Down the Shore, Everything’s All Right: 48 Hours in Spring Lake
Though the Jersey Shore may be the hallowed stomping ground of Bruce Springsteen, you don’t need to be born to run to appreciate its charm. (In fact, you can loathe any and all exercise whatsoever.) From vintage Americana along the boardwalk in Asbury Park to the idyllic 18-mile barrier island of Long Beach, New Jersey’s seaside towns are severely underrated. And so, for this edition of carless weekend travel, we’re focusing on the “Irish Riviera” of the New Jersey coast: Spring Lake.
A quick trip out of Manhattan, Spring Lake is accessible to New Yorkers via NJ Transit in less than two hours (an hour shorter than the train to Montauk, and infinitely less crowded). The painlessness of your journey will be sure to alleviate any Sunday scaries (a big departure from the fear and loathing of a packed weekend train back from the Hamptons, which only exacerbates anxiety). Unlike the crowded LIRR, you’ll actually have a place to sit on the (relatively brief) ride back into the city. This ease of travel allows many county residents to commute to New York, preferring their beach homes to city apartments, and after your first visit to the “Jewel of the Jersey Shore,” you’ll understand their reluctance to leave.
So read on to find out why down the shore, Sammi and Ronnie drama aside, everything’s all right. Better than all right, even — because while we wouldn’t dare question Bruce Springsteen’s soulful rendition of Tom Waits’ song, when it comes to the Jersey Shore, Spring Lake is the boss.
Where to Stay
Thanks to abundant Airbnb rental options throughout Spring Lake and neighboring boroughs, you can pretend to live (kind of) like The Boss. (Bruce Springsteen’s Colts Neck home is also located in Monmouth County, and he’s owned houses nearby for decades.) Capitalize on the plethora of beautiful Victorian homes by booking a stay along a picturesque, tree-lined street to see how the other half lives.
If something traditional is more your speed, The Breakers — located right across from the beach on Ocean Avenue — is a venerated Spring Lake hotel that was originally built in the late 1800s. From live piano music in the lounge to afternoon cocktails on a wraparound porch, this is Gilded Age decadence at its best. Another Spring Lake staple is The Chateau Inn & Suites, a boutique hotel located at the north end of “the lake” itself. Select suites at The Chateau include private porches with courtyards and outdoor seating (a real must in this town) that are perfect for a romantic weekend.
If you’re thinking of visiting between Memorial Day and Labor Day and interested in minimizing your post-happy-hour walk home, book a room at the Parker House. But plan ahead: Seasonal rooms sell out quickly, and they’re already taking submissions for the 2019 waiting list.
Where to Eat & Drink
Start your day like a local with ham, egg, and cheese on a roll at Ray’s Café on Third Ave (this Jersey Shore institution also has a location in Sea Girt). The Taylor ham (or pork roll) breakfast sandwich is the unofficial sandwich of the Garden State. If you didn’t order one when visiting North Jersey, did you even really cross over the state line? If you’re more interested in sweets in the morning, head to The Scone Pony for pastries — it’s named for The Stone Pony, the bar in Asbury Park where Bruce Springsteen got his start. (We love a good pun.)
Before heading to the beach, visit Joe’s Deli or Tom Bailey’s to pick up sandwiches. While you can’t go wrong with either, for the ultimate authentic Italian deli, we recommend Joe’s. Another bonus: Joe’s is located right next to Egan’s Wine & Liquors, so you can pick up refreshments along the way. With their slogan “We take the snob out of wine,” Egan’s is the place to go in Spring Lake to pick up your wine/tequila/beer keg at a reasonable price. (The store also has an outpost in Sea Girt.) If for some reason you’re in need of an alcohol backup plan, head to the Bottle Shop.
Happy hour at the Parker House is an esteemed tradition on Saturday and Sunday afternoons: The Victorian-home-turned-bar has been operating for over a century, since 1848. This bar in neighboring Sea Girt bar is the local answer to The Surf Lodge in Montauk as the place to see and be seen, although the attire and the ambiance here are far more casual. The scene is just as lively, however: “Who Needs the Hamptons When You Have the Parker House?” asked The New York Times in an August 2017 article about the bar’s nightly debauchery. Take advantage of the drink and raw bar specials (including $5 beer and $3 oysters, depending on the day), but remember to bring cash. All the bars in the Parker House (“P House” to locals) are cash only.
For New Yorkers used to a 4am last call, the Spring Lake Tap House is the spot to hit after the Parker House closes at midnight. Formerly the site of now-closed The Porch, the Tap House often hosts talented local musicians, and — best of all — you can order a pizza at the bar to bring with you on your walk home. We have a feeling this is one late-night offering that the cast of Jersey Shore would appreciate.
Speaking of Jersey Shore, if you want to party on their level, then look no further than Bar Anticipation (known as “Bar A” by locals). It’s aptly named, since it luckily lives up to its own hype as the place “where summer never ends.” This nightlife institution in nearby Lake Como feels light-years from the sophistication of Spring Lake, though it’s only a three-minute drive away. But occasionally, a Sunday of techno and bottle service at a Vegas-style pool party is exactly what “tramps like us” need. (Yes, Bruce Springsteen references are always relevant when writing about New Jersey.)
Not content to fill up on shellfish, pizza, and drafts? Then book a table at Larimar Restaurant for dinner — it makes for the perfect date spot, and its Italian, French, and other European-influenced fare is delicious (order the seafood, of course). If you’re visiting in December, be sure to make a dinner reservation, if only to enjoy the whimsical Christmas decor. And a visit to Spring Lake definitely isn’t complete without some saltwater taffy, the iconic boardwalk food of the Jersey Shore. So head to the Third Avenue Chocolate Shoppe (also a few miles south in Manasquan) for this chewy snack after a day at the beach.
What to Do
We’ve talked about coastal getaways in New England and the Hamptons, but what about New Jersey? The gorgeous, pristine beaches of Spring Lake are equally as Insta-worthy as their northern competitors. Stroll along the boardwalk early in the morning to catch a breathtaking sunrise along the two-mile stretch of beaches that comprise the borough’s eastern shores. The longest non-commercial boardwalk in New Jersey, it’s never too busy for joggers or bikers, even at the height of the summer season. For travelers in the transition from summer to fall, the ocean remains warm into late September, and a trip in the off-season will capitalize on the smaller crowds. Though the public beaches are a dream, if you have an opportunity to visit the members-only Spring Lake Bath and Tennis Club (known to locals as “the B&T”), by all means, do so. Capitalize on the invitation by enjoying afternoon cocktails (and social hour) on the East Deck at day’s end.
Rent a bike to cruise from the beach to the restaurants and shops if you’re keen to indulge in some retail therapy. Bare Wires Surf Shop on Third Ave is perfect for all of your beach needs, while Waterlily is a boutique offering fashionable looks suitable both on and off the boardwalk. The clothing and accessory shop is located up and down the Jersey Shore, with locations also in Manasquan and Bay Head.
If you’re visiting in December, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover that Larimar’s isn’t the only Spring Lake institution indulging in the holiday spirit. Check out the Candlelight Christmas Inn and House Tour, and buy tickets for Scrooge at the Spring Lake Theatre (an annual tradition for well over three decades).
What are your favorite beach towns on the Jersey Shore? Tag us in your go-to spots on Instagram.
(Photos via Getty)