Updated: Apr 27
If it weren't for the Monmouth Beach Cultural Center and the signs along Ocean Avenue, a visitor could drive the short one and a half miles between Sea Bright and Long Branch and miss the town. Unlike its more boisterous neighbors to the north and the south, Monmouth Beach is relatively quiet and seems to be happy with its place at the Jersey Shore.
In the shadow of the condos
Hovering over the shore at Monmouth Beach are three condominiums built in the 1970s-80s -- the two towers of The Shores and the single tower of The Admiralty. When they were built, the idea was to expand the tax base. Fortunately, their not-very-impressive presence diminished interest in further development. North of the towers, the beach tends to be sparsely populated - a density reflected by the large, single-family homes across Ocean Avenue with well-tended yards. It never feels like a day at the beach in Atlantic City or Asbury Park because public parking near the beach (see below under Tips) is difficult, and no stores or food stands are nearby.
Stellar Example of 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 (including Monmouth Beach) 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.
In Monmouth Beach, the remaining Life-Saving Service Station was built in 1895 to replace one from the 1840s that was considered "inadequate". The Coast Guard occupied the station until the late 1950's, then the New Jersey Marine Police took over the station in the 1960's until 1993. The station was eventually restored as the Monmouth Beach Cultural Center and opened in 2000. The center, which was closed for two years because of COVID, re-opened in March.
The Monmouth Beach life-saving station was a Duluth-type building, named for the Minnesota city where the first one of its kind was built. Its architecture is similar to the restored station in Sandy Hook at the northern end of Lot E shown above. (This Jersey Shore Walk 2022 series of articles spotlights life-saving station buildings still in use -- public and private.)
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.”
Big Monmouth. Little Monmouth. Long wait to get in
One hundred years ago this summer, the Monmouth Beach Bath and Tennis Club (left above) was built. It's the grand, white edifice that has surprisingly stood the test of time against numerous storms. Although it's referred to as "Big Monmouth," the building as seen from Ocean Avenue
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appears rather small because of the fencing around it and because it lives in the shadow of the condominium next door. It's a private club with a long waiting list, so you can best experience the building's grandeur from the beach by peering through the iron gates.
Further south past the condos is the Monmouth Beach Bathing Pavilion (right above) or "Little Monmouth." The Pavilion is a borough-owned club that echos the architecture of its big brother. Not surprising because of its ownership, Borough residents get first dibs to join, and the parking lot requires the purchase of a season pass. Some amenities on the outside are open to the public, but the pool and changing facilities are for members only. Non-residents can join, but there are already hundreds on the waiting list. To the credit of Borough staff when asked, they encouraged people to join the waiting list even if takes five or 10 years to obtain membership.
The Shrewsbury River widens south of Sea Bright and is a popular place for boaters, kayaks and birders. Along the river in Monmouth Beach, The Beach Tavern (seafood) and Abbiocco (Italian) at the Channel Club Marina, provide the town's only opportunity to dine with a view of the water. It commands a stunning view of the Shrewsbury River looking north toward Sea Bright. If boaters call ahead, they can reserve a spot to dock and dine.
Brunch with the Wicked Witch
With twice as many people as its northern neighbor Sea Bright, Monmouth Beach has about half as many restaurants and shop. The Beach Road commercial strip is small and away from the ocean. One good reason to stop is My Kitchen Witch on Beach Road. Maybe it's the limited seating (both inside and out) or the pastries by the cash register. In any case, they keep a strong breakfast menu with clever titles such as the Wicked Witch of the Shore Omelette, plus salads, sandwiches and smoothies.
Tips for Visiting Monmouth Beach
What's New: After being closed for all of 2020-21, the Monmouth Beach Cultural Center re-opened in March with art exhibits and events. The hours are 10am - 2pm Wednesday through Sunday. There's a flea market at the center on May 7.
Access & Parking: During the summer, there is paid public parking at the Cultural Center, but there are only a handful of spaces. To park at Little Monmouth's lot or on the Borough's grass lot on Seaview Avenue requires a parking decal which is only available for purchase for Monmouth Beach residents. According to the Borough, parking is free on Monmouth Beach streets, but pay careful attention to no parking signs.
Amenities: There are restrooms available at the Monmouth Beach Bathing Pavilion (entrance on the outside). Access to the Pavilion pools requires a membership. The Monmouth Beach Bath and Tennis Club is private.
Beaches: From Memorial Day to Labor Day, beach badges are required at the supervised public beaches in front of the Monmouth Beach Bathing Pavilion and south of the Pavilion. For 2022, daily beach badges are $10. For non-residents this year, seasonal beach badges increased $5 to $85 for the season. Parking decals are $55 for the season. The only way to purchase them is to create an account by going to monmouthbeach.org, scrolling down the page and clicking on the link for GovOnline.
Starring Role: In Season 2, Episode 12, The Sopranos features Tony Soprano and the guys along the dock by the Channel Club Marina.
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 to Cape May. Read all updated stories at www.JerseyShoreWalk.com.