A perfect weekend in Asbury Park, NJ

To call Asbury Park a mystery would betray its tumultuous and storied history: a fountainhead of American music hidden in the Jersey swamps. A home for national icons. A vibrant LGBTQ community. A city bearing the scars of the civil rights movement, plagued by decades of mismanagement and distrust, is now in the midst of a rapid recovery fueled by the very soul that gave Asbury its purpose: music.

Now, Asbury Park is dubbed “America’s Coolest Small Town” by travel magazines and regularly ranks among “Top Beach Destinations.”

Yet just an hour’s drive from Manhattan with no traffic, Asbury Park still feels like a discovery, a New Orleans-meets-Dogtown seaside town that’s ignored by rush hour traffic on the Long Island Expressway to the Hamptons and crowded ferries that Take day-trippers to Rockaway Beach, or the car-lined causeway to Long Beach Island.

Ignored, of course, at your own expense. Because, as I’ve learned since my first trip to Asbury 25 years ago, when I and my dad caught the Warped Tour in the parking lot behind the fabled Stone Pony, Asbury Park offers a Jersey Shore idyll for all comers: the rockers, diners, Surfers, art promoters and just fans of a simple lazy day at the beach. I’ve kept a rotating and updated list of suggestions for friends and family for years to help them have the perfect summer weekend. Now I’m sharing it with the Times readers too.

They’re here for the beach, so let’s start with that. Most importantly, this is the Jersey Shore, home to metered beach access and draconian parking rules. Luckily, Asbury Park has ample parking near the beach and there’s no time limit on metered parking, although it costs $3 an hour from 8am to 2am, with no discounts to a full day rate. Then, an all-day beach pass is $6 per person on weekdays, rising to $9 on weekends.

OK, time to pick a jetty. Surfers, head north as the only summer surfing beach is on Eighth Avenue and Deal Lake Drive during lifeguard hours (no restrictions on dawn patrols or sunset sessions, of course). Non-surfers who would like to shred can book lessons at the surf beach via Summertime Surf. For the similarly active but down-to-earth crowd, make your way to the beaches near Sixth Avenue and look for the volleyball nets to take in a pickup game or host your own.

The northern beaches are also home to “Dog Beach,” a necessity in a city where bars are building puppy playgrounds, hosting dog-friendly “yappy hours,” and the Mardi Gras parade focuses on costumed pooches; It’s not uncommon to see dogs in party hats trotting along the seafront after a birthday party. Therefore, the beach near Deal Lake is open to dogs (and their owners) in the early hours of the morning and every evening after 6:30 p.m.

For those who just want to sit on the beach and relax, pick up a beach read at the Asbury Book Cooperative, a unique, locally owned bookshop that operates as a co-operative and gives members voting rights on decisions and discounts on new books.

Asbury Park’s boardwalk, steeped in history as it may be due to its appearances in Springsteen songs and Sopranos scenes, isn’t the kind of waterfront amusement park that many other coastal towns claim to be; More restaurants and bars line the planks here. But there’s still traditional beach fun, including Asbury Splash Park, where sprinklers, hoses and other water-dispensing devices line the space for children. And the Silverball Pinball Museum, an arcade that doubles as a museum of historic 1950’s pinball machines, offers a chance to join the wizards of the Pinball Way.

Every September, Asbury Park is the site of SeaHearNow, a nationally recognized two-day festival, but any given weekend can feel like a music festival in its own right, as does everything from a brewery to a bookstore to a coffee shop to a hotel lobby sometimes live music played.

Start the afternoon at the Transparent Clinch Gallery, where local artists perform on an intimate stage under the gaze of countless music legends photographed by acclaimed photographer Danny Clinch. A Jersey Shore native, Mr. Clinch has photographed Bruce Springsteen, the Foo Fighters, Tupac and more, and his gallery at the east end of the Asbury Hotel is packed with portraits of famous artists, including an (almost) life-size Mr. Springsteen leaning on a muscle -Car that allows visitors to pose for a photo. Mr. Clinch will often join bands on stage with his harmonica and recently did a blues duet with local seaside band Johnny Nameless.

From there, walk downtown to the House of Independents, a large sunken venue that can accommodate 500 fans for a Jersey punk show, a more contemplative indie tent night, or just put a DJ on stage and throw a dance party. End the night by walking a few blocks over to the Saint, a venue that feels unchanged since it opened in 1994, for a mix of local artists and nationally touring bands packed into a fraction of a space, the could easily double as a punk pub.

Day two of our self-proclaimed festival kicks off with brunch at R Bar, a new standout New Orleans-themed restaurant on Main Street, hosting a brass brunch on Saturday and a blues brunch on Sunday in the backyard garden. Grab a Kane Head high on tap and some blue crab beignets and get ready for a perfect Jersey-meets-New Orleans combo.

The main event takes place on Second Avenue, where the siren song of the legendary Stone Pony still echoes down the boardwalk 48 years after it first opened its doors, and Mr. Springsteen still makes an occasional appearance. The venue’s Summer Stage, housed on the back property, hosts big national acts from Phil Lesh to Jason Isbell to the Bouncing Souls, while the aftershow may take place at the Pony, where local bands grace the same stage as Mr. Springsteen, Stevie Van Zandt and Southside Johnny called home regularly.

If your ears aren’t ringing yet, head back to the promenade at Asbury Park Yacht Club, where late-night concerts often go on until midnight on weekends and sweaty dancers spill out into the salty air.

Asbury’s many music venues may be dwarfed only by its booming restaurant scene. There’s a lot to eat, so we’ll start early.

This is New Jersey, after all, so you’ll be eating this greasy, salty chopped pork shoulder product for breakfast: Taylor Ham (or, as they call it in Asbury, a pork roll). It’s available across town, but for the best experience, head to the Johnny Pork Roll Truck at North Eats Food Truck Park and pick up the sandwich, a traditional pork bun, egg, and cheese with “salt pepper ketchup,” a condiment that’s a hit Must be pronounced in one breath.

When you don’t want to experiment with the state’s most prized and idiosyncratic cuisine, head to Cardinal Provisions for a mix of traditional brunch standards and original dishes like the Cacio e Pepe eggs.

You’ll want to put that breakfast behind you, so stroll downtown to Frank’s Deli and Restaurant for a classic, multi-page laminated menu and Formica board stands. There’s nothing bad on this menu, but you’re here to enjoy some amazing Italian sandwiches. Order them like Anthony Bourdain used to: a pile of ham, salami, pepperoni, provolone, tomatoes, onions, shredded lettuce and pepperoni drenched in oil and vinegar.

Now dinner can go two ways. You could put together a complete pizza tour and sample all of New Jersey’s flavors on Asbury Square Mile. Start at Maruca on the boardwalk with a slice of ‘tomato pie’, a Jersey original where the sauce spirals out of the center and mixes with the cheese rather than being buried by it. Then Talula’s offers some of the best Neapolitan pizzas in New Jersey or New York, sourcing all the ingredients from local farms listed on a plaque above the bar. Or head to Killer Pies for a traditional piece and custom classic fountain soda.

For leisurely dining, head to Heirloom at St. Laurent (where a $75 prix fixe menu featuring a signature duck dish is perhaps the best restaurant in town), Pascal & Sabine for French-inspired fare, or Barrio Costero for upscale Mexican fare and some of the best shrimp tacos on the coast. The promenade is home to Langosta Lounge and its famous Surf Curry, featuring fresh seafood swimming in a homemade mix of yellow and green curries. Newcomer R Bar offers classic big-easy dishes like gumbo, but also Jersey-inspired spins like a fried pork bun sandwich that pays homage to the famous bologna fried sandwich at Turkey and the Wolf in New Orleans. And with the fish swimming so close by, there’s plenty of seafood at Bonney Read.

If you’ve saved room for dessert, head to Confections of a Rockstar and order cupcakes and other treats like Macaroon 5, S’more than a Feeling, or an Oreo Speedwagon (I could go on, but I’ll have some surprises for the visit cancel) .

Unlike many Jersey Shore towns, Asbury Park offers several large hotels with all amenities and a range of prices. To experience the new, modern essence of Asbury, stay at the Asbury, a hotel constructed from the historic Salvation Army building and often featuring live music in the lobby, a rooftop bar, and a backyard pool (under the week from $395, weekend $660). ). Just across from Bradley Park is the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel, a long-established hotel that has been remodeled and updated (weekdays start at $295, weekends $459). At the far end of the beach is the Empress Hotel (weekdays $229, weekends $339), a popular spot for LGBTQ visitors, overlooking the ocean.

For those seeking luxury, the new Asbury Ocean Club (weekdays starts at $585, weekends $905), housed in a gleaming glass tower in the center of the beachfront expanse, is like stepping out of Asbury and into a Hamptons or South Beach Scene. The lobby, bar, and pool are all located on the second floor of the hotel, with the only street exposure being a small anteroom with elevators. And the St. Laurent ($425 to $600 for most nights), newly opened this summer in the historic Hotel Tides building, has 20 individually designed rooms — each decorated with a custom surfboard by a local artist and free beach passes — above an expansive restaurant, whiskey bar and pool in the backyard.

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