It’s hot and it’s August, which means many NJ beaches and boardwalks alike are mobbed with vacationers. So it’s a great time to experience some of the state’s lesser-known coastal areas, like Tuckerton.
Situated between the Pine Barrens and Little Egg Harbor, and just a short ferry ride away from ever-popular Long Beach Island, is the borough of Tuckerton. A once thriving seaport and significant port of entry to the U.S. in the 18th century, Tuckerton is now oft-overlooked by the masses who flock to Ocean and Atlantic County’s shore destinations. We recently took a day trip to Tuckerton Seaport and the nearby Great Bay Boulevard Wildlife Management Area and found excellent recreation opportunities, wildlife sighting, a unique museum, good local food options, and more.
Great Bay Boulevard Wildlife Management Area (WMA)
Beginning at the junction with Route 9 in Tuckerton, Great Bay Boulevard runs south through the Wildlife Management Area—a peninsula that separates Little Egg Harbor and Great Bay. Though the boulevard is just a simple two-lane road, it is accompanied by, without question, some of the most beautiful sights in the state, regardless of season. the picturesque views of vast marshland, sedge islands, LBI and Atlantic City in the distance are awe-inspiring.
Fishing/Boating/Small Watercraft: There is a free boat launch and multiple opportunities to launch a kayak/canoe along the boulevard. With so many creeks, narrow offshoots and islands to explore, this is unquestionably one of the premier spots in the state to experience by small watercraft. If fishing is your passion, whether from the shore or a boat, this is a light-to-moderate tackle paradise and a popular spot for crabbing/clamming, as well.
Cycling: Driving the boulevard is certainly an enjoyable experience, but, we found that the roughly 13-mile round trip was even better from the seat of a bicycle, where the view is more panoramic, and stopping (frequently) to take in the scenery without impeding motorists was an easy task. The road is flat, fairly well paved, and typically sees little traffic on weekdays—all of which provides optimal conditions for a brilliant ride.
Wildlife: For those looking to spot birds, turtles, crustaceans or fish, this is the spot for you; the amount of wildlife we experienced made us feel like we were somewhere far more remote and exotic. From ospreys to egrets and herons, this is a bird-watcher’s utopia; we had a difficult time keeping track of the many different species seen, and that’s without actively looking for them. For amateur and professional photographers, Great Bay Boulevard WMA is a must-visit; we’d imagine you could scour the peninsula for a week straight and not run out of wildlife or landscapes to snap.
Worth-noting: Peak summer is primetime for bugs in this area, particularly biting flies. If you plan to spend more than five minutes exploring the WMA, bug spray is not optional. Also, at the start of Great Bay Boulevard, before you actually get into the WMA, you’ll find the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve (JCNERR): “One of the two national estuarine reserves created to promote the responsible use and management of the nation’s estuaries through a program combining scientific research, education and stewardship.” Administered through Rutgers University, the JCNERR runs educational programs for the public throughout the year and also has its own informative nature trail with even more opportunities to take in the wildlife—a great spot to start your Great Bay Boulevard experience.
Tuckerton Seaport & Baymen’s Museum
Located off of Route 9 in the heart of Tuckerton, this museum and tribute to coastal life/history is a hidden gem. Do manage your expectations—the Liberty Science Center or Adventure Aquarium (Camden) this surely is not; however, you’ll quickly realize upon entering that the $5 admission fee is one of the better values the entire Jersey shore has to offer (go pay for any ride/game on the boardwalk and tell me I’m wrong).
You can expect diverse presentations of indigenous, local, maritime and natural histories, the impact of railroads, lighthouses and shipping on New Jersey life/industry and more. The fact that so much is highlighted on the relatively modest campus is a triumph in itself.
How to do it: If you’re a history or nature buff, you could easily spend a full day at the Tuckerton Seaport; you wouldn’t necessarily figure at first glance, but this place has so much to see and do. With the main museum inside an air conditioned lighthouse building (two floors of exhibits, a light tower you can climb up that overlooks Lake Pohatcong and the Seaport, and a gift shop), over 10 exhibits along the boardwalk outside (including our favorite, the “Surfing Museum”), the Yacht Club (including the JCNERR’s “Life on the Edge” exhibit), Hunting Shanty, live goats/sheep, a nature trail, refreshments and outdoor musical performances at the Union Market or tea and scones at the Captain’s House & Tea Room, and one of the best boat tours in South Jersey… the experience at Tuckerton Seaport can be as long as you want it to be.
For the rest of us, particularly those with children, Tuckerton Seaport can (and probably should) be done in half a day. Spend your morning exploring Great Bay Boulevard WMA, grab some lunch at Union Market and then descend on the seaport museum’s exhibits (with loads of interactive activities for the kids) for a couple of hours before hopping on a guided boat tour of Tuckerton Creek or, better yet for couples or families with older children, a sunset boat tour. If you’d like to experience virtually the same day but in reverse order, the seaport offers a “breakfast on the bay” boat tour that includes a breakfast at Dockside Cafe. Service for all tours, including a guided ferry to Beach Haven in LBI (with a ticket option that enables you to bring your bike along), is restricted to certain days. Visit Tuckerton Seaport’s site for a schedule and to book tickets in advance. On their site you’ll also find information about group tours and tickets for educational programs at the museum.
Worth noting: The Union Market is well known for their coffee and all-day breakfast or lunch options—it’s truly a great spot. Other local dining options include: Stewart’s Drive-In (right next-door, always a great option for families and one of the nicest remaining locations in NJ) and Doyle’s Pour House (less than a half-mile away on route 9, full bar and good pub grub). Also, if you’re in the mood to hit a brewery, Pinelands Brewing is just a five-minute drive.