Asbury Park used to be known for nothing more than Bruce Springsteen and the fact that it was a largely abandoned Jersey town. In spite of its storied musical history (more on that later), Asbury Park was, for years, the one beach spot you didn’t go to for a relaxing Shore weekend. But that all changed in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, thanks to an influx of artists and people from the LGBT community who had been trickling in since the ‘50s.
In addition to lots of great LGBT events, Asbury Park is full of rooftop bars, cool hotels, great restaurants, and of course, plenty of music. This summer, step outside your regular beach town comfort zone and check out Asbury Park -- especially now that you have this definitive guide to everything you need to eat, see, and do there.
Hear live music where Springsteen got his start
Asbury Park is still best known for its historic music venues, and for good reason -- many of them were instrumental in giving the world the music we listen to still today. The Stone Pony in particular is famous for launching the careers of both Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi, two guys you've maybe have heard of once or twice. It's had its ups and downs -- including almost closing in the ‘90s, but thanks to an outcry over its demise it was eventually saved, and still books great talent like the Dead Kennedys, Best Coast, and The Lumineers. The Saint is another small and intimate venue that routinely hosts bands like Kings of Leon, Tegan and Sara, and Deftones. The historical Asbury Park Convention Hall has seen everyone from Frank Sinatra (also from Jersey) to Janis Joplin to Led Zeppelin. In more recent years, The Gaslight Anthem (another Jersey band!), Bob Dylan, and Jimmy Eat World have all graced the stage.
Eat seafood, pizza, and French toast (not necessarily at all once)
From fresh seafood on the water to the perfect French toast, AP has you covered. Porta is one of the best fancy pizzerias in town, doing inventive Neapolitan pies like Spring Betty, with goat cheese and spinach béchamel, alongside more traditional pies. By the beach you can dine at Langosta Lounge, a Caribbean fusion restaurant with nightly live music on the boardwalk. If you (rightly) believe that going to the beach without eating seafood is sacrilegious, head to the boardwalk for oysters and cocktails at Asbury Oyster Bar, then make your way to The Bonney Read for more oysters, shrimp, crab, and fish in every possible incarnation you could think of, from rolls to fried to steamed to raw. For a hungover brunch, Toast's red velvet pancakes and Nutella French toast always do the trick.
Have a drink by the water (or with your pup)
If you've got a dog, don't miss the opportunity to drink alongside him or her at Wonder Bar's “Yappy Hour," compete with dog swimming pools and even a "time out" area. The bar also hosts lots of great live bands and other events (many of which are dog-themed). For beachside drinking, head over to Beach Bar located right on the boardwalk, which offers great views of the sand and surf, but most importantly, rum bucket punch (yes, that's a full bucket of rum punch). For something super-casual, Bond Street Bar & Grill has you covered with $2 PBRs and $5 burgers. If you’re feeling extra festive, head to Asbury Festhalle & Biergarten, where you can listen to live music and down bratwurst while making friends at your communal table.
Spend a night at a hotel by the beach
While there’s probably nothing better than the unique Jersey Shore brand of Americana, sometimes you need to mix it up, and The Asbury Hotel brings a new level of trendiness to the shore (believe it!). The industrial hotel is hip, but not overbearingly so, with a beer garden, a pool, easy access to the beach, a rec room with ping-pong and pinball machines, and two different rooftop bars. If you’re feeling like something a little less trendy but still fun, The Tides is the place to go -- a happening pool scene and spa strikes the right balance of stimulating and relaxing.
Watch mermaids, play games, have a séance & blow glass
Since Asbury Park has a sizeable gay community, there are lots of great LGBT events around town throughout the summer. At the Asbury Park Promenade of Mermaids you can check out drag queens in all of their glory in sea-inspired outfits. If you're looking for some furry love, Asbury Park Bear Weekend is the way to go. For all things weird, stop into Paranormal Books and Curiosities to get your tarot cards read, for a séance, or to visit its paranormal museum. Looking for something you’ll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere? Blow glass at Hot Sand. You won’t be making anything fancy like a vase, but you will be able to blow a glass bubble -- literally a spherical piece of glass. You can also indulge your inner child at the Silverball Museum Arcade, with pinball machines that date all the way back to the 1930s (and yes, still work). If you're hungry, the arcade’s got all the classic Jersey Shore food staples including pizza, hot dogs, and funnel cake. If you're looking to shop, visit the Asbury Park Bazaar for artwork, jewelry, gifts, and accessories.
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1. The Stone Pony913 Ocean Ave, Asbury Park
2. The Saint601 Main St, Asbury Park
3. Asbury Park Convention Hall1300 Ocean Ave, Asbury Park
4. Porta Pizzeria911 Kingsley St, Asbury Park
5. Langosta Lounge1000 Ocean Ave, Asbury Park
6. The Bonney Read525 Cookman Ave, Asbury Park
7. Asbury Oyster Bar1300 Ocean Ave, Asbury Park
8. Toast516 Cookman Ave, Asbury Park
9. Wonder Bar1213 Ocean Ave, Asbury Park
10. The Beach Bar1300 Ocean Ave, Asbury Park
11. Bond Street Bar & Grill208 Bond St, Asbury Park
12. Asbury Festhalle And Biergarten527 Lake Ave, Asbury Park
13. Paranormal Books & Curiosities627 Cookman Ave, Asbury Park
14. Hot Sand550 Cookman Ave, Asbury Park
15. Silverball Museum Arcade1000 Ocean Ave, Asbury Park
Considered one of the greatest rock venues of all time by the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, this unsuspecting dive in Asbury Park is best known as the place where Springsteen and Bon Jovi launched their careers. It's since become a must-stop institution for acts travelling through. It's steps from the boardwalk to add an extra Jersey vibe to the proceedings. While primarily known as a concert venue, it has a sizable bar in front of a wall of guitars, where you can order a beer and nod your head to whatever local or cover band is playing that night, though huge national acts also drop in as well.
Major acts and local bands alike take the stage at this Asbury Park venue equipped with a small stage and a space that accommodates about 150. Around since 1994, this intimate place has hosted over 300 acts including Jewel, Hoobastank and Everlast. As for the bar, there are over 20 beers on tap and nightly drink specials.
This historical music venue in Asbury Park has seen everyone from Frank Sinatra to Janis Joplin and, in more recent years, Bob Dylan, and Jimmy Eat World. It is a a 3,600-seat indoor exhibition center located right on the boardwalk that has been around since about 1930. There are several stores inside for shopping out of the summer heat, and there is a bar on each side where you can hear occasional live music.
This Asbury Park Italian joint specializes in Neapolitan-style pizza, wine & cocktails. Their pizza topping combos range from inventive and elegant to traditional. There's a definite emphasis on freshness, as the owners buy from local purveyors and make mozzarella in-house every day. The inside is modern and sleek with tea lights hanging from the ceiling and a large square bar.
Langosta Lounge in Asbury Park is a vibrant, bustling beachfront restaurant right on the boardwalk. The menu is full of Caribbean fusion food and creative, tropical cocktails. It's open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, and there are daily specials in addition to a killer happy hour menu. There's also occasional live music inside and plenty of outdoor seating for perfect summer days.
The Bonney Read in Asbury Park is a nautical spot with plenty of loyal followers and pleasantly surprised vacationers. You'll find sustainably sourced seafood like oysters, shrimp, crab, and fish in every possible incarnation you could think of, from rolls to fried to steamed to raw. A selection of fine rums is added to creative cocktails all designed to pair well with seafood. Wood-planked walls and plenty of outdoor seating contribute to the nautical ambiance.
Located in the historic Convention Hall on the boardwalk in Asbury Park, this oyster bar offers a curated selection of shellfish, fine cheese and wine. It's all about light bites and delicious libations, and you can enjoy a variety of custom and classic cocktails as you take in views of the ocean. The interior is sparse and clean, with a few high tops and bar seating.
This busy daytime cafe in Asbury Park serves breakfast, brunch and lunch classics just a block off the boardwalk. You can order everything from cinnamon rolls to lobster rolls, but you shouldn't leave without trying the famous family-recipe pancakes. The decor is bright, rustic and bordering on kitschy, perfect for a beach vacation mindset.
This Asbury Park spot is the ultimate bar for dog lovers, as you can bring your furry friend along for a brew. This can happen during the designated “Yappy Hour," compete with dog swimming pools and even a "time out" area. For two-legged bar goers, there is frequent live music and plenty of TVs to catch games.
Take in views of sand and surf from your perch at this boardwalk bar in Asbury Park. Hanging strand lights set the mood inside, but outdoors is the place to be, especially in the presence of Beach BAr's signature rum bucket (yes, it's a bucket of rum). If you're hungry, anticipate standard bar fare, and try to go on the nights when they have DJs or live music: that's when things really heat up.
This casual joint is a busy, inexpensive place to grab a drink after a long beach day. Located in Asbury Park, you can stop in for reasonably priced classic cocktails and beer served in mason jars. The food is a huge standout considering how casual and cheap this bar is. The $5 burger is an absolute steal, and inventive takes on other pub fare keep locals and visitors coming back time and again.
This upbeat restaurant and bar in Asbury Park offers German food, plenty of beer and a rooftop patio. You get an authentic biergarten experience, from bratwurst at the communal tables outside to a sprawling indoor hall. A regular schedule of live music energizes the crowds that constantly gather.
Paranormal Books & Curiosities is a unique experience boutique where you can get in touch with your spiritual side. Tarot card readings, séances and a paranormal museum make for one creepy and fascinating experience. You'll find books on ghost hunting, science and theory and past life regression, among other intriguing topics. If you're a ghost hunter, you can find a broad selection of equipment, and there's often a rotating selection of paranormal art exhibits.
This glassblowing studio in Asbury Park had been around for ten years. It's appropriate for all ages and all staff members are formally trained in the art of glass blowing. On any given day you may encounter visiting artists and professionals in the field, but let's face it, you probably won't be making a blown vase after one visit. Still, it's mesmerizing to go and watch, and you can even blow your own glass bubble! Then, pick up a piece of artwork done by the professionals.
Indulge your inner child at Silverball Museum Arcade right on the boardwalk in Asbury Park. You'll find old-school pinball machines from the 1930s that you can still play in addition to more modern arcade games. If you're hungry, this venue has all the Jersey Shore staples you could want, from pizza to funnel cake.