Sandy Hook, New Jersey (Photo by Stephen Chernin/Getty Images)
A sun-drenched, 1,665-acre barrier peninsula first discovered by explorer Henry Hudson and later, the notorious playground of Depression-defiant bootleggers, New Jersey’s Sandy Hook is now a blissfully tranquil haven for beach lovers, fun-loving families and sports enthusiasts. Known for its spectacular sunsets and bird’s eye view of Manhattan, Sandy Hook is close in miles but light years away in spirit. Need a late-summer getaway or foliage-filled autumn retreat? You’re closer to paradise than you think.
Go south on the New Jersey Turnpike (I-95) to the Garden State Parkway. Go southbound to exit 117 (Keyport-Hazlet). Bear left past the toll and follow Route 36 East for approximately 12 miles.
What To Do
Gateway National Recreation Area
128 S. Hartshorne Drive
Highlands, NJ 07732
The Sandy Hook Unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area houses a blindingly white, seven-mile stretch of beachfront bliss, perfect for sunning and surf-casting, plus miles of scenic hiking trails. Other go-to sites within the park include:
- Fort Hancock – Built in the 1800s to house soldiers whose mission was to defend New York City from enemy warships, Fort Hancock slowly evolved into a small village where soldiers, always at the ready, could also live comfortably with their families. The Fort reached its apex during WWII, when its ranks swelled to 12,000 military and civilian residents. Deactivated in 1974, visitors can now walk its grounds and experience its history.
- Maritime Holly Forest – The largest stretch of holly forest to be found anywhere in the U.S., this pristine stretch of nature owes its existence, in large part, to the U.S. Army, who needed the area for military defense purposes. Left undeveloped and free of construction, the Holly Forest remained a sanctuary for endangered species such as osprey and piping plover birds. Military artifacts can still be found hiding under the sand. Start your forest exploration at the Visitor Center, where maps of interior trails are available.
- Sandy Hook Lighthouse – Built in 1764, the Sandy Hook Lighthouse is the oldest working lighthouse in the entire country. The Lighthouse was built by the early colonists but was controlled by British forces during the Revolutionary War. The Lighthouse’s interesting history was one of darkness as well as light. Keeping guard over the Harbor during the Spanish American War, both World Wars and the Cold War, the Sandy Hook Lighthouse was often kept dim, so potential invaders could not find their way into New York Harbor. Tours of the Lighthouse are available most weekends.
- Multi-Use Pathway – Sandy Hook’s Multi-Use Pathway is five miles of paved perfection, serving cyclists and strollers alike. Meandering through the maritime forest and skirting the ocean shore, the Pathway features an expansive bird observatory and multiple, strategically placed wildlife observation areas.
Off The Hook
1 Navesink Ave.
Highlands, NJ 07732
A beloved institution, feeding and entertaining folks visiting and living in the Highlands section of Sandy Hook for over a decade, Off The Hook’s management, patrons and staff have continued to be pivotal to the Super Storm Sandy rebuilding effort. Good, honest food rules the day here for lunch and dinner. Dig into the Cajun bacon-wrapped shrimp and legendary sunburnt chicken, and don’t forget to make a donation to Help Highlands New Jersey before you leave.
Bahrs Landing Seafood Restaurant and Marina
2 Bay Ave.
Highlands, NJ 07732
This is the place for lobster and swinging to the oldies on summer Sunday nights. Seafood plucked from local waters includes soft shell crabs, yellowtail flounder, scrod and Jersey bluefish. Legendary German specialties rock the house all year long. Come hungry for traditional sauerbraten and mouth-watering wienerschnitzel served with potato pancakes and gravy.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.