Why Tourists Pay More at the Beach

I’m on our annual beach week with the extended family in New Jersey and the beach patrol comes by insisting I buy beach tags for everyone 12 and over.

The prices are: $6 for one day, $12 for one week, or $24 for the season (but only $19 for the season if bought before Memorial Day).

The price structure is very clever: Most people who rent stay for 1 week (spend $12) or 2 weeks (spend $24, since they are unlikely to be informed about the pre-season deal). The permanent residents (or owners of the properties that are rented part-season) are informed about the deal and spend $19.

Weekend visitors buy the day-tags. Each tag is color-coded, so it is easy for the beach patrol to separate markets to create and maintain this clever form of price discrimination.

San Diego

I live in northern San Diego County in a small coastal town. We pay for our beaches in a variety of ways. TOT (tourist occupancy taxes) are charged for rentals, and some of that goes for beaches. Our small town has to pay for lifeguard services out of our general fund. Our beaches are eroding and sand needs to be dumped on them (from Arizona!) and there's much discussion about who should pay for this (after all, sand doesn't stick around; it can drift down to the next town's beaches). Our county supervisors want to put in place a "quality of life tax" to pay for this sort of thing. And, of course, there are parking fees for the state beaches. So, maybe it would be cheaper to charge users by the day or week, but then someone has to check wrists....

Bob Calder

Do people who are actually not *from* California or New Jersey go to the beach there? Really?

I'm from Florida and wouldn't consider putting my toes in that cold (yes even in the summer) water. Brrrrrr.

Nobody has asked about how access is controlled for the writer. Other people mention paying for parking and other services which certain beaches have even here. However no beach has cops who throw you off the actual beach if you get there on foot. That's just creepy. Especially since those fortunate few who own beachfront property benefit from public funds used for beach renourishment (dredging.)

Al Marsh

A tourist destination that has free beaches will attract more tourists than a destination where you have to pay (all other things being equal). The place with more tourists will make more money out of them (tourists of course, notoriously love to spend cash) and will probably end up making a larger net profit than the place that charges. I reckon charging for beaches is a classic false economy (although I quite like the tiered-systems mentioned in the other comments, where you have some free beaches and one paid-for "preumium" beach with extra nice sun loungers, or whatever)


I wouldn't care about the charges, but I'd LIKE it if the money went somewhere that helped preserve the beaches.

I've got a house down near the north end of Avalon. The beach has been eroding away for the past several years, and nothing's been done to stop it. There used to be 50 yards of beach at low tide; now I have to head south a dozen blocks just to find any beach at all.


Interesting. Could the price differential be a reflection of the different behavioral profiles of visitors versus residents?

I would assume that resident s would be more carefule vis a vis litter, etc, and would thus create a lower cost burden than tourists.


I've been to Jersey Beaches a couple times. If I don't feel like paying when the beach tag cops come around I either run into the water or just pretend I'm sleeping. They won't be rude and try waking me up. Usually on the busy times of summer they have people at every entrance to beach to sell you a tag. That's when I pay up.

Kevin C

Australia: 16,000 miles of coastline, 20.5m people
California: 1,340 miles of coastline, 36.0m people
New Jersey: 127 miles of coastline; 8.7m people

AU = 48 inches of coast per person
CA = 2.4 inches of coast per person
NJ = 0.8 inch of coast per person

Which jurisdiction might need congestion pricing?


Something for the Californians to keep in mind - many of the tourists at the Jersey shore are *not* New Jersey residents. Residents do indeed pay taxes that help maintain the beaches. But - as a resident of Philadelphia who occasionally heads to Jersey for the weekend in the summer - I have no problem paying what is honestly a pretty minimal price for access to the beach. It costs money to turn a stretch of beach into a safe and enjoyable vacation spot - not only the need for lifeguards, dredging, sand to combat erosion, etc., but also for increasing the availability of services like police and emergency medical personnel during the high-traffic tourist months.
In addition, most beaches have free days or times, and you can hang out on the boardwalk all day and never buy a beach pass. If you're terribly concerned about the cost of a beach pass, you can plan around it.


Also, what about somewhere like Venice Beach? People already go there to spend money, so charging them to go to the beach would be like charging people a flat fee to enter a mall-- no one would like that.



Besides the national park,

there is also a state park at the Indiana Dunes with lifeguards on duty. Course the lifeguards patrol the area with skidoos and won't let you swim too far out. The fee is per car and varies on weekday or weekend. $5-$7. Bicycles/ pedestrians/horses cost $2 each. I would assume segways also cost $2. A yearly pass for the entire park system in the entire state costs $36 per year or $46 for non residents. All these parks usually offer lots more than just swimming and the staff is usually very competent.

I think you can swim in Lake Michigan in Chicago and up to Milwaukee for free. Course, people from the southern suburbs in Illinois go to Indiana to swim in cleaner water and pay the fee. Go figure? Could it also be the flora and fauna and the sand dunes. Fireworks along the route are an added bonus which only Indiana offers and I suppose worth it for many in pulling out the 30 cents I-Pass on the tollway, At least there are no $5-7 toll bridges to cross.



"Big Daddy in New Jersey"

Suddenly I'm "Miss California"? Anyway, keep in mind that some of us are smart enough NOT to pay $4 for coffee every day, or drink bottled water. Its sort of silly to insist that its ok for one thing to be overpriced because some other completely unrelated thing is overpriced. And of course I know that California residents pay taxes-- I'm sure NJ residents also pay taxes. That doesn't change my opinion on charging people cash to go to the beach.

It did occur to me that in the busier parts of California you do have to pay to PARK at the beach. In Santa Monica that can easily be $6 or so, but that's per car, not per person. But, you don't actually have to park there, a lot of people park farther away and walk, or whatever. And that's mainly because the Santa Monica Pier is there and its very crowded. The rest of the coastline usually doesn't charge for parking.

I agree that there should be some beaches where you pay because they are nicely maintained with lifeguards and chairs and stuff, and others where you can just go to the natural beach for free.

Also, in California, even if you have a nice fancy home on the beach, you aren't allowed to keep other people off the sand. You're only allowed to own a certain amount away from the high tide line or something, the actual beach has to be public. I've heard that's not the case on the east coast?



Sounds like we have a bunch of "shoobies" around here at freakonomics! This little scheme sounds like Cape May beach...there is one way to access the beach free but that my friends is a local secret.

Bayonne Flyer

Lets keep in mind folks, they only charge to get onto the beach during the summer months between roughly 9 to 5. After that the beach is open and free to all.

I can't imagine the paltry amount charged can pay for dredging and the like, but it means that the people on the beach truly want to be there, instead of just loitering.

Long live Jersey, tolls and beachtags!


Learn something new everyday. You could never get us Australians to pay to go to the beach. As such I ways thought it was a Merit good.
Only in America could someone create a market where everyone else thinks there couldn't be.


I am from NJ, and I do not go to the beaches there. We travel to SC for cleaner beaches, and warmer water. The NJ water temp now is around 65 degrees, compared to 81 in SC.

I do not care for being heavily taxed, charged outrageous fees (parking, food, etc.), and then paying for beach tags in addition.

Let the wealthy homeowners pay for the beach and charge what they want. But do not come to the US taxpayer (yes, this is federal and state money) to rebuild beaches, then charging beachgoers in addition.

or maybe have a suggested fee, and let folks pay what they wish.

btw...there are free NJ beaches (Atlantic City, Strathmere, and the Wildwoods).


Kevin C states:
CA = 2.4 inches of coast per person
NJ = 0.8 inch of coast per person

Which jurisdiction might need congestion pricing?

Los Angeles has 3.85 million people and 75 miles of coastline, so 1.23 inches of coast per person.

I think it has more to do with the fact that in Los Angeles, people go to the beach 8-10 months out of the year and in New Jersey 3-4.

Plus the women are hotter in LA, so we want to subsidize their wearing of bikinis with tax dollars. It is just a common sense public policy issue.


I had no idea that you have to pay for beaches in NJ. It just sound ridiculous for me, who lived in many countries and cities with free beaches. I wouldn't even argue if which package is good deal...


"I think you can swim in Lake Michigan in Chicago and up to Milwaukee for free."

When I was growing up there, most of the north suburbs charged. The charge went to pay for lifeguards, to bring in nice soft sand (rather than gravelly sand), and to remove seaweed in the shallower parts (where you might be walking while in the water).

I just checked and Evanston, Wilmette, and Winnetka all still charge (similar rates to NJ).


I think it's an excellent concept to charge to attend the Beaches of NJ........they should consider doing it in Brooklyn NY, then maybe our Beaches will be as clean and a pleasure to be on like in NJ.

I'm headed for the Jersey Shore this weekend....can't wait, I have my money and Frisbee in hand!


At Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, there are seven beaches on Lake Michigan that are within the National Lakeshore. The west-most beach, the cleverly named West Beach, has a large parking lot, a new bathhouse, and several lifeguards all summer long. Because of these services, each car is charged $6 on entry, with no non-daily rates (unless you're a senior citizen with a Magic Pass (not the real name) that will get you into NPS facilities half-price). At the other six beaches, there are smaller parking lots and toilets, but no full bathhouses and no lifeguards. It's swim at your own risk - but it's free.

I think that's a good way to work it. If you want the extra security of lifeguards, go to West Beach and pay for the service. If you're confident in your swimming abilities, go ahead and go to one of the others for free. This way, at least you have a choice as to whether or not to pay.