Coastal communities worldwide are faced with climate change effects that include sea level rise and increases in the severity and frequency of storms. We present a framework for coastal adaptation to these impacts in planning efforts, using the landscape of the Toms River-Barnegat Bay ecosystem in New Jersey (eastern coast of United States, 90 km south of New York City) as a case study. This plan is a proof-of-concept, showing that collaborative design can improve the ability of shore regions in many regions to recover from storms and sea level rise if it uses a broad concept of the shore’s ecological and geomorphological structures. Ecological connections are maintained or restored from the sand beach through the tidal bay to the mainland Pine Barrens, allowing species to migrate inland as their ecosystems change over time. This plan also re-envisions shore tourism by attracting visitors to the larger and wider shore area, an approach that can maintain or even increase social and economic activity as sea level changes. Transportation routes connecting the changing shoreline area to inland sites help to integrate social activities throughout the region. Watershed based projects to handle stormwater runoff from severe inland storms are also required. These principles can be applied in any coastal landscape where sea level rise is expected. This approach was fostered and supported by a USHUD program – Rebuild by Design – to incorporate unique, collaborative, architectural and ecological approaches to changing climate and sea level rise in Hurricane Sandy-affected states. These ecological concepts can be adapted for use to maintain biotic and economic processes in threatened coastal communities.