Story and photos by Erin Lindsey and Denny Brownell
Erin Lindsey and her husband, Denny Brownell, run the Escape Brooklyn blog. They are experts about getting out of NYC and into adventures with friends. Visit their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages to learn more.
The Boardwalk draws crowds to the beach, but visitors also enjoy other entertainment.
The Jersey Shore may get a bad rap, but it’s not all clubs and partying. Located just an hour and a half from New York City, Asbury Park is quickly becoming one of the coolest destinations on the East Coast, where the music and art scenes have just as much allure as the beach. The Boardwalk, nearly destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, has bounced back to life and is more bustling and unique than ever.
Many Americans are already familiar with this cool little town on the Atlantic Ocean — but it’s not because of its beaches. New Jersey’s native son Bruce Springsteen named his debut album “Greetings from Asbury Park,” a homage to the Jersey shore after playing in a handful of different local bands. Though the album wasn’t very well received at the time, it went on to be considered one of the best rock albums in American history. The cover, which featured a vintage postcard from Asbury Park, became a symbol of the city and can be seen everywhere from souvenirs, to giant murals, to giant crocheted art pieces. On any given night, music can be heard blaring out of Asbury’s bars and venues that line the Boardwalk, keeping the musical tradition alive.
The visual arts scene is alive and well here, too. In downtown Asbury Park, Parlor Gallery, Art 629 and Palette Gallery are traditional art galleries that are committed to the city’s burgeoning art scene. Many shops and boutiques offer art mixed in with designer goods, antiques and surf supplies.
Red Moon is a boutique filled with small-batch goods by passionate creators and artists from across the country. Owner Christina Aiello curates events in the beautiful space — from art shows to pop-up vegan chocolate shops. Across the street, neighbor Glide Surf Co. serves the Asbury Park surfing community in a colorful shop full of surfboards, apparel and lifestyle accessories such as bags, hats and sunglasses.
Aside from the downtown area, the Boardwalk in Asbury is also host to a great variety of shops, restaurants and attractions. For a bit of nostalgia, check out Silverball Museum Arcade, which has a collection of more than 600 pinball machines from the 1940s through the late 1990s. You can easily kill an afternoon here, where a $10 admission gives you free reign to play for an hour; upgrade to an all-day pass for $25.
Speaking of nostalgia, Asbury Park is full of it, and nothing is more emblematic of that than the old Asbury Park Convention Hall. Since a hurricane nearly destroyed it in 2012, the space has bounced back, first as a public art venue and now as a commercial hub for local artists and designers. Several restaurants and shops have opened inside the structure, which was built in 1929 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Of course, no road trip is complete without exploring culinary options! Every year, new restaurants and bars pop up on the Boardwalk and in the downtown area. Asbury Park’s location in the Garden State means a wealth of farms are nearby, making fresh seasonable food readily available. For breakfast or a coffee, check out Asbury Park's staple Cafe Volan on the very hip Bangs Avenue; alternately, High Voltage is a great cafe/gallery/vintage retailer, located right on the Boardwalk.
Almost next door, Asbury Park Yacht Club is a great spot to take a break for fish tacos or a cocktail, and its surf shop is sure to have anything you may have forgotten for your beach day. For dinner, Talula’s is a hot spot serving the very best pizza, sandwiches, toasts and salads in Asbury Park. Save room for their house-made ice creams that make an appearance on their dessert menu — because as everyone knows, ice cream just tastes better at the beach.