beach supplies), Lucky Dog Surf Co (cool surf gear and boards), a new art gallery, Roam, and a grocery, liquor stores and a dozen eateries. To access the beach, walk up the ramp or steps to the relatively new Sea Bright Beach Pavilion which fronts an elevated concrete walkway and small boardwalk that extend for about 1/3 of mile south. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, buy a beach badge to hang out on this guarded beach, play volleyball or use the children's playground. Outdoor showers are along the walkway, restrooms are inside the pavilion and police, fire and lifesaving personnel are nearby.
While many commercial strips are still struggling since COVID , all of Sea Bright restaurants are back in business in 2022 including Melonhead, Yolk's on You Kitchen, Ocean House and Playa Bowls. They join mainstays: Woody's Ocean Grille, Angelica's Restaurant, Rory's Pub, Alice's Kitchen, Moo Yai Thai Restaurant, Yumi, Gigi's NY Style Pizza/Sonny's Sandwich Shop and Sea Bright Pizzeria. The phenomenally popular Tommys's Tap & Tavern is enclosing its front porch area on the ground level and expanding its second floor to include a deck, although for the moment that second floor will continue to only be used for private events.
A Bridge With Its Own Website
Just north of downtown at the first stoplight of the Jersey Shore, the new Rumson-Sea Bright Bridge is under construction to replace the existing 70-year-old creaky old draw bridge. The Dunkin' Donuts is closed and that building will be demolished. The project has its own website which can be accessed here. The new bridge should open in 2024.
Remnant of a Life-Saving Service Station
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 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.)
In Sea Bright, several stations were built in the late 1800s. In north Sea Bright along Ocean Avenue, one can glimpse a piece of Jersey Shore maritime past with a private home that has been substantially redone. Albert Bibb, the service's in-house architect, designed the station to allow for ocean viewing from the top floor, as opposed to a tower similar to what you see below.
Nearby, one can see the first Sandy Hook station that has been moved to Twin Lights Historic Site and the Historic Life-Saving Service Station No. 2 at Spermaceti Cove at Lot E in Sandy Hook national park. 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.”
Riverside Views and Access
While the ocean is undoubtedly the main water attraction in Sea Bright, the Shrewsbury and Navesink Rivers are extremely popular with private boaters, party boats, kayakers and and even a dolphin or two or three. There is no public ramp to the rivers, but for fishermen looking for access to the river, the new Shrewsbury River Park just north of the Rumson-Sea Bright bridge is popular place year round. There are benches along the river, bike racks and public restrooms across Ocean Avenue at Anchorage Beach. What appears to be a sculpture in the park (see below) is temporary sensor to collect and process electromagnetic or acoustic signals from the pilings being added for the new bridge.
The one place to eat with views of the river is The Rum Rummer with a bar and restaurant the offers the best river views in the area.
Party to the South. Tread Lightly to the North
On most Jersey Shore beaches the consumption of alcohol is forbidden or seriously discouraged. There’s only one permanent bar—Donovan’s Reef—where you can legally drink in a designated section of the sandy beach, with lifeguards to boot. Donovan's has already open Thursday-Sunday until Memorial Day when it's open seven days a week. Donovan’s fans can start their day as early as 9 a.m., bringing their own chairs and towels.
To the north of the main beach is the forbidding sign "Private Club Members Only." That's a message from one of the private seven private beach clubs: five to the north, two to the south. For many years, the clubs tried to restrict beach access. After a series of lawsuits, the state's attorney general reached an agreement with six clubs in 2010 (click here to read AG statement) to replace a 15-foot public access corridor with an "area encompassing at least 50 percent of the beach – up to a maximum of 150 feet." Confused? To complicate things, Sea Bright considers the public-use area in front of the private beach clubs as unsupervised municipal beaches and requires non-club members to have a beach badge. Feel free to sit on the beach in front of a private beach club, but bring a ruler and rule book in case you are questioned.
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Tips for Visiting Sea Bright
What's New: The new Rumson-Sea Bright Bridge is under construction to replace the existing 70-year-old structure. Expect occasional delays due to construction. See above.
Access & Parking: The main downtown parking lot off of Ocean Avenue is a great spot with easy access to the beach and the Sea Bright Beach Pavilion and downtown businesses, restaurants and shops. Starting May 15 through September 15, parking fees are in effect from 9am to 9pm. The cost is $2 an hour weekdays and weekends. The M2PayParking app is the easiest way to pay for parking. There is a much smaller public parking lot at Anchorage Beach north of bridge that is usually full. The same rates apply.
Amenities: The Sea Bright Beach Pavilion has outdoor showers and indoor restrooms. Lockers are sold out for the season.
Beaches: From Memorial Day to Labor Day, beach badges are required at the supervised public beaches in front of the downtown Beach Pavilion and at Anchorage Beach. Badges are necessary for non-members to sit in front of a beach club. The daily beach badge is $8, and children under the age of 12 are free. Seasonal badges are $100 for adults, $35 for people 65 or older.
Starring Role: The famous "White Caps" episode of the The Sopranos features Tony Soprano buying a beach house for Carmela in Sea Bright. It all ends badly. The town is also featured in the movies Down by the Shore and Coyote Ugly.
Follow Jersey Shore author and expert R.C. Staab as he recounts his 2021 walk of every beach along the 139 miles of the Jersey Shore coastline from Sandy Hook Cape May. Read all updated stories at www.JerseyShoreWalk.com.