Greetings from Asbury Park may be the name of his debut album; but Bruce Springsteen didn’t put Asbury Park on the map. In a way, Asbury Park put Bruce Springsteen on the map. Between the role it played in birthing “The Boss” and its idyllic beachfront location on the Atlantic, this New Jersey community has a history as rich as its present. From checking into a hotel once owned by Johnny Cash to hitting up the iconic attractions along Ocean Avenue—home to The Stone Pony, the Wonder Bar, and one of the country’s most colorful boardwalks—here are a few legendary memories worth making.
Catch a show at The Stone Pony
When fans wanted to send “The Boss” mail, they used to address it to “Bruce Springsteen, U.S.A.” The Stone Pony’s original owners remember getting 50 to 100 of these cards and letters every week. Springsteen would collect his mail every time he came in and jammed, which was often. After all, 913 Ocean Avenue is where he, and another regular, Southside Johnny, became so famous that another New Jersey native, Jon Bon Jovi, made it his goal to play The Stone Pony. Since its doors first opened in 1974, The Stone Pony has become much more than a music venue. It’s a place where rock and roll fans and artists alike can pay homage to their predecessors, whom they have a good chance of running into. In other words, don’t be surprised if Bruce Springsteen comes out of the crowd and climbs up on stage—perhaps during an impromptu cover of “Beast of Burden” by the Rolling Stones—to join the up-and-coming artist you bought tickets to see.
Best time to go: The Stone Pony hosts an outdoor summer concert series every year from May to September. The lineup changes annually (although there’s usually an excellent chance of a Southside Johnny appearance), but expect headliners like Boy George, Modest Mouse, Greta Van Fleet, Phillip Phillips, and Gavin DeGraw to take the open-air stage overlooking the Atlantic.
Check into the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel
Whether you roll up in a private limo or an Uber Pool, you’re still going to be treated like royalty at Asbury Park’s most recognizable hotel. Built in 1924, the eight-story Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel has been a landmark on the Jersey Shore for nearly a century. Despite its oceanfront location, just across the street from North Beach, its classic Beaux-Arts architecture has weathered dozens of tropical storms and hurricanes, including Hurricane Sandy in 2012. But, perhaps the most famous year in Berkeley’s storied past is 1983. That’s when Johnny Cash and his business partners bought and refurbished the 255-room property. Today, one of the most luxurious suites is even named after the legendary “Man in Black.”
Best time to go: In January, rates are about half of what they are in July. However, to fully take advantage of The Berkeley’s newest amenities, including the Tiki Bar and private cabanas by the outdoor pool, visit during the summer months.
Enjoy “Yappy Hour” at the Wonder Bar
This popular Ocean Avenue establishment’s claim to fame isn’t its half-pound prime Angus beef Wonder Burger. Instead, it bills itself as the “Home of the World-Famous Yappy Hour.” During the summer months, the Wonder Bar is the place to see and be seen if you have four legs and a tail. While your furry friend cools off in the swimming pool after attacking the agility course, nurse a European Pale Lager from Asbury Park Brewery or bar owner Lance’s favorite specialty cocktail. This is another place where you shouldn’t be surprised if you bump into Bruce Springsteen. He’s been known to stop by The Wonder Bar to watch the New York Giants on the big screen, or hang out with family while celebrating his mom’s 93rd birthday, for example.
Best time to go: The best time to go depends entirely on the size of your dog. Small dogs rule the fenced-in yard Mondays and Wednesdays, while dogs of all sizes are welcome every other day. On weekends there’s a $5 admission fee, with the proceeds donated to Asbury Boardwalk Rescue, which cares for the community’s homeless dogs and cats.
Experience the Asbury Park Boardwalk
It’s hard to walk 10 steps along this beachfront promenade without wanting to stop and take a photo. From ocean views and street performers to vibrant murals and a never-ending trail of nostalgic throwbacks, there’s plenty of inspiration for Instagram. Just as impressive as the boardwalk’s sights are the acoustics in the 1920s-era Paramount Theatre and the symphony of sound effects at the Silverball Museum and Arcade, home to more than 6,000 still-playable pinball machines. Potential souvenirs along this mile-long stretch of sand include custom surfboards, carnival prizes, vintage jewelry, and handmade organic soaps. And when hunger strikes, there’s always a waffle cone, cheesesteak, or oyster bar within smelling distance.
Best time to go: From Thanksgiving through December, Asbury Park Boardwalk is home to the state’s tallest indoor Christmas tree. A huge holiday bazaar, modeled after traditional Christmas markets in Germany, takes place every weekend. For nightlife, visit the boardwalk on the first Saturday of each month to take advantage of extended retail and restaurant hours as well as a free trolley running through town and along the boardwalk from 6 to 10 p.m.