There are so many unfortunate snap judgments that happen when one reveals that they live on the beach in New Jersey, known to most by what they’ve seen on “Jersey Shore.” (“But isn’t everyone there tacky and orange?” is a common refrain when I reveal this bit of information.) The truth of the matter is that the living, breathing stereotypes you see on TV aren’t an accurate representation of who actually lives there. And the other truth is that the state’s many miles of shoreline offer up a host of different experiences and attractions. I’d like to introduce you to a very unusual one: Ocean Grove, New Jersey.
One of the many lovely homes in Ocean Grove. Flickr photo by Robot B
I first encountered the small community of Ocean Grove (which is about an hour from NYC, give or take) one summer over a decade ago, when I was searching for a beach that wasn’t wall-to-wall people. What struck me was the absence of noise in the tree-lined main drag, which counted an old-timey ice cream shop that used to be an old-timey drugstore among its many businesses. People didn’t rush about; instead, they walked with families and neighbors. To say that it seemed old-fashioned was an understatement, in comparison to other bustling destinations nearby. Especially when you consider that this is a beach area which doesn’t have a single bar. (I’ll let that sink in for a moment.) Then there are the cottages at the center of everything: Tiny summer homes that are partially tented, but have nearly a decade-long waiting list to rent. When you factor in that the beach is closed for part of every Sunday, you realize that this isn’t your typical shore escape.
In the first episode of “How America Lives,” above, we visit this community to see how it became what it is today — and what hasn’t changed since its founders were around.
The movie “Pleasantville” could have been filmed here.