The beach is my family’s happy place. And the specific beach that makes us happiest is Ocean Grove.
Ocean Grove beach is along the New Jersey Shore, nearly perfectly triangulated between New York City, Atlantic City and Philadelphia – about 90 minutes from each.
The sand is clean. The waves range from marvelous to glorious so bring your boogie board. Low tide is just as much fun as high tide. The lifeguards are very diligent. Parking is free, but you may find yourself driving around for upwards of 30 minutes looking for a spot.
If you like surfing, there’s a dedicated spot at the northern end of the beach. For all you anglers, you’re allowed to cast off the jetties for a chance to catch striped bass and fluke.
History of Ocean Grove
The history of Ocean Grove is very interesting. Here’s the ultra-abridged version: It was founded in 1869 by a group of Methodists looking for land to develop a summer meeting spot for like-minded folk. Boy did they succeed, and the square-mile town became known as the “Queen of Religious Resorts.” They built the Great Auditorium which still hosts what I imagine are great church services and choral events.
There’s also Tent City. Unlike the homeless encampment “tent cities” throughout the United States, Ocean Grove’s tent city that surrounds the Great Auditorium, that’s smack-dab in the middle of town, is a very desirable must-see attraction. According to the Historical Society of Ocean Grove, 114 tents (it started out with over 600) remain in the colony. By mid-May, “the canvas tents are brought out from their backroom sheds to be erected over front wooden platforms transforming them into living rooms, to be furnished with couches, beds, chairs, rugs, lamps, and pictures.” Air conditioners are now allowed. “Meanwhile, outside along the walks, flowers are planted by the tenters, many of whom are proud to be fourth and fifth generation summer Ocean Grovers.”
It costs about $5,000 to rent for the entire summer – and you must rent for the entire summer – along with abiding by other rules. That’s if you are even selected to become a renter; prospective tenters are interviewed then placed on a waiting list.
All this history placed Ocean Grove on the list of National Register of Historic Places in 1976, and the New Jersey State Register of Historic Places caught up and did the same a year later.
Lastly, but very importantly, the town’s religious beliefs may impact your travel plans. The beach, which opens at 9 a.m. Monday to Saturday, doesn’t open until noon on Sunday because you attend church before working on your tan.
Best Things to Do in Ocean Grove
Ocean Grove is a dry town, so it attracts more families and folks looking for a quiet day, weekend or week at the beach. Nearly all the homes are Victorian, including the B&Bs, with perfectly manicured lawns, so this is a great town for architecture buffs. In fact, Ocean Grove has the largest number of Victorian-era homes in the U.S.
There’s a Main Street, aptly named Main Avenue, with aptly named worthwhile businesses from a cheese shop (Cheese on Main) to a bakery (Ocean Grove Bake Shoppe), and a hardware / general store (Ocean Grove Hardware) that you should patronize… especially if you forget your boogie board.
In addition to the beach and the aforementioned places on Main Avenue, here are, in no particular order, some of the best things to do in Ocean Grove.
Store By The Shore
I’m not even sure if this is the actual name of this business since there’s no noticeable signage. It’s located in the back of an antique store that’s below street level. Do not get confused by the antique store that’s above street level, From Heart to Hearth, which is a treasure trove of one-of-a-kind curios. Either way, if you come across antiques on the sidewalk, you’ve reached your destination.
Run by British expat Graham Carter, the Store by the Shore, which opened in 2012, is a toy and collectible lovers mecca! Anyone, of any age, who is into action figures and nostalgia, from Star Wars to Marvel to He-Man to G.I. Joe, will be in toy heaven. Despite prices being higher than, say, Target, this store, which is open year-round, is where you go if you’re looking for a toy for that special occasion.
62a Main Ave., 732 455 8066
Day’s Ice Cream
As you read this, a line is forming outside of Day’s Ice Cream. By the time you’re done reading, it probably doubled. But it’s so worth the wait.
Ocean Grove’s oldest continuously operating business (since 1876!), Day’s is a very old school ice cream shop that offers countless ice cream flavors, floats, sundaes, and let’s not forget about the toppings. Oh, the toppings! Yes, there are a lot of people wanting a waffle cone with a scoop of mint chocolate chip, pistachio and cookie dough topped with gummy worms and hot fudge. And some kind of iced tea lemonade slushie may be the most refreshing beverage on the planet. When you step up to the window to place your order, you’re greeted by so many candies that had their time in the sun dating back to the ‘50s.
The whole time at Day’s is an experience that’ll have your kids not wanting to be on a screen.
48 Pitman Ave., 732 614 6245
You’re probably asking: “Why is one of the best things to do in Ocean Grove not in Ocean Grove?” Well, when the slow pace and quaintness of Ocean Grove has you yearning for the exact opposite vibe, just walk north along the boardwalk to Asbury Park. This rowdier beach town with increasing dashes of cosmopolitan has a little bit of everything. We go there for mini golf, ice cream, a delicious pizza / Italian dinner at Porta (you can throw a dart blindfolded and always land on something outstanding) and the Silverball Pinball Museum, the self-proclaimed “Coolest Place on Earth,” where, at one point in time, I had the high score in Galaga. There’s the famous Stone Pony for live music, including their annual Summerstage outdoor concert series. Who knows? Maybe Bruce will show up and send you greetings from Asbury Park…
Ocean Grove, like many Jersey Shore towns, was devastated by Superstorm Sandy in 2012. One of the main attractions that was destroyed was the beach’s original pier, which dated back to 1889. Thankfully, the pier was rebuilt – to the tune of $1.3 million of private money, paid for entirely by the Christian Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association – and reopened in April 2023. But the pier’s design caused a controversy. Because it’s located in Ocean Grove, the edge of the pier is in the shape of a Christian cross. Any other town, it would be viewed as a lowercase T. Who cares? I’m Jewish, I don’t. It’s access to walk out over the ocean and be able to look further out into it, as well as have views north and south, while feeling the breeze from the Atlantic.
Every town needs a really good coffee shop. This is it. All the coffee beverages are great. The pastries are delicious. The service is wonderful. The vibe is chill. And there’s art on the wall from local artists for purchase. Go. Now.
50 Main Ave., 609 388 9322
Enjoy your day at the beach! Now, go get in line at Day’s…