High Tides and Good Vibes: Asbury Park is the Perfect Summer Day Trip from NYC

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

People sitting on the beach under colorful umbrellas on a summer day with blue skies
Restaurant along the Asbury Park Boardwalk with balcony seating

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.

Robinson's Ale House with unique zigzag roof and striped umbrellas
Former Howard Johnson restaurant, image via Acroterion / CC BY-SA

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. 

Bird mural by L7M on boardwalk with buildings in the backrgound
Colorful mural of a face with petals surrounding it and birds in the background

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.

New York City has a number of hubs where you can find impressive murals. Check out our 11 favorite street art galleries in New York City.
Elvis statue with a row of pinball machines in the background
Man playing Atari Missile Command machine with other arcade games in the background

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

Beaux Arts details of the Carousel Building in Asbury Park
Carousel Building which used to be part of the Casino

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. 

Grand Auditorium Building with three turrets with pointed roofs

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.

Purple and pink Victorian style home in Ocean Grove

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.

Tent home in Ocean Grove with multiple flags and a sign that reads Welcome to Our Porch

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

Doughut display with colorful menu board in the background
Chocolate doughnut with chocolate sprinkles and cake doughnut with pretzels and potato chips in chocolate glaze

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.

Location:
516 Summerfield Ave

Hours:
Wed-Mon 7:30 am – 2:00 pm
Tues CLOSED

Talula’s

Pizza pie with chickpeas and eggs
Shakshuka Brunch Pizza Pie

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.

Location:
550 Cookman Ave #108

Hours:
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

Cookman Creamery

Waffle cone with chocolate ice cream and crumbled Oreo topping in front of a Chill neon sign

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!

Location:
711 Cookman Ave

Hours:
Mon-Thu 12:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Fri-Sat 12:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Sun 12:00 pm – 10:00 pm

Getting here

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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Pinterest pin with the tagline "Asbury Park, New Jersey: The Perfect Summer Destination" and depicting a garden with an urn and pink flowers in the foreground and a pink and lavender pastel Victorian home in the background.

– L. & J.

24 thoughts on “High Tides and Good Vibes: Asbury Park is the Perfect Summer Day Trip from NYC”

  1. You guys are like having private travel advisers and guides. You find the most interesting places to go with things to see and do and places to eat. Asbury Park has been on our go to list because of the Stone Pony cathedral, and now we have more places to go and things to see.

    1. Hey Tip! You’re so very kind to write that. Asbury Park is one of those nearby destinations folks either flock to or perpetually put off visiting. But as I was telling another commentor recently on a different post, don’t do it! We put off visiting Mexico when we lived in AZ. Guess who never got around to visiting? Alas, that’s why they call it regret.

  2. Wait!! Were you guys at Talula’s and purple glaze this weekend??
    We were too.
    We hung out at Long Branch for the most part but had to have talula’s pizza.
    Sooo yummy!
    Loved some of the words and phrases in the first paragraph- lemonade stands of our innocent youth!

    1. Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words, Tara! We would go to Purple Glaze and Talula’s every weekend if we could 😉 What are some of your favorites there?

    2. Talula’s for sure!
      We’ve also enjoyed the evening vibes at Porta, before it turns into a night club.
      Sunday’s farmers market is nice to see some artists from around the state and listen to live music.

      We’ve been to the shore a few times but our attention has been split between a few towns. With regard to Asbury – not many more favorites to share!

      1. Thanks for the great tips, Tara! Porta was definitely on our short list, but Talula’s is difficult to pass up since there are so many menu items we’d still like to try 🙂 We love a good farmer’s market and will definitely have to plan a Sunday visit next!

  3. What a great day trip from NYC! Loooove the architecture of the original buildings. Looks like something from England. And the Victorian homes!!! I would love to see these for myself. Do you divide up the day between ice cream and donuts?? Even I might need a sugar break in there. 😉 Pinball capital of the world and Justin says best cake donuts…sounds like a must do.

    1. Thanks so much, Cynthia! We had a really difficult time selecting pictures for this post because the architecture in Asbury Park and Ocean Grove is simply stunning. We could’ve easily added 10 more photos (a problem I know you understand well!). You’ll have to make a visit and see it for yourself, we promise it’s worth it 🙂

      And of course, we don’t have our donuts and ice cream back-to-back. Like responsible adults, we had pizza and toast in between! 😉

    1. We’re so glad, Dippy! I think you two would have a blast here, the kitschy cool vibe makes for the perfect weekend getaway. Would love to hear your take on it if you make it out there 🙂

  4. Tent homes – new to me! And I lived in NJ during my high school years – but we didn’t go to the shore for some reason. The food sounds worth another trip, as you said. Glad to see the shout-out for the real deal plain cake donut. And I look forward to the next summer road trip post! Great idea.

    1. Hey Lynn! The “shore” has a broad scope and not all parts are equally endearing, or so I’ve heard. I can only speak with conviction about Asbury Park’s charm. As for the cake donuts and the food, I’d be willing to wager you would be pleasantly surprised. Thanks, as always, for your kind words.

  5. OMG I absolutely love this!! I don’t think I’ve ever read a post that made me want to do something SO badly – from the beach to brunch to the architecture and DONUTS (!!!!) – this place seems like a match made in heaven. I wish I had a car, it would certainly make these trips much easier with less time wasted on public transit and without feeling like you were pressured/on a schedule.

    1. LOL! Lauren, I absolutely knew you’d be all over Asbury Park. And no, not just for the donuts (though there’s nothing wrong with one, three, or all of them). As for the car issue, I can certainly empathize. I don’t know about the affordability but renting a car or going Zipcar might be the better option for you, particularly if you are hankering for a true road trip.

  6. Hey Hatters! I loved this post. Asbury Park is one of the items on our list of must do’s before we go home. I’ve got to have a Stone Pony T shirt. Now we have a travel guide of what to do when we get there and where to go when we get hungry.

    1. Hey, Tip! So glad you enjoyed this. I’m sure you’ll make the trip, and will have a blast when you do. To be honest, I wish I’d grabbed a Stone Pony shirt myself. There’s always the next visit, and there will definitely be a next visit.

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