Whether you’re after a beach day with the family, trying to train for a sprint-tri or need a more natural landscape for those “golden hour” thirst-trap pics, Island Beach State Park can surely accommodate. Located just south of Seaside Heights on Route 35, IBSP is one of the Shore”s best spots for getting lost in nature, viewing wildlife, kayaking, fishing, running and much more. In anticipation of yet another busy summer, we took a day trip to explore Island Beach and found out there really is no off-season at one of Jersey’s most popular state parks.
Fishing: Island Beach is particularly beloved by fishermen; no matter the hour or season, you’re likely to see at least one person fishing at the park. We aren’t kidding about the hour either: access to fishing in the park is open 24 hours a day. Depending on the time of year, you’ll find striped bass (spring striper season is really kicking off right now), bluefish, weakfish, blackfish and fluke on both the bay and ocean side. Those are the only species, apart from skate and dogfish, that we’ve witnessed being pulled out of the water here, but ask any regular IBSP fisherman and they’ll be happy to tell you what else they’ve had on their line in the past (kingfish, Spanish mackerel, false albacore, tiger shark, the shark from Jaws, “A BABY FUCKIN WHALE”).
Need tackle/bait or have questions about where to throw your line out? Stop at Grumpy’s Bait & Tackle in Seaside Park before you hit the beach; the folks there are super knowledgeable and always helpful. Pro-tip: the best spots are usually demarcated by a congregation of people fishing in them. Actual pro-tip: if you’re serious about fishing but also like surfing and hanging out, AND you have a 4-wheel drive vehicle, look into purchasing a “mobile sport fishing permit,” which allows you to drive on the beach. You can purchase 3-day, weekday or annual permits. Worth every penny.
Surfing: Surfing never stops in Jersey and while IBSP is not necessarily regarded as one of the state’s premier surf-spots, surfing definitely happens here. A lot. In-season, surfers and sailboarders are officially directed to a designated section of the beach just south of the swimming area (close enough to lifeguards, just in case), but you’ll find people catching waves beyond that zone, and all the way down near the inlet. Beginners should be mindful that the closer you get to the inlet, rip currents are prevalent and hazardous. Down by the jetty might be tough going anyway because it’s such a popular fishing spot.
Kayak, Canoe, SUP Board: The Sedge Islands Marine Conservation Zone contains approximately 1,600 acres of highly productive tidal marshes, creeks, ponds and open water. Visitors can observe a variety of wildlife, including New Jersey’s largest osprey colony, via guided canoe and kayak tours through the Sedge Islands. Bird observation blinds also allow visitors the opportunity to view the wildlife in this very important habitat.
You’ll find birdwatchers, fishermen and photographers on the bay side in any season (if the water is calm enough). Many of them in the aforementioned kayaks and canoes because there is so much to experience beyond the shoreline and the access an agile, personal watercraft affords is unparalleled and illuminating. IBSP may be fun for a multitude of reasons but, kayaking the Sedge Island circuits might be our favorite thing to do at the park; a perfect blend of workout, adventure and sightseeing that everyone in NJ should do at least once.
Cycling/Running: We weren’t kidding with the triathlon training comment. There’s about eight miles of straight, flat road spanning the length of the island; a fairly uneventful, yet pleasant 16-mile round-trip. Visitors of IBSP arriving at the gate on foot or by bike are admitted for free so it’s a pretty ideal spot if you’re training for an event.
Hiking: For avid hikers, “hiking” may be too strong of a word with respect to what IBSP has to offer. The park has eight trails, all of them interesting, educational and fun, yet all under a mile in length with hardly any change in elevation. Leisurely-walking-nature-path. There, better? Whatever. If you truly fancy yourself a Bear Grylls type, we encourage you to hike all eight trails in addition to the entire length of the beach and then run up and down the dunes a few times (where trails exist, stay the hell off of the dunes otherwise!) with a full pack on. You’ll be plenty exerted and have had a full, enjoyable day.
Hunting & Horseback Riding: According to the state: “Water Fowl hunting is permitted below mean-high water and in Sedge Islands area only and is subject to the regulations of the Division of Fish and Wildlife regulations.” Sure, go for it.
Horseback riding?! We’ll admit, this is something we had never witnessed (or even thought it’d be a thing) at IBSP before this week. Kind of a “holy shit” moment when a horse unexpectedly rolls up on you at the beach, you know? We’re cool with it. Did we mention dogs are allowed? Yeah, they are. Cats, too, we assume.
Families & Strictly “In-Season” Beachgoers: You will not find a nicer beach along the Jersey Shore. The rolling dunes and unspoiled white-sand beaches create an atmosphere that’s probably more akin to the Outer Banks than, say, Seaside Heights or Point Pleasant Beach. The portion of the beach where swimming is allowed is about a mile long and located near the middle of the island—it’s well marked, you can’t miss it. Parking, bathrooms, showers, changing areas and a food stand are all within close proximity to the swimming area. Island Beach never gets quite as crowded as some of the other beaches in Jersey because only a certain number of cars are allowed in (get there early on weekends). In-season entry to the park is $6/car (not per person!) on weekdays and $10/car on weekends for state residents; so, pile the family in the car and throw a few friends in the trunk, or don’t, it’s still a great value no matter how full your car is.
Lastly, we love Island Beach State Park for what it is, but also for its proximity to everything that it is not. Does IBSP have the boardwalk, an amusement park, bars, restaurants, nightclubs and twenty/thirty-somethings with shit haircuts and worse tattoos? No, but Seaside Heights does and it’s only five minutes up the road from the park. Only kidding, Seaside, we actually love you; no trip to Island Beach is complete without stopping at the boardwalk, Casino Pier or a number of the establishments that have made Seaside Heights famous and/or infamous. If you’re not familiar with the area here are a few spots to keep in mind..
Food: Chef Mike’s ABG (Atlantic Bar & Grill): Actually located in Seaside Park, not the Heights, a stone’s throw from the entrance to IBSP. If you can rinse the sand off and have a clean change of clothes, this is a really nice spot to take a date. The food is great but it’s not a secret so plan ahead and make a reservation.
Klee’s Bar & Grill: Less frills, great bar pie and burgers. Always a good time at Klee’s and, if we can help it, most Seaside nights start here. This is the spot BEFORE the bars, so don’t go making a mess.
Steaks Unlimited: Yeah, yeah. This is the spot AFTER the bars. Even when we’re sober enough to know we shouldn’t, we still go. Call it a ritual.
Bars: Heavy Reel: OK, so technically not a bar but a brewery and taproom. Before you really tie one on in Seaside, do yourself a favor and stop at Heavy Reel. They are putting out some insanely good beer. Their Island Beach Lager is the best lager we’ve had from a craft brewer (not just in-state).
Hooks: Just… fun as hell with the right people. Drink, play games (ping pong, pool, skee ball, arcade games), feed the jukebox and sing along.
Riggers: If you don’t know how you feel about dive bars, stay at Hooks.