The Real Jersey Shore–Asbury Park: Not Your Old Downtown Anymore

Get a glimpse at the REAL Jersey Shore, Asbury Park style! Next time you plan a beach get-away, come here for some fun, food, and sun.

For the past decade, many TV shoes like "The Sopranos," the "Jersey Shore," and "The Real Housewives of New Jersey," for example, have portrayed New Jersey in a not-so-flattering light.  For all the publicity that these series have generated about the Garden State, residents know that not all of us are tanning, big-haired, loud-mouthed gangsters, driving on a highway surrounded by factories bellowing out smoke, on the way to work  in the morning.

A lot of people can testify to that, including me, a Jersey girl who grew up at the real Jersey shore and defies the stereotypes hyped by television. In my lifetime, there have been famous people who have been proud to call New Jersey their home state and always tried to portray its qualities in a favorable light, such as Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen–and they still do.

I’m sure you remember Bruce singing about his “Hometown”, Asbury Park.  Recent reminiscings of this area have probably brought to mind thoughts of Bamboozle, too.

This summer, I’ve decided to focus on Asbury Park’s comeback–its revival, with a mini-series of blogs, pointing out some of the picturesque or interesting facets of the area.  It’s not the town you used to know. Asbury Park has had a makeover. The culmination just happens to coincide with Bruce Springsteen’s comeback, too, as his tour kicked off this year. 

A lot has been happening to restore Asbury to its former “Glory Days”, and Jackie Pappas, Executive Director of the Asbury Park Chamber of Commerce, was able to point out some of the shining stars in the area, and highlight upcoming events for the summer. This beachside town still has its tried and true landmarks from the recently bamboozled boardwalk, to its seaside carousel, to the world renowned Stone Pony.  But now, the downtown area has a new look and feel to it.

“Downtown is completely revitalized!” shared Pappas. So now when you think of taking a drive to the shore for a long weekend or extended stay, there’s a lot more to consider for dining and entertainment besides the beach and boardwalk.

One of the fun perks celebrating the city’s comeback, is First Saturday. Asbury Park has been hosting this food, music, and art appreciative event every first Saturday of each month since 2005.

First Saturday happens, as you would guess, on the “first Saturday” of every month where the shops and galleries in downtown Asbury Park are open late, music is everywhere, and the town really comes alive.  If you’re out and about, there’s even free trolley service with stops at the boardwalk and downtown. 

“In the early 2000’s, Asbury started to blossom.  It was happening slowly, but there was something new happening each month.  As people launched new businesses, the Chamber of Commerce wanted to introduce them to the community.  It started with a few retail businesses and a handful of restaurants and they really anchored it. Now we have made it a monthly event,” explained Pappas about how First Saturday came to be.

There are a lot of new restaurants that have flocked to the area and some are the best in the business: Brando’s Citi Cucina, Langosta Lounge, Ivan & Andy’s, Porta, Café Volan, Mark’s Place Restaurant, The Press Room, and Chat and Nibble to name a few. 

Confections of a Rock Star, is a new eatery that opened this June on Cookman Ave.  It’s a custom bakery whose cupcakes are “amazing”, according to Pappas.  The owner of this rock ‘n roll cupcake business adds her own flair to her sweet treats.

“She’s a drummer and her style trickles down through everything.  She’s donated countless cupcakes to events,” remarked Pappas.

There are still some familiar foodie names like Beckman’s, which opened a café so you can enjoy Jersey pork roll while perusing magazines on its newsstand, DJ’s Delights is now open for dinner, and Bar 660 (which is adjacent to Synaxis) has a new food program.

If you can’t make a First Saturday, how about going on an artistic Asbury adventure which happens on Saturdays two weeks before First Saturday every month?

“This year we’ve started artsCAP.org. artsCAP is the Chamber of Commerce for the art community.  They’ve developed an art night out.  They choose a couple signature art galleries and a few exhibits.  We have over 15 galleries here in Asbury,” explained Pappas.

“It’s a very complimentary program to our First Saturday.  No matter when you plan to visit over the course of a month, there’s always something new and fresh.”

Speaking of new and fresh, the Executive Director also mentioned that there will be a new taco restaurant opening near the boardwalk, another major music recording studio will be opening soon, and there’s going to be a new  state-of-the-art art house / movie theater coming to the Asbury area, too.

In addition to dining out, there are other upcoming summer events in Asbury that you don’t want to miss.

Asbury Fresh” is a farmer’s market also held every Saturday from 9am – 1pm through the middle of November.  It features fresh and organic produce brought to you by many New Jersey farmers.

Jazzfest ran from June 30th through July 1st at Bradley Park (www.apjazzfest.com).  This year was the 24th year of jazz and blues with a great line-up of entertainment.  The festival stepped up the culinary aspect of the event this year.    If you missed Jazzfest, later this summer, the Asbury Park Oysterfest is a waterfront seafood exhibition that will run from Sept. 7-9, the weekend after Labor Day. 

“It’s our signature fall festival,” commented the Executive Director. “This year there’s a team of people working on refreshing it.  About 10,000 people attend.  It’s a two-and-a-half day festival featuring local food and music, and we’ve also included local wineries in the past.  This year we’re going to have more oysters than ever!”

Asbury Park is also hosting its Classic Car Show on Sept. 22 (1-5 p.m.). Admission is free, and it’s only $25 to register your car for the show at the Asbury Park Chamber of Commerce website.  

All of the revenue that comes back to the Chamber of Commerce allows Asbury Park to fund the promotion of these great events during the off season and other winter events such as promoting local shopping for the holidays.

“This year we had our first ever restaurant tour on April 29. Over 1,000 people attended and 33 restaurants participated; and there are over 50 restaurants in Asbury,” reported Pappas.  The restaurant tour provided free transportation for participants, after attendees secured tickets for $30 per person. It featured small bites, samples, and demonstrations, hosted by the Asbury Park Chamber of Commerce. 

What a great way to find out what your favorite foods are and which restaurants to put on your must dine at list! People also had chances to win prizes, including Asbury Park seasonal beach badges. Asbury Park will be hosting this new annual event in years to come, as well.

So if you’re looking for something to do as the hot weather hits, consider visiting the new Asbury Park and getting a flavor for what’s featured right now.

To keep up-to-date on what’s going on in Asbury, you can catch the latest information on the Asbury Park Chamber of Commerce’s website.  [http://www.asburyparkchamber.com/]

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Harold Levin July 11, 2012 at 12:50 AM
Laura, Great article! My wife and I walked the boardwalk in AP one week after Hurricane Irene. As someone who avoided the area for decades, it was invigorating to see the town regaining some of what I recall from when I was a preteen before it fell on hard times. The energy the boardwalk and the piers was amazing!
Laura Madsen July 11, 2012 at 12:58 AM
Thanks, Harold! I hope that by zeroing in on the "real" Jersey shore this summer, I can start to change the perception of what many people "think" it's like. Asbury has really undergone a makeover in the 21st century for the better!
Jacqueline Pappas July 11, 2012 at 02:47 AM
Thanks Laura - lovely article! Thanks for sharing our LOVE for Asbury Park.
Laura Madsen July 11, 2012 at 12:27 PM
Thank you, Jackie, for giving me so much detail on all of the great events and what has happened over the years. Asbury is great! I really can't wait for Oysterfest! It's my favorite shellfish!
centurion July 11, 2012 at 12:59 PM
AP has had so many false starts, and has been struggling for so long, I hope this is a continuing trend. Like HL, I have many memories of the AP boardwalk from way back.
Nancy July 11, 2012 at 01:09 PM
Asbury is once again one of my favorite places. The Stone Pony was part of my misspent but very happy youth. Now that my son is an adult and I have "me" time I've discovered it all over again. I have several friends that have moved to that area so it's always a good time. Thanks for shining a light on this wonderful, funky seashore town.
Mike Hollemans July 11, 2012 at 01:17 PM
For more information on the Oysterfest, please visit www.apoysterfest.com - band updates coming next week!
Laura Madsen July 11, 2012 at 01:21 PM
centurion, what I see is so encouraging. The restaurants are really top quality and it's hard to explain it unless you go to a First Saturday, but the local businesses really support and cross promote each other. It's like one big neighborhood party with upscale food, music and art, transplanted at a seaside town center. I had the pleasure of meeting some of the Asbury Park business owners who were so excited to talk about their food, entertainment, and sales ventures and they were extremely friendly. It's that kind of welcoming atmosphere that makes me want to go back.
Laura Madsen July 11, 2012 at 01:28 PM
Thanks, Mike! :)
Laura Madsen July 11, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Speaking of Asbury, why not come out tonight and celebrate 50 years of The Rolling Stones at The Stone Pony! :) More info here: http://tinyurl.com/89kvkub
Bret Morgan July 11, 2012 at 08:48 PM
Don't forget that Asbury also has a burgeoning tech culture, a direct offshoot of the NY Tech Scene. Be sure to check out Cowerks the collaborative workspace for entrepreneurs and tech based startups - http://cowerking.com , also in the downtown on Mattison Ave, The Jersey Shore Tech Meetup - http://meetup.com/jersey-shore-tech , and Asbury Agile - http://asburyagile.com
Laura Madsen July 13, 2012 at 01:25 AM
Great you mentioned that, Bret! And Nancy, so glad you have great memories, past and present of Asbury!
Linda Sadlouskos (Editor) July 13, 2012 at 05:50 PM
And Snooki's not even FROM Jersey. My take last summer from some local beach lovers: http://patch.com/A-mvKt
Melissa Sarsten July 15, 2012 at 01:47 PM
Love this thanks Laura
Laura Madsen July 15, 2012 at 01:52 PM
I know, Linda! LOL Hence why she topped my list of "Things You Saw at the Beach but Wish You Didn't" this year on my site: http://www.theladyinredblog.com/the-odd-things-i-encounter.html
Laura Madsen July 15, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Great article, Linda! You make very valid points. And Thanks, Melissa!
Linda Sadlouskos (Editor) July 15, 2012 at 04:20 PM
I think what's great about the Jersey Shore is that it's got so many "flavors," becach towns with totally different personalities. You can sample a few in one day, too. And this is from someone who lived on Long Island for many years, and truly appreciates those beaches, too. But Asbury Park has evolved (from something totally different when I was a kid) into one of the country's coolest beach towns! BTW, did they ever show glimpses of Asbury's great music scene on "Jersey Shore?" Why not? (Sorry, I'm not a regular viewer!)
Linda Sadlouskos (Editor) July 16, 2012 at 04:14 PM
What's your favorite shore town? Laura, your article got me thinking about how hard it would be to name just one. http://patch.com/A-wfs6
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