VIAGGI – FAMILY TRAVEL
Something about the sunshine, the bronzed bodies topped with big gold crosses and even bigger hair (male and female alike), the scent of fried clams and fried Oreos drifting from the boardwalk, and lying in that soft sand down the shore makes me feel at home and on vacation all at the same time. I’m a bonafide Jersey girl, and I always have been. I’ve been to the more sophisticated shores of Long Island, my mom’s home turf, and the elegant seas of my family’s native Italy. Both have their merits, but they are missing that kitschy, cool vibe that makes the Jersey Shore embody summer and childhood and all that is right with the world.
Like the Jerseyans who came before me, I want to share the shore – and all that sentiment – with my son, not to mention my native Italian husband. For the first time in many summers, we have found ourselves Stateside, so we recently headed down the shore. My husband and I have a tradition of going to Jenkinson’s Boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. during the winter months. Back when we were dating, we had picnics on the sand even though we were bundled in winter coats, played old-school arcade games, made out in the car, and strolled hand in hand sipping on hot chocolates while browsing the gorgeous furniture and funky souvenirs at shops in town.
Now, however, we were able to see the town and that lovely beach at its most alive – in the summer. From northern New Jersey, just outside of New York City, Jenkinson’s Boardwalk is about 1 hour and 20 minutes away…without traffic. During the summer months on the weekend, there’s almost always traffic, so be prepared. My family definitely has had to pull over on the side of the road for a pee-pee stop, and I may or may not have had to do my business on the road while my cousins held up towels to cover me. (Don’t judge when nature calls.) Anyone with an Italian father taking charge of the trip will be leaving home before the sun rises, and returning home right after lunch to make sure you don’t have to sit on the highway with the “lazy bas…..” who wait until 7 or 8 a.m. to leave and have the gall to stay all day and go home after dark. How dare they!
Besides the traffic, you have to keep in mind the cost. Now, you won’t go broke, but it ain’t cheap. To start, after fighting traffic (and Nonno’s road rage – oh yeah, the struggle is real), you will have to pay for parking. We ended up spending $20 for six hours of parking. Then, we walked to the beach, where we had to pay to get on the sand. This is when Nonno will start cursing about how Americans are crazy to think they own the beach and can force people to pay to sit on the hot sand. You may have to cover the kids ears when he starts in with the Vafa… Napoli. Adults 12 and over will pay $10 to enter on the weekends and $9 during the week. Children 5 to 11 will pay $2.50 weekends or weekdays, and children under 5 are free. My son has a few more months of being free, which was nice. Beach chair rentals cost $8 each and umbrella rentals cost $10 each. But you rent those items at your own risk, because that’s when Nonno will start laying into you for not bringing your own chairs and umbrellas. You’re letting the thieves steal from you, he will say. “Disgraziati!”
WHAT TO DO
Now, you’ll find yourself on the beach. You’ll leave Nonno in one of those chairs to stew in the sun and his own anger. Then, you’ll take a dip in the Atlantic. Or you’ll build a sand castle. Some of the people near you will have full fledged tents to protect their babies. As long as they are not too big, you can have them. Soon, you’ll start indulging in the snacks you brought in the giant cooler that some people would consider a motor home. You and your cousins hauled it all from the parking lot while melting and taking orders from good ol’ Nonno, so you’re ready for some goodies. Nonna probably made pizza from scratch, sandwiches with prosciutto and tomatoes from the garden and Nutella for the kids, meatballs, melon, and some biscotti for dessert. Of course, if Nonno is with you, then you’ll be heading to your relative’s nearby house to eat pasta with the Sunday sauce and barbecuing chicken and sausage after this “antipasto” on the beach. Oh, yeah, Italians know how to do the beach right!
But if you’re not among crazy Italians, you will head to the Boardwalk to play and eat. There are typical carnival rides, perfect for the little ones and the young at heart (not Nonno). And there are also games, the kind you find at every Italian feast. You can plop Nonno down at one of those guessing games and run away. Run far, far away. Just remember to go back and collect him before you return home. No one else wants him, and you’d be lost without him, no matter how much of a curmudgeon he has become. Of course, all of this costs more. I don’t play much there, although I did once win enough tickets for a vintage glass Pepsi glass at the arcade. There are a few of them, but I usually end up at Frank’s Fun Center.
I’ve actually never gone to the Fun House or the mini golf course, but I’ve heard good things. One good time I can endorse (and have actually brought many a relative from Italy to see) is Jenkinson’s Aquarium. There are penguins and all sorts of fish. While small, it’s an educational opportunity right on the beach, and you can’t beat that. All these individual activities on the Boardwalk have their own fees and hours of operation, so check before you visit.
WHAT TO EAT
Fun and games are nice. But, to be honest, my husband and I are most interested in the good eats on the Boardwalk. We can’t leave the place without a fried Oreo or two or three or six, which are available right on the Boardwalk. Ok, usually six. Joey Tomatoes is considered by many to be one of the best places down the shore for pizza, although I can’t vouch for it. We usually end up grabbing burgers and fries or chicken fingers or calzones or fried clams at either Boardwalk Bar & Grill or the famous Martell’s Tiki Bar. Either is great, but Martell’s tends to be super packed with people. On our most recent trip, my son and I both ordered the value meals, which came with a meal and fries in a souvenir pail and shovel. My cheeseburger meal cost $11.75 and my son’s nuggets meal cost $10.75. My husband ordered the chicken parm calzone, which was something like $13, and he was pleased.
One of my favorite treats is a soft-serve vanilla cone with rainbow sprinkles at Kohr’s Frozen Custard Inc., a historic sweet shop that dates back to 1923. This is the best of the best in ice cream. There are plenty of more exotic flavors to sample, and I can also recommend the Oreo milkshake. Overall, a day at Jenkinson’s Boardwalk is yummy, yummy. In fact, it’s so delicious that you won’t even mind the traffic jam – or Nonno’s crotchety comments – on the way home.