Even though people have gone to Sandy Hook from New York City since Colonial Days, the Gateway National Recreation Area in New Jersey is still a hidden gem even for locals.
The New York City skyline as seen from the beach at Sandy Hook in New Jersey.
We discovered Sandy Hook this year while looking for outdoor activities during the pandemic, and we were thrilled to have found yet another treasure that had been right in front of us as we looked past it to foreign beaches and adventures. The 6-mile-long spit of land connected by a bridge to Highlands, NJ, offers year-round biking, walking, fishing and swimming under the auspices of the National Park Service. The area is well-maintained and we felt completely safe on our frequent trips with lots of space for social distancing. Even in the height of summer, there was plenty of space for spreading out and moving away from other people. Now that chillier weather is here, there is even more space.
Alexander Hamilton fans will be happy to know that Sandy Hook was the scene of his first military operation. The lighthouse that Hamilton and his crew of young patriots attacked one night in June of 1776 is the oldest standing lighthouse in the U.S. In Hamilton's era, it was a marvel of modern construction and lit the way for the British warships that were inundating New York's harbor. The British, in fact, managed to hold Sandy Hook throughout the Revolutionary War and benefit from its strategic location. Hamilton, as captain of a brigade of 100, made a name for himself even though they were not able to cause any damage to the lighthouse. He came to the attention of General George Washington for being a dedicated and respected leader while still in his early 20s. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Lighthouse is no longer on the tip of the spit as in the Revolutionary era since the sea has receded through the years. It is still lit to guide the way for sailors.
From Labor Day to Memorial Day, parking and entrance are free. During the summer season there is a $15 charge per car. Lifeguards are on duty during the summer and there is convenient seasonal ferry service from Downtown and Midtown Manhattan via the Seastreak Ferry.