NJ: Stone Harbor, the Classic Shore Town

kids in the waves in Stone Harbor, New Jersey. Wynne Crombie photos.
Kids in the waves in Stone Harbor, New Jersey. Wynne Crombie photos

Some quality beach time 'down the shore,' as locals would say

By Wynne Crombie

Catamarans on the beach in Stone Harbor.
Catamarans on the beach in Stone Harbor.

In Stone Harbor, New Jersey, sea grass waved in the wind alongside beach fences. Here, the only sounds we heard were an occasional whistle from a lifeguard and the cackling and swooping of the gulls. A droning sound signaled a plane overhead dragging a banner for a local business. The day we were there, a banner was welcoming Pope Francis to Philadelphia. Not to be outdone, a large tug putted by with a large revolving billboard. A perfect day at one of the finest beaches on the magnificent Jersey Shore.

French was being spoken by the many Canadian visitors. Food stands, life guards and sand castles were alive and well. We caught sight of bottlenose dolphin fins emerging from the waves. As the afternoon wore on and the tide advanced, chairs and umbrellas were slowly moved farther back towards  the dunes.

A lifeboat on Stone Harbor Beach, on the Jersey Shore.
A lifeboat on Stone Harbor Beach, on the Jersey Shore.

Time magazine recently (July 2015) voted New Jersey’s Seven Mile Island, (Stone Harbor) as #4 in a list of 5 best beaches in America. The entire island sits a mile seaward from any other shore town.

Umbrellas and beach towels displayed an array of bright colors. Many beachgoers have taken to using grocery cart like strollers to convey all their beach paraphernalia.

The lifeguards finish at 5 pm and most of the beachgoers go back to their vacation lodgings. Many stay until the early evening. We took this opportunity to take the short stroll to the beach area reserved for catamarans. It’s like a large parking lot of catamarans masts.

Strolling the Town

The shops lining 96th Street (Stone Harbor’s main street) are a browsing enjoyment anytime. You can find anything from beach paraphernalia at Hoy’s to a Christmas Shop, and art galleries…with paintings at both ends of a budget. Clear Christmas lights are woven through the overhead tree branches.

The big line waiting for ice cream cones at Springers.
The big line waiting for ice cream cones at Springers.

Business at Springer’s, the grand dame of ice cream, was booming as customers lined up inside and out. Toddlers strained out of their strollers while parents wiped away chin drippings. In the early evenings the line can reach around the corner.

The Back Bay Wetlands Institute offers a chance to discover the area's natural surroundings.
The Back Bay Wetlands Institute.

The Back Bay Wetlands Institute offers a chance to discover the area's natural surroundings. Foreign college students are part of summer staffs.

In front of the Fudge Kitchen a lad from Poland was handing out fudge samples. Dzien Dobry! The next evening there was an Irish lilt to: “Would you care for a sample? ”Slaint!

There are no McDonalds, or Starbucks…nothing to mar the seaside motif of this venerable ocean town. For generations, families have been coming…often renting the same lodgings every year.

My husband, Kent, came here every summer as a child in the 1940’s. Even though it is only forty minutes from Atlantic City, Stone Harbor has never lost its small town feel. At the same time waterfront mansions have reached well into the million dollar range. Most have replaced tear-downs.

Walking is the preferred method of getting around. Lots of bike riders leisurely pedal, very few wearing helmets. There’s no hurry to arrive anywhere. You can even find bicycles built for six.

96 Street, Stone Harbor.
96 Street, Stone Harbor.

If seafaring is more your thing, try the Pirate Tour through the back marshes The swashbuckling vessels aptly named “Sea Dragon” has six sailings during the day plus an evening cruise.

Don’t worry if you forgot to bring something, you can rent anything from boogie boards to beach chairs.

Visiting gardeners are impressed by the neatness (and blooming power)of a plethora ofhydrangeas, roses and daisies. All are carefully manicured.

Scientific Stone Harbor

The scientific minded can delve into the Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary and the Wetlands Institute. Terrapins are the only reptiles of the salt marsh, (an area where ocean, bay or gulf salt water meets fresh water from a river). The Wetland’s Institute’s “Save the Terrapin Program” is a special favorite. Many of the terrapins are killed on the highway on their way to nesting sites. The eggs are rescued and hatched at the Institute. Later, local schoolchildren released the tiny terrapins back into the wild. The Institute also has guided beach & dune walks. Over 700 eggs were rescued in 2014.

Back Bay

Most of the damage and flooding from Hurricane Sandy in 2013 took place in the Back Bay marshes. The bay area has been restored and is back in the business of water skiing, kayaking and fishing.

A Chamber of Commerce representative told me that not the entire village experienced flooding. However, heavy beach erosion took place on the ocean beaches. Truckloads of additional sand were brought in. And… its business as usual! Condos and rentals line the water. We found Reeds, a wonderful place to have a before dinner cocktail. We sat at their patio bar and sipped wine as the sun was setting,

Beached catamaran on Stone Harbor beach.
Beached catamaran on Stone Harbor beach.

Staying and Eating in Stone Harbor

Lodgings are numerous, whether you desire a motel room or rent a house.

Dining…Reeds for upscale. For just plain Jersey Shore food (Philly steak sandwiches, hoagies, Snapper soup), we recommend:
Donna’s We have always enjoyed the seafood here. (10700 3rd Ave)
Sunset Steak and Shake is under new management. We recommend the steak sandwiches and onion rings. (10725 3rd Ave)
Quahogs Seafood Shack Unusual seafood finds like Oyster Shooter, Lobster Taquitos and the Brazilian Moqueca (207 97th Street)

Side trips:

Cape May has something very unique: its Victorian architecture. (Note the fire escapes and colorful exteriors) The country’s oldest seaside resort area has been established as a National Historic Landmark. For the thirty-minute drive, take either the Garden State Parkway, or the Ocean Drive

Avalon shares Seven Mile Island with Stone Harbor. It has a quiet, upscale atmosphere, with small boutique stores and several establishments for fine dining. There is no commercial boardwalk on Seven Mile Beach.

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