new jersey

My Favorite Quiet Beaches

On Saturday, I went toВ RockawayВ to get my beach time for the week. As much as I love being by the ocean, I’ll admit that I was feeling a little weary of crowds.

Most NYC-area beaches—Rockaway, Jones, Robert Moses, Long Beach, Coney Island—are pretty packed on the weekends. And for good reason! Everyone wants to get away, even if only for a few hours.

I do love seeing so many people escaping the city and enjoying the sand and surf. But the overall experience isn’t all that relaxing. You’re surrounded by others—and their conversations and music—at all times. While there, it’s hard to feel calm and peaceful when you can barely hear the waves over all the din.

I’ve been lucky to travel to beaches that have been both beautiful and deserted. This weekend, I was thinking about them and wishing I could transport myself back to:

Water Cay, Eleuthera, Bahamas

Last year, Mal, Peter, and two friends and I rented a house on Eleuthera. We stayed in a sparsely populated part of the island, and our house was set on a gorgeous, private beach:

Cotton Bay, Eleuthera

Each day we got to enjoy the soft sand and blue waters without seeing a soul.

OurВ rental also gave us access to the owner’s boat and a captain who could take us out. Of course, we had to take advantage of that! Our captain, Sidney, took us toВ Water Cay, a tiny islandВ off Eleuthera’s Caribbean coast. It was absolutely deserted, with calm, clear water and fine white sand.

Water Cay, Eleuthera

It was easily one of the most spectacular beaches I’ve seen in my life.

 

Big Corn Island, Nicaragua

Mal and I went to Big Corn Island in August 2009. The island, and its sister, Little Corn, are located about 40-miles off the coast of Nicaragua, in the Caribbean. They’re known for being remote and relatively undiscovered by tourists. At the time, that certainly proved true.

We flew to the island on a tiny prop plane, and as we descended, I could barely spot any signs of life. Big CornВ looked deserted. And once we got out of the plane, weВ saw that it basically was.

To be honest, I felt a bit uneasy at just how isolated the island felt. There had been a spate of armed robberies against travelers on the islands, right before we arrived. The first night, our hotelВ was a ghost town—just two or three other rooms were occupied. And the phones and internet were down. The sun set at 6 p.m. and plunged the island into pitch darkness.

But during the daytime, I was able to forget my misgivings a little, thanks to this amazing beach we had to ourselves:

Big Corn Island, Nicaragua

In case you’re wondering, I felt much safer on Big Corn, as the days passed. A small documentary film crew arrived at our hotel from the mainland, as did a few more Nicaraguan travelers. Mal and I had a great time chatting with them—it was just enough people to make the hotel feel less like a horror-movie-waiting-to-happen, but not nearly enough to make the place feel crowded. And the island was just so wild and beautiful, it was impossible not to feel affection for it.

 

Long Beach Island, NJ

New Jersey?! Yes, that’s correct! We rented a house on LBI in early June, before summer season really started—which meant that every day, the beaches looked like this:

setting up on the beach

Sure, LBI doesn’t haveВ fine white sand and crystal-clear water. But it was still a nice, deserted beach that we had all to ourselves for days. I’m so nostalgic for that!

What’s your favorite quiet beach?

A Week on Long Beach Island

In early June, a group of friends and I rented a house on Long Beach Island.

True to its name, Long Beach Island is a lengthy, skinny barrier island off the coast of mainland New Jersey. The ocean is on one side, the bay on the other.

LBI, as it’s lovingly referred to, is a favorite summer escape for those of us who grew up in or around NYC. It’s just two hours, by car, from the city. When I was a kid, I lived for our annual vacation there: long days at the beach, riding my favorite carousel horse at the little amusement park, eating pancakes at Uncle Will’s, a breakfast place. I was excited to return to the island as an adult.

OurВ rentalВ was in Surf City, a block from the bay, three from the beach.

vacation rental

It had five nice bedrooms…

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…plus an outdoor hot tub, grill, beach cruisers, kayaks and tiki bar!

tiki bar

Many previous renters raved about the tiki bar in their reviews.В To be honest, I was wondering what the big deal was. But once we settled in, the appeal was clear. The tiki bar was the perfect place to hang out, any time of day…

peter and mal

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karen

…especially when cool beers or frozen drinks were involved.

pina colada

Since it was early June, it was still off-season. Many shops and restaurants were closed, or only open Friday through Sunday.

I didn’t mind, though. Because that meant the beaches were dead.

walkway to beach

When you’re accustomed to packed NYC beaches, it’s a luxury to have a stretch of sand allВ to yourself.

setting up on the beach

Some days were a bit cool and cloudy for sunbathing. That’s when everyone broke out the paddleball and frisbee.

frisbee 2

frisbee 4

I didn’t partake in the games, in case you were wondering—I have zero hand-eye coordination!

I was jealous of the people who owned beachfront homes. How nice it must be to hear the sound of waves from your bedroom.

beachfront homes 1

One day…

beachfront homes 2

LBI is 18-miles long. One cloudy day, Evan and I drove to the southern tip. A year and a half ago, Hurricane Sandy hit the island hard. Surf City, the neighborhood where we stayed, looked like it escaped pretty unscathed. But we drove byВ areas that were still rebuilding. Any house that was under construction, whether a new or existing structure, was being built several feet into the air, on pilings.

Holgate, a community on the south end, was still recovering. We passed many homes that looked abandoned on their pilings, with the beach washed out and their wiring dangling below.

Evan and IВ drove until Long Beach Boulevard ended, then got out and walked onto the beach.

southern part of lbi

We couldn’t go to the very tip of the island, due to rare nesting birds. So Evan hunted for seashells.

On the way back to the house, we stopped for clam chowder. (The soup is so popular on LBI that the island hosts an annual Chowderfest!) I thought this looked like a ton of soup, but we gobbled it up, bread bowl and all, in minutes.

clam chowder in bread bowl

Our group mostly cooked at home. Each couple took a night and prepared a meal for everyone else. I’m lucky to have friends who are good cooks! Every dinner was so delicious that I didn’t snap a picture of a single one. Sometimes being in the moment with good eats and good friends trumps documenting every second.

Of the restaurants we did try, Mud City Crab House was, by far, my favorite.

mud city crab house

The seafood joint isВ actually located off the island, in Manahawkin, but was so awesome that we ate there twice. Their snow crab legs were amazing—and reasonably priced.

snow crab

I was also thrilled that they served blue crabs—my absolute summer favorite! I ordered those for dinner when we returned on another night.

We had to check out of our house on Saturday morning. Before we left the island, we stopped byВ Uncle Will’s, my favorite breakfast spot from when I was a kid.

uncle will's

The place was just as cute as I remembered, with pig-themed paintings on the wall. The ceramic Uncle Wills still held court over the restaurant, and were seated at tables where little kids were dining.

uncle wills

No joke—I was tempted to ask for Will to sit at my table! Just like when I was a kid.

The pancakes were also great.

uncle wills pancakes

Since we got back, my familyВ andВ I have been talking about saving up and pooling our funds to buyВ a beach house, in a few years. That’s the thing about NYC. It’s great to be able to find anything you need, any hour of the day. But the fast pace and crowds also make you crave more of this, especially in the summer:

lbi beach

Ocean Grove’s Tent City

I spent both days on the beach, this weekend. Even though the weather was a little cooler and the beach a tad more crowded than I’d prefer, it’s always wonderful to leave the city and spend some time in the sand and surf.

My new goal in life is to buy a beach house within train or easy driving distance to NYC. I don’t have anything fancy in mind. Just an airy place where I can go to escape NYC on the weekends.

Last week, I stumbled upon a very interesting community that mostly fits that description.

Ocean Grove is a NJ beach town about an hour away from NYC. It has Victorian architecture, a boardwalk, a small downtown area—and “Tent City.”

It’s exactly what it sounds like: a community of people who reside in canvas tents during the summer.

Colorful awnings and flowers decorate tent houses in Ocean Grove

Tent City evolved from a campground, where people stayed while attending religious meetings, in the 1800s.В At one time, there were as many as 600 tents.

Today, 114 remain, with some modern touches, like wooden back rooms, kitchens and bathrooms.

Inside an Ocean Grove tent

The tents don’t offer much privacy—they’re close together and residents can hear what’s going on in the ones around them. There’s no BBQing allowed, and Ocean Grove is a dry town. And, true to its origins, Tent City is still a religious community.

Each tent goesВ for $4,000 to $7,000 a season. Yet, the wait list is rumored to be decades long.

The interior of the Le Duc family's Ocean Grove tent

I can certainly see the appeal. I would happily move into a beachy tent for the summer…though preferably in a non-denominational tent community that allowed BBQing and booze!

(Images via the State of NJ, NJ.comВ and NJ Monthly)

Off to the Shore!

beach

I’m so happyВ that it’s summer. And I’m even more thrilled that I’ll be spending a week at the beach!

My friends and I rented a house on Long Beach Island, on the Jersey shore. (No, it’s definitely not like THAT Jersey Shore.)

I used to vacation on the island when I was a kid. I remember it being sleepy and quaint—no chain stores, lots of mom and pop restaurants, tons of mini golf courses. My sister and I loved Fantasy Island (the island’s little amusement park) so much, that we even rode and named the same carousel horses year after year. (Mine was “Galaxy.”)

I haven’t been back to LBI in almost 20 years, so I’m excited to see what it’s like now. Either way, I’m expecting to have a very nice, relaxing time. It’s hard to beat long days at the beach.

I may or may not be posting next week, so in the meantime, a few quick links from around the web:

There’s a tech edition of Cards Against Humanity. Yessssssss.

An awesome DIY IKEA cat bed.

Some cool photos and video of the Oakland Ballet working with street dancers. (I’m a big fan of Storehouse, the platform on which that was built. So awesome for telling stories. Can we get that functionality on WordPress, please?)

Have a warm and sunny weekend!

Fall Fun: Chris Christie Corn Maze and Apple Picking

I’m never thrilled when summer ends. But a day of fall ridiculousness outside the city always brightens my spirits.

Last year, we “hit the hick jackpot” in Long Valley, NJ, a pretty area about an hour outside the city, with lots of farms and apple orchards. Though we didn’t set out to visit that area, specifically, we ended up nearby, this year, for one reason.

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Stony Hill Farm (just a few minutes from Ort Farms, last year’s destination) has a giant corn maze shaped like Chris Christie’s face. (And Barbara Buono, the Democratic challenger. As a liberal, I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t name Christie’s gubernatorial opponent until I read about this maze!)

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When it comes to fall ridiculousness, it’s hard to beat a political theme.

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Last year, we made it through Ort’s corn maze pretty quickly. So we were surprised when Stony Hill’s website said it could take three hours to get through their maze.

How hard could it be?

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Once inside, we soon learned. There didn’t seem to be an obvious way to the finish and we didn’t see many markers telling you whether you were on the right track.

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We walked around…

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…and around…

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…and around the corn for almost an hour, back and forth between Buono’s hair and Christie’s face. Finally, we gave up and went out through the entrance. (Luckily, Stony Hill’s awesome cider and donuts took the sting out of defeat!)

Afterwards, we drove a few minutes down the road to Stony Hill’s apple orchard.

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While the trees weren’t massively tall…

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…apples were plentiful (and cheap!) and we picked baskets full to bring back home.

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I’m still eating my way through several apples a day.

On this trip, I also found out that my dear friends, Karen and Steve, live just a few minutes away from this “hick jackpot.” I think they’re lucky to have easy access to such pretty farmland—and amazing cider donuts!

Old School Jersey Shore

I may be a die-hard New Yorker, but I’m always going to have a soft spot for the Jersey Shore.

When I was a kid, there was nowhere else I wanted to be, especially during the summer. Every year, I looked forward to vacations on quaint Long Beach Island and the lively Ocean City boardwalk. Occasionally, we’d hit up other towns, like Wildwood (with its funky tram car) and Atlantic City (which was way sleazier than it is now). In college, I spent a few days in pretty Lavalette (thanks, Karen!)—and a requisite night out in seedier Seaside. (Of course!)

This year alone, I celebrated my 30th bday in Atlantic City (somehow, I neglected to blog about that) and ran a great race in Long Branch.

Given my history with the region, it’s no surprise that I really enjoyed seeing images from “Asbury Park and the Jersey Shore, c. 1979,” a photography exhibition by Joe Maloney. The photos were taken a few years before I started going to the shore every summer, and they capture the gritty yet idyllic vibe of the time and place.

“View from Empress Hotel, Asbury Park, New Jersey,” 1980

“Boardwalk, Asbury Park, New Jersey,” 1980.

“Asbury Park, New Jersey,” 1979.

What summer destination has a special place in your heart?

(Photos by Joe Maloney via The New Yorker)

A Weekend of Summer Faves: Performing and Tubing

This weekend, I got to partake in two of my most anticipated summer activities: performing and tubing!

Despite battling a horrible cold, I still made it onstage for this edition of Kat Wildish’s “Performing in NY Experience” showcase. I felt pretty terrible for the Friday show. But—luckily!—was almost 100% recovered for the two Saturday shows.

My group performed the “Peasant Pas” from Giselle…

peasant pas

…as well as the “Pas de Premiers Wilis” scene from the same ballet.

giselle

I loved having the opportunity to dance such different pieces. The peasant number was lively and upbeat, while the Wilis scene was somber. The latter was probably one of my favorite pieces, of all the ones I’ve performed. Even though there’s a lot of standing around, I was lucky to have a small, featured role. Plus, I feel comfortable in Romantic ballets, and appreciate the intricate shapes we created with our movements. (Check out the Paris Opera Ballet looking just a tad more polished than we did. ;))

MyВ annual tubing tripВ in Frenchtown, NJ, was the following day. The weather wasn’t ideal—it was cloudy and drizzly, at times, and not particularly warm. But my friends and I went anyway, since it was the last summer weekend that worked for everyone’s schedules!

I was just glad to be out of the city, floating down the Delaware River—as evidenced by this year’s requisite Toms shot.

toms

pennsylvania

I didn’t even mind that I had to wear a wool hat and scarf the whole time…

tubing

…and drink a few cans of beer to stay warm. Have to take full advantage of the few summer days we have left!

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(Performing in NY Showcase photos by Arthur S. Coopchik)