This is an exciting time for oceanography. We as a community are poised to pursue scientific problems that have challenged oceanographers for over 50 years while simultaneously giving back to the society that pays the bill for ocean research. New observational technologies and significant advances in numerical modeling enable these potential breakthroughs. The continued development of long-term monitoring, adaptive sampling, and dynamical forecast systems will especially enhance our understanding of the processes occurring on continental shelves, which are dynamic in space and time, difficult to sample using traditional techniques, and are subject to increasing pressures from human activity. Our optimism is based on the accelerating pace at which champions within federal agencies have garnered support, and by our decade long experience in observing and modeling New Jersey’s coastal ocean, where we have been fortunate to glimpse what is possible. Our efforts began in 1993 with a single S4 current meter/CTD, which, through collaborations with an incredibly long list of partners, has evolved into the shelf-wide New Jersey Shelf Observing System (NJSOS) (Figure 1). This manuscript highlights our history, what we have learned, and what hurdles we feel need to be cleared for building a truly integrated and sustained network of ocean observatories capable of delivering on their potential to a user community that includes scientists, businesses, regulators, and the general public.