April 22, 2024

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Why Asbury Park Is the Coolest Place on the Jersey Shore

Why Asbury Park Is the Coolest Place on the Jersey Shore

This summer, head to a destination with a bit more rock ‘n’ roll.

Long known as a destination for music history buffs and architecture fans, Asbury Park has become an unlikely cultural hub on the Jersey Shore.

The city has been growing in popularity since the ’90s, but it has exploded as must-visit jaunt from New York City (about a 70-minute drive away) within the last decade.

“Asbury Park isn’t just for us locals anymore,” Tina Kerekes, a local designer and manager at the Danny Clinch Transparent Gallery, told Travel + Leisure. “We’re attracting people from all over the world now.”

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An average stroll through town could reveal a drag queen bingo party or an impromptu drum circle on the boardwalk. Asbury Park delights in the unexpected.

“This town is about acceptance,” Rachel Ana Dobken, a local musician, told T+L. “People here are so accepting of new art and music, anything that’s eclectic and unique.”

Asbury Park is also about creativity. It seems like every single local has their own pet project: a newspaper editor operates the popular coffee shop, drag balls are run by local restaurant managers, and musicians own vintage clothing boutiques. Meanwhile, the smell of the beach hangs on every block and swimsuits are acceptable attire almost everywhere you go.

If it’s possible for a destination to have a je ne sais quoi, Asbury Park might be the East Coast’s top contender.

Asbury Park History

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Asbury Park was, at its inception, a carnival town. In the later part of the 19th century, people came for its newfangled merry-go-round and boardwalk. By 1930, the Convention Hall and Paramount Theatre began gathering crowds for live entertainment. It then quickly became known as a center for culture, which is still very much the spirit today.

Pay homage to the days of yore by flipping through time at the Silverball Museum. The boardwalk staple has more than 600 working pinball machines that date back to the 1950s. Spend an hour enjoying an interactive history lesson or play all you can flip on the machines.

Asbury Park Music Scene

Music is the pulse of Asbury Park. There’s an impressive amount of live music options for a 1.6-square-mile city (at least 10 official venues, plus almost every bar and restaurant around).

To get a real sense of the scene, head to The Stone Pony. The legendary venue is most famous for launching the careers of Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi. Or, you could visit the nearby Wonder Bar (“Bruce hangs out there on a Sunday,” one local advised). But when locals want to check out free music, they’re more likely to be found at the Asbury Park Yacht Club, Langosta Lounge, or Danny Clinch Transparent Gallery.

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“You can’t find parking here on the weekends anymore,” said Kerekes. “We know we’re creating history. A lot of these musicians are up-and-coming. You know they’re going places. You can feel it. You can see it.”

The Asbury Lanes music venue became a part of the Asbury Park resurgence when it reopened in 2019. In the early 2000s, the performance space was legendary for the DIY and punk scenes, with a vintage bowling alley in the back. Although it has gotten a high-tech upgrade from its early days, there are still hints of the past. You’ll find stickers and posters from historical shows plastered above benches from the 1960s bowling alley.

And for one weekend every September, Sea Hear Now — a music, art, and surf festival — takes over the beach. The lineup is always an impressive mix of local up-and-comers alongside acts like Stevie Nicks, Green Day, and Courtney Barnett.

Asbury Park Art Offerings

Art in Asbury Park exists on the street, along the boardwalk, and in gallery spaces. The Wooden Walls Mural Project festoons the empty walls of the boardwalk with work from internationally recognized artists. Meanwhile, places like Art629, Parlor Gallery, and Whitepoint curate contemporary work from local artists and others around the world.

Where to Shop in Asbury Park

Interwoven‘s curated boutique hums with equal vibes of urban cool and beachy relaxation. The shop stocks designers like Rachel Comey and Clare Vivier alongside exclusive Asbury Park merch.

Courtesy of Sanctum Handmade

Drop by the Convention Hall for the closest thing Asbury Park has to a mall. The marketplace houses shops like Sanctum Handmade (featuring locally made, bohemian jewelry with plenty of crystals) and Drift (stocked with beach dresses designed to go from day to night).

Browse for vintage goodies at the cave of treasures known as Antique Emporium of Asbury Park. Everything from costume jewelry to plush carpets to weathered books can be found on its shelves.

Asbury Park LGBTQ+ Community

Asbury Park has long been known as the unofficial gay capital of New Jersey. The influence of the gay community is so strong here that it’s credited as being among the first to kickstart Asbury Park’s revival. (The first Asbury Pride parade was held in 1970.)

Get a peek into the LGBTQ+ scene at weekly drag bingo at Paradise. Nearby, Georgie’s, which has been in operation since 1999, bills itself as a “gay ‘Cheers.'”

Best Asbury Park Beaches

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For sheer accessibility, you can’t beat Asbury Park Beach. In less than a minute, you can go from sipping margaritas on a boardwalk patio to splashing in the waves. But it’s this very convenience that can cause the beach to get crowded during the summer. With that in mind, although there’s more than one mile of sand, you’ll want to arrive early and stake your claim.

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, visitors must pay a daily beach fee. Passes are $6 on weekdays and $9 on weekends and holidays for visitors ages 13 and older. Anyone younger than 12 can enjoy the beach for free.

Four-legged friends are almost universally adored in Asbury Park. But there’s only one place they’re allowed on the sand: the Asbury Park Dog Beach. The dog-friendly beach permits pups to run off leash, as long as owners remain vigilant. You’ll find the small enclave on the northernmost part of Asbury Park’s coast. Enter through Fisherman’s Parking Lot and follow the sound of barking.

While surfing is a major part of Asbury Park culture, you won’t find too many locals hitting the waves at their town’s main beach. Many tend to head to Avon, the next beach south, where the waters tend to be a bit less crowded, but the surf is just as good.

Best Asbury Park Restaurants

With all the culture on its streets, it only makes sense that Asbury Park also has a thriving culinary scene. Within its borders, you’ll find everything from standard boardwalk fare to elevated Ethiopian cuisine.

If you’re looking to dig into the local food offerings, start at Cardinal Provisions, which is a favorite, particularly for weekend brunch, when people pour in for chicken and waffles, cacio e pepe scrambled eggs, and strawberry rhubarb French toast.

Veronica Lola Photography/Courtesy of Cardinal Provisions

When you start to get peckish on the beach, head to Pop’s Garagefor tacos. Located directly on the boardwalk, this colorful and sustainable Mexican eatery is the closest you’ll get to a tropical getaway on the Jersey Shore.

Frank’s Deli is a bit off the beaten path, but when you’re craving some old-school Americana vibes, it’s worth the trek across town. This is the type of Anthony-Bourdain-ate-here greasy spoon that feels like a perfect relic from a bygone era. Make like a local and order one of Frank’s famous “overstuffed” sandwiches, which certainly live up to their name. And like all the best diners, this one is cash only.

When the occasion calls for a celebration, hit up Pascal & Sabine, a Parisian-style brasserie. The space’s sleek, dark walls deliver an elevated ambience, and its menu — with options like caviar, steak tartare, and escargot — packs a sophisticated European punch.

Deborah Smith/Foxtrot Media/Courtesy of The Bonney Read

In the heart of downtown, you’ll find The Bonney Read, one of Asbury Park’s most popular seafood restaurants (which is saying something in a seaside town). Go for the raw bar, stay for the rum flights. Just be sure you know how to get back to your hotel.

Best Asbury Park Hotels

Locals who have been around for decades may credit The Asbury as the place that kicked off the destination’s most recent wave of tourism. Located just a few blocks from the beach, the 110-room hotel has become a visible presence in the town, and it’s perhaps its social programming that has brought it to prominence.

“The Asbury was always about creating a central meeting place,” David Bowd, part owner of The Asbury, told T+L. “It was always intended to be approachable and affordable. People feel very comfortable in it.”

On a typical visit, you’re likely to find locals and visitors gathering in the lobby for nightly live music, on the rooftop for artisanal cocktails, or around the pool when temperatures start to climb.

Nikolas Koenig/Courtesy of Asbury Ocean Club Hotel

If you’re looking for glamour right on the beach, opt for the Asbury Ocean Club, which opened in 2019, welcoming a new type of visitor to the destination. Most of the hotel’s 54 rooms are located on the fourth floor of a 17-story beachfront tower (the rest of the building is made of up fancy condominiums). Hotel guests get access to the building’s luxe amenities, including a rooftop pool, suite-style rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows, and an ocean-view fitness center with complimentary yoga classes.