ISLAND BEACH STATE PARK
Fish, Bike, Surf, Hike . . . and Drive on the Beach
You can drive on the beach to fish at Island Beach State Park. The trick is getting there.
A few weeks ago, I watched as a squat station wagon overloaded with coolers, fishing equipment and two large couples plunged into the sand on the park's southern tip. And abruptly stopped.
The driver of the car, which was sporting the requisite four-wheel drive, began futilely gunning the engine, causing it to sink deeper into the soft, hot sand. Other vehicles that had taken the necessary precautions (letting some air out of the tires seemed like a popular move) wobbled by.
"We should have just stayed in the *&$!!% parking lot," the stranded motorist wailed.
Agreed. If you want to surf-fish, driving on the beach is a nifty way to get your tackle to water's edge, but it's not the only reason to visit the park, a refreshing departure from the motor-lodge-and-boardwalk-lined beaches elsewhere in these parts. Island Beach, which gets more than a million visitors a year, opened in 1959 and winds for nearly 10 blessedly placid miles south of Seaside Park.
Guests can bike along the straight, flat roads, go scuba diving, sailboard, surf or simply pack a lunch and picnic. Two interpretive centers give you the lowdown on what you're looking at, or you can slather on the sunscreen and hike the park's trails (all of which give you at least a fleeting glance of water, and none of which is too taxing).
Watch for the resident ospreys, which make up the state's largest colony. And don't forget your bathing suit: The lifeguarded swimming areas are among the best in Jersey.
I opted for the surf over the turf. And that stuck car? Still mired in the sand when I left a half-hour later.
-- John Deiner
· Weekend admission is $10 a carload. Permits to drive/fish on the beach are $50 and are good for three days. The park offers a number of daily programs, including beach tours with a naturalist. Info: 732-793-0506, http:/