Destination: Point Pleasant Beach

From the bustling boardwalk to the changing downtown, family-friendly diversions are easy to find.

Allison Tkacenko of North Brunswick enjoys a cone from Hoffman's in Point Pleasant Beach.
Allison Tkacenko of North Brunswick only has eyes for a vanilla cone with sprinkles from Hoffman's, the classic ice cream parlor on Route 35.
Photo by Matt Rainey

If ever a place lived up to its name, it’s Point Pleasant Beach. In addition to a pristine beach, this Shore town has two miles of boardwalk and plenty of ways to entertain visitors of all ages. Beyond the beach, there’s a similarly pleasant downtown area, with a growing restaurant scene and an increasing number of trendy shops.

But the boardwalk remains Point Pleasant’s main attraction. At the heart of the fun is the section bearing the Jenkinson’s brand. Jenkinson’s Boardwalk stretches almost a mile along the strand, with arcade games, an amusement park, a food court, concession stands, three mini-golf courses, batting cages, a 4,000-square-foot fun house and an equally fun aquarium.

It started in 1928, when entrepreneur Charles Jenkinson, hoping to compete with the more vibrant boardwalk scenes in nearby Asbury Park and Ocean Grove, opened the first Jenkinson’s Pavilion. Two succeeding Jenkinson generations sustained and built the business until the late 1970s, when it was sold to Pasquale “Pat” Storino, a jukebox and arcades-game dealer. The ambitious Storino and his brother, Vincent, expanded and updated the Jenkinson holdings on the boardwalk, creating today’s aggregation of modern, family-oriented waterfront attractions.

At the height of the summer, the boardwalk bustles with activity. Radio stations set up shop on the sand and blast music to entice passing teens, while 20-somethings check out the scene at Martell’s Tiki Bar. Families flock to the amusement park, where the little ones ride the Dizzy Dragons and the Crazy Bus. Their older siblings enjoy classics like bumper cars and the Tilt-A-Whirl.

Point Pleasant is a favorite of Shore day-trippers, but can also accommodate weekend or weeklong vacationers with a number of hotel, motel and B&B options. Many Point Pleasant vacationers go for bungalow or condo rentals, some facing the boardwalk or the beach. (Read about places to stay in Point Pleasant Beach.)

It’s easy to find diversions here. Antique shops used to dominate the downtown area, but that’s changing. “Some of those shops are moving out and newer stores are moving in,” says Sharon Murphy, who in 2010 opened Idiosyncrazies (638 Arnold Avenue), an art gallery and gift shop carrying work by Jersey artists as well as Fair Trade goods from around the world.

Other downtown stores—many on Arnold Avenue, the town’s main east-west artery—offer home goods, fine jewelry, toys and lots of summer gear. Teen sisters Katie and Megan Lynch, who live in Maryland but visit their grandparents in New Jersey every summer, say their friends back home envy their Point Pleasant finds. “Everyone always asks me where I get my bathing suits,” says Megan. “I say, ‘New Jersey. Sorry.’”

Amid the new businesses, antiquing endures as a Point Pleasant tradition. “People come in here off the beach in a bikini and walk out with a mink stole,” says Kathy Garcia, a dealer working the register at the Point Pavilion Antique Centre (608 Arnold Avenue), a longtime favorite. The space houses 60 dealers offering furniture, lighting, housewares, jewelry, toys, books and old records. “Every time we come here, there is different stuff,” says Donna Arenal, a visitor from Little Falls, as she browses the aisles. When it comes to antiques, says Arenal, “you get a better deal in Point Pleasant.”

Other Point Pleasant antique dealers have revamped their offerings. “The market has changed,” says Perry Ford, who has operated Canvas House Antiques & Design Center (614 Trenton Avenue) for more than a decade. He says fewer shoppers are looking for traditional country antiques; more want funky, unusual items, like industrial pieces and painted furniture.

But perhaps the biggest change in Point Pleasant is the burgeoning restaurant scene. Leading the boomlet are the Poached Pear Bistro (816 Arnold Avenue), an ambitious, upscale spot opened in 2014 by executive chef Scott Giordano; and 709 (709 Arnold Avenue), where the emphasis is on innovative sushi, coastal cuisine and creative cocktails.
These newer hot spots join such old favorites as Spano’s Ristorante Italiano (719 Arnold Avenue), where you’ll wait for a table most summer nights; and Frankie’s Bar and Grill (414 Richmond Avenue/Route 35), a perennial best-burger winner in New Jersey Monthly’s Jersey Choice poll. Popular lunch options include the Beanery (516 Bay Avenue); Mileto Polish & Italian Gourmet (718 Arnold Avenue); and Joe Leone’s (510 Richmond Avenue/Route 35), another Jersey Choice winner (best Italian deli sandwich). Or stay at the beach and opt for a shrimp po boy or mahi mahi sandwich at Jenkinson’s Boardwalk Bar & Grill.

At the north end of town, Shore Fresh Seafood Market (57 Channel Drive) is a casual BYO located in front of a commercial fishing dock. When chef/owner Richard Brecka gets a seafood delivery, “sometimes the fish are still flapping around,” he says. Grab a seat outdoors at one of the plastic picnic tables and dig into Brecka’s lobster mac and cheese or his fish tacos. (Read about more places to eat in Point Pleasant Beach.)

As is the case at many Shore destinations, dessert is a big deal in Point Pleasant. For regulars, the top choices are Strollo’s Lighthouse Homemade Italian Ice, a block from the beach (101 Ocean Avenue); and Hoffman’s Ice Cream & Yogurt (800 Richmond Avenue/Route 35), where the after-dinner waiting line is usually out the door. “It’s arguably the best ice cream ever,” says Leon Tkacenko, a North Brunswick teenager whose family stops for a cone every time they visit the Shore.

Fishing is another popular activity in the area. Locals often try their luck at Manasquan Inlet, where Ocean Avenue and Inlet Drive meet. That’s where fishing buddies Tommy Tedesco and Vinny Lynch, both from Brick, like to drop their lines. “You meet people and you catch dinner,” says Tedesco. On this summer morning, he and Lynch hauled in a bunch of fluke and flounder. Also plentiful: blackfish, black sea bass, bluefish and stripers. The inlet can get crowded, so some fishing enthusiasts prefer the Point Pleasant Canal, which connects the Manasquan River with Bay Head Harbor.

Still not sure what to do in Point Pleasant? Ask a local. “People are on vacation, and they want to do a little bit of everything,” says Paul Morin, manager of Gates Bait and Tackle on Ocean Avenue. “We try to help them out as much as we can.”

Amanda Staab is a former associate editor of New Jersey Monthly.

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