Vacation days at the beach are even more fun when you can spend them with your four-legged best friend. Picture it: you and your barking bundle of joy jogging on the sand, playing in the water, dog-paddling through the pristine incoming waves, and basking in the warm sunlight. New Jersey’s coastal areas offer tons of dog-friendly beaches to explore, and many just a short distance from gorgeous New Jersey vacation rentals. The most challenging part of planning is choosing a single destination. To help you narrow down your choices, check out the top five dog-friendly beaches in the Garden State.

1. Asbury Park Beach

Locals say this is one of the best dog-friendly beaches in all of New Jersey, thanks to a mile-long stretch of beach and surf. Straddling the landscape between the Convention Hall and local casinos, Asbury Park Beach in the Central Shore Region permits dogs on the boardwalk all day between September and May. During summer months, you’re welcome to explore the 8th Avenue Dog Beach in the evenings, throughout the entire night, and until sunrise. In the off-season, you can unleash your dog, providing he or she is socialized, well behaved, non-aggressive, and responsive to voice commands.

To use the beach, you must purchase and wear a daily or seasonal pass, available at the Beach Office on the boardwalk. Heads up: New Jersey has no statewide leash laws, but leashed dogs are the norm unless otherwise specified. Statewide law does require you to obtain a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection no more than 30 days before traveling to the state and to have your dog (over seven months old) vaccinated for rabies.

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2. Fisherman’s Cove Conservation Area

Also located in the Central Shore Region is Fisherman’s Cove Conservation Area, a 55-acre site occupying an undeveloped tract on the Manasquan Inlet. Hemmed between trees, rolling greens, and beaten paths, this area is open year-round, from sunrise to sunset. The entire front portion of the beach, to the east, is reserved entirely for leashed dogs and their two-legged besties. This delineation holds true all year, with permanent signs posted to keep you and your dog on the right track. There is no swimming here; however, you can stroll the shore, scope wildlife, appreciate the scenery, and meet other dog owners. Sunbathing is permitted, as is kayaking.

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3. Sunset Beach in Cape May

The South Shore Region’s Sunset Beach offers access to leashed dogs from September to March. Parking and admission are free. Quiet and never too crowded, Sunset Beach conveniently lets you incorporate quality time with your dog into your overall vacation experience. Nearly all the businesses in the beach’s vicinity are pet-friendly, including many of the restaurants. There are souvenir shops and local boutiques for retail therapy, as well as local mom-and-pop pet stores, such as Wagging Tail Pet Nutrition Center and Dog Days of Cape May.

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4. Longport Dog Beach

Longport Dog Beach in Somers Point welcomes all dogs all year long. Located near the Malibu Beach Wildlife Management area, Longport Dog Beach is one of a handful in New Jersey where leashes aren’t required. There are no separate areas for dogs by size either, and it’s not uncommon to encounter all sizes, breeds, and mixes interacting. Admission to the beach is free, and there’s a parking lot at the entrance.

You’re free to play with your dog in the sand and the water. The beach faces the bay side, so the waves are quite pleasant and dog-friendly. Be advised: there are no trash receptacles or fresh water, so you have to bring fresh water, your own bags, and dispose of waste off-site. Locals say the beach is always clean and friendly.

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5. Wildwood Dog Beach

Wildwood Dog Beach ranks among the best dog-friendly beaches in the entire nation. The overall atmosphere is congenial and laid back. Located between Glenwood and Maple Avenue, the beach is open year-round, from sunrise until dusk. Admission to the beach is free, but there are fees to use the dog beach parking lot. A 25-foot fire hydrant sculpture distinguishes the designated areas for large and small dogs from the rest of the beach.

A boardwalk connects the beach to surrounding businesses that cater to dogs and their owners, such as dog-friendly gift shops and restaurants. ‘Yappy Hour’ is not uncommon at local eateries. The city doesn’t allow dogs on the boardwalk, but a boardwalk underpass lets you and your pet maneuver freely between the dog beach and the environs. You must keep your dog on a leash at all times while on the beach. However, swimming with your tail-wagging sweetheart is permitted.

The doggy play area has toys to keep your pooch occupied. A sitting area overlooks both sides of the doggy beach, letting you take a breather during play time. A shaded area on the dog beach allows pets to escape the sun during the hotter months. There are bowls and fresh water to keep your dog hydrated. There are also free bags for waste and receptacles nearby for disposal.

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