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My family loves the quiet little beach town of Bradley Beach, which is often overshadowed by its attention-getting neighbors—Asbury Park and Ocean Grove. It offers beautiful beaches, great restaurants and a laid-back vibe, with easy access to nearby entertainment if you’re looking for it.
With a population of around 5,000 people—it can reach up to 30,000 in the summer—Bradley Beach is named for James A. Bradley, the developer responsible for the creation of this town and Asbury Park. It also has the unlikely distinction of being the first place in the United States to charge bathers to access the beach, in 1929.
The town has long been a draw to New Yorkers and northern New Jerseyans. In the 1930s, author Philip Roth and his family, who lived in Newark, vacationed here in the summers, and he wrote about it in his work. A photo of him with his father and brother at Bradley Beach graces the cover of his book Patrimony.
What I love about the beach here is that the sand dunes and grasses provide a lovely viewpoint when you’re lying on the sand, making it seem like you can be just about anywhere. The dunes were installed in the 1990s to help protect the town from damaging winds and tides off the ocean. The decision to construct these dunes proved prescient, as Bradley Beach largely escaped the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Sandy on Shore towns in 2012.
My son Owen and I start our day with a bike ride on the boardwalk, which is permitted before 10 am. We like to ride all the way to Asbury Park and back—about three miles round trip—stopping for coffee at a boardwalk food stand (Bradley Beach’s boardwalk doesn’t have shops along it, as Asbury’s does.)
For a fabulous breakfast, we head to our favorite brunch place, the Buttered Biscuit (700 Main Street), for—you guessed it—homemade biscuits, plus eggs and banana-walnut pancakes. Get here early, because the wait can be long in the summer, and they don’t take reservations.
After our delightful meal, it is time to squeeze ourselves into our bathing suits and head to the beach, to sunbathe and swim in the ocean.
We decide to relax following our bike ride, but if we had wanted a little more exercise, we could have brought a volleyball to play at one of the nets set up on the beach. We’ve also often thought about trying a surfing lesson with the Summertime Surf School (732-599-2700), located on the beach on the Bradley Beach-Ocean Grove border.
For lunch, my family’s go-to place is Fins Tropicali Cuisine—and today is no different. If you’re too lazy to leave the beach, they’ll even deliver there—just tell them which entrance you’re closest to, and they’ll meet you on the boardwalk.
But if you want to dine in, look for the bright-yellow exterior of the restaurant at 120 Main Street. Surfing videos and surfboards set the tone at this laid-back, California-Mexican eatery. My personal favorite is the Bomba Shack salad, which has coconut-sesame battered whitefish served over a bed of mixed greens with seaweed salad and grilled pineapple. The staff is friendly and helpful, and the food is delicious, fresh and reasonably priced.
After lunch, we stopped at the Shipwreck Island Mini Golf course (800 Ocean Avenue) for 18 holes of mini golf right on the boardwalk. This fun spot is popular with families and teens.
Another favorite place in Bradley, great for an afternoon pick-me-up, is Del Ponte’s Bakery (600 Main Street)—perfect if you have a sweet tooth, like Owen. Since 1999, this place has been popular with Shore residents and day trippers alike looking for a cake or a morning treat. We love their biscotti, which come in many different flavors, and the Italian pastries, such as sfogliatelle and lobster tails. Be prepared for lines out the door.
Just down the street from Del Ponte’s is another Italian institution in Bradley Beach: Vic’s Italian Restaurant (60 Main Street), where we eat dinner. For more than four generations, this family-owned, red-sauce Italian standby has been delighting customers with its thin-crust pizza, homemade ravioli, chicken parmigiana, and meatball sandwiches—earning it a spot on New Jersey Monthly‘s list of favorite Italian restaurants in the state. Manager Ed Dollive, whose great-grandfather was Vic, says they never change the menu at the restaurant. They also never change the brand of tomatoes that they use for their tomato sauce.
“We like bringing people together with our food,” he says. We feast on pizza, tomato and mozzarella salad, and shrimp cocktail.
After dinner, we always have room for dessert, so we walk down the street to the Beach Plum (420 Main Street) for some yummy homemade ice cream. Again, if you get there during prime time, expect a line. Grab a treat and settle down at a picnic table out front to enjoy your treat and watch the world go by.
Our last stop is the gazebo at Fifth Avenue on the boardwalk to enjoy live music and cool ocean breezes.
For those who want to spend the night here, Bradley’s first boutique hotel, the James Bradley, opened last year. This lovely place is worth a visit, no matter how long your stay.
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