A Snob's Guide to the Jersey Shore (2024)

Close your eyes. Now, think of the Jersey Shore. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear those words? Maybe it's the fake tans and fist pumping made popular by the notorious MTV reality series of the same name. Perhaps it's slot machines and all-nighters in Atlantic City. Or is it loud, rowdy boardwalks lined with gaudy shops? As someone who has spent my summers on the shore my whole life, there's no denying its less-than-glamorous reputation, but there are many hidden gems along the coast that might make you think twice about boarding the swanky, new $275 Blade bus to The Hamptons this summer.

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According to the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism the state has experienced a steady rise in tourism, with 120.5 million visitors in 2023, up from 114.6 million a year prior.

Just a short hour to an hour and a half or so outside of the city, the Jersey Shore has much to offer, including some of cleanest beaches you've ever laid eyes on, quaint boutique hotels with 5-star amenities, mom-and-pop shops filled with quirky items you could not find in Soho, and some of the most delicious restaurants around. (Sure, New Jersey eateries have yet to acquire a Michelin star, but your tastebuds will say otherwise.) Oh, and did I mention it has cellular service... that actually works?

The Jersey Shore is also rich in history and where many U.S. presidents vacationed before Martha's Vineyard became the summer destination of choice. Benjamin Harrison spent summers in Cape May, while Ulysses S. Grant had a cottage in Long Branch and James Garfield owned a home in Elberon. In fact, it's where he passed away after being shot. (Want to know more? A new historical drama about his assassination is in the works at Netflix). Woodrow Wilson also famously spent the summer of 1916 in West Long Branch and Asbury Park as he campaigned for his re-election.

Ahead, a very T&C way of spending the summer on the Jersey Shore, along with the best places to stay, to eat, and things to do.

Jump to:

  • Asbury Park
  • Cape May
  • Stone Harbor
  • Long Branch
  • Long Beach Island

Asbury Park

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Hardcore rock 'n roll fans might recognize Asbury Park best for its vibrant music scene during the '70s—does Bruce Springsteen's debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., ring a bell?but in recent years, the hip beach town has been on the up-and-up, with a new crop of upscale hotels, fine dining eateries, and recreational spots opening left and right.

Where to Stay

The Asbury Ocean Club offers a genuine 5-star hotel experience that will make you forget you're in Jersey in the first place. Located right off the boardwalk, the 5-year-old resort is a true slice of luxury with 54 laidback rooms each with a private garden or oceanfront terrace, a pool deck overlooking the sea where you can soak up the sun with a co*cktail in hand (don't sleep on the piña coladas!), a state-of-the-art spa, elevated dining options, and a 24/7 fitness center with stellar views.

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A guest room with an oceanfront terrace at the Asbury Ocean Club.

A couple of blocks over stands The St. Laurent Social Club, another newly-opened hotel and social club. Like the Surf Lodge of the Jersey Shore, the buzzy spot boasts 20 renovated guest rooms, a co*cktail lounge, an outdoor pool, and the award winning Heirloom restaurant helmed by James Beard nominated Chef David Viana, formerly of Eleven Madison Park (more on that below).

Another hotel worth visiting is The James Bradley, just a short 10 minutes drive away from Asbury in the micro-neighborhood of Bradley Beach. The quaint spot, designed by NYC-based interior designer Sebastian Zuchowicki, is made up of a 16-key main house and three-bedroom bungalow with luxe amenities such as Flamingo Estate bath products, Parachute linens, and Business & Pleasure beach chairs and umbrellas. It also offers a bespoke wellness program, seasonal beach service, and a private dining garden for breakfast and snacks.

Where to Eat

Make sure you reserve a spot at Heirloom for its three-course prix fixe dinner; Chef Viana's signature dish is the jerk-spiced duck. Moonstruck is another can't-miss spot that is arguably Asbury's longest-standing fine dining restaurant. The fried artichokes, baked brie, and fettuccine salmon are amazing, but the sesame seared tuna over buckwheat noodle salad is to die for.

Of course, you can't pay a visit to Jersey without eating some Italian food, right? An old-school favorite among locals, Jimmy's makes Italian dishes that tastes like it came straight from your nona's kitchen. The sole almondine and sun-dried tomato pappardelle? Lick-the-plate-clean good. Paul McCartney has previously dined there, and rumor has it Joe Pesci is a frequent guest. For a second just-as-great option (in the case you can't get into Jimmy's), check out Nettie's House of Spaghetti, about a 15-minute drive away in Tinton Falls.

Other honorary mentions: Pascal & Sabine's French cuisine will transport you to Paris, Taka's selection of sushi is the freshest you'll taste in the area, and Cardinal Provisions is the place to be for brunch on Saturday.

    Things to Do

    While a visit to the beach is a non-negotiable (Note: Most Jersey Shore beach towns require paid badges or passes to access the sand, but some hotels offer free entrance and service. Otherwise, badges can be purchased on the boardwalk.), no trip to Asbury Park is truly complete without a visit to the legendary Stone Pony. Celebrating 50 years this year, the music venue is responsible for launching the careers of several icons, including Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi. The club hosts performances year-round, as well as its Summer Stage outdoor concert series from May to October. Check the schedule here for upcoming performances.

    I Don't Want to Go Home: The Oral History of the Stone Pony

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    Don't forget to walk the boardwalk. In addition to the usual grab-and-go bites and beach store fronts, the Asbury Park Convention Hall is another historic music venue on the boardwalk that has seen performances from The Rolling Stones to The Doors to Tina Turner. A short walk from there is Cookman Avenue, which is sprinkled with delicious cafes, art galleries, and adorable shopping destinations. Be sure to stop at Flux Modern for mid-century furniture shopping, and the Antique Emporium next door for one-of-a-kind thrifting. If you want to explore the area further, drive down 15 minutes to Spring Lake, the one-time Gilded Age resort spot for wealthy New Yorkers. From there, check out all the cute little clothing shops along 3rd Avenue.

      Cape May

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      Situated on the southern most tip of the Jersey Shore (approximately 160 miles from Manhattan), Cape May is one of the oldest summer resorts in the nation. Lined with heritage Victorian architecture, a charming shopping district, and a sprawling beach, the laidback seaside town offers a bit of everything for everyone.

      Where to Stay

      Congress Hall has been the go-to destination for visitors since it first opened its doors in 1816. Housed in a historic Victorian building, the hotel features freshly decorated guest rooms and suites, and has a pool and beach access, five dining options, and ocean-inspired treatments at the Sea Spa.

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      Congress Hall has been the hotel of choice to visit in Cape May since it opened its doors in 1816.

      For those craving a little bit of town and country, Beach Plum Farm offers six unique cottages and barns tucked away on 62 acres of farmland that grows more than 100 varieties of fruits, veggies, herbs, and flowers for local Cape May restaurants. (The hotel is famous for its farm-to-table dinner series, but guests can also shop the fresh produce and meats at the Beach Plum Farm Market, located in the main Amish barn.) Just a stones throw away is the historic Virginia Hotel, dating back to 1879, which offers a unique stay melding history with modern day amenities, like a daily continental breakfast, weekly music performances, and seasonal beach service. And if you're looking to stay somewhere a bit more modern, look no further than Lokal Hotel, a newcomer resort with chicly designed rooms and a heated saltwater pool.

      Where to Eat

      In addition to Beach Plum Farm, the family-owned Washington Inn is a must-visit for its elegant New American fare, as is Peter Shields Restaurant & Inn and Union Park Dining Room.

      What to Do

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      The Washington Street Mall is one of Cape May’s biggest draw.

      The Cape May beach is a can't-miss destination, but for those looking to get in some retail therapy, head over to the Washington Street Mall, a pedestrianized district with boutiques and eateries that span three blocks. History buffs will enjoy visiting the Cape May Lighthouse, built in 1859, and the Victorian house-turned museum, Emlen Physick Estate. The Cape May Point State Park is also worth checking out for nature lovers.

        Stone Harbor

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        Famous for its affluent community and serene coastal atmosphere, the small strip of land that is known as Stone Harbor is a one-size-fits-all Jersey Shore town, with powdery beaches, a national park, and various aquatic activities. Taylor Swift spent her childhood summers there.

        Where to Stay

        There's one place to stay in Stone Harbor and one place only: The Reeds at Shelter Haven. Situated on a bay just two short blocks from the beach, the boutique hotel offers an elevated experience for all guests with five dining options, a spa with exotic Turkish Bath treatments and Brine Light therapy, and soul-nurturing wellness programs. There's also door-to-shore shuttle service with complimentary chairs, umbrellas, and towels, as well as bay activities, boat docking, and sunset cruise charters.

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        The Reeds has 58 distinctly designed guest rooms, which offer 5-star amenities and breathtaking sunsets.

        Where to Eat

        You don't need to go far to find good food in Stone Harbor. The Reeds' Water Star Grille serves the freshest seafood in town with stellar views (make sure to order Maine Steamed Mussels and Grilled Bronzino). Another favorite is the upscale Sax Restaurant & Lounge, known for its top-notch oysters and braised short ribs. In Avalon, the next town over, Cafe Loren's seafood dishes can't be missed, and neither can The Diving Horse's. Finally, no visit is complete without a trip to Springer's Homemade Ice Cream—the perfect treat for a hot summer's day.

        What to Do

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        The Reeds offers all kinds of luxury services at its Spa, including two Turkish Bath treatments.

        After a morning on the sand, head over to the Wetlands Institute to get to know the local wildlife. Then pop on into Ocean Galleries to see what's on display from local artists and the Stone Harbor Museum to see the new Taylor Swift exhibit running through September. For more adventure, paddle the bay with a kayak from Harbor Outfitters or bike around the island. (Harbor Bike & Beach Shop is praised for its excellent costumer service.)

        Long Branch

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        About 20 minutes north of Asbury Park, Long Branch is a mostly residential area that has seen a vacation boom recent years (likely because it's one of the closest beach towns to the city). Three presidents resided there and it continues to be an affluent summer resort for wealthy city dwellers. (Notably, the Kushner family own real estate, both residential and commercial, in the area.)

        Where to Stay

        In a town full of summer homes and rentals, the 5-year-old Wave Resort & Spa is your best bet for a luxurious weekend in Long Branch. The Bungalow Hotel a few blocks north at Pier Village is a good second option.

        Where to Eat

        The best food in the area is actually not in Long Branch. Head up north for about 15 minutes to Seabright for Anjelicas, the hottest ticket in town. Good luck trying to get a reservation, though: word around town is people pay hundreds of dollars to secure a table every weekend. At Pier Village, Long Branch's waterfront destination for retail, dining, and entertainment, there's Avenue for gourmet French cuisine with a good view or Sirena for Italian food. Or you can drive couple blocks south to Brighton Avenue for authentic Tuscan food at Trama's Trattoria. Craving something sweet? Strollo's Lighthouse is a local-favorite for Italian ice and soft serve ice cream. And for the freshest salads, smoothies, and fruit bowls around, Ouri's—the NYC gourmet grocery store that's being dubbed the "Erewhon of the East Coast"—also has a storefront in Deal, about 10 minutes away.

        What to Do

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        Seven U.S. presidents—including President Grant, President Garfield, and President Wilson—worshiped at this church near Long Branch.

        There's the beach, of course, but there's also tons of shopping in Pier Village. Make sure you drive down Ocean Avenue to see all the oceanfront McMansions (they're only summer residences!) and pull the car over to check out Church of the Presidents. It's currently closed to the public, but you can admire the architecture of the church where seven U.S. presidents worshiped. From there, check out The Great Hall at Monmouth University, where President Wilson lived briefly in the summer of 1916.

        Long Beach Island

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        Long Beach Island is another popular destination for the rich and famous (Margaret Qualley married Jack Antanoff there last summer, and Jon Stewart has been known to visit). Spanning approximately 18 miles long, the small island off the Jersey Shore is mostly residential and pretty tight-knit, but there are certainly some places worth visiting for a weekend getaway to remember.

        Where to Stay

        The best way to do LBI is by renting a house. One local recommends staying on the north part of the island (Harvey Cedars and Loveladies) and describes the area as a "not-your-typical-Jersey-Shore-experience." That's where you'll get the least amount of crowds and certain beaches in the area can only be accessed by homeowners. Should you want to get a hotel, the recently-opened Hotel LBI combines the charm of a summer home with modern accommodations and amenities. Key highlights include an indoor-outdoor pool and jacuzzis, five dining options, and a state-of-the-art spa and salon with luxury services.

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        The Barnegat Lighthouse is the biggest tourist attraction on Long Beach Island

        Where to Eat

        Make a reservation at The Gables, a charming upscale eatery located in a Victorian house, or Yellowfin if you're craving some damn good seafood. You can't go wrong with Black Eyed Susans Tavern & Restaurant, either. For Italian food, Stefano's is another favorite.

        What to Do

        If you're going to LBI, you're going for one reason: the beach. But if you can't resist the urge to explore, the Barnegat Lighthouse State Park on the north part of the island is definitely worth visiting for the scenic views.

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        Sophie Dweck

        Sophie Dweck is the associate shopping editor for Town & Country, where she covers beauty, fashion, home and décor, and more.

        A Snob's Guide to the Jersey Shore (2024)
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