12 Hours in Asbury Park, NJ
Mix the gritty surf culture of Venice Beach with Brooklyn's foodie scene, move it to the Jersey Shore, and you’ve got Asbury Park: the decidedly hipster enclave just a short drive from NYC. Charlotte Steinway show us the town’s choice eats, sleeps and sights—no filter needed
Bruce Springsteen helped put this shore town, about 70 minutes by car and just under two hours by train from NY, on the national map. And while its mile-long beach has been voted one of the Shore’s best, the city’s recent upsurge in boutique hotels, loft-inspired condos, surfer-cool shopping and topnotch food and beverage options have made it a year-round destination.
A huge player in the town’s recent renaissance has been Smith, the Asbury-based creative agency responsible for a massive local hospitality overhaul, opening six bars and restaurants and one condo building over the course of the last eight years. Each Smith venture tells an inherently different story, but all do so through a thoughtfully branded lens: one not unlike those you’d find in Portland, Brooklyn and Nashville.
There’s plenty of diversion to fill a weekend in Asbury — anchored by a stay at the historic Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel, just a few blocks from the boardwalk — but its proximity to New York and Philly also makes it the perfect spot for a day trip. Start off with an almond milk latté and raspberry-ricotta toast at Café Volan, Asbury Park’s answer to NYC’s wildly popular Saturday’s Surf. Pour over a surf-inspired magazine at one of their communal wooden tables, or head next door to Glide Surf Company, the aquatic boutique bringing a dose of California cool to the Jersey Shore. Stock up on Herschel Supply backpacks, color-blocked wetsuits and a prime selection of retro-inspired boards in the light-filled, three-year-old space.
If it’s Sunday, opt for brunch at Pascal & Sabine, the upscale French restaurant who shares a building with Smith’s hipster-minimalist Eureka condo units. Nosh on hearty entrees like foie gras breakfast sandwiches or pain perdu with applewood-smoked bacon in their dark, art- and banquette-flanked brasserie.
Next, it’s on to the boardwalk. Dating back to the late 19th century, Asbury Park’s boardwalk came into its heyday in the 20s and 30s, when its gargantuan Convention Hall and now defunct Casino was built. Now, the renovated Convention Hall houses a handful of shops, restaurants and bars, while the dilapidated casino and carousel buildings serve as storied relics to the city’s bustling past. If it’s beach weather, purchase a $6 beach tag and take to the shores.
Come lunchtime, walk a couple of blocks inland to Porta, the Neapolitan pizzeria with a wood fire oven, killer cocktail list and an industrial, twinkle light-strung indoor-outdoor space. In the summer, enjoy a game of bocce ball with a raddicio and prosciutto salad and a pitcher of Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA, or head inside for a few of their legendary pizzas (with mozzarella made in-house daily) at one of their communal wooden tables. Already a favorite among Asbury regulars, Porta is opening their second New Jersey location in Jersey City later this year.
After lunch, head across the street to the Stone Pony, Asbury’s most iconic music venue whose stage has been graced by the likes of Jon Bon Jovi, Blondie, and of course, Bruce Springsteen. In the summer, their backyard Summerstage is home to mini-festivals, large-scale performances and theme nights.
Grab a pre-dinner drink at Brickwall Tavern, whose 24 craft taps go on happy hour from 4-7pm Monday through Friday. End the day with lighter fare from Goldie’s, the upscale vegan restaurant whose menu changes seasonally. Intricate, gilded placemats serve as a base for fresh dishes like pistachio-flax guacamole and curried cauliflower tacos. Wash it all down with an inventive cocktail crafted from housemade infusions, aromatic bitters or fresh fruit juice.
Finish your night on a high note at Asbury Lanes, the punk rock venue/dive bar housed in a 1961 bowling alley. The music is loud, the cover is cheap, and they’ve got PBR on draft.
If Asbury is the destination of choice among hip kids, where are the beach bums and party animals meant to post up on the shore? Here, we’re rounding up five other Jersey Shore towns fit for each traveling type:
**Best Hamptons Alternative:** Stone Harbor, NJ
This posh little town occupies the southern tip of Seven Mile Island, and is known for its quaint downtown shopping and high-end seafood restaurants. Boutique hotel The Reeds at Shelter Haven upped the ante with its 2013 opening, offering 37 bright and airy rooms atop the ground floor Water Star Grille (pictured), a sophisticated farm-to-table restaurant offering outdoor dining with sweeping views of the bay.
**Best for Beach Bums:** Long Beach Island, NJ
Often abbreviated as LBI or “The Island,” Long Beach Island is a barrier island measuring 18 miles in length but only half a mile in width—meaning its geography is almost entirely comprised of beaches, save a three-mile-long nature preserve on its southern tip. Beach badges range from $5 to $8 daily, depending on which municipality you buy it in.
**Best for Families:** Ocean City, NJ
Self-proclaimed to be “America’s Greatest Family Resort,” Ocean City is one of the Jersey Shore’s few remaining “dry towns,” meaning liquor isn’t served or sold within the town’s 10 square miles. The liquor laws bode well for the 2.5-mile long boardwalk, where saltwater taffy stands, amusement park rides and caramel corn shops take the place of rowdy beach bars. Kids love their annual “Night in Venice” boat parade, featuring a fleet of themed vessels adorned by flowers, lights and decorations.
**Best for Party Animals:** Atlantic City, NJ
Last summer marked the 10th anniversary of the Borgata, the blinged out mega-resort that launched Atlantic City's style revival. It's a touch of Vegas on the East Coast with more than a dozen restaurants, a 161,000-square-foot casino floor, four clubs, a redesigned megaclub and a rowdy pool scene. Continue the party over by the boardwalk at Golden Nugget’s bumpin’ H20 Pool Bar.
**Best for Couples:** Cape May, NJ
Tradition and relaxation meet in Cape May, the quaint, Victorian-inspired town on the Jersey Shore’s southernmost tip. The colorful buildings resemble architecture you’d find in Savannah or NOLA, the historic lighthouses have an element of old New England, and the horse and buggy-filled downtown streets hearken Central Park at dusk. Book a stay at the town’s Grand Dame, Congress Hall, a 108-room former president’s summer home dating back to 1816.