While writing this, I am sitting in my dorm room in Massachusetts, trapped inside as a blizzard rages outside my window. Although classes being canceled is fantastic, it’s the middle of March and I’m getting pretty tired of the bitter Northeastern cold that seeps into your bones and makes you never want to step foot outside again (unless you’re bundled up like a marshmallow).
On days like these, at the end of a Northeastern winter, when the promise of spring is just around the corner but no one knows exactly when the warm weather will be here to stay, I tend to wax nostalgic and think of summer. Most often, these daydreams revolve around the Jersey Shore. I know what you’re thinking; the loud and obnoxious crew from the MTV show just popped into your head. Snooki, JWoww, the Situation, drinking and partying at Seaside Heights, NJ.
My experiences going “down the shore” (since I am originally from northern New Jersey, and all the beaches are in southern NJ, going “down the shore” or “dts” is the typical slang term for going to the beach) have been nothing like the “reality” show. First of all, there are so many other beaches to visit; although Seaside Heights is fun, it doesn’t have the reputation of being the cleanest or nicest beach.
My favorite beaches to go to are Belmar, Point Pleasant, Wildwood, and Sandy Hook, all for different reasons:
Belmar- the perfect spot for day trips, Belmar Beach is small, but they are incredibly clean and well-maintained. The continuous 1.3-mile long beach is split up into smaller sections by avenues, with restrooms and playgrounds for kids every few blocks. A day pass to the beach is $8 for those 16 or older. There is no official, stereotypical “boardwalk” lined with games, food, and rides, but depending on the avenue, there are various food establishments (think 7/11, pizza, smoothie bowls) right across the street from the beach. The main roads of the town are cute and fun to drive through or walk around as well if you have time.
Sandy Hook- Sandy Hook is actually part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, a national park, so it definitely isn’t stereotypical “Jersey shore”. There is no boardwalk at all and I recommend you bring your own food because options are limited to the one or two food trucks at the entrance to the beach. However, the special thing about Sandy Hook is that it has bike trails, and bike rentals are available.
Wildwood/Point Pleasant- These two are perhaps the most stereotypical “Jersey” beaches. The boardwalks lining their beaches are long, bustling, and loud, containing amusement parks with rides, carnival games, and miles upon miles of fried food, ice cream, lemonade, popcorn, pizza, and saltwater taffy. Wildwood is an especially fun place to take a weekend trip because Cape May, a quaint Victorian seaside town, is a quick 20-minute drive away; a combo weekend in Wildwood and Cape May is a perfect way to get the best of both worlds.
Yes, you will probably see some Snooki and Situation lookalikes, but these beaches have so much more to offer than a reality TV stereotype.
I am lucky enough to live 20 minutes away from New York City. One of my favorite things to do when I feel like getting out of the house is take a “staycation” and make the short trip into Manhattan by bus from my home in northern New Jersey. Most times that I do this I have no definitive plan; I just go with a friend or my family and we see what the city has to offer us that day. I know this might seem scary, and believe me, having no plan is not the easiest thing for me; I’m very much a planner and live by my calendar. However, when I think of all the best times I’ve had in the city, they have been spontaneous day trips that had either no plan or a very loose one.
Here are my top suggestions for experiencing NYC all year round:
TKTS Discount Ticket Booths-If you’re into theatre (or even if you’re not) TKTS is super cool if you have a whole day to kill. The way TKTS works is fairly simple: they sell discounted same-day tickets to both Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, matinee and evening. Available shows are displayed on a billboard near the booth about half an hour before the the booth opens, and tickets are sold on a first come, first serve basis. You wait in line with a show you want to see in mind, and when the booth opens, you ask for x number of tickets to said show and they’ll sell them to you at a discounted price. While you wait in line, TKTS employees (you’ll be able to easily spot them because of their red vests) are readily available to answer any questions you have about the shows and make recommendations. My tips for getting the most out of TKTS:
Check the hours for each location. There are four TKTS locations: Times Square, South Street Seaport, Downtown Brooklyn, and Lincoln Center. Each location has different hours for both their matinee and evening shows, so check their website for details: https://www.tdf.org/nyc/8/Locations-Hours.
Get in line early! The Times Square TKTS opens for evening shows at 3 pm, but people start lining up at the booth as early as 2 pm. I highly recommend this, because then you will be at the front of the line and likely get your first choice of show.
Have back-ups in mind. You should have a list of a couple different shows you would be willing to see in case your first choice sells out, but I have always been able to get tickets to my first choice if I get in line early and wait an hour; I have seen shows like Matilda, Fun Home, and Avenue Q this way.
Be prepared to kill time before the show. If you get in line early, you’ll have tickets for an 8:00 show around 3:30. Find a great place to have dinner and enjoy the show!
Smorgasburg– I cannot say enough good things about Smorgasburg. I have been three times, in three different seasons, and it’s been 100% worth it every time. For all my major foodies out there who don’t know, Smorgasburg is a sizable food festival in Brooklyn that happens every. single. weekend. It’s a bit of a trek to get to from Manhattan (about half an hour by subway) but entirely worth it. Almost all year round it is held on Saturdays at Williamsburg waterfront in Brooklyn, and on Sundays at Prospect Park in Brooklyn. During the winter they downsize the festival, combine it with the Brooklyn Flea Market, and move it inside. There are normally at least 25 vendors at the outdoor Smorgasburg locations, and around 15 at the indoor one. My tips to make the most of the festival:
Smorgasburg is where the infamous Ramen burger can be found, but (in my opinion) it doesn’t live up to the hype. Spend your money on one of the lesser-known vendors that make food of much better quality that is just as interesting (I recommend the Japanese beef curry nachos from Takumi Taco).
Bring friends and share! The food options at Smorgasburg can be overwhelming and you’ll want to eat it all, but tummies fill fast and although there’s no admission fee, you have to pay for any food you buy. Sharing food means you’ll get more variety for less money!
Prep for the weather and enjoy the view! I personally have only experienced the Williamsburg and indoor locations, but Williamsburg waterfront is a beautiful place to eat food. The official location of the festival is East River State Park, which opens right up to the East River and offers a fantastic view of the city skyline on the other side. However, make sure to take into account the weather on the day you go-although there are some trees to provide shade, Smorgasburg does not provide much in the way of shelter from the elements. I have been both when it was sweltering outside and when it was cloudy and rainy, and although the food and view make it worth it no matter what, make sure you prepare yourself to be out in the elements.
Various Central Park Activities-No matter the season, Central Park (and the area surrounding it) offers a sanctuary from the noise and bustle of the city. My top things to do in or around the Central Park area include:
If you’re looking for a calmer activity on your day trip, simply walking around and getting lost in Central Park is a great way to get exercise and enjoy yourself. You never know what might be happening in the park on any given day; I once saw the movie “Enchanted” being filmed!
Row boats are also available for rental April through October at the Loeb Boathouse in Central Park. Boats hold up to four people, and are $15 per hour. If you bring friends and split among you, it’s not too expensive.
If it’s summer, see an early-morning free concert. Good Morning America hosts a series of concerts in Central Park every summer-the 2017 lineup will likely be released soon, and admission is free if you’re willing to get up and stand in line.
If it’s cold or the weather is less-than-desirable, the Museum of Natural History is at Central Park West and 79th, providing an (educational) refuge from the outdoors. The Museum of Natural History is just as easy to get lost in as Central Park is.
If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in New York City for a day (or more!), I hope these suggestions help you to make the most of your time there. The city has so much to offer, so take advantage!