As we’re in the last month of Summer before school starts, my kids and I are eager to explore new beaches or day trip destinations. Some Jersey beaches are totally unappealing to visit with kids because of the raunchy crowds. More family oriented beach towns like Ocean Grove are charming and just plain easy to enjoy. I was curious to visit Seven Presidents Park in Long Branch, NJ as it has a modern playground and a family friendly beach. I don’t have outrageous expectations for a day trip; just fun, clean and easy. Seven Presidents delivered.
We went on a Thursday in the late morning to avoid any dreaded beach traffic. After about seven rounds of singing “Payphone” and “Call Me Maybe” from the radio, my two daughters and I arrived at the 38 acre park entrance. Admission was only $7 for me and $7 for parking. Kids are free! Call the Duggars! Access to all the facilities is included.
First we hit the playground, “Tony’s Place.” It is an inclusive playground and the recipient of the NJ Rec and Parks Assoc. 2011-12 Excellence in Design Award. The open playground has one side indicated for ages 2-5 area and the other for ages 5-12 with larger climbing structures. In the younger section, there were places to climb, spin and even make musical sounds. The older kids’ area had short rock walls and an eye-catching pirate ship climbing structure. I had thought the park would be larger from the pictures on the website but my girls, ages 5 and 7, enjoyed it nonetheless. It is always nice to find a playground that has different features than you have at home. There is little shade on the playground but there were fabulous breezes all across the complex when we visited. After about 15 minutes, we were eager to hit the beach. We did revisit the playground again at the end of the day.
The beach was quiet, litter-free and not crowded. The life guard stands were relatively far apart compared to other beaches. The ocean had an extremely strong undertow that day. My kids spent the whole time at the shore line squealing, jumping waves, getting knocked down and dragged by the surf with all the other kids. They adored it. It was far too rough for toddlers and small children without an adult holding their hands at all times. The water was free of seaweed but where the surf breaks, the sand is lined with tiny pebbles. Not a big deal but do expect to rake out a zen garden from your swimsuit in the changing facilities before you leave!
The playground, parking lot, snack bar, and restrooms are all handicap accessible. The snack bar covered pavilion has picnic tables and features the usual suspects of beach fare. The restrooms and the outdoor sprayer/showers are handy for cleaning up kids before you head home.
We did not see the skatepark that was listed on the county website but it sounds cool: “a skatepark for both skateboarders and in-line skaters with a bowl and a series of quarter pipes, wedges and fun boxes. The skateplex is open year-round, 8am to 1 hour before the posted park closing time and use is subject to weather/safety conditions.” Helmets required.
But what about those puzzling seven presidents in the park’s name? Is NJ honoring only the best tanners? According to the Monmouth County Parks website:
“Long Branch was placed “on the map” in 1869 when President Grant made the city the nation’s “Summer Capital,” a tradition followed by Presidents Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Harrison, McKinley, and Wilson.”
Oh, politics. I had forgotten the 1920s NJ history detailed in “Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City” by Nelson Johnson. It was hard for Long Branch to keep its slogan when the money started changing hands to promote Atlantic City as “America’s Playground.”
Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park: 221 Ocean Ave. North, Long Branch NJ, (732) 229-7025. Weekday admission fees are $7 for adults, those 17 and under are free. On weekends and holidays, the fee is $7 for those 13 and over; those 12 and under are free. A daily parking pass is $7.
Directions: GSP South to exit 105, from exit ramp just stay on Route 36 for about 6 miles until the park entrance. Ignore the other signs along 36 that point to “Long Branch.”