Escape the City is a new series we’re launching that will highlight day/weekend trips outside of Hudson County. For the inaugural article, we picked Asbury Park for both its similarities and proximity to Jersey City.
Even short city escapes have worthy benefits—like returning with wider eyes and perhaps a souvenir in tow, or at least a little beach in your hair. Asbury Park, one of the closest shore points to Jersey City (clocking in at an hour away and skipping most shore Parkway traffic), has become an ideal destination for such a spell.
Founded in 1871 by James A. Bradley, a New York City broom manufacturer, Asbury Park saw upwards of 600,000 vacationers annually from the Victorian era to the 1960s. By 1929, the city had become a shopping destination, and home to a bustling music scene thanks to clubs boasting Arthur Pryor, Billie Holiday, and other greats of the blues era, to the rock n’ roll scene at The Stone Pony (est. 1974), attracting Springsteen, Blondie, and The Ramones.
From the 1970s on, however, the city saw hard times, even if the Stone Pony, an institution, remained alive amidst the grit. Cue The Boss: “My city of ruins…The boarded up windows The empty streets…Come on, rise up,” written for a year 2000 benefit for city revitalization.
Now, Asbury Park finds itself in the midst of an ambitious revival from its past, with developers capitalizing on its popularity (ring a bell, JC-ers?).
Recently, the iStar development group, who procured 30 acres of land, tapped hotelier David Bowd to open The Asbury. Housed in a former Salvation Army, the modern hipster-darling, 110-room hotel with rooftop movie theater and bar, opened this past Memorial Day weekend. IStar’s upcoming projects also include reopening Asbury Lanes and a hotel with retail space.
Similar to Jersey City, Asbury Park is known for LGBTQ-friendliness, and much of the pre-iStar revival is rooted in the gay community, notably the Empress Hotel, originally a 1950s luxury resort, restored in 1998 by Shep Pettibone, who opened the Paradise Nightclub and renovated the hotel thereafter.
Now commonly dubbed “Brooklyn on the beach,” it is perhaps the only shore point where one can chew a salt water taffy on the Boardwalk (Criterion Chocolates), sip pour-over coffee next to a row of potted succulents (High Voltage Coffee), while browsing Mid-Century modern decor in the same room (Here Today, Gone Tomorrow pop-up) and then taking a dip in the Atlantic (or the boardwalk waterpark, for toddlers).
A second Jersey City crossover is street art. The 2016 Wooden Walls Mural Project, on the Boardwalk, north of Convention Hall features pieces by Tony “Rubin” Sjöman, Pau Quintanajornet, Bradley Hoffer, James Vance and Mike “Porkchop” La Vallee, and make for popular photos.
For shopping, the Market at 5th Avenue, (open 2015) features local vendors and artists from Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Jersey City (Kannibal Home has an outpost).
“You can leave with a token in good taste,” notes saleswoman Kate Devine.
Big Spoon Little Spoon Naturals, a purveyor of hand-crafted, plant-based soaps, is a popular spot to wander from the sea-salted mist of the beach, into an herbal den of Calendula citrus bath bombs.
Storehouse, a wanderlust-themed marketplace, is a browsing and shopping magnet for the Instagram-ready. Meanwhile, kids and adults alike can play the boardwalk arcade, The Silverball Museum, featuring pinball machines from the 1930s to the present.
For food, while the popular and often-mobbed original Porta patio draws crowds, other establishments and pop-ups are flourishing in the age of cheap eats and food trucks—take boardwalk pop-up Mogo Tacos or North End Eats—a commingling of food trucks in a lot facing the ocean.
Capitalizing on the attraction to young folks, Jersey City native Christopher Englese, who spent his youth venturing to the spot, founded JC Daytrippers in June, which runs weekend trips to Asbury Park on a renovated school bus, painted in stripes and blasting tunes, so the carless (or those who don’t want to drink and drive) can find direct access.
In 2015, Fun’s Jack Antonoff launched Shadow of the City, an annual music festival (held in June) on Stone Pony’s Summer Stage, with appearances from The 1975, Carly Rae Jepson and more, as a love-letter to his home state.
While music of the moment seems to be in Asbury Park’s blood, fans can now shop, stay and play in style, too.