Jersey Shore Weekend Getaway: Twin Lights, Gateway National Recreation Area, Keyport, Belmar Beach, and Spring Lake

Jersey Shore

Having lived in New Jersey for almost a year, this was my first visit to the Jersey Shore to see the Atlantic coastline. When most people mention the Jersey Shore, they first think of the two more famous cities in the south – Cape May, America's oldest seaside resort, and the gradually declining Atlantic City. However, these two places are about a four-hour drive from where I live in the north. Therefore, this weekend getaway was aimed at several resort towns in the north. A weekend trip is much more relaxed compared to regular travel; although the journey was filled with small attractions that might typically take only half a day to explore, I spent the entire day visiting them.

  • Day 1: On the first day, we went to Twin Lights in the morning, Sandy Hook National Scenic Area in the afternoon, and then went to Keyport on the way back for seafood in the evening.
  • Day 2: Activities are centered around three small beaches in north-central New Jersey: Belmar Beach, Springlake, and Point Pleasant, which are only a 20-minute drive away.

Twin lights

The first stop was the Twin Lights in Highland. As the name suggests, this historical site consists of two lighthouses, also known as the Navesink Light Station. Erected in 1862, the two lighthouses stand tall, overlooking Sandy Hook Bay. They were once the entrance for ships coming into New York Harbor but are no longer in use and have been converted into a museum. One lighthouse provided a steady light while the other flashed. This design helped ships more easily determine the exact location of the harbor when the two lights were seen together.

Following the small path to the left of the entrance, you can walk up to the observation area behind the building. Only by climbing the tower can you see the entire Sandy Hook Bay and catch a glimpse of New York City. The view from the base of the tower is now obstructed by dense trees.

Due to its geographical location, there are several military bases around the New Jersey coast, and Twin Lights was once one of them. The historical records here are not very detailed. For example, when this building was constructed in 1862, an unidentified cannon was unearthed. Whether it belonged to pirates or some old military force is now unknown.

Gateway National Scenic Area

It's just a short drive east of Highland.Gateway National Scenic AreaGateway is a long sandbar surrounded by beaches. There is no annual pass for the National Park, but you need to pay 15 dollars for the entrance ticket. gateway is a long sandbar surrounded by beach, because it is close to New York and New Jersey city, there are a lot of tourists playing in the water. The colorful beach umbrellas remind us of the crowded beaches in Taiwan.

On the beach, there are also sand sculptures of castles left by anonymous tourists. It was so beautiful that many people couldn't help but take photos of it with their cell phones like I did. Who is the artist who made this sculpture?

Sandy Hook Lighthouse

Sandy Hook's harbor was once an important port for ships entering the southern end of New York. However, due to the narrow bay, many ships met with accidents before docking, leaving numerous shipwreck remnants to this day. Because the accident rate was so high, New York residents eventually decided to fund the construction of a lighthouse here to reduce the dangers of navigation.

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Fort Hancock

We drove all the way to the northern tip, initially just to see the Sandy Hook Lighthouse. However, we discovered that the area around Fort Hancock is actually a very interesting place. This community was once a military camp, and all the residents were soldiers. The beautiful Victorian-style houses were military quarters. The purpose of the garrison here was to protect the important port of New York. Later on, military families also moved in, turning it into a military village with schools, shops, and a community welfare center. Today, although there are still some naval personnel stationed here, the town is now under the management of the National Park Service and is open for public visits.

When Hurricane Sandy struck in 2011, Fort Hancock, located by the sea, suffered significant damage, leaving many houses partially destroyed. I'm not sure if there were other activities in the past, but now, apart from playing ball games and barbecuing on the grass, visitors can follow the walking tour instructions for a self-guided visit. The scenery is quite nice, and we followed the directions to walk around the entire town. In the summer, the weather at Fort Hancock is quite pleasant, with large green areas for visitors to relax and opportunities for bird watching and photography along the coast.

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The row of houses facing the coast is currently being temporarily supported. Upon closer inspection, you'll notice that these beautiful houses are all propped up with wooden supports. Except for the most famous History House, the others have yet to be restored. Some of the houses along the walking tour route have been demolished, but the tour still provides a comprehensive glimpse into various aspects of military life here in the past.


One of the most severely damaged areas is likely the main building. Originally the largest and most important structure in the town, it was surrounded by restaurants and a visitor center. Now, with the roof almost entirely collapsed, it is too dangerous to enter and has been closed off.

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The Fort Hancock harbor is still in use, and during the summer, visitors can take a ferry directly from Manhattan. At dusk, the harbor is crowded with tourists lining up to board the ferry back to New York.

Besides its historical buildings, Sandy Hook is also a great place for bird watching. The harbor area is home to large flocks of geese and fishing seabirds. Additionally, we were pleasantly surprised to discover an eagle's nest with eaglets on the roof of one of the houses.

Keyport

The New Jersey coast naturally offers great seafood dining options. On the first evening, we had dinner in the small town of Keyport on our way back. It was my first time enjoying the richly flavored fried seafood dishes since moving to New Jersey.

The restaurant we visited, Keyport Fishery, is located near the Keyport harbor. It only offers takeout and has no seating inside, but it's unsurprising that there was still a long line. The seafood is extremely fresh and reasonably priced, with a selection that includes fish, shrimp, crabs, and scallops. Having lived in New Jersey for over a year, I had yet to find a truly enjoyable and affordable seafood place, so this restaurant quickly became my favorite based on the freshness alone! We ordered a combo platter and a soft-shell crab. The combo platter included fish, shrimp, and scallops, all served with fries. We also added a clam chowder, which was quite hearty. The soft-shell crab, a New Jersey specialty, was a first for me and I'd rate it around 90 out of 100.

Although the restaurant lacks seating, the nearby harbor offers a pleasant view. Like most customers, we took our food to the harbor and found a spot to sit and enjoy our meal.

After dusk, the night view of Keyport Harbor illuminated by lights is stunning. Despite being a small town, Keyport is surprisingly lively at night. This vibrancy is undoubtedly connected to its historically thriving fishing industry and proximity to New York.

In the mid-20th century, Keyport was one of the world's main suppliers of oysters. However, overfishing and increasing pollution led to the decline of the fishing industry, and the town's commercial focus gradually shifted towards shopping and cultural tourism. Due to its close proximity to New York, the town hosts numerous activities.

On the evening we visited, we took a walk in Keyport Waterfront Park by the harbor. Besides the brightly lit shops along the shore, there were also music and dance performances by local residents in the harbor plaza. Overall, the atmosphere here, compared to the coastal areas of larger cities like Los Angeles where I used to live, is less commercial and more relaxed, offering a unique sense of tranquility.

Belmar Beach

Belmar Beach isn't particularly well-known, with only a few small shops besides the boardwalk. However, the boardwalk and nearby community are kept very clean and beautiful. Aside from some local residents who come to jog and enjoy the water, there aren't many other tourists, making it an excellent hidden gem. The parking spots closest to the beach require a fee, but if you drive a bit further away, you'll find free parking spots.

It might have been because it was Independence Day, but the beach was completely empty. This made the ocean view feel even more expansive and the experience much more enjoyable than the previous day's crowded beach. We stayed for a while, savoring the rare tranquility of the Atlantic.

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Spring Lake

Spring Lake is just next to Belmar, a bit further south. We parked the car and took a walk along the boardwalk. This boardwalk is slightly longer, and many locals were jogging there. I decided to join in and put on my running shoes for a romantic beach fitness session: a five-kilometer run. Running while enjoying the sea breeze felt great, and it would have been even better if the weather were a bit cooler.

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After the outdoor run, I immediately felt hungry, so we drove to nearby Point Pleasant to enjoy a simple lobster roll at Point Lobster Co. The lobster roll was served hot and tasted quite good. This small shop is actually a seafood market that also sells various fresh seafood, including lobsters weighing up to 5 pounds.

Further reading

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