The thing about growing up near the Jersey Shore is, you get kind of spoiled. There are so many great beaches to visit that you don’t even bother to try them all. You just frequent a few favorites and only on occasion go somewhere new.
Which is why, somehow, I’ve been missing out on Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park. Part of the Monmouth County Park System, this 38-acre beach park in Long Branch boasts 1 mile of clean, sandy beachfront, a rockin’ playground, huge parking lot, snack bar, skateplex, surfing and an activity center. Oh, and did I mention it’s in Long Branch? Which means that unless you’re my Mom reading this down in Little Egg Harbor, it’s probably pretty close to where you live.
I found myself there last week, with my son’s class on their class trip, which was one of those, “I don’t want to go but he really wants me to, and even though it’s just me watching him do stuff, when it’s over I’ll be really glad I went.” The fact that Nina and Jack were already done with preschool and in need of activities no doubt played a factor in our decision to tagalong.
Seven Presidents is a protected ecological habitat, with dunes that are home to endangered birds and plants. I learn this from a Monmouth County Park staffer who guides the school kids through a day at the oceanfront recreational area. First, she takes the kids down the beach to collect shells, showing them a chart of the different kinds typically found on the shores of Long Branch so they know what to hunt for. Really, though, the beach is just one giant sandbox to kids, and what they really want to do is dig. If they happen to hit a shell while digging, so be it. Into the bucket it goes, then back to the task of collectively making the world’s biggest hole.
The beach is indeed as beautiful and clean as any in these parts, with enough beachfront to not be encroached upon by other people and their boomboxes. As the kids fill their buckets, I relax and observe several Terns and Plovers, the two species of endangered birds that now breed successfully here at the protected beach. It’s a good thing I don’t have my beach chair because I’d never get up off of it and my kids would be stranded.
After the seashell expedition, Luke’s class heads inside to the Activity Center for an ocean life talk and craft. The twins are thrilled that they get to partake, and all the second graders are surprisingly enthralled. Because Seven Presidents is part of the Monmouth County Park system, there are lots of great programs that take place here and throughout the park, from seascape art camp to paddle boarding classes and sand castle clinics, not to mention all the in-line skating, hockey and skating lessons that are offered at the skateplex.
But what I really love about our county parks are the playgrounds, and Seven Presidents has quite the play place. Once the kids are done putting the tentacles on their paper jellyfish, class is dismissed back outdoors to climb, slide and climb across the state-of-the-art, seaside-themed play structures that are adjacent to the beach. No one asks me for anything for an entire hour.
It’s kind of a Mom’s dream come true. Sand to dig in and a playground to run around on. You could get through a whole People magazine, maybe two, if you spend the day here. And now that school’s out and my free time’s been decimated, I plan on doing exactly that.
Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park: 221 Ocean Ave. North, Long Branch NJ, (732) 229-7025
Parking: $6 daily/$7 weekends
Beach Badges: $7 (kids under 12 are free)
Lifeguards on duty 10 am to 5 pm daily
Sand Castle Adventure (ages 5 and up)
Saturday July 16, 4pm – 6pm, $5 per person
Comb the beach for shells and other treasures, then have fun building a sand castle and decorating it with what you’ve found. Bring a small shovel and bucket. Other molds and tools will be provided. No need to pre-register. Just show up