|Cape May Sea Wall|
Who doesn’t love a trip to the shore? The sun is shining. The
sand is soft. And the water, well, what is better than a cool dip on a hot
summer day? But, what is it like to visit the shore during the winter? I
decided to find out. So, on the first weekend of March, I drove from New York
City to Norfolk, Virginia to explore the shore.
|Asbury Park Boardwalk|
|Tillie welcomes guests to the Wonder Bar|
My first stop was Asbury Park, New Jersey. Asbury Park was founded as a
residential resort in 1871. It became a summer destination with the development
of the New York and Long Branch Railroad in 1880. During the 1920’s two iconic Beaux Arts
buildings were constructed along the beachfront. The Asbury Park Casino and Carousel House and the Convention Hall with the Paramount
Theater. They are still standing and in operation today, so I chose them to be
the bookends of my exploration of Asbury Park’s beach. This 0.5-mile walk
epitomizes the town even in the dead of winter. In between these two classic
buildings you will find the things that bring visitors to Asbury Park. The
beach and boardwalk are beautiful. You will also find two famous venues that
have supported local musicians for decades. The Stone Pony Bar, which gave us
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and The Wonder Bar, where Tillie still
welcomes visitors and musicians alike. On a cold Friday morning, the day after a snow
storm hit the northeast, the boardwalk was almost deserted. The only people out
seemed to those locals who were getting businesses ready, either for the
night’s entertainment, or the upcoming summer crowds.
|Asbury Park Beach|
|Asbury Park Convention Center|
|The Steel Pier in 1910 - by Detroit Press vis Wikicommons|
My next stop – Atlantic City. Once known as “The World’s
Playground,” Atlantic City’s boardwalk has been a destination since the 1880’s.
My parents would take us there for a couple of days every summer when I was growing
up. It had a huge beach, and it offered two piers with amusement rides – The
Million Dollar Pier and most famously, The Steel Pier. The Steel Pier is 300 meters long and offered amusement rides
and two famous shows. One was a performance of divers at the deep end of the
pier. They would carry out high diving acrobatics at the deep end of the pier,
and their show would end with the world famous High Diving Horse. The other show was Tony
“Stars of Tomorrow.” Children, aged 4-19 could audition each week to be in the
show. If you remember the movie Beaches,
Mayim Bialik played a young CC Bloom performing in this show. The boardwalk was
lined with arcades, stores, fast food joints, and most famously salt water
taffy shops. It was the kind of place that my parents could send out two boys,
age 11 and 9 with ten dollars each and know that we would have a great time,
and be safe.
|Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City|
|The Boardwalk Today|
|Nearby, you will find Lucy the Elephant|
Today, Atlantic City is the center if gambling on the East
Coast. A dozen casinos take up all of the oxygen and, while Steel Pier and its
rival The Playground Pier (formally the Million Dollar Pier) are still there,
people come for the casinos. That meant that, even on a cold March day, it was
business as usual. There were crowds on the Boardwalk and stores were open. But
the feel of boardwalk had changed. It was not really family friendly any more.
The stores were almost all tee-shirt shops and other tourist traps, the same
goods in every doorway. There are still people who will drive you along the
boardwalk in a wicker pedicab, but they seemed more desperate for work than I
remember. And the boardwalk now has video advertisements and a musical sound
system every 5 meters or so. There is no escape from the commercial onslaught
trying to get you spend the money that you didn’t lose in the casinos. Also, in
response to the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the city has piled
up sand dunes in between the beach and the boardwalk. While this might protect
against future flooding, it has ruined the view. You can no longer stand on the
boardwalk and look out at the vast beach towards the Atlantic. Instead there
are now 15-foot tall dunes that have to be crossed, cutting off the city from
the sand, and making the boardwalk feel like a tunnel between them and the
|The Dunes block the view of the beach|
|The Cape May Lighthouse in the distance|
My last stop on the first day of the exploration was Cape May, New Jersey. Cape May sits at the southern tip
of New Jersey, along the mouth of the Delaware Bay. It is one of the country’s
oldest vacation resorts, hosting visitors as far back as the mid-1700’s. In
1816, Congress Hall opened as a boarding house. While the original structure
burned down in Cape May’s Great Fire of 1878, it was rebuilt along with most of
the center of town. That is when Cape May gained its signature Victorian
Houses. Congress Hall still anchors the beachfront, but modern hotels, resorts
and condos have sprung up around it.
When I visited, Cape May was just waking up from its winter
hibernation. Many stores and restaurants were still closed for the season, and
on a Friday night, there was a sleepy feel along Beach Ave. The seawall was
mostly empty as sundown neared. I had trouble finding a restaurant open for
dinner. I ended up at the C-View Inn, a sports bar with decent food and prices,
but away from the beach front, closer to where the year-rounders live.
Each of the three towns I visited offered a different view of
the Jersey Shore in Winter. What they all had in common was beauty that the
crowds hide during the summer months. The empty beaches are a throw back to a
time before the Jersey Shore became a destination for so many people. Today,
the crowds in the summer can make it difficult to enjoy, but, coming down off
season can be an enjoyable trip, even if you might have to go a little farther
to find a place to eat or shop. Having the beach and boardwalk to yourself
offers a chance to reflect and to enjoy nature in a way that you miss during
the high season.
|Asbury Park Carousel House|
The Garden State Parkway (toll road) is the main N/S highway
along the Jersey Shore. It runs about 10 miles inland from the ocean. All of
the directions are from the GSP.
Asbury Park – Exit onto NJ Route 66 eastbound.
Route 66 becomes Asbury Ave, which will take you right to the beach.
Atlantic City - Exit on to either U.S. 30 or the
Atlantic City Expressway east bound. They will each take into the city. Follow
the signs to the beach.
Cape May - The GSP ends just north of town. It becomes NJ route 109,
southbound. Stay on 109 (Lafayette St.) until it ends. Turn right onto Jackson
St, which ends at Beach St.
My wife won a trip to AC from a radio station contest in 2014. We stayed at the Show Boat just days before it closed. Kind of strange. One of the best parts of that trip was going to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge near Oceanville. There's an 8 mile loop you can drive through the refuge with plenty of good views. Good option if you're not that into hiking, etc. Thought the black skimmers were super cool. Hadn't seen them before. Also went on a dolphin watching boat. Kinda $$, but enjoyed it. It was early August, many females with calves.ReplyDelete