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Ocean Grove - New Jersey
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  A Seagull Shangri-La

Ocean Grove - New Jersey

Linda Oatman High

Just one hour from Philadelphia or New York City, there is a seaside haven of rocking chairs on porches and a boardwalk bandstand, old-time penny candy and homemade ice cream, free parking and quiet streets, and more Victorian houses than the famed Cape May. Ocean Grove, New Jersey s best-kept secret for 134 years, is quickly becoming the hippest getaway for urban professionals, artists, families, and those in search of refuge, rest, and renewal.

A Shangri-la of seagulls and a non-commercialized boardwalk, Ocean Grove boasts a dignified row of eateries and shops on the tree-lined Main Avenue. There are no tacky T-shirt joints in sight. No arcades. No water slides or rides. Visitors rent bicycles (the old-fashioned kind: no gears or handlebar brakes) at Ocean Grove Hardware, a wooden-floored establishment with antiques upstairs. The hungry have ten restaurants from which to choose, including Nagle s Apothecary Cafe with its collection of old pharmaceutical bottles and the Ocean Pavilion Restaurant, perched on the end of Ocean Grove s boardwalk, bordering the shell of the once-thriving Asbury Park.

Ocean Grove is the town that time forgot. A National Historic district, the community was founded by Dr. William Osborn, a Methodist minister. The location was just what the doctor ordered: a high beach, thick groves of pine, cedar, and hickory trees, and no mosquitoes. Natural boundaries were made by two lakes and the ocean, with gates across the remaining side. Until 1980, the town gates were closed with chains from midnight Saturday through midnight Sunday. No cars were allowed on the Sabbath.

Dr. Osborn and a group of other religious-minded folks joined together in 1869 to form the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association. The association continues to this day. The town is dry, with no alcohol served within the one-mile radius of Ocean Grove.

The center of activity in the town is the Great Auditorium, an impressive structure that s almost football-field size. Featuring speakers and statesmen, opera stars and orchestras, the Auditorium has been visited by Presidents and personalities from Ulysses S. Grant to Guy Lombardo. Boasting a huge pipe organ, the Great Auditorium offers free organ concerts on summer Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Nestled around the Auditorium are 114 tent structures, with fireproof canvas in the front and cabin/cottages built onto the back. Many of those who own the tents are fourth and fifth generation families: relatives of the original Camp Meeting Methodists. Some say that there s a 30-year waiting period to buy a tent.

The beach, named by USA Today as one of the best in the world, is clean and thong-free. The beach badge, at $6.00 per day, is well-worth the cost.

A perfect example of a 19th century planned urban community, the town is laid out so that the buildings nearest the ocean were built farther back from the street. This created a funnel to capture the sea breezes and channel them westward. This clever plan also allowed most porches along the street to enjoy the ocean view. Savvy innkeepers have lined their porches and balconies with rocking chairs.

Even a loud car radio seems out of place here, where most of the bed and breakfast establishments lock the doors at 11 p.m.

Claiming the country s largest collection of Victoriana, Ocean Grove offers many lovingly-preserved guest houses and B&Bs. Three of the best are the Manchester Inn, the Love Letter Inn, and the Ocean Vista.

One block from the ocean and 1/2 block from the Auditorium, reigns Ocean Pathway s Manchester Inn, with a 60-foot front porch decorated with twinkling nighttime white lights and American flags. The Manchester s magic begins with camel back sofas and a Steinway piano in the lobby/common room. Muraled hallways and a collection of antique hand mirrors greet those ascending to one of the many charming guest rooms. There s a Sunday jazz brunch at the Inn s Secret Garden Restaurant, and murder mystery events throughout the year. Innkeepers Clark and Margaret Cate have brainstormed a litany of popular events that keep the rooms filled throughout the year. There s a Civil War Re-Enactment Weekend in November and a Chocolate-Lovers party in February. The Manchester also offers a Harpists Escape and Spiritual Renewal Weekends.

In the southern part of Ocean Grove is the Love Letter Inn. A sensuous French Victorian Inn, the Love Letter faces Fletcher Lake and is a short block from the ocean. Hosts Lynn and Phil Bruno welcome guests with warm hospitality. Their 3-year-old Anthony and tiny Maltese dog Tiffany entertain those who care to venture from the luxurious rooms. Each room features a claw-foot bathtub or oversized soaking tub. There s the Angelic Love Letter Room, Garden of Angels, and Angels by the Sea. There s the Bridal Suite - requested not only by newlyweds, but by those wishing a special getaway - with a lovely hand-painted mural over the bed and a private balcony.

For families in search of an informal and comfortable hotel, the Ocean Vista fits the bill. One of the few boardwalk properties, the Ocean Vista offers the requisite porch with rockers, a continental breakfast and morning coffee, and affordable prices. The Herr family s dog Pelle greets guests, and the mood is upbeat. The rooms are clean and cozy.





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