The Avalon History Center is at 215 39th Street in Downtown Avalon, NJ
Recently I took a tour of small Jersey shore towns and their historical societies. These interesting little museums are packed with information on the history and development of these towns. The progress of these towns from fishing and hunting villages for the Native Americans to the modern day resorts and permanent residence’s have a fascinating history.
The Avalon History Center was the last museum on my visit to the shore that day and it had become very gloomy outside. The town was relatively quiet when I got there on a late Thursday night. I ended up having the whole museum to myself to tour. The curator came out and greeted me nicely and…
The entrance to the museum is inside the Municipal Building and Library 1735 Simpson Avenue
I made a trip to many of the beach towns at the Jersey Shore recently visiting the small historical societies that explain the history and development of these small towns. It is amazing to see how they have developed in just 150 years from Native American fishing villages to thriving vacation spots and permanent residential districts. Ocean City, NJ itself has an interesting history.
As you enter the museum from the back of the library, you are warmly greeted by a docent who will explain the museum to you. Then you will follow a semicircle through the exhibitions in a genealogical order from when the town was founded to modern times and events.
The Sea Isle City Museum is located inside the Sea Isle Library at 4800 Central Avenue just off Downtown Sea Isle City, NJ
On a recent trip of touring the small towns of the Jersey shore, I set out to visiting many of the historical societies that tell the histories of these towns and how they have progressed from small Native American fishing villages to the resort and residential towns of today. Each of these museum has their own unique focus to how they tell their story.
The Sea Isle City Museum at 4800 Central Avenue is located in the back of the Municipal Building right next to the Sea Isle City Library. This small museum that is manned by volunteers is packed with local historical artifacts, pictures and…
Johnson’s Popcorn at 1360 Boardwalk in Ocean City, NJ
Taking a trip down the Jersey Shore is always fun especially on a late summer afternoon during the week when there are not too many people around and you have the whole Boardwalk to yourself. When I arrived at the Ocean City, NJ Boardwalk, it was mostly locals walking around, enjoying the sunny afternoon jogging, power walking and conversing with neighbors. You could see it was a tightknit group on the Boardwalk that day.
I have been coming to Ocean City, NJ only recently staying the night six years ago when I thought I might have a job close by. I started to explore the shore towns and made Ocean City my headquarters for that trip…
Sometimes there are just establishments that don’t fit into the traditional mold of this blog but when I find one that stands out it really makes it special. There is something about the boardwalk businesses at the Jersey shore that just different. Maybe it is just the sites and smells or just the combination with the sea air and the beautiful weather with the aroma of good food. This is how Franconi’s Pizzeria & Ristorante on the corner of Oak Avenue & the Boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ makes your mouth water.
Franconi’s Pizzeria & Ristorante at Oak Avenue and the Boardwalk
The one thing I have to say about the staff at Franconi’s is…
Well, Christmas is finally officially over for me. It was one for the books. The holiday season just came and went without much fanfare or activities. Nothing like last year which was a lot of running around visiting decorated homes or running to the next cocktail party or dinner. Those things just did not exist this year. This season was all about the outside walking tours and small get togethers.
The whole holiday season became a blur and I started to attend a lot of outdoor activities that became available. Anything to get out of the house and see people or go do something out of the ordinary. I really had to search things out.
They started closest to home. I was trying to split my time between places that were just a drive away, going back and forth to the Hudson River Valley, which gave me a change of scenery and walking the neighborhoods of Manhattan, which gave me a sense of purpose as I felt I was supporting the City by being a cheerleader for all it had to offer even in the era of COVID.
My holiday journey started with the delivery of 375 Christmas trees for the Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association. It was a big undertaking for a major charity that supports graduating high school seniors with scholarship money for college. I sometimes wonder if these students know what we go through to get the funds.
The trees were really nice this year
I have never seen so many Christmas Trees fly off a lot so fast. The membership of the Men’s Association got there at 9:00am and the truck arrived at 10:15am. We sold our first tree at 11:30am as we were tagging them. I stayed the entire day from 9:00am to 10:00pm when we closed the lot down for the evening. In the three shifts that I was there with the other guys, we sold 45 trees which we have never done our first day of sales.
The Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association at set-up 2020
We were completely sold out by December 11th which I have never seen before. It seemed in the era of COVID everyone reverted back to the 1970’s and wanted a fresh Christmas tree for their home. I thought this was wonderful and people could not have been more supportive to our organization.
Please read my blog on “Christmas tree sales in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ”:
Please watch the commercial I did in 2015 to sell our trees
The first week of December means “Open Houses” at some of our merchants in Downtown Hasbrouck Heights. I look forward to seeing all the Christmas merchandise being offered, all the bouquets created for the event and the beautiful Christmas windows that our florists in town have done.
Bill O’Shea’s Florist at 231 Boulevard in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ always has a nice gathering the weekend before Thanksgiving. This year was like no other but it did not keep a nice crowd of residents from coming out and looking over ideas for floral displays, house decorating ideas and listening to festive holiday music all while nibbling on prepackaged treats and bottled drinks.
Bill O’Shea’s has some of the nicest displays at the holidays
In a normal year, it would be hot chocolate and coffee with freshly baked goods but COVID has changed the way these businesses are run. Everything had to be prepackaged and most people at it outside as juggling and shopping with a mask on was tough.
The weekend after Thanksgiving, the same weekend we set up the Christmas Tree lot for the Men’s Association, Heights Flower Shoppe at 209 Boulevard in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ had their Open House and that was equally as nice.
Heights Flower Shoppe is housed in a turn of the last century home that dates back to the original founding of our downtown and has a very classic boutique look to it. The store was stocked with all sorts of Christmas decorations, homemade candies, decorative household gifts and beautiful floral displays as well as outside had decorated wreathes and grave blankets.
The homemade candies and Christmas decorations adorn the store
Like Bill O’Shea’s, there was all sorts of packaged holiday treats to enjoy including Italian sodas, small bags of homemade Christmas cookies and candies. Last year they had a nice assortment of cookies and small sandwiches with coffee, tea and punch so there are always holiday treats to nibble on too here as well.
All of Downtown Hasbrouck Heights was beautifully decorated for the holidays with wreaths on all our lamp posts, Christmas lights on the trees, merchants display windows decorated to the hilt and Christmas music playing.
Downtown Hasbrouck Heights, NJ is always so nicely decorated for the holidays
This year because of COVID, the Annual Holiday Parade and Christmas Tree Lighting were cancelled in town but they did have a small get together at the Circle in Hasbrouck Heights to light the town Christmas tree. It was lit from Thanksgiving until the Epiphany on January 6th. It is always a beautiful site when entering town from the west side of town.
The Christmas Tree on the Circle in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ
Even the little Neil Parrot playhouse, a local landmark in Hasbrouck Heights, was decorated for the holidays and was lite up at night as well.
The Neil Parrot Playhouse on the Circle in Hasbrouck Heights awaiting Santa
There were several nights of my aunt and I exploring the town and driving block by block to see all the decorated homes. Hasbrouck Heights and the surrounding towns of Lodi and Wood Ridge always do a wonderful job decorating for the holidays but with everyone being home and COVID hitting the area hard, people wanted to really decorate and make this year even more festive. Between the merchants and home owners, they made this time of year in Hasbrouck Heights very festive.
Please read my blog on Visiting Downtown Hasbrouck Heights, NJ:
I did not just celebrate Christmas in Hasbrouck Heights. I ventured into other parts of New Jersey, to New York City and my usual haunts in the Hudson River Valley but like New Jersey, New York State was on a lock down as well and all the decorated mansions and holiday gatherings were all cancelled as well. So everyone did their best to celebrate outdoors and have all sorts of tours and small get togethers. You had to move fast when reserving these events as they did fill up because everyone wanted to get out of the house and see things.
The Sinterklaas Parade that I have participated and volunteered at for so many years was cancelled because of COVID but like the Halloween Parade, the committee put together a video of the parade to share with the world. Still it did not compare to the excitement of walking down the hill with stars and music lighting up Downtown Rhinebeck, NY.
The noble Frog was to be our mascot for this year’s Sinterklaas Parade
It was not the same as the year before where the crowds kept getting larger and larger every year. The whole town came to life with activities, songs, lights and laughter but was silent that weekend except for people having dinner in town. I was able to sneak up during the week. The entire town was decorated with white lights and beautifully decorated store windows. Rhinebeck is one of those towns in the Hudson River Valley that looks straight out of a Currier & Ives woodcut.
Downtown Rhinebeck, NY at Christmas
Since all the Christmas parties and get togethers were cancelled, it gave me more time to look into other outdoor events. I went to a special “Historical walking tour at the Holidays” at the Bergen County Historical Society in River Edge, NJ. The tour was lead by Historical singer and lecturer, Linda Russell, who explained the traditions of the Dutch Christmas all while singing Colonial Christmas songs in between the talks at each historical house on the property.
The Steuben House at Christmas
Actors dressed in costumes (and masks of course-COVID is still going on) danced in the Steuben House ballroom as colonialists celebrating the holiday, Dutch housewives putting their children to bed while awaiting Sinterklaas. There was a Dutch wooden shoe with carrots for his horse outside the door and mistletoe on the ceiling.
Linda Russell performing and lecturing at the Bergen County Historical Society
There was a discussion on the Pagan traditions of bringing ‘greens’ from outside inside to have a bit of ‘live nature’ into the home. So mistletoe, pine and holly adorned homes during the winter months as these things were green and brought a bit of life into the dead of winter.
The last part of the lecture was done in front of the Campbell-Christie House with a visit from Sinterklaas himself. We had a short talk about who Sinterklaas was and his part in the holiday season. Then all the members of the tour enjoyed refreshments and got a goody bag when we left with holiday sweets. The lecture and songs were a nice way to enjoy the beginning of the holiday season.
My favorite song by Linda Russell “I saw Three Ships”
As I was finishing up the semester at the College, I was getting holiday preparations done at the house, having small gatherings of family and friends and trying to be COVID safe. I was also running in and out of the City finishing my blog on Kips Bay before the holidays started getting busier. I learned a lot of New York’s Colonial past from walking around this area of the City.
My blogs on the Walking the neighborhood of Kips Bay:
The next weekend I made my last trip of the season to Long Beach Island to visit Beach Haven and the tour the rest of the island one last time before winter set in. It had really closed down since Halloween. I expected it to be much busier with more people moving down there on a permanent basis. Driving up to the lighthouse, I saw more dark homes then lite ones.
I wanted to take one more tour of Long Beach Island to see how they celebrate Christmas at the shore. They do things very quietly in Beach Haven. I went to the Surflight Theater to see the only play I had seen since I attended Carnegie Hall last Christmas to see the play “We need a little Christmas” which I had seen advertised at the theater over the summer.
“We need a Little Christmas” at the Surflight Theater in Beach Haven, NJ
After the theater, it was surprisingly warm that afternoon hovering around 58 degrees so I walked to the beach one block away and walked on the Jersey shore for my only time that year and for the first time on Beach Haven beach since 1975. It has been a long journey since that time.
The Beach Haven beach was beautiful that afternoon
The town’s Christmas trees were across the street from the theater on the square just off the downtown. Even they had a subdued Christmas at the shore and the whole event welcoming in the season was done virtually.
Christmas in Beach Haven, NJ adapted like the rest of the world
My holiday dinner was spent at the Chicken or the Egg that evening and it was really good. The menu is so extensive and innovative. It was hard to make choices.
Cinnamon Bun Ice Cream sandwich at Chicken or the Egg
Their fried chicken sandwiches are really good and their Cinnamon Roll Ice Cream sandwich should not be missed.
The Chicken or the Egg at 207 North Bay Avenue in Beach Haven
I was able to tour the whole island that afternoon before it got dark and even at twilight here and there were signs of Christmas in small trees lit in the shopping areas and decorated homes. It is an interesting place at the holidays with the waves crashing in the background.
My blog on “Exploring Downtown Beach Haven and Long Beach Island, NJ”:
The next week was finals week at the College and I had to give my final exam. The students also finished work on their case study, “Bud N’ Mud”, a simulated flower/coffee shop I had the students develop. It was interesting to see how a group of student entrepreneurs would create a store with their own ideas on how to grow the business. This project ended the Fall semester.
One of my favorite logo’s from the “Bud N’ Mud” project
With the Christmas trees selling out by December 11th, we held our annual Christmas party at the Christmas tree stand site for the Men’s Association. It was a cool not cold night and we all huddled around the fire taking alternate turns hitting the makeshift buffet table and enjoying good conversation. It was a great way to end the year successfully and there will lots of scholarships being given out at the end of the school year.
The last big event before Christmas came was the Sunday before Christmas with the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department holding our Annual “Santa Around Town”. Because COVID was growing, the event was revamped from previous years and instead of stopping at sites all over town, we drove down each street in town slowly, having Santa wave and greet people who were on their lawns, driveways and porches. The residents of Hasbrouck Heights seemed touched by it and I could tell from the safety of the fire truck that the kids got a kick out of seeing Santa. People really needed the pick me up in holiday spirit at the time.
The Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department at “Santa Around Town” 2020
On the Tuesday before Christmas after I finished work with my other job I needed a break and wanted to go on a road trip to the Hudson River Valley again. I was nostalgic for Christmas’s past and decided to visit some of the towns Upstate.
I explored Downtown Woodstock first seeing their very unusual Christmas tree in the square. I have to say one thing about Woodstock, they do pick out the most interesting tree to sit in the square. It always looks more surreal than traditional. Their annual “Santa Parade” was cancelled this year as well and they did a drive by with Santa at the Woodstock Fire Department who runs the parade.
Downtown Kingston, NY was next on the list. Talk about a town in transition. In the almost three years since I have been visiting Kingston, I have never seen a downtown change so rapidly. The businesses there have gone from all this ‘hippie granola’ businesses to all these antique furniture stores and art galleries and some really expensive restaurants. One of the locals told me the new residents are “Brooklynizing” Kingston.
Still the downtown was nicely lit for the holidays and their Christmas Tree while small is nicely lit for the holidays on the edge of the downtown “Stockade” district. The Dutch Reformed Church on the other end of downtown was nicely lit with wreaths on the doors.
I crossed the river and drove to Red Hook, NY which I love. Their downtown looks like an old fashioned shopping district straight out of another Currier & Ives print. All the little stores were decorated with garland and white lights and the merchants decorated their windows to the hilt.
My last stop on my search for the perfect picturesque Hudson Valley River town was returning to Rhinebeck, NY for the day. Rhinebeck was quiet on this Tuesday evening as most of the restaurants were closed and the shops had closed for the evening. Still it was nice to walk around and admire the while lights on the trees and admire the display windows.
The Christmas lights and windows of Downtown Rhinebeck, NY
Even the way I celebrate Christmas changed this year. Instead of spending time with my family, I spent three days in Manhattan with my best friend, Maricel, at a hotel in Times Square. Neither of us had the time to travel and we both had to work in the City, her at her hotel and me working on my blogs so both of us needed the rest.
AC Hotel New York Times Square at 260 West 40th Street
We stayed at the AC Hotel New York Times Square at 260 West 40th Street. What the room lacked in size, it made up in the view and in the location. We were one block from Port Authority, two blocks from Times Square and within walking distance from all the Christmas attractions from Saks Fifth Avenue’s Christmas windows and the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
While Maricel worked on Christmas Eve, I walked around the City. I saw the tree at Rockefeller Center which was loaded with people not keeping socially distanced. I admired the windows at Saks Fifth Avenue which had a New York City theme with Christmas scenes from around the City “This is how we Celebrate”.
Saks Fifth Avenue’s Christmas Themed window “Over the East River and Through the Neighborhoods to Grandfather’s House We Go”
Rockefeller Center’s Christmas Tree was even more special this year
I thought the windows at Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf-Goodman really lacked in creativity. Bloomingdale’s was having a bad year and Bergdorf’s had just gotten sold again (forth time since I worked there in 2004) so I did not expect much. With Lord & Taylor declaring bankruptcy earlier in the year and closing the main store on Fifth Avenue and B. Altman’s long gone and Macy’s going mechanical for the last few years, the excitement of seeing the windows has been less than enthusiastic.
Still it was nice to walk around Midtown after leaving the Rockefeller Center area and just walking around Third, Park and Madison Avenues. By 7:00pm, everything had shut down for the night and the streets were really quiet. What was eerie was when walking down Park Avenue and looking up and seeing so many dark buildings. The area looked abandoned with so many apartment lights out. I wondered where everyone went?
When Maricel got off work, I brought in dinner 9th Avenue Deli at 769 Ninth Avenue. I brought in a juicy cheeseburger and chicken fingers which we shared and then dug into. The perfect comfort food on a cool night. Christmas Eve was a mild 59 degrees and it was nice to walk around.
9th Avenue Deli at 769 9th Avenue
We just hung out the whole night and watched movies in the hotel room. I went to bed early and sunk into the wonderful Marriott hotel bed. Marriott had the best hotel beds and every time I stay at one of their hotels, I slept like a log.
Christmas Day we just relaxed in the room and I called many members of my family to wish them a Merry Christmas. While Maricel went to work, I decided to start touring neighborhoods like Kips Bay, Rose Hill and NoMAD in preparation in my walks there. It started out being a cold, cloudy day and there was barely anyone on the street. I saw a few people walking their dogs and that was about it until about 3:00pm. It them cleared up and was a mild 55 degrees until it got dark and then cooled down.
What really shocked me about Times Square was how dirty it was on the streets. They had not picked up the garbage on Christmas Eve day and did not pick it up until after Christmas Day so between the theaters being boarded up and the ply boards filled with graffiti, hotels closed and restaurants shut, the whole Theater district looked like NYC circa 1975. It was creepy how the pandemic was affecting the business of this neighborhood.
Neighborhoods like Kips Bay, Murray Hill, Rose Hill, NoMAD and the Flatiron District were really quiet that morning and early afternoon. All the restaurants and stores were dark, three hotels had closed in the district and I saw just a few people milling around. Things changed as I got closer to Macy’s Herald Square.
When walking around Koreatown, which runs between Sixth and Fifth Avenues between 35th to 32nd Streets, the side streets were teeming with Korean couples and groups of family members dining in the outdoor restaurants and cafes. This neighborhood was really jumping and full of life.
As the day wore on by 5:00pm, the rest of the City came back to life and more restaurants and stores opened up. Christmas morning and afternoon were now over and I could tell that people wanted to get out of the house (probably to get away from the family celebrations). When Maricel returned, I ordered in dinner from Golden City Chinese Restaurant at 423 Ninth Avenue, one of the few neighborhood restaurants open and we our dinner in the room. The food was okay. It was nice to just eat in the room and relax.
Christmas dinner was Lemon Chicken and Fried Rice from Golden City Chinese Restaurant
We checked out at noon on the 26th and she left for work that afternoon, I headed into Brooklyn to visit the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and the Brooklyn Museum. Both were really quiet that day. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden was mostly dormant for the winter and most of the garden was closed off because of COVID. The “Studio 54” exhibition had long closed at the Brooklyn Museum so I just wondered the halls and looked at some of the changes in the permanent exhibitions that they had. I left the City for home early that evening.
The last week of the holiday, I entertained family at a Lasagna and Champagne dinner I had a the house. Since I was not able to spend time at home during the holidays, my aunts came over to my house and we had a three course meal with champagne and wine. We spent the whole night laughing and enjoying the evening.
New Year’s Eve was a quiet evening at home alone talking with other friends who were staying home alone as well. Times Square was empty that evening with the exception of the 350 first responders who were invited to the ball drop. When I watched it on TV it was eerie to see it so quiet. There was no one for blocks except police guarding Times Square.
I headed back up to the Hudson River Valley again on New Year’s Day to go on two walking tours in Staatsburgh, NY at the Mills Mansion. It was the Annual “First of the Year” walking tours and it was a cool, crisp morning for a walking tour of the property. There were two tours that morning, one was on “Winter Activities in Victorian Times” with us learning about all the winter activities that the residents here enjoyed like skating , sledding, ice boating and horse drawn sleigh rides.
Staatsburgh, the Mills Mansion in the winter
The other tour later that afternoon was on “Ice Harvesting in the Hudson River Valley” , where we learned about how the ice harvesting of the Hudson River was a big business before the advent of refrigeration. Large slabs of ice were cut from the river, floated down stream and then packed in straw awaiting sale over the metropolitan area for peoples ice boxes throughout the year. It just gave me anther excuse to visit the region I love so much.
My blog on the Mills Mansion on VisitingaMuseum.com:
Another local event that was COVID safe was a driving tour through the “Holiday Lightshow” at Demarest Farms in Hillsdale, NJ. This was the first time that the farm opened the apple and peach orchard across the street from the farm stand. I saw this display the last week it was open and even after the holidays, it was a special treat as we awaited the Epiphany.
Driving through the display only took about forty minutes but was a delight in the senses and sounds. I played the classical music station as I drove through and admired all the colorful lights on the now dormant trees while Santa’s and Snowmen winked and waved and toy soldiers lit the way through the dark field. Even the Demarest homestead was ablaze with lights.
Demarest Farms at 244 Werimus Drive in Hillsdale, NJ
My blog on “Visiting the Farms of Bergen County, NJ at Christmas”:
Don’t miss this holiday lights ride through the orchard in 2021
The holiday event I visited was the Bronx Zoo for their “Holiday Lights” event at the zoo. It was the last night of the event and I arranged for the tickets that afternoon. The zoo gave me a 30% discount to go that evening and I was on the subway ride up to the Bronx.
The Bronx Zoo Light Show
I was really impressed by the display. The entire park was decorated with white lights, with different sections of the park decorated with different themes such as jungle animals, aquatic mammals and all sorts of assorted elephants, seals, penguins, lions, tigers and bears (oh my haha). There were costumed characters to take pictures with and they even had the Bug Carousel open that evening. I got a kick out of riding this since I had not done this since I was a little kid.
The Bronx Zoo musical Christmas Tree in the old part of the zoo
In the older section of the park, they had zebras on stilts and a musical Christmas trees that had an interesting soundtrack of contemporary Christmas songs. Even though Christmas had been over now for almost two weeks, it me back into the Christmas spirit.
So there was the Christmas holidays in the era of COVID. Lots of outdoor activities in hot and cold weather. Many walking tours and more subdued events. Gone were the cocktail parties and big formal dinners and in their place were many more smaller outdoor events and communicating with nature.
Maybe we all needed to take a break from the more formal traditions and go back to the basics of family and friends. I think this was a reflective year and realizing what is important. It had not changed that much for me. I just adjusted to the times, wore a mask and got going. Staying safe and keeping others safe is what is all about.
Hours: Open Thursday-Sunday: 11:00am-5:00pm (the last tour is at 4:00pm)/Open Monday Holidays from April 19th to October 28th. The mansion then closes to prepare for the holiday season. Closed on Thanksgiving and Easter. There are special programs from January to April so please see the website.
Admission: $8.00 for adults/$6.00 for groups and Seniors/Children under 12 are free. Special events have separate fees and can run from $8.00 to $10.00 and above.
It is funny to go back to a place that you have not visited since 1975 and realize that time does pass by. I had not been to Beach Haven, NJ since the summer of 1975 when I was just a little kid. We used to visit friends of the family who had a house there and we would visit for about three days. It was interesting to visit a beach community as we never went farther than Sandy Hook, NJ. Going to the Jersey shore was a hike from our home in Bridgewater, NJ and since we belonged to a swim club, my parents saw no reason to run “down the shore” as we say in New Jersey. Why deal with the crowds and lousy parking?
Still I remember visiting there in 1974 and 1975 before these friends no longer belonged to our pool. All I can remember of those visits was swimming in the ocean and diving in the waves wanting to impress these two twin sisters and all I did was tumble in the waves. They and my older bother dove into the waves with no problems. The other thing I remember is the planes going by and saying to eat at “Tilly’s Pizza”. So we begged for it one night for dinner. It was terrible pizza and we ordered this cheese pizza that was just dried out and no flavor. It is funny the things you remember as a kid.
Touring The Barnegat Lighthouse Park is a nice way to spend the morning
I returned to Long Beach Island last summer on my way to the Firemen’s Convention in Wildwood, NJ to visit the Long Beach Island Historical Society, which I had read about in a beach magazine for my blog, VisitingaMuseum.com. I had a long visit at the museum and it was nice afternoon. I had not realized that the NJ Maritime Museum was a couple of blocks away but I did not have time that afternoon to visit. I said that I would go back later. Later was September 2020 over a year later. Hey better late than never. In the age of COVID, it has been a pleasure and escapism.
The Long Beach Island Historical Society
After visiting the museum for my blog and then visiting the Barnegat Lighthouse, I gained a new found respect for Long Beach Island and all it has to offer. I also realized how much it had changed in 45 years. It went from a sleepy somewhat ‘honey tonk’ working class resort to an upscale community with the growth of Wall Street in the late 90’s and the rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Many of those small little cottages that once lined the streets were long gone and they have been replaced by stilted ‘McMansions’ by the sea. The whole town has been practically knocked down and completely rebuilt. Even the stores were more upscale in their wares and the restaurants were expensive. I did not see too many tee shirt stores or beachy knick -knacks being sold. These are not Boardwalk businesses.
The NJ Maritime Museum
Still there are some great stores and restaurants to visit, cultural and natural sites to see and of course the beautiful beach with its calming sounds and gorgeous sunsets. You never know the complexity of a place until you visit a few times and find the true beauty of the surroundings and people. The downtown of Beach Haven has a lot to see and do as does the surrounding areas of Long Beach Island.
I started my last two visits to Long Beach Island exploring Beach Haven, a small beach hamlet towards the southern part of the island and where I had spent a few summers when I was a child. I do not remember much of the trips except visiting the beach and how rough the waves were to swim. I don’t remember venturing out that much.
When I returned 45 year later, the town changed so much especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy flooding the island as well as the rest of the Jersey Shore. It leveled homes and tore though businesses with a vengeance. What it left was a chance to build the island again from the ground up. Everything is so new all over the island. Still there are a lot of older homes and businesses that did survive. Some adapted and some just changed.
I walked the whole town and it was a interesting visit over the past two summers especially on two recent tours of the town in the late summer and early fall. My first stop on my recent trip is where I started touring last year at the Long Beach Island Historical Society at 125 Engleside Avenue in Beach Haven for their Ghost Fest, a family event that the Historical Society was running that afternoon for local families.
The ‘Ghost Fest’ at the Long Beach Island Historical Society
The Historical Society had not opened yet when I got to Long Beach Island so I started my tour of the island at the Barnegat Lighthouse State Park on the northern part of the island. Even on a gloomy morning in October, the park was very busy.
The cloudy weather did not deter the fisherman from casting and boats were dotting the bay. It was still a warm day and people were out and about. I joined other visitors to the park on the breakers watching the fisherman discuss the days catch and politics about the upcoming election. Some people were admiring the boats or just relaxing to the sounds of the waves. I just enjoyed the salt air and the sound of the waves crashing.
After I left the walkway, I took a tour through the woods in the sand dunes. It was what is left of some virgin woods at the shore. The woods are very interesting because of all the native plants that can live in a sandy shore and survive the winds are harsh winters. Plants such as Jersey Pines, Beach Plum and American holly are native to the area and played an important role in Colonial New Jersey especially during the holidays.
The lighthouse itself was built in 1859 replacing another lighthouse that fell into the sea with the changing tides (see my review on TripAdvisor). The lighthouse has been closed since March with the onset of COVID but the grounds around it were still open and people, masks and all, were walking along the trails and conversing at the picnic tables. Families were walking the trails and paths along the bay. For an early morning in October the park was busy.
The lighthouse and surrounding park is a nice to tour in the early morning
My next stop was the Barnegat Light Museum but it had been closed all season due to the COVID pandemic. I was able to call one of the Board Members of the museum and I would have to tour it later that afternoon. So took another tour of the park and drove back down the island.
Maybe it was the salt air or maybe it was the two hour drive down the shore but I was getting hungry again. Not wanting to eat another breakfast, I stopped at an old time restaurant, Surf City Pizza for a slice. They had just opened for lunch and I could not believe I was eating pizza this early in the morning but it was good.
Surf City Pizza at 1017 Long Beach Boulevard in Surf City, NJ
The pizza here is really good
I got to the Long Beach Island Historical Society as they were in full swing of their Ghost Fest and what a nice event it was that afternoon.
The Museum was decorated for Halloween
They had a pony ride, marshmallow roasting and smores by the fire pit, corn hole games, a maze, games of chance, a small gift shop, tours of the museum and even a costume parade with the Jersey Devil. The museum had a nice turnout on a somewhat gloomy afternoon but by the end of the event the sun started to shine.
The ‘Jersey Devil’ lead the Costume Parade that afternoon
I had a while before I had to meet the President of the Barnegat Light Museum so I decided to explore the downtown strip of Beach Haven. What an interesting downtown for a shore community. The days of tee shirt shops and beach gift stores has given way to a collection of interesting restaurants, upscale boutiques and gift stores, small specialty shops and art galleries. When you are selling million dollar homes in the area, you need places for those residents to shop and Long Beach Boulevard has an eclectic group of stores to choose from.
When I first visited Beach Haven after my 45 year absence, I discovered The Woo-Hoo around the corner from the museum. On my first trip to Beach Haven last summer, I came across this impressive little ice cream and lunch stand around the corner from the Historical Society and on a recommendation from the staff had lunch that afternoon. It was excellent!
The Woo Hoo at 211 South Bay Avenue in Beach Haven, NJ
I had one of their Classic Burgers with hand cut French Fries which was just excellent. The burgers have a rich juicy flavor and the mix of ingredients was delightful to eat. The fries were perfectly cooked and salted. I was so impressed by the lunch I went back later for their homemade ice cream that is just excellent.
I had the most amazing Strawberry Cheesecake which was rich and creamy and a Cinnamon Toast Crunch, which was loaded with the cereal. On a recent trip, the hot food had closed for the season but the ice cream was still going. I have this amazing holiday special called ‘Cookies & Scream” for Halloween. It was made with holiday M & M’s and Halloween oreos. It was worth the trip to Beach Haven just for that.
The burgers at the Woo Hoo are delicious
What I love about walking around downtown Beach Haven is the interesting array of stores and food establishments they have on the strip. They are fun to explore on a nice sunny afternoon. I lucked out on my two most recent trips here. The weather broke both days and it ended up a sunny warm afternoon. So I set out to explore the town and I discovered a small community that was much than the beach.
My first stop when I exited Engelside Avenue onto South Bay Avenue is the unique little gift store, “How to Live” at 7 South Bay Avenue, which has a great selection of local artisan gifts, artwork, children’s clothes and books, women’s clothes and art and book items created by the owner, Sandy Gingras. Her whimsical books and art work dot the store.
‘How to Live’s’ owner, Sandy Gingras
Walking into the store is an experience with the smell of fragrant smells of body products and the musical sounds of the 1980’s. It is a step back in time to when people took time to decorate their homes and give small host gifts. I really loved the homemade Christmas ornaments by a local artist.
How I Live at 7 South Bay Avenue
Further up North Bay Boulevard, the main artery of the town is Chicken or the Egg at 207 North Bay Boulevard with its constant crowds, popular outdoor dining and creative menu. The menu is stocked with interesting sandwiches, burgers and sides. The outdoor seating on a nice day is the way to dine. I have not had a chance to try the restaurant but it is on my bucket list on my next trip to town.
The Chicken or the Egg is at 207 North Bay Boulevard
North Bay Boulevard has a long stretch of eating establishments that are opened at various times of the week.
I stopped at Fourchette at LBI at 511 North Bay Avenue to enjoy the smells of the array of cheeses and look at their assortment of host gifts. They have a lot of interesting cheeses in the case line and the woman behind the counter was eager to explain them all to me.
Fourchette at LBI at 511 North Bay Avenue
The Cheese case at Fourchette
Another interesting store was Sandy Banks Art Store at 515 North Bay Avenue in which the first afternoon I visited a local artist was having an art show in the small courtyard adjoining the store. The art was vibrant and the artist was proud of the paintings she was showing off.
Sandy Banks at 515 North Bay Boulevard
Anchoring the main part of the downtown is the local shore department store, B &B Stores, which has been a Jersey Shore staple since 1932. Located in many well known beach communities, B &B stocks not just bathing suits and swim gear but an array of clothing, gifts and accessories for the local community. I have been in the store during the summer months and it is wall to wall swim suits, tee shirts and shorts but as the cooler months approach and the rushing of the holidays, I saw my first Christmas tree down the shore.
B & B Department Store at 835 North Bay Avenue
That afternoon there was a nice rush of locals and tourist grasping the last days of warm weather down the shore and even though we were all in masks (COVID is big down the shore too), people were going about their shopping with a vengeance. It was nice to see a crowd of people enjoying a shopping trip and conversing with one another talking over their masks.
The selection of merchandise at B & B Department Stores give me faith in the department store industry.
Crossing the street , there is a tiered mall, The Seaman’s Village, stocked with small stores and restaurants that is big with the beach going community on a rainy afternoon. During the two trips to Beach Haven that I made most of the stores were closed or has partial hours during the week and weekends. It seems though with the warmer weather extending into November and the exodus of people out of the cities, the stores are staying open much longer than usual.
Another homegrown store that I have enjoyed visiting on my last few trips to town is the Crust & Crumb Bakery at 9 North Bay Boulevard. This old fashioned bakery has the usual assortments of cookies, cakes, pastries and doughnuts and an array of Italian pastries as well. I have enjoyed their jelly and custard filled doughnuts and their seasonal pumpkin glazed doughnuts are delicious.
Crust & Crumb Bakery at 9 North Bay Boulevard
Trust me, after a day at the shore or just walking around enjoying the beautiful weather, a trip here can satisfy any sweet tooth. The selection is extensive and don’t miss the giant cinnamon elephant ears.
There are a lot of delicious items to choose from at Crust & Crumb
Walking back down North Bay Boulevard, passing Fantasy Island Amusement Park reminds you that this is still a shore town. On my first trip to Beach Haven in September the park was still open just very quiet. On a warm sunny Friday afternoon, there were not too many people walking around and the staff spent most of their time on their cellphones or chatting amongst themselves.
Fantasy Island Amusement Park at 750 North Bay Avenue
On my second trip in late October, the park was closed but the arcade was open. Talk about bells and whistles with lots of music, lights and excitement. There were only about a dozen of us in the arcade but it was a lot of fun taking a step back into time when I used to visit the pinball and skeetball machines when I was in high school. There were a lot of the old machines that I remember including a version of PacMan and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
The arcade at Fantasy Island Amusement Park brings back memories of a simpler time.
Walking around the arcade before dinner was an experience. The few people who were playing games were laughing and having a good time. The adults were having just a good time as their kids and I saw that it brought the kid back in them.
I stopped for a snack before venturing further at Slice of Heaven Pizza at 610 North Bay Avenue. The restaurant was closed for indoor dining so I ate outside with the pizza chef who was taking a break. The pizza was pretty good and when I was talking to the pizza cook he said how sporadic the business had been all summer. It was just starting to get busy by the end of the summer.
Slice of Heaven Pizzeria at 610 North Bay Avenue
Another wonderful gift, design and furniture store is The Spotted Whale at 500 North Bay Avenue. The store has a light and breezy beach feel to it with light colors and a lot of nautical looks. This store is more geared to the shore customer.
The Spotted Whale at 500 North Bay Avenue has some interesting looks about it
Walking further south, I took detour into the Coffee Nest at 106 North Bay Avenue to see what their baked good were like. The store is a combination gift store, coffee shop and bakery with some floral arrangements up front. There was not much left in the bakery area when I got there but they have a nice assortment and the prices are a bit high. I liked the music playing though. A step in here and your would think you are in Williamsburg or Bushwick and not Beach Haven.
The Coffee Nest at 106 North Bay Street
The interior at the Coffee Nest is very Bohemian
When I visited the first time, I came to see the NJ Maritime Museum that is located around the corner from the Coffee Nest on Dock Road towards the bay. The NJ Maritime Museum is located across the street from two very popular restaurants facing the bay at 528 Dock Road.
The NJ Maritime Museum is located at 528 Dock Road by the bay
This small but interesting museum contains not just the history of the towns of Long Beach Island but also has the history of the hotels that once dotted the shore, shipwrecks, the Coast Guard and the 1916 Shark Attack that inspired the movie “Jaws”. Several cruise disasters have interesting displays with documented accounts and all sorts of memorabilia. The museum was founded in 2007 by collector Deb Whitcraft.
The museum’s nautical displays are very detailed
Take time to explore each room and read the details of the displays. You will delve deeper into the history of Long Beach Island and its rich history as a fishing and hunting area for the Lennape Indians, then the Dutch and English traders to its time as a resort community to the new morphing during COVID as a full time community catering to the residents on their exodus out of New York City and Philly. The museum is rewriting history again in the era of COVID.
For lunch on my recent trip I had to find a place to watch the Michigan State versus Rutgers game. It was depressing watching us get tapped danced on by Rutgers during the third quarter. What made it less depressing was the food at Tuckers Tavern, a restaurant facing the bay at 101 South Bay Avenue( see review on TripAdvisor).
Tuckers Tavern at 101 South Bay Avenue
The bar area was socially distanced and they had plenty of TV’s to watch the game. We ended up losing 38-27 but I knew the game was over pretty much by the end of third quarter and I did not travel two hours to sit at the bar and get depressed.
Michigan State lost to Rutgers that afternoon
What perked me up though was the food. It it was excellent. I had a crab cake sandwich that was out of this world. It was loaded with crab and was so sweet. The fries were freshly cut and deep fried to perfection. The whole meal was delicious and picked me right up to keep going for the rest of the afternoon.
Do not miss the Tuckers Tavern’s Crab cake sandwich
It was nice after lunch to just walk around the bay area and admire the sunshine. The views from the restaurant that lined the bay was just amazing. It was so nice to just walk off lunch and admire the views. I watched the boats coming in and out of the docks.
The bay side restaurant row is breathtaking
After visiting both museums on the lower part of the island, I headed back to the northern part of the island for an appointment that I had to see the Barnegat Light Museum at 501 Central Avenue in Barnegat Light, a tiny museum that housed the original Barnegat Lighthouse light.
The original Barnegat light from the lighthouse
It was an old schoolhouse built in 1903 that had been converted into museum. The museum housed interesting artifacts like dinosaur bones found on the island, housewares from local residents, notes from the students who went to school at the schoolhouse and nautical items.
The Barnegat Light Museum at 501 Central Avenue
The President of the museum took me on a private tour of the museum and she told me about all the pieces in the space. I also got to tour the gardens that surrounded the museum that were tended by the Long Beach Island Garden Club who did a wonderful job.
The gardens at the Barnegat Light Museum
As the day wore on, I walked the Barnegat Lighthouse State park one more time and admired the inlet and enjoyed the breezes. People were walking along the pathways before the park closed at 4:00pm.
As I walked the around the area, exploring Andy’s at the Lighthouse at 202 Broadway, an old general store that had a lot of handmade wood works by a local artist and has a nice selection of tee shirts and gifts.
Wildflowers by the Lighthouse at 410 Broadway
Another store that stood out was Wildflowers by the Lighthouse by owner and artist, Cricket Luker and the store really stands for it innovative clothing and accessories. The owner is a local artist who took her art studio and turned it to a clothing store over time. She also opened Wildflowers Too! an art gallery at 506 Broadway that shows local and metropolitan artists with a collection of paints, sculpture and gifts.
Wildflowers Two! at 506 Broadway
It was later in the afternoon when I headed back down to the southern part of the island to Beach Haven and I had some dinner. When I was walking past the NJ Maritime Museum, I came across Polly’s Dockside and Clamhouse at 112 Northwest Avenue. The restaurant is a small establishment right on the dock facing the bay and has the most amazing fried clams and clam chowder.
Polly’s Dockside & Clamhouse at 112 Northwest Avenue
I sat at the bar facing the water and watching the sun set. I ate the richest clam chowder while watching boats come in and out of the dock. The sun set right in front of all of us as we ate and it was like watching a movie. Mother Nature can really treat you to the most beautiful things in life. I swear I snacked so much during the day that I could barely finish my fried clam appetizer which was much larger than I expected so it came home with me.
The food is just as good as the sunset at Polly’s Dockside & Clamhouse
I left when it got dark much later than I thought I would leave and I had a two hour drive home. I stopped at the Custard House at 6403 Long Beach Boulevard for some vanilla custard that settled my stomach. It was the right pick me up after all the food, touring and walking. This popular little stand has plenty of outside seating on a warm evening.
Custard Hut at 6403 Long Beach Boulevard
I was able to visit the island once more before the dark days of winter came upon us. Surprisingly enough when I visited in December, it was warm. The whole weekend was going to be in the high 50’s. It did not disappoint me as the sun came out.
I started this journey by visiting Barnegat, a small town just north of the cross-way from Long Beach Island. I was exploring the downtown and visiting a store named the ‘Unshredded Nostalgia’, a antique store that carried everything from old movie posters to local history books, 70’s posters and records to house hold decorations. It was one of those stores that a movie scout might look for props.
Unshredded Nostalgia at 232 South Main Street
The town of Barnegat is a small hamlet just north of Long Beach Island on the mainland a few miles from the cross-way. The Victorian architecture is a little shabby and the downtown has a lot of potential if it was renovated a bit more. It does have a unique look to it. It was a stop over for me on my back to Long Beach Island for a pre-Christmas visit.
Downtown Barnegat, NJ
During the late summer I had came across a flyer from the Surflight Theater for a Christmas production entitled “We need a little Christmas”, a COVID related play about Christmas in Maine. I had thought about it and at the last minute decided to visit Long Beach Island to see what the Jersey shore is like at the holidays. This was pretty shocking how quiet it had gotten.
The Surflight Theater at 201 Engleside Avenue
The play was cute and not too serious with a happy ending and a lot of Christmas songs that trust me everyone in the audience needed to hear. It really cheered me up and put me into the holiday spirit.
“We need a Little Christmas” at the Surflight Theater
The irony of the show was that when it was over and we walked outside the theater, the clouds gave way and it was sunny and 56 degrees out. It was so nice outside and no wind that I walked down the block and walked on the beach which surprisingly I had not done in all my trips to Beach Haven. This was the first time I had touched the Jersey Shore all year and since 1975 here.
This is when I believe in God when we can enjoy the Christmas holidays with late summer weather. This is what I liked about visiting Hawaii during the holidays. I could walk on the beach and dig into the sand and smell the salt air without freezing. It was nice to just walk on the beach and hear the waves crash.
Beach Haven beach, what a day!
After the walk on the beach, I decided to walk around the downtown. I was amazed on how much was now closed. “How to Live” was closing for the season and everything was 50% off, the Crust & Crumb and a whole list of other restaurants has closed for the season. The arcade closed for the season as well. B & B Department Store was still open and decorated for the holidays but pretty much everything surrounding it was closed for the season.
The museums, art galleries and some of the bay side restaurants and attractions were shut down for the winter months as well. I thought with so many people staying on the island as residents more would be open. I had lunch at The Shack at 302 North Bay Boulevard, which was one of the few places that was still open. I had noticed it when I was visiting in October and they had a nice selection of lunch specials for $8.00.
The Shack at 302 North Bay Boulevard
Just wanting a snack, I had their $5.00 pizza combination, which was two slices of their fresh pizza and a Coke. I highly recommend their pizza. It must have been cooked in a hot coal oven because the crust and bottom were really crisp and pillowy. The sauce was well spiced and had a nice flavor and the slices were very generous (see review on TripAdvisor).
The Shack Pizza is delicious
After lunch, I decided to head up the coast and explore how the island was decorated for Christmas. In the downtown areas of Ships Bottom there were some nice decorations of lighted trees but outside that with a few store fronts with lights, the area was dark. Everything had closed for the season. With each town I passed, it was really quiet.
When I got to Barnegat Light, the lighthouse was dark and the park was closed as was all the stores surrounding it including Wildflowers at the Lighthouse, which I enjoyed visiting on my last two trips. The stores either were closed for the season or closed at 4:00pm when the park closed.
On my trip back down the island, it was eerie how quiet the neighborhoods had gotten since Halloween. I thought more people were staying down here full time and I did not see that many homes lite up let alone decorated.
The one thing I did see was the most amazing sunset over the island and especially the bay area. The whole sky was reflecting off the clouds and had the most beautiful array of colors in reds, oranges and whites bouncing off the sky. The sun really gives a performance on Long Beach Island.
Beach Haven sunset
Before I left the island for home that evening and for the rest of the season, I stopped at the Chicken or The Egg for dinner which had been on my bucket list to try since the end of the summer. The food and the service were excellent and everyone was so laid back.
The dinner was excellent (see review on TripAdvisor). I had a sandwich named the Chicken Slammer, which was a fried chicken breast topped with Bacon, Jack Cheddar, Lettuce and Tomato and capped off with tangy barbecue sauce with a side of fries and pickles. it had such nice flavor in each bite.
The Chicken Slammer sandwich at The Chicken or The Egg
The restaurant has the most amazing desserts. I had their Cinnamon Roll Ice Cream Sandwich, which I highly recommend. They bake their own cinnamon buns and then cut it in half, load it with vanilla ice cream and top it with caramel syrup and then top it with cinnamon sugar. I swear that their is nothing like each bite of that dessert! No wonder it is so popular.
Cinnamon Bun Ice Cream sandwich is heavenly
I was so stuffed from dinner, I needed to take one last look around and I went back to the square and walked around all the lit Christmas trees , all twenty five of them surround the gazebo, and then the main one inside. On a warm night, with the waves crashing in the background, I thought this was an amazing place to admire a Christmas tree.
It was treat to come to Beach Haven and Long Beach Island again after a forty year absence. Who knew that the island in its transformation from working class resort to high class residential community offered so much in the way of shopping, restaurants and cultural sites packed onto one island. There is something for everyone here including the beach.
I thought it was a nice group of visits to get my mind off what is going on in the world. What’s better than the Jersey Shore in warm weather? Visiting at all times of the year in warm weather.
Christmas at the Shore!
The Beach Haven Christmas Tree Lighting 2020 (virtually of course):
(This project is dedicated with much love to my father, Warren George Watrel, who still inspires me!)
Hello and Welcome to ‘MywalkinManhattan.com’, an extensive project to walk the entire island of Manhattan. My name is Justin Watrel and I will be your guide in exploring the island of Manhattan, searching every nook and cranny of the island for the unusual, the usual and the in between.
‘Walking the Island of Manhattan’ may not be terribly original as there are about four other people doing the project at the same time, but this project is different in the way I see the island. Not rushing through to prove I have walked it but to see what these neighborhoods are all about and what is there to discover and enjoy.
For all you ‘Manhattanites’ who think you know your island, I will show you things that you have never seen and places you have never gone, restaurants you have never tried and historical sites and museums you never knew existed. Maybe just a few blocks from where you live. As the son of two “Brooklynites’, I have traveled around the city a lot since 1969, my first time in the City when my parents took me to Chinatown to Hunan Gardens, a Chinese restaurant on Mott Street. I ended up there for eight birthdays until it closed in the early 2000’s.
Lunar New Year Parade in Chinatown
“My Walk in Manhattan” is a project to walk the entire island of Manhattan in New York City from top to bottom from the beginning of the Summer of 2015 until I finish the walk. Manhattan is 13.4 miles long and 2.3 miles wide and covers a total area 23.7 square miles. Along the way of walking the streets of Manhattan, I will be walking into parks, museums, restaurants and looking at the architecture of the neighborhoods and the buildings in them.
My soon to be path around the Island of Manhattan
I have found that people miss a lot when they walk with their cellphones and only look down at it. When you look up, you see the true beauty of the City. You see the stone work of old brownstones, you see small boutiques off the beaten track and can indulge in those hole in the wall restaurants that are usually found by foreign tourists. Nothing is more interesting then seeing a stone face on a building staring back at you, a tiny pocket park that residents created out of a garbage dump and that small entrepreneur trying to create a vision.
The Cable Building at 631 Broadway
This project was inspired by many things. My major inspiration for this project follows the recent passing of my father, Warren George Watrel. My dad and I loved to walk around the city and spend the day at various museums, walking around Central Park and the Conservatory, taking the subway to try new restaurants in Chinatown or Little Italy or any new place I had read about in the Village Voice (my Bible when looking for things to do on weekends).
Columbus Circle on the West Side
My father was a ‘Brooklynite’ from Williamsburg (long before it was ‘Hipster Central’, he would have been amused) and loved the city, so this voyage is dedicated to him. Having watched the movie “The Way” with Martin Sheen, we look for inspiration in our travels and try to find the answers to why something happens the way it does. Walking to explore does that.
I was my father’s caregiver after his illness hit him and I continued my trips into Manhattan as my father got better. It was the inspiration to this site’s sister site, ‘BergenCountyCaregiver.com’. After he passed in 2014, I wanted to spend Father’s Day doing something different yet do something that we would have done together. Thus started the first walk in Marble Hill.
My first Day in Marble Hill, Manhattan
Another inspiration was a recent article in New York Magazine entitled “Which New York is Yours? A Fierce Preservationist and a Pro-Development Blogger Debate” in which the author Justin Davidson asks about the disappearance of New York’s Character. “What does that character actually consist of? If we did make an all-out effort to preserve it, how would we know what to protect?” How much is the city changing? I have worked off and on in New York City since 1988 and the answer is in some parts of Manhattan it is night and day. Could you imagine walking in Bryant or Tompkins Square Parks in 1990?
I did and they were very different places back then. With the changing Zoning Laws and gentrification of many neighborhoods, its not the city of 1970’s movies. What I am looking for are those unique little pocket parks that we pass, those statues of people we have no clue who they are and those historic plaques of places gone by and people we don’t know.
Astor Row Houses in Harlem
Another are the books, ‘Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost its Soul’ by Jeremiah Moss and ‘The Death and Life of the Great American City’ by Jane Jacobs. How do cities keep progressing and changing? How does change effect a city and what direction are we going in? Does the Island of Manhattan have to be all luxury or can it be mixed to help keep the creativity alive and keep innovation going? Do we want the big bad 70’s again or the luxury brand of the 2010’s and 20’s? How is it impacting and changing the city? How much has Manhattan and the rest of the boroughs changed with the rezoning of the city under the Bloomberg Administration. This can also be looked at in the documentaries “Gut Renovation” and “My Brooklyn”.
The last inspiration was my doctor. He said I have to lose ten pounds. I am hardly over-weight but like many people he feels that I will be healthier if I lose the weight and keep it off. I want to see how a walk like this tones the body.
Bowling Green Park in Lower Manhattan
I know many people before have walked the entire length of Manhattan while others have or are attempting to walk the every block in the city, mine has a more personal reason. To really see the city I love from the ground up and explore parts of the island that I have never ventured to and see what I find there. Along the way, I want to see how the city changes while I am taking the walk. This is not the “Christopher Columbus” attitude most people are taking when exploring the neighborhoods but more honoring those residents who are trying to make the City better.
My project also includes stops at various points of interest and to get a better feel for all the neighborhoods, I am walking both sides of the street to get a better look at the buildings in each neighborhood and what defines the character of a neighborhood. I get the impression from some of the readers of Mr. Davidson’s article and from comments on the Internet that Manhattan is some “playground of the wealthy that is being gentrified to the hilt and soon no one will be able to afford any part of Manhattan”. Like in any place, there are people struggling everyday to survive in New York and like every city in the country, people are moving back in droves and want a quality of life for them and their families.
Delacorte Clock in Central Park
In the Age of COVID, it has been interesting starting the project again. I had been on hold from March 13th, 2020 through June 10th, 2020 when the City was closed for anyone other than First Responder and people who had to work there. I was so happy when I could return and continue walking Manhattan. My walk down Broadway for the forth time was a surprise with all the businesses closed on the Upper West Side and I met the challenge of “The Great Saunter Walk” , the 32 mile walk around the perimeter of the island in 14 hours. There is now more to see and explore and write.
The COVID world though has me facing closed businesses that I have covered over the years. Restaurants and stores that I have mentioned in this blog since 2015 have since closed permanently or closed for the time being, I am not too sure. We also have a walking world of masks that keep us safe. The times in Manhattan are changing from the way we eat in restaurants to the way we shop and visit museums.
SoHo boarded up after the June Riots 2020
Fifth Avenue boarded up after the June Riots 2020
Things are constantly changing in Manhattan since the riots in June and COVID keeps raging in the City with people not wanting to wear masks. I hope that things will get back to normal soon. I still see people out and about doing their thing and enjoying the warm weather so I am optimistic about life. Still though, Manhattan keeps changing with the Theater District boarded up and Chinatown looking like a ghost town. We will see how New York City recovers from COVID like the rest of the country.
I have now expanded this site to three other blogs, ‘VisitingaMuseum’ (VisitingaMuseum.com), which features all the historical sites, community gardens and small museums and galleries I find in not just Manhattan but throughout the rest of the NYC and beyond in the suburbs.
‘DiningonaShoeStringinNYC’ (DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com), where I feature wonderful little restaurants, bodegas and bakeries that I find along the way. The one requirement is that the meal is around $10.00 and under (for us budget minded people).
“LittleShoponMainStreet” (LittleShoponMainStreet@Wordpress.com) where I find unique and creative stores in Manhattan and locally whose merchandising, displays, merchandise and service stand out in an age of Amazon. This harks back to a time when shopping was enjoyable and not a chore.
I have also added two new sections to the blog, “My life as a Fireman”, which I have moved from an old site that I had created for my old engine company to describe my experiences on the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department over the last 16 years. Also, this is what takes up my time when I am not exploring New York City.
Justin Watrel, Fireman
Another is “A Local Journey” are tours of downtown’s and communities outside the New York City area to travel to when you need to escape the City’s clutches. I have specific guidelines in finding stores, restaurants and museums/cultural sites in the area. This has lead me to really explore my own town of Hasbrouck Heights, NJ and exploring out of town destinations like Red Hook, NY and Beach Haven/Long Beach Island, NJ. You would be amazed on what these small towns offer.
Downtown Red Hook, NY in the Summer months
With COVID still rearing its head when I am in New York City, I do everything to stay safe from being fully vaccinated (I have take both shots and no I have not turned into a ‘Pod Person’) to wearing a mask and keeping hand sanitizer on me. I abide by all NYC Parks rules and try to stay away from people when in museums and restaurants.
Even with all its problems, New York City is still the most exciting City on earth and follow the blog, neighborhood by neighborhood and join me in discovering what makes Manhattan one of the greatest places on Earth!
So to readers who will be following me on the journey walking through Manhattan and beyond, I hope you enjoy trip walking by my side!
Me in Red Hook, Brooklyn discovering my new love in “Street Art”
This project is dedicated to my father, Warren George Watrel, with lots of love and many wonderful adventures and memories to keep me company as I take “My Walk in Manhattan”.
My dad, Warren and I at a Grandparent’s Day Brunch in 2013
‘Break My Stride’ still plays in my mind when I do this walk.
This walking song plays in my mind when I start ‘Walking’. Thank you Mary Mary!