Stroll freely, swim at your own risk! 
I still have sour grapes over Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations' lackluster feature of Asbury Park in his "New Jersey" episode. When the episode was shot in 2005, Asbury Park was just on the verge of rejuvenation. The grilled cheese and potato chips Bourdain eats at the boardwalk Howard Johnson's, which has since been bought and renovated into a refined seafood restaurant, just isn't a fair homage to my favorite city by the sea. (And you may recognize it from a film of the same name).

Asbury Park has been working hard to come back from a bygone vacationer's playground. Since the middle of the past decade, recession or no, boutiques, bars, restaurants, and proudly quirky businesses (pinball museum/arcade, anyone?) have been steadily sprouting up along the boardwalk and downtown. Remnants of its state of decay still remain, though, and today's Asbury Park packs a nostalgic shot of New Jersey as a Victorian seaside paradise and a grungy cradle of 1980's Jersey rock n'roll. I hesitate to call Asbury's new tone a Brooklyn-by-the-sea. You are as likely to see hipsters as you are yuppies as you are older gay couples. Truly, there is no place else quite like Asbury Park.

One of a series of murals on the Asbury Park boardwalk
The offseason, especially now before the Northeast heads into deep freeze, is a great time to visit Asbury Park for a day or a weekend to enjoy the nearly empty but beautiful beach, terrific restaurants, shopping and arguably the best music scene between New York and Philadelphia.

Getting there: Asbury Park is right off the Garden State Parkway on Exit 102 if you're blessed with your own set of wheels. Otherwise from New York, take the Academy bus or New Jersey Transit to the Asbury Park station. Downtown Asbury and the boardwalk are accessible by foot from the train station if you cross Main Street and head straight up Cookman Avenue.

Budget: By car, fuel costs $6.24 one-way from New York and $8.25 one-way from Philadelphia. Add about $8-12 for tolls. Train and bus transport from New York is $30 round-trip. If you're making a weekend of it, off-season hotel rooms for two are around $100 on the weekend. Next-door Ocean Grove has some quainter options than Asbury offers, some with breakfast. Check them out here.

What to wear:  Comfort remains the golden rule when dressing for travel. Keep warm! The ocean breeze at this time of year is better described as a chilly gust, but warm spells in November are not unheard of. Layer up, ladies!
Walk through the old casino, now the gateway to the boardwalk

The Off Season-er
Clubmasters, $32, Cat-Eye Sunglasses, $50; Lace-up Brogues, $29; Resin Watch, $135; Geometric Sweater, $48; Oval Hoops, $9; "Rockstar" Skinny Cords, $33


Recommended:


The Boardwalk: As cheap as free, the Asbury Park boardwalk is still lined with some of its "ruins" like the old Casino that now serves as the unofficial Asbury Park gateway. Walk down to Convention Hall which is still a functioning (and lively) venue. If you really love Jersey, you'll listen to "Greetings from Asbury Park" in your headphones while you stroll. 

Shops and Boutiques: Several boutiques close in the off-season but some, including Beach Basics and Carla Gizzi have off season hours from Thursday-Sunday. I recommend both. You won't be able to walk out of Carla Gizzi with buying a floppy vintage-inspired hat for next summer or a delicate handmade piece of jewelry. Beach Basics sells Asbury Park pride sweatshirts and relaxed beach style adjusted for fall. They also sell Alex and Ani. 



Concerts: The Stone Pony, Wonder Bar, The Saint are long-standing Asbury bar-venues are the kind of places where, as soon as you walk inside, you forget CBGB's is no longer. Asbury has been through hard times and these places have seen it through. Convention Hall has recently had acts as large as Bob Dylan and bands on the verge as well as blasts from the recent-past like The Offspring, Indigo Girls, The Wallflowers, Better than Ezra and Fountains of Wayne flock to The Stone Pony and the Paramount Theater.  The Wonder Bar and Cali-Mexican restaurant Langosta Lounge will continue to have live music into the off-season. The Asbury Park Boardwalk website has a full list of musical events in the off-season by month.

Eating:  I almost hesitated to list Porta (911 Kingsley Street), because it's, right now, The Asbury Hype Eatery, but sometimes hype should be adhered to and Porta is such a case. Pining for Italy, Porta helps me go back with a pizza oven built in Naples and a pizza-chef who is Naples trained. Their pesto, carbonara and goat cheese pizzas make it a tough choice. I'd get all three. Stick around for the nightlife that has people driving from all over the state. (Warning: the clientele can eerily resemble the Real Housewives of New Jersey).

New Jersey is the land of 1,000 Italian restaurants. Asbury Park has a fleet of red sauce-less places that stand on their own. Cubacan (First Avenue Pavilion) is such a gem. With their other locations being Havana and South Beach, Miami, you know you're getting the real mccoy with small plates, paella, cubano sandwiches and ceviche to die for. 

The Trinity and the Pope (649 Mattison Avenue) is some of Nawlin's best up north and the heat is ON. Try Boeuf et Frites with Jersey corn and a macaroni and cheese that changes daily. 

Crust & Crumble (658 Cookman Ave) Pizzeria and Bakery is perfect for a casual lunch of pizza, sandwich or to pick up a pastry to go. Their menu is also vegan friendly.

Staying overnight? Drive or bike away from the business district of Asbury to the best-kept secret breakfast at Sunset Landing (1215 Sunset Avenue) on Deal Lake. Their off-season hours can be wonky--it's run by surfers who like to take the day off when the waves are great--but their gouda and portobello omelet is worth the gamble. 

Pencil It In: The second annual Cheers to Beers! Asbury Park beer festival is set to be held in Convention Hall on January 26th 2013 featuring craft beers and ciders from all over the world. Get more info and tickets for the event here



PS. Read more of Charlotte's writing on travel and the stuff that happens in between on her blog.


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