Updated: Jul 3
Seaside Heights likes to call itself "The Classic American Boardwalk." In many ways that motto fits. There's the Casino Pier amusement park with a giant ferris wheel and a terrifying ride or two. There's a Breakwater Beach water park right off the Boardwalk. There's a variety of retail stores. And there's every kind of food stand imaginable.
Perhaps it's a hallmark of the 21st century that a "classic boardwalk" also conveys that the town has withstood major traumas -- Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and a large fire on the Boardwalk in 2013. The town has also "survived" the continued dramas that play out with the cast of MTV's Jersey Shore which ran from 2009 to 2012 and has spun off other reality shows with many of the cast members. The Seaside Heights clubs that were patronized by the guidos and guidettes have mostly closed so that scene has shifted north to clubs in Pt. Pleasant Beach and Belmar.
(From the vantage point of the beachfront or boardwalk, this is a breezy overview of what you see, where to park and beach access, plus a bit or history and the latest happenings. See map below.)
Casino Pier and Breakwater Beach
One of the famous images of the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy was of Casino Pier's roller coaster the Star Jet sitting marooned in the ocean after the pier collapsed around it. Casino Pier bounced back from the storm by rebuilding the pier, adding a 131-foot tall Ferris Wheel, the Hydrus Roller Coaster, the Shore Shot plunge rides, mini-golf, go-karts, rope climbing and a SkyCoaster soaring over the beach. From a visual standpoint, the Pier's Sky Ride is a real treat as it leaves the pier heading north, running parallel to the Boardwalk. It provides an usual view of the pier, the beach, the town and even a glimpse of the original MTV's Jersey Shore house.
It's a compact, easy-to-manage pier. Its pricing policy is much less easy to manage. A person can pay for a single ride or get a wristband that allows "unlimited" rides for a given length of time. However, unlimited rides usually don't include every attraction, so take some time and study the pricing menu in advance here.
On the other side of the Boardwalk from the Casino Pier is Breakwater Beach owned by the company of the same name. The waterpark has a variety of thrilling slide rides, a wave pool and an interactive children's play area, plus cabanas for adults who want to sit and watch. Most people pay a separate admission from Casino Pier but combo tickets are available.
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Every variety of Boardwalk food
If you like Boardwalk food, there is no match to Seaside Heights in the northern section of the Jersey Shore. Pizza, clams, fries, Kohr's frozen custard, Lucky Leo's Sweet Shop, water ice -- they are all available plus a bunch of restaurants and bars with seafood, pizzas, barbecue and cheesesteaks.
For fan of the pork roll, stop at the Jersey Roll with the most imaginative combinations of pork roll anywhere along the Jersey Shore.
After dinner, Van Holten's may be the sweetest stop on the Jersey Shore and the zaniest. How about one of its 78 flavors of popcorn such as Double Cheese Burger and Hot Wings? Or chocolate-dipped pork roll, chocolate-dipped Slim Jims, or chocolate-covered hand pies? Want some bacon in your peanut brittle? They have that, too.
It must have been tempting for the city leaders to forgo dune restoration after Superstorm Sandy. After all, less dunes can mean more people at the beach. As you can see from the photo, the beach can be packed even on a weekday. Fortunately, they took the long-term view and established tall, wide dunes with rows and rows of planted beach grass.
A latecomer to the tourism scene and the carousel
While many towns to the north such as Long Branch, Asbury Park and Pt. Pleasant Beach were well established by the turn of the 20th century, Seaside Heights was still an afterthought. It wasn't until just before World War I that the combination of the Toms River Bridge and the debut of the DuPont Avenue carousel and boardwalk led to the town's dramatic growth. The initial amusement park didn't fair well, but other companies joined in to keep the boardwalk thriving.
Meanwhile some 60 miles to the west on an island in the Delaware River, a Dentzel-Loof Carousel began operating at Burlington Island Beach Park. The carousel featured chariots and animals that were carved by Charles Looff, as well as Gustav Dentzel and other master craftsmen. There were 35 jumping horses, 18 standing horses, a lion, tiger, mule, two camels and two chariots. Some of its carved animals reportedly dated to the 1890s.
When a fire mostly destroyed Burlington Island Beach park, Linus Gilbert bought the carousel and moved it to Seaside Heights. Missing and damaged horses were replaced and the Wurlitzer 146 Band Organ restored. The carousel re-opened in 1932 and operated continuously for many years at Casino Pier.
In 1984, the carousel was nearly sold for about $275,000. At the time, individual horses were selling for up to $100,000 to private collectors and carousels weren't big money-makers. Dr. Floyd Moreland, who had ridden the carousel as a young child every summer began a campaign to save the carousel. Ultimately, he succeeded. From 1984 to 1990 over winter weekends, Moreland, his family and friends, repainted the entire carousel, made repairs and upgraded the lighting system.
In 2014, the carousel was nearly sold again. This time, Seaside Heights stepped up with a plan to create a non-profit to own the carousel and to create a permanent home on the Boardwalk that didn't depend on the whims of the amusement park owner. Despite objections, the town approved a deal to trade a piece of borough-owned beach to Casino Pier for the carousel which was appraised at more than $2 million. A lawsuit ensued, but the New Jersey Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal. The deal stood.
The carousel was dismantled in 2019 and is being prepared for a journey to a restoration company, Carousel & Carvings, in Ohio this fall. In the meantime a new Carousel House (pictured below) has opened without the carousel, where concerts and performances will be staged in July and August. Sometime in late 2022, the fully restored Dr. Floyd L. Moreland Dentzel-Loof Carousel is set to spin round and round for future generations to enjoy.
Tips for Visiting Seaside Heights
What's New: On the northern end of the Boardwalk, the Carousel House pavilion is built but the carousel's horses are still being refurbished. In the meantime, the city has programmed a series of concerts, children events and theater in July and August in the pavilion. On the southern end of the boardwalk, the new Ocean Club Restaurant which includes a pool, beach area and luxury cabanas should open any day now.
Access and Parking: The easiest route to Seaside Heights is via Route 37 from Exit 82 of the Garden State Parkway. There are a variety of paid lots. Street parking is usually metered during the summer.
Amenities: There are restrooms and outdoor showers along the Boardwalk.
Beaches: Beach badges are required for access to all beaches. Full season badges are $60; weekly badges are $35. For people 62 years old or over, a beach badge is only $15. Daily badges are $9. For the bay beach, the badge is $5 on Saturday, Sunday and holidays. There is no cost for people 11 years of age and under.
Starring Role: Seaside Heights was the principal location of the first season of MTV's Jersey Shore and featured in the movies Tomorrow is Today and Stealing Home.
This spring, summer and fall, follow Jersey Shore author and expert R.C. Staab as he walks the entire 139 miles of the Jersey Shore coastline from Sandy Hook to Island Beach State Park, the length of Long Beach Island from Old Barney to the Edwin Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, from Brigantine to Cape May.
Next stop: Seaside Park at Jersey Shore Walk Mile post 40. See profiles of Ortley Beach, Lavalette, Mantoloking, Bay Head, Pt. Pleasant Beach and other Jersey Shore Walk beach towns at www.jerseyshorewalk.com