Summer in New York City often means endless chatter about trips to the East End of Long Island and tooth-grinding preparation for an appearance in the Hamptons. But if your style is a bit more mid-century chill—when all a harried city-dweller needed was a tattered paperback, a low-slung beach chair and absolutely no one to impress—consider Seaside Park, NJ. Settled in 1874, this sleepy beach town along the Atlantic Ocean doesn't even fill one square mile on the map. And while it’s geographically close to Seaside Heights—made infamous by MTV’s “Jersey Shore” series—Seaside Park is worlds away from its fist-pumping frenzy.
Stay in a roomy vacation rental—for less
Since Seaside Park has yet to become a tourist trap, you won’t find any hotels on this slim barrier island town, only a few motels of debatable quality. Instead, opt for a private home rental by the weekend, week, or month. Find an oceanfront house or a quaint little bungalo with a view of Barnegat Bay. Check out area listings on HomeAway.com or Airbnb, or call local, in-the-know realtors like Arthur Rue or Appleby Realty. With a bit of fortitude and search savvy, you can find roomy two-bedroom rentals for four for as low as $50 per person per night.
Feast on local favorites & indulge on homemade ice cream
There are no major chain grocery stores in town, but you can still stock up for your vacation without leaving the beach—FreshDirect delivers to Seaside Park through Labor Day while Stop & Shop’s Peapod service delivers groceries year-round.
Browse through fresh vegetables, fruits, and seafood at the Seaside Park Farmer’s Market along J Street & Central Ave. next to the sparkling marina on Barnegat Bay, open twice a week through Labor Day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Mondays and Fridays. The small White Oak Market has been open for 102 years and still stocks basic goods while operating a modest deli counter, good for stocking up for the perfect beach picnic.
For a night out, the Bum Rogers Crabhouse on Central Ave. slings fresh piles of buttered garlic crabs, blue point oysters, and whole steamed lobsters among other seafood delights. Wednesday nights are “Beat the Clock,” with 50-cent drafts from 8pm-1:30am. (If your rental isn’t in walking distance, Uber is available.) One block from the beach is Surf Taco, where the grilled shrimp tacos outshine the eponymous surf tacos with plump, seasoned shrimp, shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, white cilantro sauce, and a squeeze of fresh lime. Don’t miss the variety of flavorful salsas at their Almost Famous Salsa Bar.
What’s a beach vacation without an ice cream shop? Seaside has two. Charlie's Homemade Ice Cream scoops up the classics—the cherry on top is a barbershop quartet that croons for customers on Thursdays, weather permitting. Up the street is The Sundae Times, where you’ll find malts and shakes along with homemade ice cream. It’s a perfect place to read the Sunday paper over an indulgent treat. But the sweetest pièce de résistance in Seaside is the Park Bakery, which has been churning out buttery morning treats since 1947. The line curls around the block before their doors open at 6:30 a.m. each day as locals and visitors in-the-know patiently wait for the famous crumb buns to emerge from the oven. Insider tip: Go for the powdered sugar topped buns vs. glazed. Trust me.
Learn to surf, try yoga classes on the beach, or bike the boardwalk
Once you’ve had your fill of crumb buns, it might be time to move around a bit. Basic but beautiful $10 yoga classes are held on the beach near the 7th Ave. entrance on Tuesdays at 6 p.m, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 a.m. and Sundays 7 p.m. Bring your own yoga mat or towel and hold that warrior pose while contemplating the blue horizon or the soft white clouds above. For higher-intensity activity, a new weekly $5 Zumba class is also offered on the beach Saturdays at 9 a.m. between M St. & N St.
The Hammer Surf School, located near the 4th Ave. beach entrance, offers three-hour group surfing lessons for $100 on the Atlantic for ages seven and up. A surfboard is provided and a beach pass is not required. Lesson times depend on the tide, so call first or check the online calendar before you go.
The Shore and More General Store on 5th Ave. sells volleyballs, frisbees, boogie boards, and most importantly, reasonably-priced bike rentals (from $17 per day, from $40 per week). Their stock got a recent upgrade and the new bikes are perfect for a sunrise ride on the boardwalk. Feeling quirky? You and three friends can rent a turn-of-the-century style surrey, fringe and all for $30 per hour.
Experience total beachside bliss
Seaside Park’s beaches are clean and beautiful, and still a blissful secret. Since relatively few visitors flock along the two miles of shoreline, you’ll have plenty of room to spread out in the sun. Beach access badges cost $10 per day, $35 per week ($20 per week for seniors), and are free for children ages 11 and under. On select summer Tuesday evenings, a makeshift drive-in movie theater sets up on the Berkeley Harbor Marina lawn—the same spot as the farmer’s market. Literally drive in or walk, bike, or skip over for some Hollywood sparkly under the stars.
Shop for the best bargains in Seaside Park
B&B Department Store opened in 1932 and is beloved for its bargain-filled weekend sidewalk sales. Inside the surprisingly large store are racks of Billabong, O’Neill, Havaianas, Hurley, and other beach-appropriate brands. You won’t want for thematic objects with slogans like, “A Day at the Beach is Better than 100 in Town” or “It’s a Flip-Flop Kind of Day.” Way in the back is a tiny candy counter, where you can purchase saltwater taffy or fresh fudge along with those new flip-flops. Sometimes it’s just that kind of day.
A few doors down from B&B, the Right Coast Surf Shop has, ironically, a decidedly left coast feel. They’ll fully outfit you for surf lessons and other water sports with wet suits, surfboards, wax, and anything else you need to ride the right coast waves in style.
This article was written by Kerri Allen, an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, The Huffington Post Travel, Time Out New York, Gayot, and many more.