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This East Coast Gem Boasts Sandy Beaches, Historic Architecture and a Vibrant Music Scene

Not to mention a bustling boardwalk and thriving arts community

asbury park new jersey beach
dan tarradellas/Getty Images

Come summertime, there's only one place New Yorkers want to be—anywhere but the city. And while the Hamptons undeniably have their charm, I’d like to make the case for checking out a slightly edgier and decidedly more fun alternative: Asbury Park, NJ.

The Jersey Shore town has long been a favorite for rock 'n roll fans (Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi both got their start here), as well as the LGBTQ+ community and architecture buffs, but it somehow still feels like a bit of an underrated destination for most travelers as I discovered during a recent weekend trip there with my family of four.

The big draw, of course, is Asbury Park's proximity to New York City. Hit the road at the right time of day and you could be relaxing on the not-too-crowded beach in just one hour (although you should probably count on it taking a little longer than that—our Friday afternoon drive down took about 75 minutes). Beyond that, however, is the fact that this seaside town has a little bit of everything for everyone. Here’s what to do, what to eat and where to stay in Asbury Park.

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Bruce Springsteen at the Stone Pony Asbury Park
Bobby Bank /Getty Images

What to Do

Asbury Park was dubbed "the coolest small town in America" by travel mags not too long ago and that’s in no small part down to its storied musical past. The main event here is the legendary The Stone Pony venue that launched the careers of local artists The Boss, Southside Johnny and Steve Van Zandt. During the summer months, the locale opens up its Summer Stage in the back lot where big acts from today and yesterday play their sets (Sum 41 played one night we were there which really brought me back to my high school days). Other music venues worth checking out include Wonder Bar, the House of Independents and The Saint, although truth be told, you’re just as likely to stumble onto some live music at a local bar, café or hotel lobby in this town.

Equally famous with locals and visitors alike is the over a mile-long beach and the buzzing boardwalk. The sands here are soft and clean, attracting sunbathers, swimmers, fishers and surfers. And while the boardwalk may not be as big as some other seaside towns on the Shore, it manages to pack a lot in. Of note is the Silverball Retro Arcade that houses more than 175 pinball machines (!) manufactured between 1950 and today. Admission is (in this New Yorker's eyes) very reasonable at $20 for six hours of play. My 4-year-old son was thrilled to explore this space (they have stools you can take with you from game to game so littles can reach up to play), while I hung out with his 2-year-old sister outside testing out some of the kiddie rides and walking on the beach. There’s also the Asbury Splash Park for cooling kids off during the hotter months and lots of places to grab a snack or a meal when hunger strikes (more on that below).

asbury-park-convention-hall
Matthew T. Carroll/Getty Images

Architecture enthusiasts will marvel at the majestic Convention Hall located on the boardwalk, as well as the adjacent Paramount Theatre and the Grand Arcade that connects the two. Both structures were built in the 1920s and are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. To bring a little something home with you, The Convention Hall hosts a marketplace featuring locally-made clothes and design. Further down the boardwalk is the historic Carousel Building and Park Casino, two vacant and striking beaux arts structures that tell the tale of Asbury Park's storied past. Beyond that, there are Victorian-era mansions dotted along the beach that will make HGTV lovers swoon.

What to Eat

You're spoiled for choice with good eats down by the Shore, and Asbury Park is no exception. Breakfast favorites include Cardinal Provisions (get the cacio e pepe scrambled eggs and the chicken and waffles) and The Buttered Biscuit (biscuits, obviously, but don't sleep on the French toast either). The Diner at Asbury Lanes is another great way to start your day, although having sampled the decadent milkshakes here (with or without booze), I recommend saving this one for lunch or dinner, to be followed by a bowling match afterwards in the vintage bowling alley next door that often features live music to boot.

On the boardwalk, we tucked into lobster rolls and fish tacos at Cousins Maine Lobster but there's all manner of beach-friendly dishes here including oysters, hot dogs, pizza, crepes and, of course, lots of ice cream.

For dinner, we went to a very happening (and possibly a little too loud for small kids on the weekend) Porta, an Italian-American eatery with pizza, pasta, salads, meatballs and a large bar. Next visit, I'm checking out the popular seafood spot The Bonney Read in downtown.

asbury park hotel
Asbury Park Hotel

Where to Stay

The Asbury has everything you want in a hotel—it's hip yet accessible, features spacious and comfy rooms (my family of four fit quite happily in one of the Panoramic Suites) and conveniently located just a couple of blocks away from the beach. Oh, and it offers an outdoor pool during the warmer months. I also appreciated the lively lobby that has multiple seating areas, board games, a pool table and a pinball machine. Bonus: You don't even have to leave the comfort of your own room to sample some of the city's vibrant music scene—the lobby hosts artists on a near nightly basis. And while I didn't get a chance to check it out, the rooftop bar looks like the perfect spot to kick back with a cocktail or two.

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Executive Editor

Alexia Dellner is an executive editor at PureWow who has over ten years of experience covering a broad range of topics including health, wellness, travel, family, culture and...