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Spring Lake: Grand Old Hotels, Stately Homes, Free Parking, Pricey Beach Fees on the Irish Riviera

Updated: Jul 3, 2021

Essex and Sussex Condos from the boardwalk. All photos by R.C. Staab

Passing through the red-brick gate from Belmar to Spring Lake, visitors are instantly aware that they are no longer in a carefree Jersey Shore town. Gone are a mix of houses and condos and apartments. Gone are the 7-11, Playa Bowls and Dunkin Donuts right across Ocean Avenue.

The boardwalk veers closer to the ocean so visitors are immersed in the dunes and the ocean not the noise of cars driving by or parking. The stately Spring Lake homes and a few old hotels are the only thing visible above the dunes while walking the two miles of the boardwalk.

Boardwalk amidst the dunes

(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.)

Towering over the homes and the rest of Spring Lake since 1914 is The Essex and Sussex. For most of its history, the building served as a hotel, but since 2002 it's an "active adult" condominium community. A few blocks north is The Breakers on the Ocean Hotel, where visitors can take a drink from the bar, sit on the porch, and look across Ocean Avenue at the beach.

The Breakers on the Ocean Hotel

A bit of history

If you drive around Spring Lake, the town's roads lack the generally structured grid of neighbors on both side. In large part, that's a remnant of the originally development of the area as four separate communities: North Spring Lake, Villa Park, Spring Lake Beach and Como. Realizing the complexity of providing municipal services to four unique communities, the voters approved the formation of Spring Lake Borough in 1892.

Homes along Spring Lake

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Unique among its neighbors, Spring Lake's main shopping area is not a major road through the town, nor is it the main east-west route from Route 71 to the beach. The result is a quaint, more pedestrian friendly shopping strip centered around the intersection of 3rd and Morris Avenues.

St. Catharine Church

The Irish Riviera

While there are 14 towns or beaches across American that champion themselves as the "Irish Riviera," Spring Lake may have the strongest claim for that title. According to the the 2000 Census, 39.4% of Spring Lake residents identified as being of Irish American ancestry, the highest percentage of Irish Americans of any place in the United States.

Irish immigrant Martin Maloney built a 26-room mansion that is on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, it's occupied as a private home near the ocean on Morris Avenue.

In the early 1900s, Maloney also funded the construction of St. Catharine Church and commissioned Irish-themed murals for the most impressive Catholic church at the Shore. The building has a remarkable setting overlooking Spring Lake. The church dome is easily viewed from a float or surfboard a few hundred yards from the shoreline.

The Martin Maloney Cottage

Beach badges

Daily beach badges are by far the most expensive along the Jersey Shore. At $20 per person, the daily beach access is more than twice what a visitors pays across Spring Lake's northern border in Belmar, and $9 more than in Sea Girt. The Borough further discourages daily beach purchases by using CommunityPass, which requires registration on the website before making a purchase. The badges are not available at the beachfront.

Tips for Visiting Spring Lake

What's New: Visitors have full access to the beach and street parking unlike 2020 when there were many restrictions.

Access and Parking: The main access to the town is via Route 71 to the west or driving south along Ocean Avenue from Belmar. Parking is free.

Amenities: There are restrooms along the boardwalk.

Beaches: As of May 19, exact days when beach badges are required have not been confirmed. Badges will be required Memorial Day Weekend and then, most likely, some weekends in June and then daily from mid-June to Labor Day. Daily beach badges for people 12 and older are $20 and for people 6-11 are $10 and can be purchased at the beachfront. Seasonal beach badges are $110 for people 12 and older and $80 for people aged 65 and over.

Starring Role: Featured as a turn-of-the-century town briefly in the move Ragtime, Once Upon a Time in America and The Subject Was Roses.

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