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The Best NYC-Area Beach Town Is in New Jersey

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The Asbury Ocean Club Hotel opened in July as the first five-star resort on the Jersey Shore.

Photo by Nikolas Koenig

The Asbury Ocean Club Hotel opened in July as the first five-star resort on the Jersey Shore.

With the splashy new Asbury Ocean Club Hotel—and several great restaurants, bars, and music venues—Asbury Park is where you want to spend your last few summer weekends.

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Forget your house share in the Hamptons or your weekend of winetasting in the North Fork. As long as the warm weather lasts, everyone is heading to Asbury Park.  

Founded in 1871, Asbury Park began as the crown jewel of the Jersey Shore, with a busy boardwalk, glamorous hotels, and stately Victorian homes lining the streets. When the Garden State Parkway opened in 1947, however, and tourists began exploring farther afield, the town was left to languish. Racially motivated riots and a corrupt local government further depressed Asbury Park over the years, although the music scene always remained steady. Aspiring artists, including a young Bruce Springsteen, continued to move in, making their living playing the seedy bars along the beach.

It wasn’t until the early 2000s, when the LGBTQ community discovered Asbury Park, that things started to turn around. Art galleries, restaurants, and other small businesses opened, and construction began on numerous residential buildings.

The pool bar at the Asbury Ocean Club Hotel serves frozen cocktails in view of the ocean.
In 2006, real estate developer iStar introduced a multi-billion-dollar plan for the 1.25-mile stretch along Asbury Park’s waterfront. The company founded the Asbury in 2016 as the town’s first new hotel in 50 years, relaunched the iconic bowling alley and music venue Asbury Lanes in 2018, and opened its crowning achievement, the Asbury Ocean Club Hotel, this past July.

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A towering, all-glass building right on the beach, the Asbury Ocean Club is a mixed-use luxury development—with the Jersey Shore’s first five-star hotel on its fourth floor. Here, 54 spacious rooms (which start at around $400 per night in season) draw discerning guests with 11-foot-ceilings, glass-enclosed showers, and private terraces with views of either the ocean or the hotel’s sand-dune gardens. The pool deck, lined with daybeds, live trees, and a pergola-covered bar, blends seamlessly into the ocean beyond, while the Drawing Room, intended as the hotel’s main social space, sits at the center of the property, surrounded by a tranquil reflecting pool.

The Drawing Room features a fireplace and an open kitchen that doubles as a bar.
Between its sparkling facade and sheer size, the hotel is certainly at odds with its surroundings, but there’s no denying it’s Asbury Park’s nicest place to stay. Guests have a 24-hour concierge at their disposal, plus a dedicated “Beach Bellperson” to set up their towels, chairs, and umbrellas on the sand—that is, if they even want to leave the luxe confines of the pool, where hotel staff will offer to clean their sunglasses or spritz them with cool water. Days often start with yoga on the pool deck and wind down with cocktails and live piano music in the Drawing Room. A fine-dining restaurant is set to debut in 2020.

Absury Park is a breeze to get to from New York City. New Jersey Transit trains run from Penn Station to Asbury Park with a quick transfer in Long Branch and take just under two hours. Once in Asbury, grab an Uber at the train station for the five-minute ride to Asbury Park Ocean Club Hotel. Basing your stay here means you’ll be right off the boardwalk, which you can follow to the Convention Hall for lunch at Asbury Oyster Bar. After loading up on fresh oysters, tuna tartare, and crab cakes, retreat to the hotel pool, where you can sip frozen cocktails in the sun until it’s time for dinner.

Reyla’s eggplant dish comes with topped with chilies, radishes, tahini, and persimmon sauce.
Come evening, stroll the boardwalk in the opposite direction, then pick up a Spin electric scooter next to Paradise nightclub. (Launched in August, the scooters are a quick, fun way to get into town, about a mile from the hotel.) Head down Cookman Avenue to Reyla, a self-described “modern Middle Eastern tavern,” where you can make a satisfying meal of small plates like house-made hummus, beet salad, and perfectly cooked duck breast with lentil purée. After dinner, grab a nightcap at Little Buddy, an Instagram-friendly tiki bar with loud music and a lively crowd.

Brunch at Cardinal Provisions is worth the inevitable wait.
The next morning, hit the boardwalk again for iced lattes in a sunny, plant-filled setting at High Voltage Cafe, followed by a brunch of rosewater ricotta toast and egg-topped breakfast bowls at Cardinal Provisions. Before going back to the pool, shop around at stores like Patriae (for homewares), Interwoven (for women’s clothes), and Vlad’s Denim (for vintage), then check out the street art and installations—part of a nonprofit art initiative called the Wooden Walls Project—that decorate the historic Carousel Building at the end of the boardwalk.

Lunch should be Korean fusion tacos at MOGO on the boardwalk; for happy hour, go to the Asbury Hotel’s rooftop bar, Salvation, where you can sip cocktails while watching the sun set over town. For dinner, plan to put your name in at the always-packed Talula’s, then grab a drink around the corner at Asbury Park Distilling Co. while you wait for a table. If Talula’s Neapolitan-style pizzas don’t do you in, swing by the Stone Pony or Wonder Bar for some live music on your way back to the hotel.

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On your final morning, head back into town for strawberry pancakes and smoked salmon Benedict at Toast before catching your train home. You won’t want to leave, but if openings like Asbury Ocean Club are any indication, there will only be more reasons to visit next time. 

>>Next: The Best Small Beach Towns in the United States

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