>> Spring Lake, New Jersey, is a pristine, ocean-front resort maintained by local citizens determined not to let the fringes of its vistas degenerate into a common tourist trap.
EARLY EVENING ON THE SPRING LAKE OCEAN BOARD WALK
To keep the area pure, Spring Lake's mile-and-a-half long beach and frontage road are free from fast-food shops. Best, franchises are not allowed within the town's borders, resulting in the village that retains its authenticity, from its treatment of nature and architecture to the unique shops in its shopping district.
MID-SEPTEMBER, YOU HAVE THE BEACH TO YOURSELF. 2003
In the 1800s, Spring Lake was a resort destination for wealthy New York and Philadelphian families who arrived in style by train or horse-drawn coach. Women and children stayed on for the summer, while their husbands visited on weekends. By the 1920s, cars became common, reducing the time it took to commute from the big cities, and consequently, many seasonal vacationers elected to become year-around residents. Via today's freeways, Spring Lake is approximately 60 miles from downtown New York.
Natural events also shaped Spring Lake's transformation. In the early 1900s, several fires destroyed its Jersey Shore-style wooden inns, clearing the way for private property development. Given the nature of the area, new buildings often copy the look those lost inns by incorporating turrets (cone-shaped roofs), wrap-around porches, and huge windows, making the village appear older than it actually is. Tourism, however, was increasingly squeezed as town laws gradually limited the development of new, or replacement of old, hotels and inns. A few delightful bed-and-breakfasts have since opened, but with only four or five rooms per dwelling, the total number of tourist rooms is low in contrast to the desirability of this pristine resort area.
Spring Lake restricts dining-room liquor-service to just one establishment, although the city is not dry and "bring your own" is popular. Needless to say, refinement is a characteristic of a typical guest because "ruffians and carousers" are simply not welcome. Visit Spring Lake to enjoy the sun, beautiful neighborhoods, and a robust surf. Avoid it if your idea of fun is to stumble drunk on the beach, or hoot 'n holler on city streets.
FISHING IN WATER ROUGHED UP BY A MAJOR FLORIDA HURRICANE. SEPT. 2003
What does this mean to you? A quick trip from New York by train (Penn Station) or car, you visit Spring Lake to romp on its commerce-free beach, ride the majestic surf, fish, have your picture taken on quaint, wooden bridges, eat gourmet food (especially homemade ice cream and chocolate candy), browse unique boutiques, take cooking lessons, and see lots and lots of mansions.
SWEET, CLEAN, SPRING LAKE TRAIN STOP. (NEW JERSEY TRANSIT)
The best rooms are booked in advance between mid-June and mid-September, with weekends being packed. Fortunately, it is usually possible to get nice rooms during the week, although don't plan on staying past Thursday night. Early fall provides the brightest-blue days, fresh smells, high surf, fishing, fewer people, and more weekend rooms, but less shopping, and no life-guards.
Off season, you can snag spa-like rooms at reduced rates. While you can still wiggle your toes in the sand, and tickle the ocean with fishing gear, visiting at this time means that you will not see Spring Lakes' two, exceptionally rare, ocean-water pools filled, get a tan, or investigate all the inns in the area as some close in the fall.
TARA COTTA BEACH HOUSE DETAIL. EACH TILE IS ABOUT 2.5 FEET TALL
If you stay over night, the best rooms are nearest the ocean, roughly within three blocks of the beach itself. Only a few narrow inns directly face the ocean (most rooms, however, do not get a direct view), but fortunately, the ocean-front The Breakers (a world-class hotel) provides the ultimate, resort experience as it features several dining rooms, liquor service, elevators, whirlpools, wrap-around porches, and a big, outdoor pool overlooking the ocean.
Walking and biking are the best ways to explore the area. If you come by train, many innkeepers will be happy to pick you up from the station. If you don't own a bike, or are unprepared to bring one, you can rent one, or use an inn's courtesy bike.
The expansive ocean beach is the main attractive, providing plenty of room to tan, build sand castles, collect shells, surf, fish, and stroll. Its boardwalk is great for joggers and walkers alike, while the beach houses on each end of the town provide decks with shade, comfy chairs, and lunch during the summer.
NEW MANSIONS ARE BUILT TO LOOK HISTORIC. SEPT. 2003
Spring Lake is named for the numerous springs that bubble into a 16 acre, fresh-water lake that is central to the picturesque Devine Park. Here you can tramp over wooden bridges, smell flowers, rent boats, consume picnics (without sand filtering into your food), listen to local bands, and enjoy views of mansions, churches, and big inns. The park is a popular place to stage wedding and commemorative photos, so plan on taking snapshots with abandon. Register with the town, however, to take formal pictures of a large group.
ONE OF MANY SPRING LAKE PARK VISTAS
Equally interesting is the flower-filled, 3rd Avenue business district. About five blocks long, it features New York-quality boutiques and clothing stores, furniture stores, small restaurants, a surf shop, a picnic shop, a transplanted New York City gourmet deli (complete with antique juke box and brass cash register), one of New Jersey's last independent book stores, two, country-fresh candy companies, and rich, homemade ice cream sold near the railroad depot. Best, franchise stores are nowhere to be seen, smartly eliminated by tough zoning.
If you come unprepared for shore adventures, or are prepared but need expert advice, ask TR Deveney, owner of the 3rd Avenue Surf Shop. As the town's unofficial ocean ambassador, he can advise you on everything related to the surf as well as rent or sell you the appropriate equipment. If, however, you have children who are unconcerned about surf conditions, visit the nearby hardware shop for inexpensive beach toys.
VITAL COMMUNITY ASSET - THE 3RD AVENUE SURF SHOP!
Just north of the business district, situated in a tree-lined neighborhood, is the Spring Lake community center which houses a fireplace-warmed, old library (a "must see") and a perfectly furbished playhouse.
SPRING LAKE COMMUNITY CENTER, LIBRARY ENTRANCE.
The rest of the Spring Lake is comprised of beautiful neighborhoods resting under canopies of old-growth trees. Mansions, new and old, are everywhere. Landscaping is lush. If you plan on taking photos of interior neighborhoods, however, check in with the police department first so that everyone understands your intention. While the streets are beautiful and open to the strolling public, the neighborhoods that are not a part of hospitality areas are watchful.
For more information, visit www.SpringLake.org and my second article about Spring Lake, New Jersey.
To Part 2: Selected Inns in Spring Lake - A Jersey Shore Resort Near New York City.
Article and photos by Karen Little. Map annotated from Microsoft Streets and Trips. First published on 12/26/2004. All rights reserved by www.Littleviews.com.
CREDITS: Article and photos by Karen Little. Map annotated from Microsoft Streets and Trips.