Just over a year ago, I took a huge leap of faith and moved from New York City to the smallish beach community of Asbury Park, New Jersey. Never in all my life did I think I would move to New Jersey, let alone the Shore of all places. When I first told my city friends I’d be moving here, a lot of them were shocked and/or horrified. A few of them were willing to put money on the fact that I’d be moving back to the city within a year. I’m happy to report that not only did I make it through a full year of #JerseyShoreLife, but I also thoroughly enjoy the lifestyle. I intend to stay, at least for the next couple of years. Here are just a few great things about living at the Jersey Shore (or any beach town, really):
1. It’s so chill: After living in the city for eleven years, I must say the chill factor of living at the beach is a welcome change. That’s not to say I didn’t love the hustle and bustle of city life. At times, it filled me to my brim with inspiration and energy. But after my mother died, I really needed to slow down, and to take time to take care of myself. Amid the screaming, never-sleeping city and hectic schedules that make planning a coffee date with a friend a two-months-in-advance affair, I felt unbalanced and exhausted. The city was moving quickly around me, while I stood still. Many of my friends didn’t have time for my grief, and I couldn’t even blame them. I understood the fast-paced lifestyle well, and had been swept up in it many times before, neglecting friends who were going through something; too stuck in the busy trap to see my way out. I simply needed a change; to live a slower lifestyle. These days, when I feel out of sorts or anxious, I simply walk 4 blocks to the beach, and let the waves calm me. I take long strolls on the boardwalk, exploring my thoughts, and stopping to jot down ideas in my journal. I hike at least twice a week at nearby parks, relishing in the luxury of being alone in the woods. I ride my bike everywhere without worrying about getting mowed down by an overly enthusiastic cab driver. I’ve reached a new state of zen, and it’s helping bring clarity and quiet to my anxious, grieving mind.
2. The local culture: One of the nice things about moving to a vacation town is that there’s usually a defining local culture for you to immerse yourself in. The Jersey Shore is filled with tiny towns that each have their own unique culture. As a newcomer, I am still learning to understand these micro-cultures. But one thing I do know: this setup allows for endless exploration. There are religious towns, artistic towns, hippie towns, health-conscious towns, family-friendly dry towns, bumping hookup culture towns, MTV reality show-worthy towns, and pretty much everything in between.
Here in Asbury Park (home of the world’s largest Zombie Walk), we’ve got hipness with a great cultural mix: Music, nightlife, art, food, diversity. We have art galleries, an art house cinema, a paranormal bookshop, several psychic outposts, the historic Asbury Lanes (a bowling alley/punk music venue hybrid), a pinball museum/arcade, a gigantic rooftop beer garden, the famous Stone Pony, a music academy and recording studio, bars and restaurants for every taste and diet, and some really beautiful and iconic buildings from years passed. We also have Wonder Bar, which hosts a daily “Yappy Hour,” where dogs run around a sandy dog park as their pup-parents enjoy outdoor beverages. This place is essentially an adult theme park.
3. The Hustle is Real: In a town like Asbury Park, there are a good number of city refugees like me, who came here to calm the heck down and enjoy a slower lifestyle. But then there are the hustlers — the folks who are living off of the local tourist economy. Everyone here has a big idea or aspiration, and they’re working their butts off to bring their dreams to life. Businesses are constantly opening and closing around town, and there’s always someone in line who’s finally ready to open that yoga studio or brewery they’ve always talked about. Just in the past few weeks, we’ve had three local openings: a gourmet donut shop, a wellness studio, and a collaborative market for artists, independent shops and designers. Soon to come is a new food truck court next to the boardwalk. There are so many movers, shakers, creatives, entrepreneurs, hustlers, and jack-of-all-trades in a vacation town. These doers bring the energy — they are the pulsing heartbeat of the town. These people inspire me every day, keep me on my toes (lest I let the “chill” take over my brain and stop bothering to move forward!) and make this town an awesome, unique place to live.
4. The natural beauty does not suck. I mean. It’s the beach. It never gets old. Ever. If you think otherwise, you clearly have no soul. Do you hate puppies too?
5. The off-season is so peaceful: When I decided to move to the Jersey Shore, my NYC friends had a lot of questions. “Won’t the winter be depressing?” “But like, is there anything to DO there once summer ends?” “Do we need to have an intervention with you?” I was a little concerned that the off-peak months would be weird or eerie, but I’m happy to report that the ocean does not, in fact, become hideously ugly or a terrible place to visit once beach badge season has passed. In fact, my favorite time here is what is called “locals’ summer.” After Labor Day, when all of the beach shops are packed up and the restaurants begin operating on off-season schedules, the locals all come out to play. Everyone in town is in a good mood, because 1), they’ve stacked some change for winter hibernation and 2), they’re finally able to enjoy the beach rather than working 24/7 to make sure the tourists are enjoying themselves all summer. Plus, the water’s still warm enough for swimming and you don’t need a beach badge to get on the sand (one thing that IS difficult to adjust to: one day in May, you’re able to go onto the public beach as you please and the next day, there’s suddenly a bouncer there asking for your rather expensive beach badge!). Last fall, I swam in the ocean almost daily until mid-October, because the water was over 70 degrees! All of my Facebook friends were posting pictures of their pumpkin spiced lattes and orchard-visiting adventures, and I was down here at the beach, catching waves on my boogie board, pretending summer would never end. Other great things about the off-season? You can ride your bike on the boardwalk. Dogs are allowed all over the boards and the beach (and trust me when I say, there are SO. MANY. CUTE. DOGS. EVERYWHERE). There are a surprising number of cultural events around town, plus live music always and forever (Asbury Park IS a music town after all). Also, the restaurants calm down a little bit and you no longer need reservations or to plan ahead. Bottom line: the town is your oyster in the off-season!
6. The energy of peak-season is palpable. Now that I’ve lived here through every season, I can officially say that summer is still my favorite. Throughout the Spring, I watched excitedly each week as businesses re-opened their doors, and put up signs reading “BACK FOR SUMMER!” Now that we’ve passed Memorial Day, everything is open (and those aforementioned hustlers are putting the final touches on their new projects/openings for summer 2015!) and the town is absolutely bustling. Sure, the boardwalk can be a little bit crowded, and you may not be able to get into your favorite restaurant at the last minute, but the energy is absolutely contagious. For a few glorious months, I get to live in what feels like a real (albeit tiny) city. The beach is amazingly full-of-life and inviting, and there are outdoor concerts, nighttime movies and bonfires on the beach, food festivals, nighttime bazaars, and so many other events. Besides, I have the entire off-season to have the place to myself; to do as I please, eat where I want, and ride my bike on the boards with impunity. But summer, sweet summer, is about enjoying this amazing gift that we have in our tiny town, and sharing it with everybody else who wants to enjoy it . . . in all its weirdness and beauty.
I can’t say that I’m going to stay here forever, or that it’s all sunshine and rainbows every minute. But I can say that this town has stolen my heart, and I’m not going anywhere any time soon. 🙂