This year, even more than most, we are grateful for a Jersey Summer. Just when fall was coming to a close last year and we thought we had finally weathered the worst of Hurricane Snooki & co., our beachfront towns and families suffered a much more serious blow at the hands of Superstorm Sandy and all that comes with the onslaught of a natural disaster. It was a dark time for our normally disco-lit shoreline. What is interesting, though, is that disaster did that funny little thing where it brought us closer together, drew out our inherent empathy and reminded us that though times might be tough, they sure could be tougher.
Besides, it’s just natural for New Jersians to stick together. Having grown up collectively deflecting this sort of strange, blind disdain that so much of the world tends to throw at us, we’re used to defending our own. At the end of the day, we just laugh right back and we never pay too much mind, because amongst it all, we know we’ve got it good.
So if you’ve also grown up in a Jersey Summer (or happen to be visiting), chances are there’s a few things you might be familiar with:
The Beach Guide:
We start at the top near Sandy Hook. When I was a kid my dad used to take me, my brother and a bunch of our friends to the bayside area of “The Hook” where we’d take part in the kind of activities only little kids can truly get a kick out of like, say, catching minnows while simultaneously playing Ninja Turtles or something. Being apparently both a fearless foodie as well as a curious tomboy, I’d somehow end up sticking the minnows in my nose and teeth every time and posing for the camera. Which is probably where all my great decision-making stems from.
But beyond being so obviously kid-friendly, Sandy Hook is also a designated federal park reserve and has a port side, a surf side, and plenty of homey things like bed and breakfasts to appeal to everyone. Oh! And there’s a nude beach. Yup, Gunnison beach is all “suns out buns out” for you little (or, hey, maybe big) exhibitions out there.
But there is WAY more than just The Hook. Most anyone who hails from one of Jersey’s “Shore Points” will have grown up either going to a public beach or to a private beach club somewhere between Sandy Hook and Cape May. Weirdly enough, our public beaches actually charge an entrance fee. But get over it because they’re kept extremely clean and they serve as supreme observation points for spotting hot lifeguards in their natural habitat.
Long Branch, I’m looking at you.
Fine, you caught me – Belmar, too.
On top of it, each public beach has a boardwalk and a central hub of its own – these fabulous, cultural microcosms in the form of food digs and fashions. There’s the glamorous Pier Village, the regulars’ West End, the picture-perfect strip in Ocean Grove and the ever-eccentric Cookman Ave. that’s come back to life in Asbury just to name a few. Then there are the gorgeous beaches and bays of family-centric places like Avalon and Long Beach Island (“LBI” for the locals). And, of course, how can we neglect the historic Atlantic City where you can pretend to be starring in Boardwalk Empire to your heart’s desire while simultaneously having the Atlantic on one side and a roulette table on the other and probably/definitely losing at least five hundred dollars by Sunday.
Really, though, no matter where you land along the coast, the Jersey Shore in the summertime is like nothing else.
But what we have in Jersey that doesn’t exist in even a fraction of the same abundance anywhere else are these magical places called Beach Clubs. Think private pools, beachfront restaurants and family-owned cabanas equipped with showers and refrigerators and even multiple rooms at some places!
Let’s be honest: If Gatsby had a better head on his shoulders, he probably would have come down the shore instead of all that Hamptons nonsense and then he wouldn’t have gotten into that whole big mess to begin with. But alas, the white and blue umbrella-lined haven of Deal Casino has since found quite a few happy patrons in his absence.
The Going-out Guide:
What’s one to do after a long day at the beach spent surfing, kite-boarding, fishing, or simply lounging under the sun with a good book, half of the chair in the water and half out? Go out on the town, of course!
Nashville-worthy live music can be found almost anywhere in Jersey during the summertime. What with classics like the Stone Pony, Convention Hall and the Berkeley Carteret, it’s no wonder Asbury hosted the Bamboozle Music Festival last year and still lays claim to Bruce Springsteen’s heart.
AP Vibe sets up block parties where patrons can stroll the streets with their drink of choice, window-shopping and enjoying their evening in the same way one might meander through the stone-cut streets of the New Orleans’ French Quarter. Farmer’s Markets are just about everywhere. West End runs the antique car show annually and Blues by the beach weekly. And on top of it all, young artist collectives like “Art in the Park” and “By, The People” are bound to pop up if you keep an eye out for them.
Now, I still need to cover the missing topics of “food and drink,” and seeing as we don’t have the time for me to ramble on (because I absolutely will) about every bar and restaurant that I consider a must, I’m going do my best to provide the highlights in a concise list with as few run-on sentences as possible –clearly not including this one:
Beach Bar – the conjoined twin of Anchor’s bend on the North Side, Beach Bar is a leg of convention hall that juts out into the Atlantic, serves the finest rum buckets on the East Coast and attracts everyone from locals to bridal parties to the occasional “how’d-this-guy-get-in?” It’s a guaranteed good time and the perfect way to kick-start a night.
Porta – PIZZA. “Boom Boom Room.” ‘nuff said.
Bar A – The shot wheel! The cabanas! The wretched yet wonderful 50 cent beers! Ah, Bar A, what’s not to love!?
Just one thing: if you’re no longer in college, you should no longer be regularly attending Beat the clock Tuesdays. Sorry, but someone had to tell you. That being said, if you’re STILL in college, you better be on the 7:16 train from Allenhurst every single week.
Revel/D’Jais/Jenks/Avenue Ntz Ntz Ntz. $ $ $.
Watermark – surprisingly affordable, specialty cocktails in a gawwwwgeous *ROOFTOP* setting right overlooking the, you-guessed-it, water!
Leggets – dive bar in the sense that you didn’t realize the Titanic song is exactly what you wanted to hear until you were halfway through the song belting it out with every other person at the bar – for the third time that night. It is, in a word, glorious.
Ospreys – a large, confusing bar with a personality disorder and throngs of attractive people.
Parkerhouse, Sea Girt – a 134 year-old Victorian home that is somehow a three-level indoor/outdoor bar and serves $10 lobster, $1 bud lights and has a bartender named Dyana who makes the world go round.
OMG I’m STILL talking and I haven’t even covered food.
Okay, so we know about the pizza and the subs and all that jazz, right? Jersey undoubtedly has the best of both. Then there’s the obligatory box of salt-water taffy one has to buy whenever they visit Point Pleasant or Seaside. Oh, and we can’t miss the funnel cakes and zeppoles that are deep-fried, covered in powdered sugar and served at any and every town fair in the state!
There’s just so much to name, it’s overwhelming. But, maybe I can try to wrap it up with this:
Wake up near the beach and savor a toasted Jersey bagel with pork roll and cheese and a Rook coffee for breakfast. Then, treat yourself to some Windmill for lunch and top the day off with a Caprese salad, complete with Jersey tomatoes and fresh basil just to feel a little bit better about all those *calories omgsh*
…continue on with an Italian sausage and peppers, hit up Lighthouse for dessert and roll sideways to the bar if you need to. This is Jersey, baby. Appetites and attitudes – it’s what we do!