The role of the lighthouse in the 21st century is quite an interesting one. These famous shoreline structures once played a vital role in water navigation; some still do. Yet when we think of lighthouses, do we really think of them in action? Nowadays they are known more as landmarks for popular destinations, tourist attractions, and the perfect structure to include in a beach photograph. But for a long time, these structures were the pinnacle of modern technology and architecture. In fact, some of the best lighthouses in New Jersey were pioneers in this regard. Today, the unique history of lighthouses everywhere often gets overlooked.
Know Your History
The first lighthouse was erected in ancient Egypt, between 300 and 280 BC. One of the original wonders of the world, this landmark used to stand at a whopping 450 feet tall, which, as you’ll see, towers over the most prominent lighthouses of today. Unfortunately, the structure was destroyed in the 1300s, but this was merely the beginning of this navigational tool. The first lighthouse built in America came in 1716, outside of Boston. Today, there are roughly 700 lighthouses along shorelines in the States, 18 of which are right here in New Jersey.
The Best Lighthouses in New Jersey to Visit
The eight selected had to meet criteria that would make a visit worthwhile. The core factors taken into account were the looks (we all like cool-looking things), the views (maybe most important), the history, and the amenities available. Each one included in the list will not only provide an enjoyable experience during your visit, but they’ll also offer endless opportunities to boost your Instagram profile. These lighthouses are the perfect combination of the old versus the new, offering picturesque scenes with a dose of unknown history.
Here are the eight best lighthouses in New Jersey to visit (in no particular order):
1 – Absecon Lighthouse – Atlantic City, NJ
Here’s another reason to go to Atlantic City! The Absecon Lighthouse is the tallest in New Jersey and the third tallest in the country at 171 feet in height. As you can imagine, that means views, views, and more views. From the top of this black and yellow structure, you’ll have the best look at Atlantic City and the surrounding ocean. That is, of course, if you can manage the 228 steps to the top.
Absecon was constructed in 1857 and has been a popular destination for tourists for many years. The amenities here include a gift shop, museum, replica of the lightkeeper’s residence, and much more. It’s only $8 to climb to the top as well, so you’ll have plenty of leftover cash in case you want to make a quick casino run (though visits are never quick).
2 – Barnegat Lighthouse – Barnegat Light, NJ
Barnegat Lighthouse was first lit in 1859. For many years it served a crucial aid given its location on the rugged New Jersey shoreline and the numerous ships making their way up to NYC. It’s often referred to as the “sister” to the Absecon, and is another great spot for views. From the top of this 169-foot structure, you’ll be able to see Island Beach, Barnegat Bay, and Long Beach Island. Given the popular areas surrounding Barnegat and the perfect placement right on the beach shoreline, this is without a doubt one of the best lighthouses in New Jersey.
The structure is located within Barnegat Lighthouse State Park if you want to spend more time outdoors on your visit. There’s also an interpretive center and museum attached that feature live streams from cameras at the top, just in case you’re not up for a climb.
3 – Cape May Lighthouse – Cape May, NJ
Here’s another popular one, with roughly 2.5 million people climbing to the top since it opened to the public in 1988. The Cape May Lighthouse essentially marks the southernmost tip of New Jersey. Its location and height at 157 feet offers jam-packed views of the Atlantic Ocean, Delaware Bay, and places like Rehoboth Beach just across the water in Delaware.
In a nearby building known as the “Oil House,” you’ll find a museum, orientation center, and gift shop. The lighthouse is also located on a state park that offers excellent views from ground level. Despite being built in 1859, the Cape May Lighthouse standing today was actually the third lighthouse built in this location. The first came in 1827, and the second was built in 1847. Where are they today? Somewhere on their way to Atlantis, as both went underwater due to erosion.
4 – Hereford Inlet Lighthouse – North Wildwood, NJ
As you can see, the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse looks much different than the others featured thus far. This one might not be as breathtaking to look at, but it provides a homey experience unlike the others. It’s located in the cozy community of North Wildwood on Five Mile Beach, a little bit up the coast from Cape May.
Don’t let the modest appearance fool you; this lighthouse offers surprisingly great views of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s accompanied by a Victorian-style house at the bottom and an expansive surrounding garden with over 200 species of flowers and plants. The house itself functions as a museum, and the site seems to serve as a popular gathering location among the local community.
This lighthouse was first lit in 1874, but interestingly enough, it wasn’t in the place it is now. Following a severe storm in 1913, the structure had to be moved 150 feet to the west, where it’s located today. Hereford Inlet might not “wow” you in stature, but it checks more than enough boxes to make it one of the best lighthouses in New Jersey to visit.
5 – Twin Lights of Navesink – Highlands, NJ
Hands down, this is the coolest lighthouse design on the list, at least in my opinion. The name isn’t meant to be deceptive or creative; the Twin Lights of Navesink boasts two lighthouses adjacent to one another in a fort-like structure. It’s located in the Highlands of Monmouth County, in which this structure is situated on land 250 feet above the Sandy Hook Bay below. These lighthouses needn’t be big to offer up stunning views. Visitors can climb up the northern tower, which should allow for a great look at the NYC skyline and harbor, among other sights.
This area has served as a critical lookout point since the 1700s. The twin lighthouses were built in 1862 and have since served as a kind of pioneer. The first kerosene-fueled lamps were used here in 1883, and in 1898, they became the first electrically lit lighthouse(s). For any history buffs out there, this museum is worth the visit. On top of that, the surrounding area is a cool place to hang out with incredible scenery in the backdrop.
6 – East Point Lighthouse – Heislerville, NJ
Here we have the Instagram selection, East Point Lighthouse in Heislerville, NJ. I can picture boyfriends across the Garden State having to tag along on a journey to the middle of nowhere so their girlfriends can get the shot for the gram. It’s okay, guys; you can make it through this. In defense of all the IG-hungry girlfriends out there, this one is a beauty.
This lighthouse was built in “Cape Cod Style” (apparently, there are styles for lighthouses). It’s a two-story, whitewashed brick house with a bright red roof and solid black tower. One of the coolest features of the East Point structure is its seemingly complete isolation. It’s situated all alone on the shoreline, making it perfect for photographs. This lighthouse is located in Cumberland County, on the Southern Bayshore right at the mouth of the Maurice River and off of the Delaware Bay.
Given its location and proximity to the shore, one can get beautiful views even without making the short trek to this lighthouse’s peak. Unlike most others featured here, the house itself isn’t meant to be a museum per se but is instead furnished to replicate what it would’ve looked like back in its heyday. Here we are again with the old greeting the new, as this little lighthouse will both take you back in time and make for the perfect Instagram photo.
7 – Sandy Hook Lighthouse – Sandy Hook, NJ
The list would be incomplete without the Sandy Hook Lighthouse, which is the oldest operating lighthouse in the U.S. It was first lit in 1764 and is still in use today. There are many reasons this one makes the cut for one of the best lighthouses in New Jersey. One factor some may appreciate the most is it’s the closest of them all to NYC. It’s just a little way up the coast from the Twin Lights of Navesink, so if you wanted to catch both on the same day, that wouldn’t be too difficult to accomplish. Like the Twin Lights, this lighthouse is full of rich history because of its critical proximity and vantage point of the New York City Harbor.
Tours are available here but often are in high demand. Even if you can’t hop onto a tour, the surrounding area offers various activities and sites such as parks, beaches, and numerous historical landmarks. The views of NYC alone could be reason enough to make the journey out to the Sandy Hook Lighthouse.
8 – Tucker’s Beach Lighthouse – Tuckerton, NJ
The last inclusion for the eight best lighthouses in New Jersey was a difficult choice. In the end, it was the story behind Tucker’s Beach Lighthouse that earned it a spot. The lighthouse you can visit today is a replica of the one that used to stand on Tucker’s Island. In the 1700s, Reuben Tucker purchased the area of land that became Tucker’s Island. However, when the land was purchased, it was no island. Rather, it was just an extension on the southside of what today is Long Beach Island. By the 1800s, the ocean had cut through on the northern end of the land, forming what became known as Tucker’s Island.
In 1848, the lighthouse was built. The inlet formed by the ocean years earlier ended up breaking in 1920, and slowly water began moving south. This was the beginning of the end for the island. In 1927, the lighthouse was taken by the sea (apparently, this is common with NJ lighthouses). Remarkably, this sequence of events was captured by Arthur Rider in the photos below. In the next 20 years, every building on the island met a similar fate. By 1952, the island had disappeared entirely.
This replica structure is more than just a cool backstory; it’s nestled today in Tuckerton Seaport Village, which is just across the water from its original location. It might not have breathtaking views or be the most picturesque lighthouse, but it does offer an exciting maritime museum, among other amenities. This small seaport village looks like the ideal place to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Plus, it’s only a short trip away from Long Beach Island. Ultimately, the photo sequence below made this lighthouse a must-include for this list; technology has come a long way.
About the Author/s
Garrett is a writer at The Digest. He currently lives in Astoria, NY, and loves writing about topics that make readers think. His passions include film, sports, traveling, and culture.