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Long Branch, Asbury Park & Ocean Grove/USA

Introducing Long Branch, Asbury Park & Ocean Grove

Sanitized and slightly generic compared to other shore locations, Long Branch is the first major beach town south of the Highlands. Just a bit inland from here is the famed Monmouth Park Race Track, where you can see thoroughbred racing in a gracious, historic setting.

Just south of Long Branch massive homes the size of museums in the community of Deal are worth gawking at. However, once you cross over Deal Lake into Asbury Park, luxury gives way to abandoned row houses and potholed streets. But the town, which experienced passing prominence in the 1970s when Bruce Springsteen 'arrived' at the Stone Pony nightclub and then a major decline, has been revitalized. Led by wealthy gay men from NYC who snapped up blocks of forgotten Victorian homes and storefronts to refurbish, the downtown (the liveliest on the shore), which includes several blocks of Cookman and Bangs Aves, is lined with charming shops, restaurants, bars and a restored art-house cinema. The sprawling Antique Emporium of Asbury Park has two levels of amazing finds.

The town immediately to the south, Ocean Grove, is a fascinating place to wander. Founded by Methodists in the 19th century, the place retains what's left of a post–Civil War revival camp called Tent City – now a historic site with 114 cottage-like canvas tents clustered together, which are used as summer homes. The town has dazzling well-preserved Victorian architecture and a 6500-seat wooden auditorium, and there are many beautiful, big-porched Victorian inns to choose from for a stay; visit www.oceangrovenj.com for guidance. A few miles inland just off the Garden State Pkwy is a very utilitarian-looking Premium outlet mall.