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In The Spotlight

"Spring Flings"

Spring is here and the days are longer and warmer. Time to shake off the cobwebs and get outside to experience what New Jersey's North Shore has to offer.

Although the weather can still be a little cool and the ocean too cold for many of us to jump in, there are plenty of options to fill your days with fun.

So get out there and enjoy. Here are a few ideas for things to do before the summer crowds start showing up.

Visit the beach. They're free, uncrowded, and you can bring your dog until Memorial Day weekend. Walk the boardwalk, stroll along the surf, collect shells (there are a lot more now than when the beach sweepers start cleaning the sand), fly a kite, go fishing, or just hang out.

Bring a picnic lunch or head to one of the many restaurants on or near the beach - they start opening up their outdoor dining areas as it gets warmer. A few hours on the beach in springtime can really relax you and recharge your batteries.

Take a picnic to the beach, a park, wherever. Sometimes we like to let someone else do most of the work and maybe pick up some things we wouldn't think to make ourselves. There are many gourmet markets and sandwich shops in the towns where you can get everything you need. Here are a couple of our favorites.

Sickle's Market in Little Silver has a gourmet food market and they grow some of the produce they sell. You can get made-to-order sandwiches, soups, salads, and other delicious treats. If they have guacamole, get some. Grab a bag of chips and dig in. There's a nice, popular park and playground next door.

Ceriello in Long Branch's Pier Village has many Italian specialties. Try one of their delicious sandwiches and other gourmet foods. Take your picnic right out to the lawn, boardwalk or the beach.

Tom Bailey's Market at 1323 Third Avenue in Spring Lake has sandwiches, salads, and hot items. Try one of their delicious homemade dips. You can stroll down to the Spring Lake to enjoy your picnic lakeside while watching the swans, ducks and fishermen catch trout.

Take a hike, leisurely walk, or mountain bike, in Hartshorne Woods. Located in Middletown, in the middle of the Highlands & Sea Bright and Sandy Hook Regions, this 741-acre park has a 15 mile trail system including 3 miles of paved paths closed to traffic. The trails rang from easy to difficult for walking, hiking, running, or mountain biking. It is a favorite for dogs.

Spot some wildlife like deer and foxes, and get great mountaintop views of the ocean and the Navesink and Shrewsbury Rivers. There are also some nice spots for picnics.