I didn’t grow up going to the Jersey Shore like so many others in my community, and it was fine. The first time I visited any town on the Jersey Shore, I was 17 after the junior prom and saw Seaside Heights in all its grimy glory. I didn’t go back to anywhere along the shore until after college when I found some pleasant experiences like Cape May.
On a pleasant autumn morning, I decided to take NJ Transit down the shore from Newark Penn Station to Asbury Park. I figured there would be enough to do there, but considered walking south to Bradley Beach as there were two breweries near the train station (one is technically in Neptune). I ended up walking a bit over 7 miles and passing through four towns (where else can you do this but in New Jersey?).
If I had driven, it would have been much faster and even cheaper. It’s $24 round trip from Newark, plus $5.50 for the PATH trains, and it took almost two hours each way. Parking definitely isn’t that expensive, and there are some free lots that are more easily accessible in the off season. But I chose the train because I don’t want to drive, especially if I plan on having a few drinks. Plus, it gave me an opportunity to read a bit more of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Committed.
Train ride aside, it was a day at the beach, so to speak. Alright, I didn’t set foot on the actual beach because I didn’t want to get cold sand in my shoes, but I saw plenty of other people walking along the sand.
At Asbury Park I headed to the Stephen Crane House for a bit of literary history, though I don’t remember much of The Red Badge of Courage or his poetry. Unfortunately, it is not open most days (always verify Google info). It’s only open from noon to 2 pm on Sundays, and I was there on a Saturday morning. From the outside, the house is beautiful, as are most along the streets leading to the boardwalk. It was also preparing for Halloween with a creepy window display.
I wandered past the old houses and into newer neighborhoods that have popped up after Hurricane Sandy and into Bradley Park with its statue of James A. Bradley and view of the Paramount Theater. I took a roundabout route to get near the end of the Asbury Park boardwalk before walking into the Convention Hall, which was hosting a local products market along with the shops inside. Had it been later in the day, there are some appealing bars and restaurants.
Along the boardwalk, there were familiar landmarks like Wonder Bar, which wasn’t open yet as it was before noon, The Stone Pony (the Boss was not in at the time), and Silverball Arcade.
The Asbury Park Casino is an interesting empty shell of a building that’s been redeveloped as an art space. Outside of it are the Carousel, which is also an art space, and the steam plant that dates back to the 1930s. All of this has is great for a picture from farther into town from Wesley Lake.
From the Asbury Park Casino, I walked into town via Cookman Ave., which is a popular shopping and dining street through town.
I stopped in The Bonney Read for a snack — it was still early, so I didn’t eat a full meal, but the clam fritters with chorizo and saffron aioli were amazing. I also couldn’t pass up a side of Old Bay fries. That kept me going until I could find a bit more to eat. The Bonney Read is a nice restaurant/bar, and it would be a great place to watch a game as it has a nice cocktail menu and beer list to pair with all the seafood.
There were some interesting bars nearby that I was tempted to try, but I wanted to sightsee before grabbing drinks. I had to stop in the shopping arcade for kitschy shops and the Antique Emporium where I found numerous items that I once owned and are now worth a lot more than the 50 cents I paid at yard sales years ago.
The highlight of the shops along Cookman is Paranormal Books & Curiosities. This is a fun shop full of witchcraft, ghosts, and Jersey folklore (I was tempted to buy a Jersey Devil hoodie). I was disappointed that I wasn’t staying in town later because they hosted a pre-Halloween ghost tour.
On the walk back to the boardwalk, I was not allowed to get a taste at Asbury Park Distilling as they weren’t open yet. But I did take in the views from the pedestrian path and bridges on Wesley Lake.
Back on the boardwalk, I walked the quiet route into Ocean Grove, a town that is only one square mile. It is also a dry town as it was founded as a religious community — there’s even an outdoor chapel on the boardwalk (it’s just a gazebo with pews). It wasn’t much to walk through the town, but the houses around the square are beautiful.
Being only a mile, it wasn’t long before I found myself in Bradley Beach, at which point I turned inland near the southern border to visit more of the town. My main destinations in town were a couple of breweries, though the first of the two is in Neptune despite being a couple blocks from the Bradley Beach train station (the train tracks are the separation between the towns). Little Dog Brewing is a quaint spot for a beer. This might be the second smallest brewery I’ve visited after Little Pug Brewing in Brunswick, ME. It was a more comfortable experience as it was just me with one of the owners and a regular customer, both of whom told stories about drinking around town. Kevin, the owner, mentioned his wife Gretchen, who is the brewer, was in Denver judging at the Great American Beer Festival.
Overall, the beer was good. It was nothing over-the-top or any crazy flavors like some breweries, but everything I tried was solid. I ordered a flight of pale ale, Oktoberfest, amber, and IPA (I also took a mixed 4-pack home, of which I’ve only drunk two). The west coast-style Area 141 IPA was a good standard. The Oktoberhund was a very good marzen. The amber and habanero pale ale were unimpressive, but clean and worth tasting. In particular, the pale ale lacked much of a habanero flavor.
On the way out, I was told to visit Dachshund Distilling on my way to the next brewery. Unfortunately, they were closed due to Covid exposure. So, with that, I walked across the town border into downtown Bradley Beach — a pleasant town with a welcoming Main Street. Bradley Brew Project was busy for a late afternoon, but I found a seat soon after ordering another flight of an Oktoberfest, imperial IPA, imperial stout, and Vienna lager. I also ordered an altbier later to take part in the stein holding contest (the price of entry included the liter of beer and a large pretzel, so I didn’t care about winning, but I came close to getting other contestants to laugh enough to lose).Bradley Brew Project had more variety than Little Dog Brewing, but that didn’t mean that everything was good. The Hoppla Vienna lager was a good roasted malty beer, while the Super Unicorn Girls was a sweet and citrusy hazy IPA that obviously tasted like rainbow farts. I was, however, unimpressed with the the marzen and imperial stout — the stout in particular was quite bitter and boozy.
I would go back to Bradley Brew Project as it seemed like a fun place. Plus the variety of beer is more enticing. Little Dog would be the choice for a more relaxing afternoon drink.
As I had time to kill before the later train back to Newark, I grabbed some pizza to fill my stomach after all that beer (I can’t comment on the pizza as it was amazing after beer, much like almost any pizza). That train ride home felt much longer than the one down the shore. Returning for more fun would be more likely if the train was either more frequent or faster.