A national historic treasure with authentic Victorian homes, a beautiful beach, a boardwalk, and a quaint hometown Main Street—Ocean Grove, NJ offers one square mile of old fashioned Jersey Shore fun only an hour’s drive from NYC (to the north) and Philadelphia (to the south), making it a perfect day trip destination.
We were invited down to the Grove to spend the 4th with friends who vacation there every summer. And in just one day (and night) we fell in love with the sweet shore town.
Established in 1869 as a religious Methodist camp meeting site, Ocean Grove, aka “God’s Square Mile,” maintains much of its religious heritage: It’s a “dry town,” meaning the law forbids the sale of alcoholic beverages (you may BYO). The Great Auditorium—a 6,000-seat structure for religious services built in 1894—still stands and is surrounded by a Tent Colony, where early congregants stayed during religious retreats. And a giant wooden cross protrudes from the dunes along the beach. It’s these things that make Ocean Grove a favorite spot for those looking for a Jersey Shore experience, without the “Jersey Shore” experience.
Ocean Grove offers a relaxing, family friendly day in the sand. There is a very clean bathroom and changing area, lifeguards on duty, a concession stand with snacks and free parking on Ocean Avenue, which is right along the boardwalk (if you’re able to score a spot). You can pack a cooler and bring food and snacks, but not alcohol (remember, it’s a dry town).
My Gilmore Girls had a blast. They jumped, road waves in on Boogie Boards, built sandcastles, and played with their friends and all the other kids on the beach. It was their first trip to the Jersey Shore (as a born and bred Jersey Girl, I should be hanging her head in shame) and they are begging for more visits all summer.
A Daily beach badge is just $8 and kids under 12 are free! If you’re visiting for a week, a 7 day badge will cost you $40.
The beach is open Monday – Saturday from 9 am – 5:30 pm and Sunday from 12 pm – 5:30 pm. (Insider tip: If you’re staying the weekend or longer at OG and want an earlier Sunday dip in the ocean, walk 5 minutes along the boardwalk to Bradley Beach, which opens at 9 am on Sunday, and buy daily beach passes for the same price as OG.)
You’ll find quick eats (pizza), casual cafés and restaurants, and fine dining all along Main Street. But a trip to Ocean Grove is not complete without a visit to Nagle’s Apothecary Cafe. The food is good, the soda shop drinks are better (egg cream, anyone?), but what’s makes this pharmacy turned cafe so great is its ice cream. The long line that forms every night is proof that it’s worth the wait. (Tip: For families with peanut/tree nut allergies, the soft serve machine runs a clean line of chocolate, vanilla, and twists. That huge smile in the photo above is proof of how much that means to a peanut-allergy kid)
Want More Excitement?
If you want a bit more action during your stay at Ocean Grove, Asbury Park — another historic shore town — is just a 10 minute walk along the Boardwalk.
Asbury Park‘s revitalized and vibrant boardwalk offers live music on the streets and at the legendary The Stone Pony, unique shops, pop up food stands (MOGO Korean Fusion Tacos are a must) and fine dining, Silverball Museum Arcade, plus Asbury Splash Park—a huge hit with kids.
Tip: Asbury Park hosts “Movies on the Beach” all summer on a 16-foot inflatable screen at dusk in front of Langosta Lounge on the Second Avenue beach. Enjoy great family films all summer starting with a personal fave—Pee Wee’s Big Adventure—on July 30. Check out the full schedule here.