What should people do when they visit the Jersey Shore? Hit some of the many well-known boardwalks of course. I doubt any other stretch of Atlantic coastline in the United States has a greater density of boardwalks than New Jersey. We traveled the length of the state’s waterfront, heading north to south, from Sandy Hook to Cape May and strolled down several boardwalks along the way.
I don’t think anyone could walk every one of them in a single week although we gave it a good shot. Each one had its own unique characteristics that appealed to distinctly different audiences.
We strolled the Asbury Park boardwalk (map) on an early weekday morning as a storm rolled out to sea, leaving the planks damp and deserted. The previous evening seemed a lot more lively although probably considerably quieter than what it must be like during the summer. Some places remained open all year round including the Silverball Museum (photo) where visitors could play vintage pinball machines by the hour or the day. The nearby Wonder Bar (photo) offered a nice spot to stop for a drink. A few of the restaurants also seemed open.
It evoked images of Bruce Springsteen who got his start here, performing at the Stone Pony (photo) and other clubs in the vicinity. Madam Marie’s psychic booth (photo), mentioned in his “4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” continued to exist. The original Madam Marie passed away years ago although a descendant still told fortunes at that spot.
Barnegat Light didn’t actually have a boardwalk. The town fell a little off the beaten path at the very northern tip of Long Beach Island and didn’t have enough visitors to support one. However, it did have Bayview Avenue, a nice road that hugged the island’s western coastline. Infrequent traffic moved at a leisurely pace and wide shoulders offered plenty of room for walkers or bikers. Local marinas included actual working fishing boats in addition to pleasure craft, a more blue collar atmosphere than many of the other shore towns. A small area of former fishing shacks called Viking Village (map) provided the closest thing to a shopping district.
Imagine the exact opposite of Barnegat Light’s solitude and that would describe the boardwalk at Atlantic City. Casinos lined the shore along a wide wooden trail. Crowds enjoyed springtime warmth as they roved from one gambling establishment to another. Boardwalk Hall (map) in its Art Deco magnificence rose above the esplanade, the famous home of the Miss America pageant. Unfortunately, almost every part of town just a block to the west confirmed preconceived notions of the financial decline of the city. Those blemishes weren’t visible from the boardwalk though.
Ocean City’s boardwalk (map) gave a much more wholesome experience. Gaudy and cheezy came to mind almost immediately, although in a pleasantly nostalgic way. Three distinct buying experiences dominated the local scene: T-shirt shops; miniature golf courses and pizza parlors. I’d never seen such a concentration of any of these types of businesses in such a short distance. It seemed like dozens. Don’t try to find a beer though. Ocean City has been “dry” since its founding in 1879. Alcohol can’t be sold there, a point the town uses to bolster its family-friendly reputation.
Wildwood featured amusement park after amusement park along its scenic oceanfront boardwalk (map). Oddly, most of the shops on this stretch hadn’t yet opened for the season, more so than any of the other seashore towns we visited that week. All I could guess was that maybe they couldn’t attract enough visitors until the amusement parks opened, and the rides weren’t operating in mid April. It didn’t matter to us though. We came to walk.
Technically speaking, Cape May didn’t have a boardwalk. It had a promenade (map). No trees died in the making of this town’s beachfront strip. The solid asphalt berm likely doubled as a barrier during hurricane season too. It also lacked storefronts except in one small section. That made for a great place to jog in the early morning solitude, a flat even surface stretching for more than a mile.
Articles in the Jersey Shore Series:
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr