When I tell people I’m from New Jersey (and even worse, the Jersey Shore!), I inevitably get one of the following reactions: 1) An off-key chorus from a Bon Jovi or Bruce Springsteen tune 2) A bad joke about Chris Christie 3) The question, “What exit?” 4) A fist pump and mock imitation of the Situation chanting, “Gym, Tan, Laundry.” I just smile knowingly. After Labor Day, when when the crowds head back to the city, there’s no place I’d rather be than the Jersey Shore. Here’s why.
1. No BENNYs and Free Beaches
Come summer’s end, it’s common to see the phrase “BENNYs Go Home” scrawled in the sand. BENNY is an acronym for Bayonne, Elizabeth, Newark, New York and refers to all the northern city folk who escape to Jersey’s beaches each summer. After Labor Day, they head home and the beaches are blissfully empty—and, also, free. New Jersey is one of the few states where you need to buy a badge to use the beach during summer season. After Labor Day, the badge checkers disappear and the locals can finally take back the beach.
2. Old-Fashioned Ice Cream
You can have your fancy, artisanal ice cream flavors such as balsamic strawberry or Szechuan peppercorn chocolate, scooped by a guy with a handlebar mustache into a handmade organic cone. At the Jersey Shore, we’re old-school and stick to the classics like chocolate, vanilla, mint chocolate chip, and cookies n’ cream covered in sprinkles. The best, in my opinion, is served at Hoffman’s. In June and July the line winds out the door, but in September, you can walk right up to the counter and order a scoop.
3. The Surf
For many people, summer is synonymous with surfing. But real surfers know the ocean is usually flat in the summer months. From September onward, the east coast reaps the benefits of tropical storm season and the swell picks up. And believe it or not, Jersey gets some legit waves.
4. Boardwalk Kitsch
The Jersey boardwalks have yet to be hipster-fied a la New York’s Rockaway Beach and that’s fine by me. I love the boardwalk fries and fudge shops, and the cheesy souvenir stores selling hermit crabs and shell art—and no matter how old I get, I still get a thrill riding the merry-go-round and ferris wheel, playing skee ball, and shooting a water gun into a clown’s mouth until a balloon bursts.
5. The Seafood
Some of my favorite restaurants are seasonal and that means September is the last month to get my fix. The best spots are no-frills, like Red’s Lobster Pot in my hometown Pt. Pleasant. The BYOB restaurant is right on the water and there’s nothing fancy about it. You’ll drink your wine from plastic cups, sit in wobbly plastic chairs, and battle seagulls for your French fries. Order a whole steamed lobster with corn on the cob and sit at a table on the waterfront deck at sunset and watch the boats go by.