What’s in my Travel Journal? Sandy Hook, New Jersey

When my son suggested that I come to New Jersey for my annual camping vacation with my friend Tammy, I was dubious to say the least. I didn’t know much about the Garden State and what I had heard made it seem less than inviting. But he insisted I would like it as much as he now did so I booked a campsite at the Gateway National Recreation Area.

That plan immediately headed south when we realized that there were no showers in the campground and that we would have to walk all our camping gear in from an outside parking lot. Since we only had four days this year, I went online and found a hotel that looked decent and affordable and was only a mile or two from where my son is living. We had a great time!

Here are some of our recommendations:

To Stay

The BeachWalk at Sea Bright Motel. Sea Bright

Loved it! If you are a water person, this is the place to stay. They have a large, clean pool, a view of the river, and beach access only a short walk across the street. The staff is friendly and the rooms have a microwave, small refrigerator, and shared balcony. Daily maid service is excellent. There have bikes to rent and beach towels to borrow. Best of all the hotel has a Tiki Bar with live entertainment (and Simi Chardonnay!).

The night we arrived, there were two bands and a bridal shower to watch, along with lots of other colorful characters (locals and motel guests) to meet. The next night there was even more excitement when we encountered a large group of women on their way to a nearby Rod Stewart concert. The biggest testimonial to the BeachWalk was that many people told us they had been coming there for years with family or friends. We would definitely return!

To Eat

Zoe’s Vintage Kitchen, Atlantic Highlands

This place is adorable, with funky décor and counter or table seating. The blueberry pancakes and sausage hit the spot. My only complaint was the coffee-not even remotely strong enough.

The Flaky Tart, Atlantic Highlands

The name alone drew us into this charming neighborhood bakery with takeout and counter service only. Chefs Matthew Rosenzweig and Laura Martelli serve up sweet and savory baked goods, cookies, and desserts with a smile. We liked the raspberry bars and chocolate-dipped peanut butter cookies, which went perfectly with my nice strong coffee. I wish I’d tried the pecan sticky bun instead of the ham and Gruyère croissant which was unfortunately bland. However-Tammy was able to get her fun t-shirt!

Bahrs Landing Seafood Restaurant, Highlands

I’m not a fan of seafood so for me to give this restaurant five stars you know it had to be good! We sat outside, and the view of the water and boat traffic was amazing. Our waiter was friendly and efficient. Tammy and Russ had seafood appetizers and we all munched on the homemade biscuits and coleslaw that arrived along with these. For the entrée I ordered Filet Mignon with gorgonzola cheese and frizzled onions (it is vacation after all!) and it was mouth-watering. Sadly we had no room for dessert. Bahrs is expensive but if you want to treat yourself to a nice dinner, this is the place to go.

Francesco’s Italian Restaurant, Highlands

If you like to eat where the locals do, be sure to check out this cozy little restaurant. The owner even comes around to make sure you’re enjoying your pizza! We actually ate there twice, once inside for lunch and once outside for dinner. Food and service were great both times and it’s also highly affordable.

 To Shop

Sea Ginny’s Beach Jewelry, Atlantic Highlands

The owner’s studio is in the back of her shop so you can watch her work while browsing through the many different sea glass items she creates. Prices are reasonable and the items make unique souvenirs. You can also find her on Etsy.com

Fun fact: Ginny told us that there is actually a North American Sea Glass Association so consumers can determine if they are buying genuine sea glass products from shops, or being fooled by artificial ones. Who knew?

 Renaissance Emporium, Atlantic Highlands

The best collection of antiques and collectibles in the area! I got a vintage-looking lamp, a leather hat, and an adorable frog, all for under $35.00. Browsing through all the clutter is guaranteed to take you back to your childhood days or your grandparents’ house.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever vacation in coastal New Jersey again. But I sure am glad I went there this July. Sand in my shoes and lots of unforgettable memories!

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