I've been going to Asbury Park, N.J. for the past eight summers, and some creative reinvestment into the community coupled with an aggressive push to court gay travelers has resulted in it becoming a great destination for East Coast gays looking to have a fun weekend in a place with a welcoming, unpretentious vibe.
I traveled to Asbury Park recently to share with you some of my favorite spots to eat, drink, beach and eventually sleep when it's all said and done.
Where to Stay
Asbury Park has three major beachfront hotels with three distinct personalities. The Empress is your wise older gay friend who's just a bit stuck in the past. The Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel is your sister-in law with bratty kids. The newest hotel, The Asbury, is your progressive new friend that isn't gay but is totally cool with it. I've stayed at all three, and The Asbury gets my vote.
The first thing I noticed about The Asbury was the people. The hotel seems to be attracting a younger, millennial crowd that's very LGBTQ-welcoming. The 50s and 60s-inspired art deco vibe will most likely ensure The Asbury won't seem dated in 20 years, and the pool was, in short, everything.
Though the pool was ground level, it was perfectly secluded from the surrounding houses, the yellow towels gave it a funky vibe and -- because alcohol -- there's a bar just steps away to enjoy a cocktail during your swim. And, abs be damned, there's a food truck that serves everything from hot dogs in a pretzel bun (which I did not try) to waffle fries (which I, um, did.)
The Asbury's pool was crystal clear and all kinds of fabulous, with cabanas, lounge chairs and a grassy knoll to lay out on when both of those fill up (and they will). Rooms start around $200 a night, and if that sounds a bit pricey for a Jersey weekend, grab a few friends and stay in one of the hotel's hostel-style "Quad" or "Octo" rooms. You'll have the same great time, and you'll have more $$ left over to do all the other gay Jersey stuff I'm about to fill you in on.
Where to Sunbathe
The "gay" section of the beach is just steps away from the 5th Avenue boardwalk entrance, and should be first stop for gay daytrippers or those in Asbury for the weekend to bask in the sun and get a sense of the crowd.
I spotted bears, otters, Jersey boys and everything in between soaking in the rays on the sunny Sunday afternoon I hit the beach. If there is ever a moment where you're unsure of whether you've made it to the "gay" section of the beach, the sounds of Ariana Grande you hear blasting through the speakers will definitely show you the way.
Where to Eat
I'm a sucker for Cuban food, so I hit up Cubacan, a Cuban fusion restaurant right on the Boardwalk. The restaurant had a very 2016 mix of gay people, straight people and everyone in between -- and the food didn't disappoint. I started off with fried calamari, then had the pretty tasty ropa vieja for my main course.
The brisket was succulent and tender, and the calamari was perfectly crispy. Is it pricey? A bit. Is it good? Absolutely. But if you listened to me and grabbed some friends to pile into a Quad at The Asbury, you can drop all those extra coins on some good food. You'll need the fuel before you head out to dance.
Where to Drink
Journey further into the "real" Asbury Park, and you'll find Georgies, which the owners describe as "The Gay 'Cheers' of Asbury Park." Everybody may not know your name, but they'll know around 70 percent of the words to the karaoke songs they're singing their hearts out to on the main stage. Georgies may not be the kind of place you go to see and be seen. In fact, you may not want to be seen snacking on bar food and $8 vodka sodas while your friends belt out the worst version of "No Scrubs" you've ever heard, but that doesn't mean you'll enjoy it any less.
Asbury Park may not be the Amalfi Coast, but you can have a great gay time on a budget right on the Jersey Shore. Give all these places a shot, and tell them NBC OUT's Rob Smith sent you!