BY MARTIN DAKS, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
IT’S SUMMER IN NEW JERSEY, when America celebrates its July Fourth birthday. For the Jersey Shore counties of Monmouth, Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May, this translated into more than $21 billion of tourism spending during 2018, according to a study released earlier this year by the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism.
Many summer visitors head to Atlantic City’s casinos and other attractions, or to beaches and boardwalks that dot the Jersey Shore. But there are plenty of other attractions that are mainly known by local residents. To uncover these “off the beaten track” spots, from the home of the Pledge of Allegiance to an elephant on the beach, COMMERCE consulted with Shore residents and others, who made the recommendations that follow.
On the boardwalks and beyond, the Jersey Shore is humming with activities. If you know who to ask, you can find out about the hidden ones that just may be the most enjoyable.
Twin Lights. Since 1828, on a site 200 feet above sea level at the Navesink Highlands, a lighthouse has served as a sentinel over the treacherous coastal waters of northern New Jersey. Originally named the Navesink Lightstation, the beacon was rebuilt with local brownstone in 1862 and is today known as Twin Lights. The landmark once served as the primary seacoast light for The Highlands, New York Harbor, but it’s also famous for hosting the first official reading of the Pledge of Allegiance, when pledge author Francis Bellamy led a recital there in 1892 around a 135-foot-high flagpole known as the Liberty Pole.
Boating, Eating, Fishing. Old Bridge residents John and Beth DeMaio, who have a second home in Lake Como near Belmar, keep a set of kayaks at the L Street beach in Belmar.
“We like to paddle the Shark River over to the sandy beach in Neptune, just to hang out at the picnic facilities there,” says John, a retiree whose wife is a physical therapist. “Then we paddle across the river to the 9th Ave. Pier in Belmar, enjoying the sunshine and listening to the bands that play there.”
John also recommends Bonfires on the Beach, a weekly celebration at different locations on the Asbury Park waterfront. Guests are encouraged to bring blankets and chairs, and “day-of” updates can be found on the Asbury Park Boardwalk’s Instagram, Facebook and Twitter pages.
“It’s a nice time to sit on the beach and enjoy evenings there,” explains DeMaio.
He’s a fan of Jack’s Tavern, “a throwback place on 10th Ave, in Belmar. It is like walking back in time to bars you may remember as a younger person,” says John. “Great crowd, good pricing and eats—and lately, an expanded music experience.”
Lucy of Margate. In Margate, visitors can see a six-story, century-plus-old elephant named Lucy that stands guard. A guided tour of the wooden pachyderm—
built by real estate developer James Lafferty in 1881 as a gimmick to attract potential buyers to his land holdings along the Shore all year round—is available. Stung by age, lightning, hurricanes and floods, the old gal—who’s listed on the National Park Registry of Historical Landmarks— nearly fell apart. But a 1970s restoration, and ongoing care by the Save Lucy Committee, gave her a second chance, according to Jeremy Bingaman, director of education at Lucy the Elephant.
A Taste of Asbury. In 2017, Shore-area schoolteachers Bonnie and Justin Brown created Taste of Asbury Food Tours. They conduct walking tours around the city that lets participants find out about the town that launched Bruce Springsteen and, along the way, sample offerings at culinary stops—such as Confections of a Rock$tar Bakery and Purple Glaze Donuts—with a chance to speak with owners or chefs.
“Confections of a Rock$tar is an incredible bakery on Cookman Avenue with everything baked fresh daily,” says Bonnie, adding that the bakery was the first shop the couple pitched when they launched A Taste of Asbury. “From cupcakes to cookies, everything owner Kimmie Masi creates is amazing.” She notes that Purple Glaze Donuts is “a little donut shop that has become a staple in Asbury Park. Jackie Sharpe and her son, Wes, use their creative minds to create unique donut flavors every week. It’s always a fun and delicious stop on the tour.”
Cuisine Exploration. When Caitlin Schenk has a yen for something south of the border, she heads to Jose’s Mexican restaurant in Spring Lake Heights. “It’s a great little hole-in-the wall, family run restaurant,” according to Schenk, an East Brunswick High School teacher who lives in Spring Lake Heights with her husband, Richard. “It’s BYO and the food is fresh and delicious.”
She also high-fives the Ragin’ Cajun in Belmar, a Bayou-themed restaurant where “it feels like you’re eating dinner at a friend’s house.” Distinguished by a menu boasting dishes like Alligator Sausage, Blackened Tuna, Swamp Daddy Pasta and Seafood Jambalaya, Schenk says husband Rich “loves the Swamp Daddy pasta; they will adjust the spiciness, but he gets it extra spicy.”
Got a yen for Mediterranean? Head over to Vic’s Italian American Restaurant in Bradley Beach, suggests Schenk. Opened by Vittorio Giunco as Vic’s Tap Room shortly after prohibition was repealed in 1933, “It’s known for delicious thin crust pizza, and overall, Vic’s is a good place to take the family for a good Italian dinner,” she said. “For music, The Saint in Asbury Park has a fun, divey atmosphere with original live music,” hosting bands and performers like David Sancious, a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band back in the rocker’s early days.
Seeing Cats—Far Off Broadway. Fans of furry felines will also meow over the Catsbury Park Cat Cafe & Tea House in Asbury Park, Schenk added. “They have a cafe, you can go play with cats that are up for adoption, and their Instagram account is adorable,” she says. The 501(c) nonprofit corporation has “created a space where the public can learn about cats, interact with them, and potentially take them home,” according to the organization. “We offer an extensive menu of treats and teas that you can enjoy whilst visiting with our resident cats.”
Music and Mystery Attractions. Longtime Monmouth County resident Carey Balogh, who runs the brand consulting firm Brand Groupies, is a veritable encyclopedia when it comes to the Shore. Her inside tips include the Lakehouse Music Academy, a music school in Asbury Park that features group rehearsals, individual lessons, and live performances at local venues.
“Anyone can sign up and perform at iconic venues like The Stone Pony, Asbury Lanes, and Wonder Bar,” says Balogh. The program is “committed to the development of comprehensive musicianship for every student, at every level, at every age,” according to the academy.
Ocean fans—and you must be one if you’re going down the Shore—will want to stop by TAK Waterman in Long Branch, she added. “It’s a surf ’n fish shop owned by locals, with one being a well-known surfer,” she explains. The shop—“they brought their online store to life this year with the brick- and-mortar location”—sells specialized apparel for fishing, surfing and spear fishing, and stand-up paddling gear for the “everyday waterman.”
People who like to add a side of mystery to their dining experience will be drawn to Good Folk Supper Club, added Balogh. Developed by Atlantic Highlands resident Beth Herbruck, the club organizes unique dining opportunities—generally in the Monmouth and Ocean areas—and a portion of the proceeds is donated to a local nonprofit. The catch is this: people who sign up for the service don’t find out the who, what, where and when details until the day before the gastronomic event, according to Balogh. She said it’s a chance to do well, eat well and add a spice of fun to your meal.
She also suggested two other offbeat places, both in Asbury Park. Each one celebrates the past in a unique way: Backward Glances, and Little Buddy Hideaway. Backward Glances is “a one-of-a-kind vintage store with the best finds you don’t see around anymore,” she said. Shoppers there can select clothing and other items from the Great Gatsby era (Roaring ‘20s), through the Groovy ‘60s, and the Awesome Dude and Dudette ‘80s.
“We’ve been selling vintage clothing, cool T-shirts, costumes and collectibles in our vintage clothing store since 1985,” according to Backward Glances owner Cindy Ciullo. In addition to the brick-and-mortar location, “We started our web site in 1999, and now ship all over the world.”
Little Buddy Hideaway is a Tiki Bar— a nod to the past in itself—that adds a Prohibition-era twist with a speak-easy-like entrance built into a next-door shop. “You have to go through a secret door to find this hideaway,” said Balogh. “But once you do, you’ll find it’s filled with tiki-inspired decor and fun large drinks.”
Mulligans and an Italian Bistro. Further south, Mulligans Bar & Grill in Wildwood offers “good food and specials in a casual setting,” according to Daniel Higman, broker-owner of the local Weichert Realtors Coastal. In addition to steamers, steaks and other delights, Mulligan’s features live music with local talent, and pub staples like darts and a pool table.
He also offered a toast to Secondo, an Italian bistro “just over the Crest Bridge [also known as the Two-Mile Bridge, connecting Wildwood Crest and Cape May]. It is great, with a large menu and great food.” Another well-known spot is The Crab House at Two Mile Landing, he added. “I keep my boat there, so it offers easy access to the bay and ocean. And when you get back, The Crab House is there with great food, fresh crabs and live music.”
Docks and Dive Bars. “There are a lot of fishing piers in Seaside Park and bulkheads that people crab off of—you may be required to purchase a badge—or you can rent a boat and go crabbing or fishing,” observes Michael Buckley, a Toms River resident, former realtor and rental property owner, who currently owns the NJShoreRent.com web site. “There is also a relatively new place in Seaside called Dock Outfitters, where they have a dock, sell bait and rent boats; and also have a little kitchen for burgers and things like that. That would probably be a good place to hang out and find out what’s going on.”
Buckley also noted a “dive bar in Seaside Heights called Riggers. They open at 7:00 a.m. and have people in there at that hour! I hope they are mostly people getting off of the night shift.”