The North Shore
Our first-ever guide to the north-of-LBI beach scene-along with a surprising defense (yes, defense!) of The Situation, Snooki, and the televised Jersey Shore.
PEOPLE-WATCHING It’s a pain to get to Gunnison Beach, and that’s on purpose: As the state’s only legally nude beach, the, ahem, intimate parcel boasts more people who really should be wearing bathing suits than not (typical of most nudie locales), but it’s a lark, it’s crowded, and you never have to worry about shaking the sand out of your suit. Gunnisonbeach.org.
WEEKEND STAY Strolling the lovely Pier Village, you’ll find an expansive promenade anchored by trendy shops and restaurants that will have you muttering, “Toto, we’re not in Sea Isle anymore.” Its anchor is the just-opened Bungalow Hotel, an oasis of European chic that—coupled with its adjacent private beach club, Le Club—will have you believing you’re closer to Monte Carlo than Montclair. C’est si bon! Pier Village, 1 Chelsea Avenue, 732-923-0100, piervillage.com; Bungalow Hotel, 50 Laird Street, 732-229-3700, bungalowhotel.net; Le Club, 23 Ocean Avenue, 732-759-2900, leclubavenue.com.
FINE DINING “Latin-infused Spanish Portuguese”? At the Shore? Though the combo sounds more suitable for New York’s East Village, it’s alive and, well, cooking at Bistro Olé, part of the remarkable (and long overdue) renaissance that’s finally come to Asbury Park. Owner Rico Rivera and Venezuelan-born chef Wil Vivas have created a clean, elegant corner space (with outdoor sidewalk seating) featuring food that most definitely is not Boardwalk fare. Among the marquee dishes: two addictive paellas; sea bass topped with Spanish pesto and bread crumbs and served over avocado salsa; and the Olé Olé chicken, juicy breasts stuffed with manchego cheese and spinach. The downside: No reservations accepted. The upside: Worth the wait. 230 Main Street, 732-897-0048, bistroole.com.
OLD-TIME SHORE FEELING Yes, parts of Asbury still need rehab. (Okay, a lot of rehab.) But faded or not, there’s no resort along the whole Shore with more grand signage and architecture telegraphing the seaside allure—and timeless pull—of the Shore. Cityofasburypark.com.
GIFT SHOP Mike Buess’s visually arresting Bodega Shoppe evokes the feel of a 1920s Parisian apothecary. Inside, you can find the best of all possible purchases: great gifts you’ll eventually decide to keep for yourself. Amid the fab jewelry, scented soaps and quixotic kids’ stuff, we adored the Asbury Lanes cuff links ($32) and the mermaid bottle opener ($18). Bought both. Kept both. 800 Ocean Avenue, No. 105, 732-775-4005, bodegashoppe.com.
BEACH For years, the immaculate strip of sand here (why do the North beaches seem so much cleaner?) was best known for partying college kids and the adults who love to leer at them (we know, gross), but lately Belmar has done a great job of dialing down the frat-house vibe. The result is a beach with a little bit of everybody, from toddlers tumbling into the surf to hipsters strumming guitars to grandmas reading trashy novels. (Bonus: Great foot showers for washing off the sand when you exit. Hint, hint, Jersey Cape.) Every September, the town hosts an awesome beach party for kids with autism (last year’s drew more than 3,000 people); this year, it will also present “Sunday Night Movies” on the beach, a kid-friendly lineup screening at the 8th Street entrance that kicks off June 27th with Monsters vs. Aliens. BYOP (bring your own popcorn)—and a blanket. 732-681-3700, belmar.com.