The Weekend Getaway: Asbury Park, NJ

So. I’m obsessed with the actual “Jersey Shore” and I have a past of being very outspoken about it. Personally, I find this to be completely normal. Not only is Jersey a lovely, dynamic place, but it’s also where I’m from. And, aren’t most people proud of where they’re from?

I grew up at Takanassee Beach Club in Elberon and, while Tak has since closed (#RIP), I still return each summer to spend weekends in Deal and Asbury Park with my family and friends. To me, the Jersey Shore has always just been home – a string of happy, little beaches filled with the brightest, childhood memories possible and interspersed with some of the best Italian food in the world. As I got older though, I quickly realized that – shocker, you guys – not everyone loves New Jersey! In fact, some people really hate us.

I couldn’t comprehend this at first. In college and abroad I would always be asked the staple getting-to-know-you question from various guys, “where are you from?” When responding with anything along the lines of “New Jersey” or “the Jersey Shore,” though, I received everything from laughter to hatred to the haughtiest of apologies for having come from such obvious trash.

Smooth, bros.

It seemed so utterly stupid to judge an entire state and its people off of one stereotype that, mind you, comes from people that are not even from New Jersey! More bothersome, though, was that I couldn’t fathom how someone could deem it appropriate and acceptable to bash someone’s answer to the question “Where are you from?” I mean, isn’t exercising verbal restraint regarding judging another’s home or cultural background LITERALLY RULE NUMBER ONE in having any semblance of manners?

But, alas, I digress. This post isn't for the haters, but for the lovers - and to them, I say welcome! Welcome to the Jersey Shore…the greatest country in the world. 

Where To Stay 

The Berkeley Carteret if you're looking for modern luxury. The Berkeley is a 100 year-old hotel of Victorian style and grandeur that sits atop the famed Asbury Boardwalk. It is so large and sprawling that it can comfortably host large wedding parties without interferring in your small, romantic retreat.

Tides Hotel if you're gay. And fun. Tides is plenty of both, not to mention utterly charming.

The Empress Hotel also if you're gay. However, not a requirement. The Empress has been around fo'eva, having sunk in and rose up with the tides of Asbury's economy over the years. A resort that once hosted the likes of Liza Minelli and Judy Garland and graced the cover of Springsteen's records, The Empress is as iconic and special to the town as Jersey's unspoken mascot, tillie. 

Where to Eat

Toast - for dressing up and going to a delicious brunch with friends 

Porta - for not dressing up and going to brunch for $10 bottomless mimosas. Also, for phenomenal brick oven pizza. Also, for roofies maybe. More on this later.

Frank’s Restaurant – for the most authentic porkroll egg and cheese you’ll ever have. Cash-only and I would recommend take-out.

Goldie’s – for vegan selections or something simply more on the healthy side, accompanied by gorgeous décor in the heart of the arts district.

The Sunset Landing – for feeling as if you're in Grandma's Hawaiian kitchen. A (very) small mom n’ pop place with an open kitchen and surfboards hanging from the ceiling, The Sunset Landing resides on the Asbury Park lake where you can feed the ducks while sipping carrot ginger juice.

Langosta Lounge – for seafood/sushi accompanied by live music and boardwalk seating

Cubacan -  for date night with contemporary cuban with latin fare on the hottest spot on the boardwalk. 

Where to Go Out

Watermark - for the first drink of the trip at least. This cocktail lounge is set in the heart of the boardwalk across from the aforementioned, famed Empress and overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The unique cocktails are deliciously crafted by attentive staff in a relaxed, open setting with crisp white lounges and modern couches that you don't have to pay $1000 to sit on. Imagine that!

Beach Bar - for the rum buckets! A great spot to get tuned up with a big group of friends, slightly more north along the boardwalk. While there is some roof coverage, it is pretty much entirely outdoors. Anchor's Bend is right around the corner and generally has live music for a quick visit or change of scene.

Porta - for the experience. Porta is an old-warehouse-turned-gorgeous-three-space-bar with outdoor seating, high-lofted ceilings and a boom-boom-room like no other. It's drawn quite a lot of attention and criticism regarding its rowdiness which makes it, unfortunately, an attraction for fist-pumping visitors. Clearly, though, visitors aren't the only ones patronizing the bar regularly; it's a locals hang as well. Just watch your drink, as the place is rumored to be a roofies hub, and we all know there's nothing like a good 'ol roofie to spoil your day.

Johnny Mac's - for the free pizza ALL day EVERY day. Also for the "Irish Village" decor and late-nighting since it tends to stay open until 2-2:30 whereas most local bars close around 1:30 instead.

The Weekend Getaway: Niagara Falls

Click through the pictures and the link below to read on!

In a world where vacation can be so limited that some workplaces go so far as to refer to it as “a four-letter word” (e.g. “you shouldn’t use it”), making the most of your precious time off is crucial to staying sane. After all, we all know that there’s nothing worse than coming back from a vacation only to find yourself exhausted and already in need of another one… especially after you’ve just used the majority of your 10-15 measly days off.

For my fellow planning and activity addicts out there, this can be even more of a challenge. Ever-impulsive and enamored by possibility, I have a genuinely ridiculous need to try doing as much as I can during my time off. In terms of vacation, it has led to burn out, over spending and a kind of anxiety comparable only to that of a little girl’s on her birthday.

I know. I’m dramatic.

But in an attempt to quell the drama and enjoy the moment, I’ve recently taken up a new love for the extended weekend escape, otherwise known as the “Mini Vacation.” I'll be sharing a series of these trips throughout the summer. The first trip featured is Niagara Falls and falls in line with the diva-free theme of "affordability."

The Benefits of a Mini Vacation

  1.  It's Good for Your Health! Research has shown that looking forward to a getaway is almost as gratifying and beneficial to our health as the actual trip itself. Why not shorten the trips and space them out? Imagine having a getaway to look forward to 6 times a year instead of once or twice.

  2. Less Stress. When we use the majority of our vacation in one shot, we end up accumulating that aforementioned anxiety of trying to fit everything in. With shorter trips, prioritizing how we spend our time is handled more naturally.
  3. Better for the Budget $ A three-night trip where driving is possible (especially if you already have a car) will amount to a fraction of the cost of longer trips and farther destinations. Worrying about money is just about the last thing anyone wants to do on vacation.

TIP: Putting an extra few bucks away the 3-4 paychecks leading up to a trip makes for a nice little cushion to support some splurging. I try to save an extra $175-$200.

Niagara Falls Overview & Tips for Doing it Right!

To kick things off, I started off at Niagara Falls and immediately learned a few generic tips for a successful weekend trip:

1.     Go Local!

Lucky enough to travel internationally through much of college, I had almost forgotten how many wonderful places there were in the states, particularly the Northeast, that I had yet to visit. A truly scenic 6.5 hour drive from Manhattan, we took a half-day on Thursday so we could get an early start and avoid traffic on our way up to Niagara. This allowed us to get a full three nights in and still only use 1.5 vacation days total. Definitely a plus.

Other Northeast Trips I’m looking forward to covering this summer: Montauk, Saratoga, The Real Jersey Shore and Baltimore.

Want some other suggestions? Check out this piece from Lonely Planet, featured on the daily beast.

2.     Plan Creatively: Live Large, Spend Less.

A little planning and creativity goes a long way when vacationing, especially in terms of budget. In one $50 grocery run, we stocked up on some craft beers, microwaveable appetizers and, duh, cheese and crackers. I don’t care how much food is in the vicinity, it’s always nice to have snacks on hand for that 4PM break time. And since we got in relatively late on day 1, it was convenient to be able to immediately heat up some spinach dip, break out a few drinks, and get comfortable in the new digs.

Getting there: A medium-sized rental car will run you around $200-$300 total for a 4-day trip. Amtrak (with some foresight) can be a $120 round trip, but then you have to plan for how to get around once you're there.

Of course, you could always fly, but a road trip in the summertime somehow feels more personalized. It makes the travel a part of the trip in the same way reading a book over a kindle or drinking wine out of a paper cup somehow feels more memorable, ya know?

Don’t roll your eyes at me.

Where to Stay: We opted for The Vintage Whinery rental on AirBnb and I absolutely recommend it. For $120 a night ($400 total for 3 nights after taxes and fees), we were a 10-minute walk to the falls in our own private space + free parking + a daily, home-cooked breakfast a la french-pressed coffee.

The downside? We didn’t have a view of the falls. However, with the cost of most fallsview hotels coming in around $225-$375 a night, the trade-off was well worth it for us.

Full Disclosure: Though I was happy to support the Niagara, NY economy and believe it is on the cusp of booming back to life, the Canadian side is currently much more manicured and built-up than the NY side... Bring your passport!

3.     Prioritize Your Time & Funds: What do you really want to do?

If you aren’t into tourist attractions at home, you probably shouldn’t spend all your time at them on vacation. My favorite part of living in New York isn't riding the TMZ bus around (shocking, I know). It's the mixing of cultures, the quality of the food and drink and the proximity of all things art that I love.  So, that’s what I wanted to experience in Niagara.

While we absolutely spent a day around the Falls, we also didn’t stand in line to pay for Maid of the Mist. Instead, we had lunch and cocktails at Elements on the Falls ($35) and perused an indoor art gallery. In the evening, we watched the fireworks from the Canadian side and listened to live music outdoors (Free!).

Okay and fine we gambled a little.

Saturday, we drove to Niagara-On-The-Lake, an easy 20-minute trip from our place. After an obligatory stop at Tim Horton’s, we cruised around the local area stopping at 4 of the 30+ vineyards. At one, we even took part in a fancy champagne tour. We had 1 map, no plan, and the whole day was a steal! Tastings are only $1 a piece and oftentimes they put the total toward a bottle of wine as an extra buying incentive.  I think we spent something like $25 altogether which included a bottle of wine.

Of course, it did help that we made friends with random Canadians whom we tagged along with to a few vineyards where they were VIP members (e.g. free tastings).

More Full Disclosure: I definitely threw up on the side of the road later that evening. Apparently, I could only handle so much class.

Afterward, we drove a quick 5 minutes to Old Town and snoozed off some of the wine alongside Great Lake Ontario, where I then was casually pooped on by a bird.

Supposedly this is good luck, but I’m still waiting.