The Jersey Shore Play in the sand or on the boardwalk
In summer, the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area turns into one giant steam room, sending residents to pitch their sun umbrellas and stake their space on the Jersey Shore’s nearly 130 miles of beaches. Resorts and boardwalk entertainment districts boomed beginning in the late 19th century, and today the shore is a glorious mishmash, from hard-partying seaside bars, famous rock ’n’ roll clubs and neon-lit boardwalk Americana to family-oriented beaches, beautiful lighthouses and a whole galaxy of motels, inns and summer rental properties.
Down south, near the very tip of the shore, Wildwood boasts a 38-block boardwalk with huge amusement piers, waterparks, carnival and arcade games, souvenir shops, tattoo parlours, pizza and funnel-cake stands, tram cars and everything else you’d want from a great American boardwalk. On one side of the boardwalk, Wildwood’s white sand beach is nearly half a mile wide in places, and packed with families throughout the summer months. On the other side, the town is full of beautifully preserved ‘Doo-Wop’ architecture, a 1950s style that mixes space-age angularity with Caribbean and Hawaiian tiki motifs.
Twenty-five miles to the north, Ocean City’s boardwalk offers a calmer, more polite version of the same, with roller coasters, games, miniature golf, and the Spanish-style Ocean City Music Pier, which dates back to 1928. Considerably further north, only about 90 minutes from New York City, Seaside Heights completes the trilogy of active boardwalks, advertising itself as ‘Your home for family fun since 1913!’ At the Casino Amusement Arcade, the wooden 1910 Dr. Floyd L. Moreland Carousel is one of America’s great remaining carousels, with a 1923 Wurlitzer Military Band Organ providing the irreplaceable sound track.
Another kind of sound track got its start even further north, in Asbury Park. A major resort city from 1870 until WWII, Asbury had experienced such a palpable decline by the early 1970s that its mood influenced local boy Bruce Springsteen’s songs of desperation and redemption, spawning the ‘Born to Run’ New Jersey zeitgeist. You can still hear the Asbury Park sound at the Stone Pony, a legendary rock club where Springsteen has made scores of appearances over the past 30 years.