What to do at the Jersey Shore
Long Branch, New Jersey is an historic seashore city. From the 1860’s through the First World War, it was also the most glamorous town on the Jersey coast. During Long Branch’s early years as a resort town, it was like the Riviera of the east coast. Society names such as the Astors and Fisks, and famous, albeit notorious names such as Diamond Jim Brady and Lily Langtree summered here. First Lady Mary Lincoln visited in 1861, but it was in 1869 that Long Branch NJ had it’s first presidential visit by President Grant. The President continued to visit every summer that he was president.
By 1870, Monmouth Racetrack opened and is still open today. Soon after the track, came casinos. Long Branch was in its glory days. Seven other presidents followed Grant and visited the city. Chester A. Arthur, Rutherford Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Woodrow Wilson and James Garfield were frequent summer visitors. After an attempt was made on James Garfield’s life, he was brought to Long Branch in the hope of a recovery aided by the sea air. Indeed, a railroad spur from the main line to his house was built to make him more comfortable in his travels. Woodrow Wilson built a spectacular mansion modeled after Versailles which stands now as the centerpiece of Monmouth University.
Sadly, one of the only remaining structures of Long Branch’s former elegance is the St. James Episcopal Church. Built in 1879, it is where all seven presidents worshipped. It has since been renamed Church of the Presidents and is located at 1260 Ocean Avenue.
Long Branch, NJ is now attempting a rebirth. Visitors to Long Branch NJ will enjoy the beach, the new Pier Village, as well as Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park, a 33-acre county park with facilities for swimming, boating and picnicking. Some of the small summer bungalows have been replaced with high-rise condos, which has been a controversy locally because many of the homeowners did not sell willingly.
There is also a large selection of outstanding new restaurants as well as a lively nightlife at places like Le Avenue. But old timers know the best places to go are all the old favorites, such as Max’s. Max’s is not at its original location, which burned along with the boardwalk and amusement park many years ago, but is now one block from the beach and is still owned by the same family. There are signed pictures strewn across the walls of all the celebrities who have dined here; Bruce Springsteen being everyone’s favorite son, of course. For those in the know, there is no other hot dog on the Jersey shore. A crisp, sizzling dog sitting in a steamed bun loaded down with sauer kraut, relish and spicy mustard…mmm, oh my gosh. Max’s closes for the winter months and by March you just start lusting after a hot dog.
Down the street is the original Windmill. Now a chain, it’s famous for its grilled burgers. My favorite is, and has always been, the California burger on a hard roll smothered with ketchup and onion rings on the side. Heaven.
For dessert, a few blocks away, the best treat in town is Strollo’s Italian Ices. Lemon. Perfect. Cool, refreshing and tasting like summer.
Sure, there are other great restaurants where you can sit down and have a cocktail and a quiet, expensive meai. But Max’s, the Windmill, and Strollo’s are classic Jersey shore summer favorites.