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Reclaiming the Jersey Shore
Until late last year, it was hard to imagine how New Jersey's image could get much worse. Bon Jovi, 148 miles of turnpike, The Sopranos, Real Housewives—it all added up to a big-haired, acid-washed caricature of the state. Those of us from Jersey could do little more than shrug and laugh. I mean, Whaddayagonnado? But then, in December, MTV unleashed Jersey Shore. The wildly popular reality show, whose second season debuts this month, follows the summer-rental adventures of eight overtanned, overmuscled, undereducated young people in the shore town of Seaside Heights. No matter that "Snooki," "The Situation," and the rest of the cast mostly hail from places like Staten Island and The Bronx: It seemed that the trashiest place on earth had found the mascots it deserved. For someone who actually grew up on the shore, MTV's live-action cartoon was one insult too many. My fondest memories are dusted with sand and clotted with saltwater taffy. And while Bruce Springsteen's "carnival life on the water" might have been an overly romantic depiction even in the best of times, it was still my romance. I'll admit that the Jersey burbs can verge on the generic, but the 130 miles of beaches and towns along the coast are all color, from the wilderness of Sandy Hook to bed-and-breakfast-studded Cape May. And as I've been hearing, two of the shore's best-known towns—the once-glittering resorts of Asbury Park and Long Branch, both in my native Monmouth County—are in the midst of unexpected revivals. So as any spurned local might, I grabbed my fiancée, Jen, hopped a ferry from Manhattan to Atlantic Highlands, near Sandy Hook, and set out on a journey to redeem my home state's battered reputation. Of all the towns on the Jersey shore, Asbury Park is the most famous—and not necessarily for good reasons. Over the span of a few decades, the city transformed from flashy resort to gritty rock-music mecca to poster child for urban decay. Yet when Jen and I pull into town, it's as if history has somehow reversed itself. Our first stop is Convention Hall, just off the boardwalk. The hulking beaux arts structure was built with Jazz Age exuberance in 1929 to house acts like Benny Goodman and the Marx Brothers. Terra-cotta sea horses and serpents swim over its brick-and-limestone façade, and a copper model boat sits at its peak, a memorial to a cruise ship that ran aground here in 1934. Just three years ago, the venue, which once hosted the Doors, Janis Joplin, and the Who, was visibly falling apart, rotting in the salt air after years of neglect. But today, thanks to extensive restoration, it gleams like new and draws a fresh crop of big names—from Jeff Beck to Tony Bennett—to its adjacent Paramount Theatre. Over on the boardwalk, things are spiffed up and the same all at once. In a storefront, I spot the visage of Tillie, a leering, Alfred E. Neuman–like clown who is the closest thing Asbury has to a mascot; the character even inspired protests when a building with his image on it was torn down a few years ago. At the site of a once tragicomically decrepit Howard Johnson (TV host and chef Anthony Bourdain visited in 2005 and was afraid to order anything more elaborate than a grilled cheese), we duck into the bustling McLoone's Asbury Grille for a Bloody Mary before heading down the boardwalk to the Silver Ball Museum—home to 100 or so vintage pinball machines. Inside, it's a riot of bells and clanking metal, and we hand over $7.50 apiece for 30 minutes of unlimited play. In some senses, the story of Asbury Park's revival can be told through the Hotel Tides, where we're staying the night. Tucked away on a residential street, the hotel is an unlikely labor of love, as I learn when I meet co-owner Martin Santomenno. A real estate investor who was once maître d' at the World Trade Center's Windows on the World, Santomenno, along with a few partners, converted a dowdy guesthouse into a modern 20-room boutique hotel. "It started as a minor renovation, then it turned into a minor rehab, and then a major rehab," he recalls with a laugh. An airy lobby now doubles as a gallery that showcases work by Asbury-based artists. The rooms are smartly designed, with iPod docks, ultra-high-thread-count Anichini sheets, and rain-forest showers with river-rock floors. Santomenno began weekending in Asbury in 2001, a couple of years after a residential resurgence led largely by the gay and lesbian community. Attracted to Asbury by its cheap real estate, broad beach, and the 90-minute drive to New York City, these new residents bought big, run-down houses and restored them piece by piece. As the community grew, home owners lobbied for civic improvements and eventually opened businesses. Their vision of Asbury isn't just about tradition: Santomenno is far more excited about the time composer Philip Glass stopped by the hotel than when Springsteen's people scouted his house for a music video. "We consider ourselves a cultural center," he says. "People come to Asbury for the music, the art, and the food, not just for the beach. Right before last summer, 21 new businesses opened—we're keeping mom-and-pop stores alive." If Hotel Tides is a look at Asbury's future, then Vini "Maddog" Lopez is a part of its past. The original drummer in Springsteen's E Street Band (E Street is an actual road in Belmar, just to the south), Lopez joins us for breakfast the next morning at Frank's, a 50-year-old diner on Asbury's Main Street that, in his words, "has good mud." Lopez, grizzled and friendly, holds tight to his history: He currently plays in Steel Mill Retro, a band that re-creates the long-lost songs of the late '60s, pre–E Street days. He happily shares stories of nights at long-vanished clubs like the Student Prince and the Upstage, but he's quick to dismiss Springsteen's more fanciful visions of the city, heard in songs about wooing girls under the boardwalk. "There were rats underneath there," Lopez says. After saying our good-byes, Jen and I swing past Cookman Avenue, an up-and-coming stretch with an indie theater (think obscure and Swedish films) and some posh boutiques like Shelter Home, a home furnishings store co-owned by a textile designer who works on Broadway productions. From there, we turn our sights south. For 20 miles we bump through coastal towns like Belmar, Manasquan, and Point Pleasant, and then cut onto the Barnegat Peninsula, a spit of sand separating the Atlantic from Barnegat Bay, as we approach Seaside Heights, the now infamous home of Jersey Shore. For months, I've been hearing people talk about Seaside Heights as if it's some anthropology experiment, a case study in bumping clubs and boardwalk fights. But when we pull into town, it's clear that stereotypes don't hold. Instead of alcohol-fueled chaos, we find an unpretentious, kid-friendly resort town full of little cottages crowded up to the coast. It's not yet prime season, so things are pretty quiet. We pass the police station, where at least one Jersey Shore cast member was locked up, and cruise by Club Karma, now famous for cheap shots and dance music. Yet by the beach, it's as if the show never existed. A mini amusement park sits at either end of the mile-long boardwalk, and a Ferris wheel stands on a pier. Inside the 57-year-old Lucky Leo's Amusements, everything's familiar: the wooden skee ball lanes, the barker at the wheel of fortune, the paper tickets waiting to be traded for an endless selection of trinkets. The scene is timeless—a snapshot from the classic American summer—and it stands in contrast to our final destination, Long Branch. In many ways, Long Branch is the original shore town. The city began as a fashionable destination in the 1860s—well before Asbury or Seaside—starting with a visit from Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of Honest Abe. Then, like many other towns, it settled into prolonged decay. The final blow came in 1987, when the amusement complex on its pier (including a haunted mansion I never mustered the courage to enter) burned to the ground. All that remained were a few sad little arcades, seedy strip clubs, and the occasional music venue. That could've been it for Long Branch, but five years ago a local developer rebuilt the boardwalk and pier. Unlike the grassroots refurbishment of Asbury, the result here is a slick retail and residential complex called Pier Village, complete with upscale restaurants and bars, a bookstore, and a Gold's Gym (where we work out the next morning on treadmills facing the ocean). The Bungalow Hotel is one of the latest additions to Pier Village. The white-on-white rooms are hardly a bargain at $199, but given the fact that they could pass for ones at a $500-a-night Miami resort, they seem a worthy splurge, with South Beach–inspired faux fireplaces, faux-cowhide chairs, and Apple TV. With all the driving that afternoon, Jen and I had skipped lunch, so we immediately walk to Avenue, a glass-and-steel oceanfront restaurant that attracts young, hip-for-Jersey patrons—and at the moment, too many of them. The place is packed for happy hour. Instead of waiting, we decide to retreat inland. A few blocks from the beach, the flash of Pier Village mellows, and old-school Italian restaurants and simple hot dog stands remain as bulwarks against the city's new image. We opt for Tuzzio's, a squat brick-and-stucco establishment across from a dry cleaner. The crowd here (families of six and elderly couples) is anything but hip, and the same goes for the decor, highlighted by a stained-glass version of the restaurant's logo and gold-mirrored beer-company signs. But the leather booths are inviting, the vibe couldn't be warmer, and the food is a throwback: rich sausage and peppers in marinara sauce, and salad with special house dressing, a distinctly tangy blue-cheese vinaigrette. "If you don't like it," the grandmotherly waitress says with a smile, "I'll bring you something else." Back at the boardwalk, we eventually return to Avenue, which has quieted down. We sit at the polished-steel bar, where I get a dirty martini and a few oversize shrimp from the raw bar—we did skip lunch, after all. Jazz remixes play from overhead speakers. I bite into a shrimp, sip my martini, and feel a pleasant sense of disorientation. This is definitely not Snooki's Jersey Shore. It's not Bruce's, or at least not the one he sings about. It's not really mine, either. But for the moment, I'll take it. LODGING Hotel Tides, Restaurant & Spa 408 7th Ave., Asbury Park, hoteltides.com, from $95 Bungalow Hotel 50 Laird St., Long Branch, bungalowhotel.net, from $199 FOOD McLoone's Asbury Grille 1200 Ocean Ave., Asbury Park, mcloonesasburygrille.com, entrées from $8 Frank's Deli & Restaurant 1406 Main St., Asbury Park, 732/775-6682, sandwiches from $3 Avenue 23 Ocean Ave., Long Branch, leclubavenue.com, entrées from $16 Tuzzio's Italian Cuisine 224 Westwood Ave., Long Branch, tuzzios.com, entrées from $11 Max's Famous Hot Dogs 25 Matilda Terrace, Long Branch, maxsfamoushotdogs.com, from $3 ACTIVITIES Convention Hall Ocean Ave. between Asbury and Sunset Aves., Asbury Park, apboardwalk.com Silver Ball Museum 1000 Ocean Ave., Asbury Park, silverballmuseum.com, 30 minutes' unlimited play $7.50 Lucky Leo's Amusements 315 Boardwalk, Seaside Heights, luckyleosamusements.com Pier Village 1 Chelsea Ave., Long Branch, piervillage.com SHOPPING Shelter Home 704 Cookman Ave., Asbury Park, shelterhome.com
5 Eco-Friendly Getaways From New York City
The Car-Free Traveler, Lauren Matison, co-founder and editor of offMetro.com. The last time I woke to the sounds of cock-a-doodle-doo, I was in a farmhouse in the south of France, very far from home in Manhattan. While I haven't set my alarm ringtone to "rooster" since that trip four years ago, I do miss omelets with freshly laid eggs and the buzz of bees in the lavender bushes. On a recent morning that finally smelled like autumn in New York, I found myself wondering where a car-less New Yorker can wake up on a farm without having to drive or fly? According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are over 129,850 farms in the Northeast, but most do not offer farmcations or easily accessible roads. Not to be deterred, and hungry for a little peace and quiet—and those freshly laid eggs—I unearthed five outstanding spots celebrating a new farm to table to bed movement. The Homestead at Seven Arrows East Sustainable Slumber: Though just a 45-minute ferry ride from Manhattan, this year-round yoga retreat, education studio, and CSA farm could not feel farther away from the city. Perched on 20 acres of land on the banks of the Navesink River in Monmouth County, New Jersey, The Homestead is lovingly looked after by former Brooklyn farmers Meg, Michael, and Neil and their Maremma Sheep Dogs, trained livestock guardians that live with the goats, which you're welcome to milk. Nestled near 700-acre Hartshorne Woods and Sandy Hook, this sustainable sanctuary thrives on sharing its organic produce and pearls of agronomic wisdom while inviting city folk to roam free, read under an apple tree, and reboot. In addition to the monthly yoga retreats, The Homestead offers classes ranging from beekeeping to soup and bread making to growing and foraging edible mushrooms. If you want to check out the place before spending the night in their cozy, minimalist digs, attend one of their new BYOB vegan farm dinners (http://veganfarmtotabledinner-eorg.eventbrite.com/, $75), featuring a five course menu that, "we feel, demonstrates how luxuriously one can eat from one's own field." (Hartshorne Road, Locust, NJ, http://sevenarrowseast.com/, dorm room for $400, private room for $650 for a three-day retreat, which includes lodging, meals, and workshops.) Get There: Seven Arrows is 45 minutes from Manhattan and reachable via Seastreak Ferry to Atlantic Highlands. Chebeague Island Inn Sustainable Slumber: On the tiny turtle-shaped island of Chebeaugue (that's shuh-Beeg, meaning 'isle of many springs') off the coast of Portland, Maine, this grand hilltop hotel dating back to the 1920s is the kind of hidden gem travelers want but rarely make the effort to find. The journey, which takes you from a scenic train trip to the Old Port to a ferry, is half the fun of the getaway and worth every step. Once you've arrived, there is golf, tennis, boating, bocce ball, free bikes, and plenty of secluded rocky coves reminiscent of a Hopper painting (visit Deer Point and Bennett Cove), but the draw for adventurous foodies will be the Farm to Table package (available late May—October 7). The special includes a two-night stay, daily gourmet breakfast, a box lunch and local bottle of Oyster River Wine, a guided tour of Second Wind Farm, and a three-course dinner for two using produce from the farm. The package requires a $100 donation towards the farm, where much of the Inn's menu is sourced. After learning about Second Wind, island farming and the deep-rooted relationship the hotel has with local farmers and fishermen, join Executive Chef Rowe as he creates your farm-to-table meal. (61 South Road, Chebeague Island, http://www.chebeagueislandinn.com, from $180/night, add on $100 for the Farm to Table package and call 207/846-5155 to book it.) Get There: Take Amtrak to Portland. Hop a taxi or take the 5 Bus to the Metro Pulse station, and walk 10 minutes to the port for the leisurely 90-minute Casco Bay Ferry ride ($11.05 for a round-trip ride). Make arrangements prior to arrival and the Inn will send a complimentary van to pick you up. Sprout Creek Inn Sustainable Slumber: When you open the front door to your cottage, there won't be concrete or rushed pedestrians or cabs, and the only honks you'll hear will be from ducks. You'll want to greet the neighbors-chickens, goats, cows, pigs, sheep, and their babies-who you'll soon get to know on a first name basis. You never thought you'd feel at home on the range, but here, surrounded by green pastures, happy animals, and a private outdoor garden, the farm life suits you-if just for the weekend. Stock your cottage pantry with artisanal cheese, charcuterie, eggs, produce, pasta, and baked goods at the Sprout Creek Farm market, then roll up your sleeves to milk the cows, feed the sheep or gather eggs. In between a hot air balloon ride (that lifts off from the farm) and a cheese-making workshop, you'll discover this is the easiest place to unplug. Chef Mark Fredette can prepare lunch or dinner, which comes with a complimentary bottle of wine and a cheese plate, so you won't have to dine elsewhere and leave the farm-except for that aerial tour of the Hudson Valley. The next time you're in Whole Foods, pick up Sprout Creek's new Kinkead or Batch 35 cheese and remember how you spent a weekend on a farm two hours north of New York City. When was the last time you thought of cheese as something more than what goes on a cracker? (34 Lauer Road, Poughkeepsie, http://www.sproutcreekfarm.org, the Country Cottage Getaway at Sprout Creek Farm is $475 for a two-night stay for up to five people. To make a reservation, call Andrea 845/485-8438 or email email@example.com.) Get There: Take Metro-North Hudson line to Poughkeepsie, then a Del Ray taxi, 845/452-1222, for the 15-minute ride to the farm. Ocean House Sustainable Slumber: Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Montauk, and Block Island, the Ocean House on Watch Hill originally opened in 1868 and comprises 13 acres of oceanfront landscape and a 650-foot private white-sand beach, where you'll spend nights listening to crashing waves and a crackling bonfire. On any given day, complimentary resort activities might include tai chi, a croquet clinic, juicing and cocktail classes, art workshops and movie screenings, and sitting on a plush couch doing nothing but enjoying live jazz. Although there are many reasons to stay here, it's the Farm + Vine series that the Ocean House is most proud of. Every week, the program offers free classes led by a food forager or chef in Seasons restaurant's open exhibition kitchen or community farm. In addition to on-site cooking demonstrations and wine tastings, guests are invited to visit local farms, wineries and fishing docks to select the ingredients for that evening's meal. The monthly Farm + Vine dinner ($95/pp) brings the best New England chefs to prepare hors d'oeuvres and a three-course, wine-paired dinner. The monthly In the Kitchen Culinary Education series will send you home feeling inspired to cook using local, in-season fare after learning some secrets from the resort's chefs. (1 Bluff Ave., Watch Hill, http://www.oceanhouseri.com/, $400/night. Receive 20% off the best available room rate when you enjoy a Farm+Vine dinner. Call 401/584-7000 for rates and availability.) Get There: Take the three-hour Amtrak ride to Westerly, RI. The resort will send a Mercedes to shuttle you the short drive back and forth; just let them know when you reserve. Buttermilk Falls Inn & Spa Sustainable Slumber: Green travelers and the city weary will find this 75-acre refuge on the Hudson River the best place near home to eat good food, reconnect with nature, and just be. You'll start the morning with farm fresh eggs, peach-topped buttermilk pancakes, homemade scones and fair trade coffee. Then you'll stroll a short distance across Swan Pond to visit the heritage chickens, honey bees, angora goats, donkeys, peacocks, and rescued llamas at the Inn's 40-acre organic Millstone Farm. After picking berries and apples in the orchard and eating them above the eponymous waterfall, you'll lie by the pool, looking through floor to ceiling windows that face lush grounds and the Hudson, never feeling more relaxed-and that's before a visit to the spa. Here in Poughkeepsie, you can have your farm and leave it, too. After tennis and a drink by the wood-burning fireplace in your room, you'll head to Henry's Farm to Table for dinner, where you'll smile at the food on your plate, knowing well, perhaps for the first time at a restaurant, just where it came from. (220 North Road, Milton, http://www.buttermilkfallsinn.com, from $300-$400 off peak, $350-$450 peak for two people) Get There: Take the 90-minute Metro-North or Amtrak train ride to Poughkeepsie station. Take a 12-minute Del Ray taxi ride (845/452-1222) to the Inn. offMetro.com promotes a “greener” lifestyle through inspiring day trips and weekend jaunts that are easily accessible via alternative modes of transportation, be it by bike, bus, subway, or boat. Visit offMetro.com for more vacation ideas.
More Places to go
Asbury Park () is a beachfront city in Monmouth County, New Jersey, United States, located on the Jersey Shore and part of the New York City Metropolitan Area. As of the 2010 United States Census, the city's population was 16,116, reflecting a decline of 814 (−4.8%) from the 16,930 counted in the 2000 Census, which had in turn increased by 131 (+0.8%) from the 16,799 counted in the 1990 Census.It was ranked the sixth-best beach in New Jersey in the 2008 Top 10 Beaches Contest sponsored by the New Jersey Marine Sciences Consortium.Asbury Park was originally incorporated as a borough by an act of the New Jersey Legislature on March 26, 1874, from portions of Ocean Township. The borough was reincorporated on February 28, 1893. Asbury Park was incorporated as a city, its current type of government, as of March 25, 1897.
Belmar is a borough in Monmouth County, New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the borough's population was 5,794, reflecting a decline of 251 (-4.2%) from the 6,045 counted in the 2000 Census, which had in turn increased by 168 (+2.9%) from the 5,877 counted in the 1990 Census.What is now Belmar was originally incorporated as Ocean Beach borough by an act of the New Jersey Legislature on April 9, 1885, from portions of Wall Township, based on the results of a referendum held two days earlier. On April 16, 1889, it became the City of Elcho borough, which lasted for a few weeks until the name was changed to the City of Belmar Borough as of May 14, 1889. The city acquired its current name, Borough of Belmar, on November 20, 1890. The borough's name means "beautiful sea" in Italian.
State of New Jersey
New Jersey is a state in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern regions of the United States. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York; on the east, southeast, and south by the Atlantic Ocean; on the west by the Delaware River and Pennsylvania; on the southwest by Delaware Bay and the state of Delaware.
Central New Jersey
New Jersey is a state in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern regions of the United States. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York; on the east, southeast, and south by the Atlantic Ocean; on the west by the Delaware River and Pennsylvania; on the southwest by Delaware Bay and the state of Delaware. At 7,354 square miles (19,050 km2), New Jersey is the fifth-smallest state based on land area, but with close to 9.3 million residents, is the 11th-most populous and the most densely populated. New Jersey's state capital is Trenton, while the state's most populous city is Newark. With the sole exception of Warren County, all counties in the state lie within the combined statistical areas of New York City or Philadelphia; consequently, the state's largest metropolitan area falls within Greater New York. New Jersey was first inhabited by Native Americans for at least 2,800 years, with the Lenape being the dominant group when Europeans arrived in the early 17th century. Dutch and the Swedish colonists founded the first European settlements in the state. The English later seized control of the region and established the Province of New Jersey, after the largest of the Channel Islands, Jersey. The colony's fertile lands and relative religious tolerance drew a large and diverse population. New Jersey was among the Thirteen Colonies that opposed Great Britain, hosting numerous pivotal battles and military commands in the American Revolutionary War. The state remained in the Union during the U.S. Civil War, and thereafter became a major center of manufacturing and immigration; it helped drive the nation's Industrial Revolution, and became the site of numerous technological and commercial innovations into the mid 20th century. New Jersey's central location in the Northeast megalopolis fueled its rapid growth and suburbanization in the second half of the 20th century. At the turn of the 21st century, its economy increasingly diversified, with major sectors including biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, specialized agriculture, and informational technology. New Jersey remains a major destination for immigrants, with one of the most multicultural populations in the U.S. Echoing historic trends, the state has increasingly re-urbanized, with growth in the cities outpacing the suburbs since 2008. New Jersey is one of the wealthiest states in the U.S., with the second highest median household income in 2017. Almost one-tenth of all households, or over 323,000 of 3.3 million, are millionaires, the highest rate per capita in the country. New Jersey's public school system consistently ranks at or among the top of all U.S. states.