While the rest of the shore is known for partying, a la the MTV show, Ocean Grove is a community of tranquil Victorian homes. Asbury Park is (quite a bit) more hip. Bradley Beach is a quiet family town that still has plenty of stuff to do.
The heart of Asbury Park is Cookman Ave, which is lined with restaurants, boutiques, and bars. It’s spread out from there. And, of course, along the boardwalk between Convention Hall and the Casino. Asbury Park has long been the center of NJ’s gay community. Lots of couples split their time between Asbury and Manhattan — or retired to the Jersey Shore.
Ocean Grove‘s Ocean Pathway runs from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Auditorium, the shore’s premier worship center. The street itself is lined with beautiful inns and private homes. The Auditorium is surrounded by canvas tents, where worshipers spend each summer. This two lane road has a wide pedestrian mall running down the center, hosting everything from sunrise services to car shows and craft fairs.
Curious about Ocean Grove’s strange history? Learn about the queen of religious resorts.
Bradley Beach has a classic main street: the train station, cafes, a bakery, and everything you need. All three towns have charming architecture and a unique history.
This is a great car-free weekend getaway. You can take the train from New York and walk everywhere you need to go.
If you’re not on Ocean Pathway, you’re on Ocean Grove’s Main Street or Asbury Park’s Cookman Ave. Or you’re out on the sand. You’re probably here for the beach, after all.
What to do
I hate games, but even I like the Silverball Pinball Museum.
If you’re a fan of the oldies, see what’s going on at the Great Auditorium.
Casey makes me go to the Bradley Bowl every time we’re in town.
If you’re looking for the gay scene, it’s basically the whole area, but Paradise and Georgie’s are the headquarters. One time there were kittens at Georgie’s and now I’m forever disappointed when it’s just a bunch of middle aged lesbians and people I went to school with.
Where to work
If you’re in need of coffee, wifi, and outlets, head to Cafe Volan (the most Brooklyn, both good and bad), Twisted Tree (the most hippie dippie), or the Perfect Perk (quiet, friendly, tell Paul I say hi).
Where to eat
If you walk south to Bradley Beach, I’m a fan of the Buttered Biscuit. They’re (local) famous for their brunch, but their meatloaf is to die for.
If you want a legit NJ Taylor ham sandwich, check out the tiny Wall Street Delight. Stop in on a nice day so you can eat on the boardwalk.
Lunch and Dinner
SeaGrass is a family favorite. They’re there every Monday for the half-priced entrees. Remember it’s BYOB.
I’ve always loved Moonstruck, especially when I’m lucky enough to snag a table on the balcony overlooking the lake.
If it’s just Casey and I, we end up eating lunch at Nagle’s more often than not. This is one place where you want to sit inside, since it’s a restored apothecary. When we’re sick of Nagle’s (is that possible?) the Starving Artist is another great pick.
I’m not sure if Frank’s is the best ever or if you have to be a local to appreciate it, but anyone from around here is sort of obsessed.
If you have no patience for lines, go to Lola’s for gelato.
If you like your desserts to be made of pure, unadulterated sugar with a weird rockstar theme, check out Confections of a Rockstar.
Where to drink
Johnny Mac’s is usually my first stop in Asbury, since it’s awesome and right across from the train station. If you want a snack, be sure to ask for a pizza ticket.
On nice days, I drink my beers in the sun with dogs at Wonder Bar’s yappy hour.
Everyone loves the Asbury Festhalle. My German family approves of their food.
If it’s a weekend, avoid the folks who look like they’re from the Jersey Shore and enjoy a quiet bar at Cross and Orange.
If you want to drink with the locals, head to Clancy’s. If there’s a game on, it gets loud, but other than that it’s a quiet pub. This is also the spot to buy beer if you’re staying in Ocean Grove.
Where to shop
I’m not much for shopping, but then there’s cheese. Stop by Burbelmaiers for all of your cheese and snacking needs.
If you’re going to BYOB, stop at Lush in Asbury Park for a curated (but not overpriced) selection of beer, wine, and spirits.
Where to stay
Unfortunately, you can’t rent out those cool tents in Ocean Grove. They’re rented only for the entire season and there’s generally a significant waiting list.
It’s not uncommon for every place in town to be booked during high season. If you’re planning on going for a holiday weekend, you’ll need to book well in advance.
The Asbury Hotel is basically the lovechild of the Ace Hotel and a hostel. They have an on-site beer garden with food trucks. Need I say more?
If you want a more traditional boutique hotel, the Hotel Tides is in the lovely residential side of Asbury Park, but still walking distance to everything.
If you’re looking for budget accommodations for a quiet weekend or a place for a group, Grove Hall now rents out individual rooms. Most have shared bathrooms and there’s no drinking allowed in the retreat center.