Go World Travel is reader-supported and may earn a commission from purchases made through links in this piece.
Until the past decade, the hippest beach town near New York City was mostly known as a down-on-its-luck beach town whose only claim to fame was its connection to Bruce Springsteen and his love affair with the beach town.
That’s all changed, especially catapulted by post-pandemic development. Asbury Park packs a ton of beach and boardwalk activities in its famous one-mile beach.
With its proximity to New York City, a renewed boardwalk, a happening downtown on Cookman Avenue, Asbury Park and the Asbury Park Boardwalk are hopping from spring to fall.
Greetings From the Music Capital of the Jersey Shore
Asbury Park’s most iconic building is Convention Hall with its twinkling outside sign – “Greetings from Asbury Park,” which was popularized when Bruce Springsteen’s inaugural album Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. hit the airways in 1973.
Inside the building are two venues – the mixed-used convention hall and the 1600-seat Paramount Theatre with access from Ocean Avenue. Connecting the two is the Grand Arcade, with restaurants and shops. Along the sides of Convention Hall are two bars that, in the summer, spill out on to the sand.
In addition to Springsteen, Elton John, Frank Sinatra and the Rolling Stones are some of the performers who have graced the Convention Hall stages. At the moment, the venues are closed but an exciting new plan has been announced for the space.
Best Tips & Tools to Plan Your Trip
Across the street is the equally famous nightclub, The Stone Pony, where Springsteen, Bon Jovi and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Park continue to pop in for unannounced gigs. Just outside the main club is the larger The Stone Pony outdoor Summer Stage.
There are no seats but plenty of space to wonder back and forth from the stage to the concession area. Shows start early so you’ll feel the ocean breeze as the sun sets over the stage to the west.
The Summer Stage has a full complement of famous and upcoming artists including performances by Demi Lovato, the B-52s, Trey Anastasio, Squeeze and Psychedelic Furs and two nights of The Yacht Rock Revue.
Other major venues in Asbury’s thriving music scene include The Wonder Bar, House of Independents, Low Dive, RBar and Asbury Lanes, a combo bowling alley and live concert venue.
READ MORE: Tips for Visiting the Hamptons on a Budget
Boardwalk’s Future is Foretold
South of Convention Hall, you see the modest storefront of Madam Marie’s Temple of Knowledge, a fortune teller establishment that has been on the Boardwalk on and off since the 1930s.
It became famous when Madame Marie was mentioned in Springsteen’s song 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) with this lyric: “Did you hear the cops finally busted Madam Marie for tellin’ fortunes better than they do?” Madame Marie (aka Marie Castello) died at age 93, but her family still runs the business.
Mini-Golf, Water Park and a Swan Song
With the absence of amusement rides, Asbury is generally more focused on teens and adults. However, kids will enjoy Asbury Eighteen, a mini-golf course on the Boardwalk, the Asbury Splash Park and The Silverball Museum Arcade, which is open year-round. All three attractions have paid admission.
Each summer, giant swans, two green dragons, a blue heron, and a pink flamingo ply the calm waters of Wesley Lake, located near the southern end of the Boardwalk. As visitors have done for more than a hundred years, you can paddle in these oversized boats from late morning to dusk. Boats are limited to two adults and one child or an adult and two children.
North Beach: Surfers and Dog Lovers
Separating Asbury Park from the tiniest Jersey Shore beach town, Loch Arbour, is a jetty that creates a decent surf break.
The city’s beach staff has wisely designated the area between Deal Lake Drive and Eighth Avenue as a surfing beach, and no swimmers are allowed during the summer season after 9 am starting daily from June 12. After July 4th, throngs of kids and young adults take up the surfing challenge at surf camp.
The area between the jetties on Deal Lake Drive and Eighth Avenue is a surfing-only beach (no swimming is permitted).
South of the surfing beach, dog lovers flock to Eighth Avenue Dog Beach. From mid-May through mid-September, licensed dogs can play on the beach from 6 pm to 8:30 am daily. Dogs can even be off-leash if “properly supervised.” The rest of the year dogs are permitted at all times on the Eighth Avenue Dog Beach. Dogs on a leash are allowed on Boardwalk off-season.
Check out Yappy Hour at The Wonder Bar, where bar-goers are welcome to bring their dogs to a fenced-in, outside area. Times vary throughout the year.
After years of neglect on the north end of the Boardwalk, the developer iStar significantly improved the area. They added restrooms, dune space, bike racks, better lighting and more parking. Asbury is home to the Asbury Park Fishing Club, the country’s oldest saltwater fishing club. However, fishing is prohibited near bathing areas. During the summer season, there aren’t many fishermen along the beach.
Upscale Hotels Across From the Beach
Not long ago that there were no decent hotels in Asbury Park. A building boom has changed all that. Ocean Club Hotel is the premier upscale hotel in the northern part of the Jersey Shore. It has a beautiful pool and bar that overlook the ocean and many dynamic amenities.
Nearby is The Asbury Hotel with a mid-century modern lobby, regular outdoor movies and a rooftop bar that can’t be beat. Across from the Convention Center is the Beaux-Art-inspired The Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel, restored after serving hotel guests for more than 100 years.
Many of the hotels and bars in Asbury are LGBTQ-friendly. There is no more welcoming place than the renovated St. Laurent Social Club which offers overnight stays, the Heirloom restaurant and a social club to meet new people.
Where Asbury Gets Its Name
James Bradley, a recent convert to the Methodist religion, visited the new seaside religious camp, Ocean Grove, in the 1870s. He saw the opportunity for beach town development at the Jersey Shore. Bradley bought land immediately north of Ocean Grove.
He named the area Asbury Park after Francis Asbury, the founder of Methodism in the United States. Bradley’s statue, not Francis Asbury sits in the park across from the Asbury Park Convention Hall and Paramount Theatre. Guess where else Bradley invested at the Shore?
The answer is the name — just south of Ocean Grove is the town of Bradley Beach.
READ MORE: Top 10 Things to Do in Jersey
If You Go:
From New York City, Newark Airport or Newark, there is frequent daily and weekend train service via New Jersey Transit to the Asbury Park station.
It’s five easy blocks to the beach along Asbury’s popular downtown strip, Cookman Avenue. If renting a car or driving your own, there are plenty of places to park on the street using the Park Mobile or AsburyPark apps.
Restrooms are located in Convention Hall and across Fourth Street between Ocean Avenue and the Boardwalk.
Beach badges are required weekends through June 11 and then daily from June 12 to September 4. Daily beach badges are $6 Monday through Friday and $9.
Weekends and holidays and can be purchased through the Viply app or at the beach. Seasonal beach badges are $70 for people 18 and older, $20 for people 13-17 and seniors 62 or older.
The Asbury Park Boardwalk has been featured in the movies The Wrestler with Mickey Rourke, Baby It’s You with Vincent Spano and Rosanna Arquette, Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories, City by the Sea with Robert DeNiro, Homeboy with Mickey Rourke, Blinded by the Light and an episode of the TV series, The Sopranos.
More helpful link:
Author Bio: For more than 40 years, R.C Staab has been a tourism and culture expert who has been quoted by and had photos published in numerous publications including the New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the LA Times, and CNN. He wrote 100 Things to Do at the Jersey Shore Before You Die, now in its second printing, and is a frequent contributor to New Jersey Monthly magazine. His latest book, New York City Scavenger: The Ultimate Search for New York City’s Hidden Treasures, explores Manhattan from Battery Park to Washington Heights with both famous and unexpected sites in all neighborhoods, including Times Square, Greenwich Village and Central Park. Pick up a copy of his Jersey Shore book and his new NYC book. He lives in Manhattan and spends most weekends at the Jersey Shore with his wife, Valari.