Everyone loves the summer. Whether you’re a fan of scorching temperatures or not, you can find something about the season to fall in love with: vacations, rooftops, Summer Fridays, or our personal favorite, ice cream errrday. Summer pop-ups are an enduring tradition, from the lemonade stands of our innocent youth, to the trendy outdoor food markets of our fiscally irresponsible adulthood. We want to celebrate, and we want to do it all season long. When you think of popular summer destinations, there’s generally a beach involved. But the combination of Justin’s lily-white skin and our inability to stay in one place for too long usually limits our time on the shore. We need more than just sand and surf, and that’s why Asbury Park is our perfect summer destination.
Asbury Park is probably most recognizable as a destination for music lovers, with classic venues like the Stone Pony and the Paramount Theatre drawing incredible talent over the years. And while making your way out there to watch a concert is bound to be an unforgettable experience, we think the town Bruce Springsteen named his debut album after actually has a lot more to offer.
The Beach and the Boardwalk
The Asbury Park Beach is a slice of summer life, with views of the ocean as far as the eye can see and colorful beach umbrellas dotting the sand. There are sand volleyball courts and playgrounds, and certain areas even accommodate surfing and fishing with restrictions. To access the beach, beach passes are required. Daily passes as well as seasonal passes can be purchased at booths located at all the entry points.
Pro Tip: Avoid the lines and purchase your beach pass in advance using the Viply smartphone app.
The Boardwalk is lined with restaurants and bars offering prime people-watching opportunities, which is its own draw. Whether you decide to park yourself in a particular spot or just stroll along the boardwalk, keep an eye out for Robinson’s Ale House, which occupies a historic Howard Johnson’s restaurant built in 1962. The unique design was unorthodox even for its time, and its owner has taken great care to preserve the architectural gem. Refreshment stands tempt you with everything from loaded fries to specialty lemonade. Family-friendly Asbury Splash Park and Asbury Eighteen miniature golf offer additional wholesome fun.
Asbury Park has experienced dramatic growth and revitalization in recent years, and in 2015 the Wooden Walls Project brought together a number of well-known street artists to contribute to a beautification mission. The Boardwalk is the perfect showcase for large, dramatic pieces, and the artists rose to the occasion. Colorful murals by Chilean-born Pau Quintanajornet and NYC-based Dee Dee provide a contemporary facelift.
Locals Jenn Hampton of Parlor Gallery and John Herguth of Madison Marquette hand-picked the talent based on their “organic connection to Asbury Park as well as their outstanding use of colors, ideas, techniques and media”. They were careful to include local, national and international artists who each had something unique to express, thus offering a well rounded selection of public art.
A jewel not to be missed on the Boardwalk is the Silverball Museum, an all-in-one pinball and video game arcade and museum. There are machines from as far back as the 1950s, and most of them are in excellent condition. The museum actually owns approximately 600 games which it rotates through the space, injecting each visit with a little element of surprise. Functioning as an interactive museum, you get to play games while you learn. Placards tell you what year the machine was manufactured and some fun facts attached to it. Did you know Atari means “check” in Japanese in the game of chess? It’s a fun and fascinating glimpse into pop culture through the years.
Eye-Catching and Historical Architecture
Asbury Park is a treasure trove for the architecture lover. Whitney Warren and Charles Wetmore, the architects behind Grand Central Terminal and numerous other iconic New York City structures, were commissioned with several projects here. After a fire took out the Arcade on the Boardwalk in 1927, Warren and Wetmore built the Asbury Park Convention Hall and adjoining Paramount Theatre in its place. The Casino and Carousel House followed soon after.
Even though the timing of the projects tragically coincided with the stock market crash of 1929, the Paramount Theatre’s grand opening in 1930 was widely celebrated and drew celebrities like the Marx Brothers and Ginger Rogers. Both the Convention Hall and Paramount Theatre are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. There are only skeletal remains of the Casino and Carousel House, but they are still magnificent examples of Warren and Wetmore’s signature Beaux-Arts style.
If you saunter down into neighboring Ocean Grove you’ll come across the largest assemblage of Victorian architecture in the country, as it was established as a 19th century late Victorian planned community. Methodist ministers originally founded Ocean Grove as a Christian camp meeting community, which was popularized after the Civil War. Railroad access brought visitors from as far as New York City and Philadelphia, which allowed Ocean Grove to grow into a seaside destination for Methodists and non-Methodists alike. The Great Auditorium was built in 1894 to accommodate the rapid growth of the congregation. The unique structure remains nearly intact, featuring lighting and acoustic designs way ahead of its time. It was built by ship builders, and some say its interior resembles one.
In 1975 Ocean Grove became recognized as a National Historic District. But Asbury Park and Ocean Grove fell out of favor in the 1970s and 1980s as vacationers moved further down the Jersey Shore. It started to regain popularity in the 1990s, after a real estate crash made the property values very attractive. But thanks to the Historic Preservation Commission, all the reconstruction had to conform to a strict set of guidelines, leading to the addition of many neo-Victorian homes.
And finally, keep your eye out for Ocean Grove’s famous “tent homes”. The tents were originally erected around the Great Auditorium so people could worship and attend services. Today, just 114 tents remain and they’ve become coveted summer homes. The waiting list to rent one for the summer season could be as long as 19 years! Each tent is built on a wooden platform with a canvas section that serves as the living room, dining room and bedroom. It is connected to a permanent wooden structure that usually houses a kitchen and bathroom. In the front there is a narrow porch, often covered by an awning.
Pro Tip: The Historical Society of Ocean Grove runs Architectural Tours that offer a more in-depth experience for architecture lovers. Tent homes, Victorian cottages and twentieth century houses are part of the tour.
Food, Food and More Food
It would not be an exaggeration to state that we would visit Asbury Park for the food alone. We’ll even go so far as to admit we were actually planning a return visit even before the seaside town had fully receded from our rearview mirror. See, Asbury Park is a fairly forward-thinking community, particularly when it comes to cuisine. The sheer diversity is awe-inspiring. And those on a plant-based diet should take note: Asbury Park is a vegetarian and vegan paradise. Nearly every establishment offers numerous options for those with meat-free diets, and not just the perfunctory, scattershot items tossed on menus in a cynical attempt to appease those troublesome clients with dietary requirements. The following are three establishments that are must-visits:
Purple Glaze Donuts
It’s no secret that Justin loves him a good donut. And years of donut-devouring have led him to the discovery that he has a particular affinity for the cake variety. For the unenlightened, this is pretty much cake…that has been fried.
In our opinion, the plain cake donut, the most humble of donut varieties, is the true benchmark of artisanal aptitude. Well, as it turns out, the mother-and-son tag team behind Purple Glaze Donuts specializes in (you guessed it) cake donuts. And you know what? Purple Glaze has THE BEST cake donuts we’ve had. Ever. As in anywhere. Full stop. (Many people agree: they have been named one of the best donut shops in the country by several outlets.) Now, they offer some really inventive and tasty toppings and fillings here, and you should definitely try those, but make room for one with zilch-nada-nothing (plain), and ask them if you can get it straight out of the fryer.
There is also a separate–and equally robust–vegan menu offering powdered, iced, filled, and specialty donuts. For those with an intolerance to dairy, these must not be overlooked.
516 Summerfield Ave
Wed-Mon 7:30 am – 2:00 pm
When we read about Talula’s, we were a bit skeptical. There were just too many superlatives floating about. Sure, it was undeniably popular, but would that translate into good meal? Short answer: Yes. What you’ll fall in love with at Talula’s are the details: a list on the wall reflecting the sourcing of ingredients from local purveyors, an eclectic menu fearturing pizza, sandwiches, bowls and salads, in-house baked sourdough bread, cakes, pies and pastries, homemade vegan cheeses, and an addictive fermented chili sauce. Breakfast pizza is a thing here, and you’ll never question it again.
550 Cookman Ave #108
Mon-Thu 11:00 am-10:00 pm
Fri 11:00 am-12:00 am (bar & pizza only after 11:00 pm)
Sat 10:00 am-12:00 am (bar & pizza only after 11:00 pm)
Sun 10:00 am-9:00 pm
Kitchen is closed daily from 4:00 pm-5:00 pm
Summer normalizes our ice cream habit, but Cookman Creamery made us feel like we’d found our people. It has every ice cream lover covered with imaginative flavors in traditional dairy, gluten free, dairy-free, and even sugar-free options. All the standard flavors are available, as well as many of Ben and Jerry’s-esque candy-cookie amalgamations. But some of the more inventive flavors caught our eye, like the Devil’s Food with Chocolate Cake Batter, Activated Coconut Charcoal, and Chocolate Crunch. The Vegan Soy Sauce Seaweed Caramel seemed to pique everyone’s interest, since almost every customer in the store sampled it!
711 Cookman Ave
Mon-Thu 12:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Fri-Sat 12:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Sun 12:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Asbury Park is just a 75-minute drive from New York City, and there are ample municipal and private parking lots around the area, so if you have access to a car, driving is a no-brainer.
Pro Tip: Download the Asbury PARK app, which allows you to pay for your parking using your smartphone, and also extend time on your meter remotely.
If you don’t have access to a car, Asbury Park is accessible by the New Jersey Transit North Jersey Coast rail line, which leaves from Penn Station. The trip is a little under 2 hours long, still leaving plenty of time to enjoy everything this fun destination has to offer.
Pro Tip: New Jersey Transit offers a Beach Package that provides a small discount on the cost of a beach pass when purchased with a round-trip fare.
So get working on that summer playlist!
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