Monday, August 20, 2012
The Jersey Shore is one of my favorite places on earth. I've been coming here since I was a tiny tot - first to visit my grandparents who spent every summer in Belmar, New Jersey since the early 1940s, and now to visit my father who inherited their beach bungalow.
I love the Jersey Shore more than words can describe. For the past decade, I've been going to North Carolina beaches with friends, and as much as I love the uncrowded beaches and the fact that dogs, fires, and beer are allowed in Nags Head, my love for the Outer Banks will never come anywhere close to my love for the Jersey Shore.
It's a shame that the Jersey Shore gets such a bad rap (thank you, stupid reality shows) and is victim to so many stereotypes and negative news stories (the Syringe Tide happened 25 years ago and now New Jersey beaches are cleaner than ever), because it really is a beautiful place.
The Jersey Shore, the tiny town of Belmar, and Dad's little bungalow are the only things from my childhood that haven't lost their magic. Food tastes better, sleep is deeper, fruit is sweeter, stress is non-existent and my relaxation levels? Off the charts. Seriously, I'm like a puddle of melted butter as soon as I walk in the door. (Incidentally, that is exactly what happens to butter that is left out in the unairconditioned bungalow kitchen!)
True, some things have changed - many of the tiny beach bungalows have been knocked down and replaced with huge houses, Evelyn's Seafood Restaurant is gone, and the boardwalk mini-golf course from my childhood blew away in a hurricane many years ago, but the flavor and character of Belmar still remain and the rhythm of my days there remain unchanged:
+ breakfast on the front porch (always blueberries, a slice of cantaloupe, and a bagel from Freedman's)
+ reading the paper and doing a crossword
+ a walk down to the lake
+ a late morning nap in the chaise
+ a sandwich for lunch
+ the gathering of beach chairs and umbrellas and the three block walk to the beach
+ an afternoon reading with toes in the sand followed by a late afternoon swim in the ocean
+ wading next to Dad on the shore and staring out to sea as we're dried by the afternoon sun
+ the walk back from the beach and the familiar rhythmic squeaking of wet flip-flops
(or zories, as we called them growing up)
+ a shower in the clawfoot tub while dinner's in the oven
+ wet swimsuits hanging on the backyard clothesline
+ happy hour on the porch and enjoying that awesome post-day-at-the-beach feeling
+ a good meal - which always includes sweet New Jersey corn-on-the-cob and plenty of wine
+ an evening walk on the Spring Lake boardwalk or a trip to the ice cream shop for a cone
+ retiring in the brown velvet recliners while watching evening television
+ tumbling into bed under the whir of the ceiling fan
+ falling asleep to the sound of crickets and the whistle of the train in the distance
Repeat for a week and never get tired of it...
Some of Dad's neighbors surf before going to work in the morning. Awesome:
This is Lake Como, which separates Belmar from Spring Lake (the borough to the south). Dad's bungalow has a view of the lake and one of my favorite things is to sit on the front porch and enjoy the view and the sea breeze. Good book and cocktail optional, but highly recommended!
This photo was taken with my back to the lake looking down Dad's street (his house is behind the big one):
True story: As I was walking back from the beach one day, I passed a couple standing by the lake. "Excuse me?" asked the girl. "Do the big white birds bite?" (Do you mean the SWANS?) (And yes, they are kind of mean.)
The Shark River Inlet separates Belmar from its neighbor to the north, Avon-by-the-Sea (which has much more crowded beaches):
My favorite ice cream on earth: Hoffman's Ice Cream in Spring Lake Heights. When I was a kid, I used to make my dad take me out for ice cream here every single night:
I've spent a long time trying to decide whether I am a beach or mountain person. We have friends who are decidedly beach people (and who will spend every chance they get with their toes in the sand) and we have other friends who are definitely mountain people (camping and hiking are their true loves), but the truth is, I love both. I love the beach. I love the mountains. I like the salt air at the beach, the breeze, the walks on the boardwalk, the day full of activities, and tumbling into bed dead-tired each night only to wake up completely rejuvenated. I like being surrounded by nature and the solitude and breathtaking beauty of the mountains. Please don't make me choose between the two. But after this past week at the beach, I finally realized that I am a water person. Whether I'm sitting the beach listening to the waves, swimming in the ocean, boating on a lake, or hiking along a river at the base of a mountain, water is the element that creates a near-perfect vacation for me...
Thank you, Belmar. You're still magic to me - 33 years and counting.