If you’re visiting Ocean Grove for the first time, you can expect, on arriving, to experience a pleasant sense of dislocation. Founded by a group of Methodist clergymen in 1869 as a retreat from the physical and psychological assaults of the urban summer, the Monmouth County town of 3,057 looks much as it did at the turn of the 19th century and offers a similar sensation of escape, whether you’re visiting in January or July.
WHAT TO DO
Special events abound, especially in the summer and on weekends throughout the year, including car shows, flea markets, house and garden tours, and classical concerts in the Great Auditorium, the 129-year-old theater whose breathtaking wooden interior was designed to evoke an upturned ship. But the real pleasure of Ocean Grove is taking in the town itself, which boasts the country’s greatest conglomeration of Victorian architecture, from the summer tents that surround the Great Auditorium to tiny porched cottages to mansions decked out in architectural gingerbread. Any walk through the town should include a stroll along its resolutely noncommercial boardwalk and its newly rebuilt fishing pier.
WHERE TO EAT
As its name suggests, Seagrass offers an ocean-inflected menu that includes sesame-encrusted ahi tuna, roasted Atlantic salmon in shrimp beurre blanc, and seared dayboat sea scallops. If you can’t imagine the Shore without a slice, step into Tino’s Artisan Pizza, an outlet of the popular New Jersey chain, where you can sample thin-crust marvels like the X Pie (cremini mushrooms, white truffle oil) and the Ruchetta (mozzarella, prosciutto, baby arugula, balsamic reduction), plus a plethora of pastas, salads and antipasti. Odyssey Coffee, which bills itself as a “vigorous refuge for thinkers,” also welcomes the sleepy and footsore in need of a caffeine fix and a nibble. A caveat: Ocean Grove is a dry town, so you’ll have to BYO.
WHERE TO STAY
The Ocean Plaza Hotel features 16 rooms and three suites, many with wraparound porches and ocean views. Also offering beach vistas, Selah is an intimate B&B with five nicely appointed rooms and a basement suite.
Want to keep exploring? Check out more of our 12 favorite small towns to visit now.
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