Over the past few years we've found ourselves in Asbury Park several times and are SUPER into it! From beach vibes to small-town vibes to rock-and-roll show vibes, Asbury Park offers plenty of reasons to make the trek from NYC!
Our first trip there (pre-Sally) was to see one of Alan's favorite bands, The Rentals, at The Stone Pony, perhaps the most well known music venue in New Jersey. For an concert, we thought it was going to be a decent amount of driving for one night, but it was a surprisingly easy to get there and back from Brooklyn, and we ended up loving the venue. It felt like a real rock n' roll spot, but with the added bonus that it was right along the beach! It wasn't overly crowded like so many shows in the city, we danced our hearts out, and the band even had a little meet-and-greet afterwords which I forced Alan into like an overzealous Jewish mother ("Mom, I don't want to meet the band." "They're your favorite band and we came all the way from Brooklyn, now go say hi.").
Flash forward to last September when we found out the Pixies were playing at The Stone Pony's Summer Stage! I love the Pixies!!! So it was really a no-brainer to go, and because the concert was early, we even bought a pair of child-sized ear protectors and brought Sally (the ones we bought her were by Banz and fit her great, but there are lots to choose from on Amazon). Their summer stage is a large space outside behind the venue that's not only way bigger than the indoor venue, but more importantly, they sell Jell-O shots! (careful, they'll sneak up on ya) We all had a great time and will definitely be back. (2018's summer lineup includes everyone from Boy George to Band of Horses to Cake/Ben Folds!)
In addition to the Stone Pony, Asbury Park has plenty more to offer. Last summer, we took a trip to the beach for some summer fun. There is a playground literally 'on the beach', so when Sally was getting restless under our umbrella, we could easily walk her over for a go on the swings or slides. There are also a number of large beautiful buildings from the 1920s nearby that house restaurants and shops if you want to get out of the sun, plus even more spots to grab food on the boardwalk. Parking can be a challenge in the busy season, so make sure you are mentally prepared to drive around and hope for the best.
This past weekend we were drawn to Asbury once again. This time by a Cat Convention! Yes, a Cat Convention put on by the local cat café in town called Catsbury Park. It took place at the Convention Hall and included various booths that sold felt cat beds, organic cat food, hand-knitted cat toys, and one that even offered actual cat tattoos! They also had meet-and-greets with famous internet cat personalities. The meet-and-greets cost extra so we decided to forgo a photo with Lil Bub and just cruised around. But still worth it!
And if you don't make it to what I assume will be an annual convention, you can visit the coffee shop, Catsbury Park, all year long. There, cats add plenty of fun to a routine coffee date, but I recommend making reservations ahead of time to make sure you get a chance to get in there and play. All of the cats in the café are available for adoption too (so parents, maybe leave your kids at home if you don't want to come home with one of these sweeties).
While Downtown, there are plenty of food, drink, and shopping options on Cookman Avenue. Besides the cat café, you can find chic restaurants of all cuisines, home goods/gift shops, and excellent antiquing. There are great shops with beautiful mid-century furniture and knick-knacks such as Flux Modern, Flying Saucers, and the Antique Emporium (our personal favorite with a ton of different booths!). All in all, lots of stores to pop in and out of and work up an appetite! This trip we did some shopping and then stopped for an early dinner at a gourmet pizza joint called Talulas and shared a few of their brick-oven pies (they even do brunch pizzas with fun egg creations!). But if pizza isn't what you're in the mood for, there's no shortage of hip-looking restaurants and bars that give you that familiar Brooklyn feel.
Speaking of hip, the word on the street is that the hot spot to stay in Asbury Park is The Asbury Hotel. It is located right on the beach, it's beautifully designed, and feels fresh and modern. There is a nice pool and a stunning rooftop bar with sweeping views. That being said, we've never stayed there. It's pretty booked up in the summer, and also a little outside of our price range. I called this weekend to see about a room thinking that it would be cheaper in early April and was told that the standard king room was $353. If you've got it, go for it! I bet it's amazing to stay there. A cheaper and simpler option that we opted for (but still has an indoor/outdoor pool!) is the Sheraton in Eatontown, NJ. Eatontown isn't on the beach, but it's a 15-minute drive to Asbury Park and has a hibachi spot right up the street, Ichiban Hibachi and Steakhouse (and if you don't already know, The Harrises LOVE hibachi!). A couple of other hotels on the beach that would be worth checking out, although we haven't stayed there, are The Empress Hotel or The Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel.
On this particular weekend we overheard a family at the hotel talking about a Fossil and Gem Convention in the nearby town of Edison, NJ. Without much to do on our way home, we decided to make it a full weekend of strange conventions and check it out! Once there, Alan could not understand why people would want to buy so many rocks, but I on the other hand was dazzled from the moment we walked in. Geodes, fossils, dinosaur bones, and shiny petrified wood all FOR SALE!? This place was the best! I finally managed to get Alan into the shopping spirit when we saw a very 60s looking Coral Calcite rock lamp. Soon after we bought a real 80-million year old fossilized dinosaur tooth (for $15!), and a tiny display stand to go with it. As Alan and I joke, it'll look great in our storage unit.
A weekend of conventions = a weekend of family fun! But truth be told, conventions might be a little better for older kids. Sally, being 2, had a tough time not grabbing everything from the booths at the Cat Convention (although she was mesmerized by two people in cat costumes). The next day, we planned our trip to the Fossil Convention during her nap time so we could enjoy it while she slept in the stroller (and she still got to see a little bit when she woke up).
If you're specially looking for a beach outside the New York area, go check out Asbury Park for the weekend and explore!