My name is Erin and I’m a beach snob. I grew up ten minutes from the beach in South Jersey, sandwiched in between the popular resort towns of Ocean City and Sea Isle City. I cannot reveal the name of my favorite beach that I go to every day in the summer when I’m at my parents because I don’t want too many others to know about it. In college I had in my AIM profile: “Our life, your vacation.” I’ve been to beaches elsewhere in Jersey, but I’ve never been super impressed whether from the sand quality (it matters!), the slope of the beach as you approach the ocean (looking at you, LBI), or the clientele (no comment).
But in December, Brianne invited me to visit Asbury Park and Red Bank in North Jersey. Being that it was winter, I thought it would be a great time to explore the areas without the typical crowds. I am a big proponent of visiting the Jersey Shore in the off-season and I thought it was time I took my own advice. Plus, my 98-year-old grandmother had enjoyed Asbury Park in her day so I had something fun to chat with her about at Christmas. Her eyes lit up as she told me tales of her days there, even recalling staying at the Padawan Inn, which to my knowledge doesn’t exist anymore. When she visited during World War II, they would put tarpaulin against the lights of the city so that nothing could be seen from the ocean. Below is a (CUTE!) picture of my grandparents enjoying the same boardwalk that I did 60ish years later:
Here’s what Brianne and I got into while we were visiting Asbury Park and Red Bank:
The Stone Pony
Also being from Jersey, I’m obviously a huge Springsteen fan. My car was acting up a little the week of the trip, so my dad (and my Bruce guru) offered to drive me up as long as we stopped at the Stone Pony, where every Jersey-ian knows Bruce got his start, even if they aren’t listening to Bruce’s bio on Audible like I am. We drove the hour and a half up the parkway, blasting the boss as we rolled into town. The Stone Pony is just a block from the boardwalk and an icon, for sure. Inside, it smells exactly what you think a Jersey Shore music venue would smell like, with decades of spilled beer soaked into the wooden flooring. The walls are covered in colorful guitars with signatures from people who are way better at performing than writing in cursive. It was cool to be there but would def be even better to actually catch a show there.
The Street Art
I love street art, whether it’s in Indianapolis, Long Island City, or Vienna, and I wasn’t disappointed in Asbury Park. The boardwalk has tons of good pieces, so many that I was struggling trying to choose which picture to feature above. I’ll post some more on my Instagram this week for you to see. I wonder if there was anything of the sort decorating these buildings when my grandmother visited back in the day.
One piece of art that my grandmother likely saw was Tillie, above. Though this is a replica, the face (similar to those in Coney Island) has been synonymous with Asbury Park since the 1950’s. Today, he’s on top of the Wonder Bar at Ocean Avenue.
While the largest boardwalk by me (Ocean City) is very commercialized with rides, miniature golf courses, surf shops, salt-water taffy shops, ice cream shops, $5 t-shirt shops, jewelry shops, pizza places, and basically anything else you can think of, the Asbury Park boardwalk is comparatively empty. Sure, there are a few restaurants and food stands, but it seems to be more of a place to just stroll along the water than a mall, which is refreshing.
I can’t officially vouch for the beach at Asbury Park because when I visited in December, it was covered in snow. But it’s there, and let’s be honest, nothing is better than the beach, the ocean, and a new book, no matter the season or location.
Asbury Park Convention Hall
While Brianne and I were in town, the Asbury Park Holiday Bazaar was being held. I’d somehow managed to get most of my Christmas-shopping done at that point but still strolled the stands with adorable decor perfect for a beachhouse, scarves, candles, cookies, artwork, gifts for pets, magnets, and more treats, most of which were handmade. I did end up buying two Jersey ornaments made of wood and gifted one to my grandmother, since she had the Asbury Park connection.
The Asbury Park Convention Hall is a historic venue that has been on the boardwalk since the 1930s and has hosted Springsteen (duh), Sinatra, and Elton John, to name a few.
The Silverball Museum Arcade has a sign outside where it boasts being the #1 attraction in NJ, which I initially scoffed at (I told you I am a snob). But when Brianne and I went in the following day to check it out, I actually had a ton of fun. Here you can play pinball (which I don’t think I’d ever played?) on machines from as far back as the 1950s. You pay for the amount of time you’re interested in. We paid $10 for a half hour (a one-hour pass is $12.50). I loved playing on the oldest machines because you can actually see all the gears and I started thinking about all of the hard work it took to design and build each of these. I also enjoyed the themed ones (like a Happy Days version where Fonzie was playing pool with some scantily clad women, above).
Asbury Park Casino and Carousel House
Though now empty, the historic casino (whose letters of C-A-S-I-N-O you can still make out) and the octagonal carousel house (which I’m SURE my grandmother went on a few times) are still standing. They both are awesome frameworks and I hope that the casino will be renovated into something cool. The physical carousel from the carousel house (above) is now in Myrtle Beach and the building is a skatepark.
Red Bank’s Downtown
My one regret of the trip is that we didn’t visit the Dublin House (above) for a drink after raving about how cute the building was. The Victorian house is more than 175 years old and has been moved and remodeled since it was first built. But it wasn’t the only cute building in Red Bank’s adorable downtown area, where you have basically anything you’d ever need, including a classic New Jersey old-fashioned diner, a French cafe, boutiques, home goods stores, and antique shops. While in the 1980s, the town was sometimes referred to as “Dead Bank”, but this is definitely no longer the case.
Red Bank’s Waterfront
As you can tell from the above photo, the weather wasn’t cooperating with us during our time in Red Bank, but we could still imagine all of the fun on Red Bank’s riverfront during the sunnier days of spring, summer, and autumn. It was also easy to tell why the town was named Red Bank after seeing the red banks across the Navesink River, the color coming from the red soil. This photo was taken at Riverside Gardens Park, where they sometimes have live music and often have scenic sunsets.
The Asbury Park Inn
I’m just starting to realize how much I love staying at B&Bs (as I experienced in Ireland). Proprietors Kate & Joe are younger than other B&B owners I’ve met and have created a place that doesn’t feel like you’re staying with your grandparents (not that I don’t love my grandmother’s home, of course). It’s cozy without feeling like you’ve stepped back in time. Kate and Joe recommended lots of fun things to do in the area and provided us with an incredible breakfast. I was obsessed with the panna cotta French toast. Brianne and I stayed in the attic room (the Crest Suite), which could fit a family or a group of friends no problem with a separate king-sized bedroom, two twin beds, a sitting area, and a full bathroom. The downstairs sitting area (above) and dining area are open to all guests and feel very welcoming.
The Oyster Point Inn
Though it was foggy and we didn’t get to fully enjoy our room’s view of the Navesink River, we got the vibe right away at Oyster Point Hotel in Red Bank. Our room was a double with two queen beds and a lot of space. The hotel was decorated beautifully for the holidays and had an art exhibit on its second level while we were visiting. Brianne and I each caught up on some work with a glass of wine in the comfortable lobby bar and both noted we could spend the entire day just hanging out there, if only we’d had more time. The hotel is a great location for easy access to Red Bank’s downtown, a riverfront stroll, and nearby restaurants. It was also very quick for me to hop the train back to the city in the morning.
The Asbury Hotel
Although we just wandered in because we were curious, we could tell the Asbury Hotel is a new hot spot. We didn’t stay here or even see the rooms but the lobby alone was a freelancer’s dream: a coffee shop and snack bar, a real bar (above), huge tables, couches, records and cassettes to peruse, and lots of natural light.
The Food & Drinks
When my foodiest friend Caitlin recommends a pizza place, you visit that pizza place. As a thank you for my dad driving me all the way up to Asbury Park, I took him to Talula’s Pizza before he headed back home. The industrial space was cool, open, and loud, and I appreciate any restaurant that posts from where the ingredients are sourced (or their “purveyors” – including my hometown crew at Cape May Brewing Company). We split a Green Eggs and Ham pizza (with pesto eggs + Benton’s bacon + cabot cheddar + red potatoes) after seeing (and smelling!) it on the table next to us. While my dad said he could have skipped the pesto, for me, it was perfect.
Before dinner on our night in Asbury Park, Brianne and I checked out the Watermark for drinks, at the recommendation of our B&B hosts. It’s definitely a cool spot, with leather furniture and cozy corners for your group to catch up and a view of the ocean if you arrive pre-sunset. There may be an entirely different feel on a Saturday in August (there’s a long list of rules posted outside the doors, including on how to behave and dress), but the drink menu indicates a more mature crowd than some of the summer beach bars near my hometown slinging Bud Lights by the dozen (ahem, OD in SIC).
I ordered the Violetta (Hangar One, Fresh Lemon Sour and Crème De Violette), which the server told me had a lavender flavor (I loved lavender in a drink I had in Bratislava). I loved this one too. Other drinks on the menu include fruit- and tea-infused spirits, ice tea mixed drinks, champagne cocktails, sangrias, beer cocktails, and much more.
If you have a large group with differing tastes, Langosta Lounge seems to have something on the menu for everyone. It’s a unique spread, everything from New England seafood classics to Thai food to sushi to ramen to burgers to Mediterranean fare to pizza. I’d say there was an identity crisis here, but a crisis is negative whereas everything we had was awesome.
Brianne and I started with the lobster roll sliders (Lobster salad, butter toasted Hawaiian sweet rolls, hydroponic bibb lettuce, sprinkle of Old Bay) and had two specialty sushi rolls on recommendation from our server. We ended with a novelty dessert of a s’mores set, a fire at our table where we could roast marshmallows and mix them with chocolate bars, peanut butter cups, graham crackers, pineapple, strawberries, and wafers, which was all delish and fun.
The “Jersey-est” thing I ate that weekend was at Taylor Sam’s in Red Bank (another location is in Brick) where I of course had to get *something* with Taylor Ham on it (even though it should be called PORK ROLL). It’s a meat famous in Jersey for being amazing and also for being the basis of a battle between North and South Jersey as to what its proper name is. I ordered the Monster Sam’s (Burger topped with Taylor Ham, Fried Egg, American Cheese on Toasted Bun with French Fries) which we would call “A Trenton Burger” in my family. It hit me in all the Jersey-est spots in my soul.
North Jersey has pretty good Italian food and we were in the mood after sight-seeing all day. We chose Birravino in Red Bank where Brianne opted for pizza (since she’d missed out on Talula’s) and I chose Cozze Oreganata (Maine black shell mussels, tomato, toasted bread crumbs) and enjoyed every. single. one. The place is definitely a hot spot and had a cool environment with tall bar tables, stools, and exposed brick walls.
For our final meal in North Jersey that weekend, Brianne and I went to Whipped Creperie in the cute Red Bank downtown area. While it’s tough to mess up a waffle and therefore mine was delicious, something special came with mine. Check out the STATE OF NEW JERSEY in raspberries in the picture above in the whipped cream. I’m sure it was unintentional, but I totally took the sign from the Jersey gods that I shouldn’t separate North and South Jersey in my mind anymore. We are all one.
Thank you, Asbury Park Inn, Oyster Point Hotel, Langosta Lounge, and Taylor Sam’s for hosting us and M Studio for organizing this press trip. Opinions are always my own, I’m a Jersey Girl after all. Have you ever tried to argue with one of us? Don’t.