Day trip to Ocean Grove and Asbury Park from New York City
The “twin” cities of Ocean Grove and Asbury Park, New Jersey, are neighboring ocean resort communities that share the same stretch of boardwalk. The cities, however, are very different. One is filled with Victorian houses and an “old time religion” tent city, while the other features a sophisticated resort boardwalk, complete with breezy restaurants, bars, shops, and kid’s playgrounds. Both are fascinating!
As the shared boardwalk is approximately a mile long, it is easy to stroll through both communities during a single day trip from New York City. After you’ve seen them, you might want to make plans for an extended stay!
Main Avenue in Ocean Grove is the business heart of the city where you’ll find most of its restaurants and shops. It is a rare, two-way street that, when driving east, leads directly to the beach. Most of the city’s remaining streets are one-way.
On weekdays, the city lets you park without restrictions. On summer weekends, however, especially when the city is host to first-rate entertainment or special religious events, contact the Ocean Grove Chamber of Commerce for specific parking information.
Shops along Main Avenue spill their colorful merchandise onto the sidewalk. Goods include beach equipment, local and imported crafts, clothing, and specialty items for the home. Between shops are authentic, small-town, locally-owned restaurants.
Tip: Buy brownies at the Ocean Grove Bake Shoppe at 55 Main Avenue. All their bars are delicious, but their chocolate brownies are absolutely incredible!
Ocean Grove, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, features more Victorian gingerbread homes than any other place in the United States. Consider visiting just to tour these interesting buildings and see their stunning floral displays. If you like to sketch architecture and flowers, this is the place to do it.
Tip: Contact The Historical Society of Ocean Grove (732 774-1869) for guided tour information.
Large homes, like the one above, line Ocean Grove’s streets. Many are inns (small hotels) or bed and breakfasts (converted homes).
Ocean Grove is also called “God’s Square Mile at the Jersey Shore.” In 1869, a group of Methodist ministers established The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, bought the land upon which Ocean Grove sits, and began running the area as a Christian summer camp. Since inception, the town has grown to from a private religious retreat to a popular summer destination for religious and secular activities. Many of these activities are held in The Great Auditorium (pictured above), with seating for 6,000 people. Others are held on a long, grassy mall and on the beach.
Tip: Check www.OceanGrove.org for a list of religious activities and secular entertainment events.
In the beginning, The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association designated areas for summer tent housing, administration buildings, and The Great Auditorium. Property not used by the Association was leased to individuals in the community through 99-year contracts.
Currently, 114 Association-owned tents are erected in the village between May and September. Campers rent the same locations year-after-year (new leases are awarded based service to the Association), individualizing their tents with flowers, colorful furniture, and cute signs. Each tent is approximately 300 square feet, with canvas living space in the front and a small wooden structure in back containing a kitchen and bathroom.
Make a point of seeing them all, as each one is colorfully different!
Between the Great Auditorium and the beach is a long, grassy mall, surrounded on each side by Victorian homes. Looking away from the auditorium, in the opposite direction, you see the boardwalk entrance and the beach itself.
Ocean Grove’s beach differs from Asbury Park’s in that the area between the beach and the boardwalk contains flower-dusted sand dunes and there is no commercial activity on the boardwalk itself.
Special events related to The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association are held throughout the village and on portions of the beach. If you are Christian, this is a very fun place to congregate. If not, it is still a great place to visit, especially because of its home-spun hospitality, unusually beautiful neighborhoods, high-quality secular entertainment, non-commercial boardwalk, and dune-lined beaches.
Of all the ocean beach cities I’ve seen on my travels, Ocean Grove is the most unique. Best, it is a short day trip from New York City.
Walking to Asbury Park
The boardwalk between Ocean City and Asbury Park is continuous. Between the two communities is a section of white-washed shops that include a popular restaurant where every table has a breezy view of the ocean.
Book-ending each end of Asbury Park’s boardwalk are two pavilions. The southern, non-renovated building (below) is called “The Casino Arcade.” (Casino means “games,” not gambling.) The second, The Grand Arcade at Convention Hall, is at the north end.
This old casino arcade decisively marks the differences between Ocean Grove and Asbury Park. You’ll be surprised at the extreme contrast between the north and south sides of the building.
Inside the casino are several large graphics, including black and white graphical birds framed in orange balls and a female mer-octopus. She is about 12-times life size, with a 1920s flapper head and an octopus body that stretches on for at least 30 feet. This mural was created by www.Porktomic.com, a design house that specializes graffiti-like drawings, many of which commonly depict skulls and crossbones, not cute girls.
The scenery changes 100% when you enter Asbury Park from Ocean Grove. While the buildings you see to the left look exceptionally modern, they are the original, early-1900s shore buildings that have been recently renovated.
The beach itself also changes in appearance due to the absence of sand dunes.
Businesses along the boardwalk include several restaurants and snack shops, craft shops, an antique shop, and import shops (French, Bali, more!).
Wonder about what to buy for original souvenirs that demonstrate your personal touch while visiting the Jersey Shore? Two shops, Hot Sand and Laplaca Pottery Works, let you make your own glass sculptures and pottery.
There is plenty for young children to do at Asbury Park besides play in the sand. The beach features a nice playground (free) and . . .
. . . the Splash Asbury Park water park. Current rates: Days – kids $9 and adults $5. Evenings (from 4 PM) – kids $6 and adults $3.
The boardwalk also features bicycle and cart rentals (handy if you want to explore more of Asbury Park and the surrounding area), beach equipment rentals, and a miniature golf course. Clean-but-seasonal rest/changing rooms are located near the middle.
As you near the north end of the boardwalk, you’ll pass Tim McLoone’s Supper Club. Dine on the boardwalk or on its beautiful, upper deck.
At the north end is the second pavilion, The Grand Arcade at Convention Hall, with restored sea-green and yellow, terra cotta designs. Inside the arcade are more shops, pubs and restaurants.
Note: The boardwalk continues past The Grand Arcade, but without shops.
Along the beach-side of The Grand Arcade, stretching to the ocean, is the fabulous The Beach Bar, featuring cushions, comfy chairs, and tables along its porch, as well as evening entertainment. Enjoy a drink, snack and/or dinner while enjoying ocean breezes, the sound of crashing surf, and the sight of happy bathers.
This view, which looks south from The Beach Bar’s porch, shows the full stretch of beach, from Asbury Park through Ocean Grove.
Connections from New York City
You can drive to the Ocean Grove/Asbury Park area from New York City via the New Jersey Garden State Expressway in about an hour.
No Car? You can also reach it via a New Jersey train from Pennsylvania Station (between 31st and 33rd Streets), or a New Jersey bus from the NY NJ Port Authority. For more information, consult www.NJTransit.com.
Once you arrive, you can stroll to the shore, or take a cab. Google or Bing for a substantial list of services.
Consider staying overnight! The area loaded with stunning inns, bed and breakfasts, and other lodging. Check www.NJTransit.com for special deals.
Ask Karen Little at karen@Littleviews.com. Karen is the author and photographer of this article, initially published 2009 but is up-to-date as of summer, 2017. All rights reserved by www.Littleviews.com.