Don’t miss this interesting little candy shop in Downtown Cape May, NJ.
Louisa’s Candy Bar at 106 Jackson Street in Downtown Cape May, NJ.
Don’t miss this interesting and fun little candy shop specializing in Fair Trade and small batch chocolate bars and homemade desserts and hot chocolate served with a smile. It is so beautifully merchandised.
Louisa’s Candy Bar at 106 Jackson Street in Cape May, NJ
Louisa’s Candy Bar is a quirky little candy and dessert store in the Washington Mall in Downtown Cape May that has an impressive array of chocolate bars and rich desserts in this tiny space right near the well-decorated Village Green.
The tiny shop is lined with small batch chocolate bars from boutique brands that are either small batch companies or Fair-Trade Chocolate brands. Louisa’s even has their own private-label brand of chocolate bars that are made in Marine Park, Brooklyn. One of my favorite private label candy bars is their Milk Chocolate with Salted Caramel ($8.00), pricey but delicious. The combination of flavors is interesting and you really can taste the saltiness in the caramel.
The Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum is located at the back of the Cape May Airport. Just follow the road to the back of the airport at 500 Forrestal Road in Hangar #1.
This interesting museum is a treasure trove of artifacts from WWII to today from jeeps to cars and trucks to airplanes. Some of the vehicles you can step into and see what it was like to ride these pieces of aviation history.
There are several airplanes that with the assistance of the staff you can enter and see what air travel was like for these pilots. All the planes have been carefully restored and displayed for viewing and use by tourists. There is…
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 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…
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.
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.
In November 2021, I revisited the lighthouse again and it finally reopened after a year and a half of being closed. I was able to climb the stairs all the way to the top on a sunny but extremely windy day. Talk about views from the top. You could see the surrounding park, the inlet area and beautiful views of the sea. A lot of people walking up the lighthouse seemed to suffer from vertigo halfway up but trust me there is no way to fall down these stairs with barely enough room to move either way and no gaps in the stairs. All the views from the three landings on the way up also offer views of the ocean.
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 Barnegat 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
When I made my trip up to the lighthouse in November 2021, the pizzeria was still closed when I drove up so I went to Baked on the Beach, a small funky bakery at 2101 Long Beach Boulevard in Surf City. The bakery was open that morning and I had wanted to try it on my last three visits to the island but it always closed early.
There was a nice selection of pies and cookies but what caught my eye was these Cinnamon rolls that had just come out. One was a traditional Cinnamon roll which she would ice on the spot for you and the other was filled with sharp Cheese and NJ Pork Roll. Sold! I needed something savory for breakfast and this filled the gap.
The Cinnamon and Cheese and Pork Roll buns looked delicious
The Cheese and Pork roll was delicious and would have been better warmed but it was still good. As I rolled out each layer, I could taste the sharp cheese and the spicy pork roll that was thinly sliced in between the layers. I munched on it on the outside benches and that must have done something because all of sudden other people were stopping for baked goods. I guess the big smile on my face had something to do with it.
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
For Christmas in 2021, the Historical Society sponsored an “Elves Workshop” for kids and their parents with all sorts of arts and crafts happening at twelve different tables lining the front room of the museum. There was cookie decorating and Christmas tree creation with beads and cloth and gingerbread house making. To end the evening, they had Smores and Marshmallows roasting over open firepits in the park across the street.
The Elves Workshop at the Long Beach Island Historical Society
The museum knows how to welcome in the holiday season.
Santa finds his way at the Long Beach Island Historical Society
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
When I visited again in November 2021, I had this flavor that just caught my eye, “Pillow Fight”. When I asked the girl working the stand what it was, she told me it was marshmallow ice cream with Oreo Cookies and Rainbow sprinkles mixed in. Then she gave me a sample and I swear I heard angels singing. The ice cream was mind-blowingly good with that mixture of sweetness between the cream and the marshmallows with the Oreos and sprinkles mixed in.
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. Her Christmas decorations and home products are beautifully packaged and will mix in any home decor.
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.
When I returned for my Christmas visit, I ended the evening having dinner here. I swear on a cool night, it was the perfect place for a meal. I had their New England Clam Chowder with its thick roux and heavy cream base and it was loaded with clams. It warmed me up immediately. For dinner, my waiter suggested the ultimate comfort food in cold weather, the Chicken Pot Pie that was just amazing.
Loaded with chunks of chicken and a creamy base topped with a flaky crust, each bite warmed me up after the cool walks by the bay and down the main street of town. You could really taste the roasted chicken in the gravy and its rich flavors. The service here is always friendly and very welcoming.
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. I love the smells of cheeses when you walk in. It is a mouthwatering experience when you see them all lined in the cases.
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.
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.
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.
When I visited in November, the holiday season was in full swing and the store was full of locals talking about their Thanksgiving holidays and getting back to school the next week. The store was stocked with holiday and winter merchandise for those making the island their home for the winter.
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.
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.
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.
During Christmas, the store was ablaze with a lighted tree and ornaments twinkling from it while all sorts of decorating ideas for the shore houses were on display. Christmas ‘down the shore’ must be interesting.
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.
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 Lenape 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. Don’t miss the Moro Castle luxury cruise display room in the back of the museum with accounts on the fatal trip.
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).
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 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.
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.
Before I made the journey to the southern part of the island on my November trip, I stopped by the “Santa’s Viking Christmas Village” to see the arts and crafts festival at Viking Village at 19th and the Bay Barnegat Light. It was a sunny but cool afternoon but the winds had calmed down and I was able to walk the booths with no problems. I was in search of homemade Santa’s for my mother’s upcoming birthday. I found them in two different booths, one made of a conch shell and another made of wood.
The local seafood restaurant was open for takeout and you could smell the fried fish in the distance along with the horrible singing by a guitarist who could not carry a note. Thank God he took a break in time for the Barnegat Light Fire Department to bring Mr. and Mrs. Claus to the Village for a visit to the local children.
Santa’s Viking Christmas Village at dusk at closing
After touring the Village, I made my way back down Long Beach Boulevard to the LBI Foundation of The Arts & Sciences Holiday Market 2021, which was mostly full of more expensive artwork and home decor products. It was not as festive as the Village Market and all our mask wearing steamed up everyone’s glasses which was a big complaint.
It was later in the afternoon on my October 2020 visit, 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 a 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.
As I keep visiting Long Beach Island, I keep finding more and more things to visit and explore which show the true beauty of these shore communities at various times of the year.
To end my evening after an afternoon of visiting Christmas activities and cultural sites in November, I decided to drive to the end of the island to see what was there and I came across the Holgate Nature Conservatory at 11 West Lincoln Avenue. It was cool and still sunny out when I reached the park.
This natural preserve at the southern tip of Long Beach Island was very quiet, less some laughing surfers and a few seagulls. The waves just lapped the shore and I could see the skyline of Atlantic City in the distance. There is something about a quiet beach in the Fall that seems serene and picturesque. It was like watching a nature documentary.
The Holgate Nature Preserve at the tip of the island with Atlantic City looming in the distance
After dinner on my visit in November of 2021 at the Chicken or the Egg, I finished dessert at The WooHoo and walked up through the downtown to see the last of the people roasting marshmallows in the park and walked to Kapler’s Pharmacy at 1 South Bay Street. The drug store was sponsoring horse drawn carriage rides around the neighborhood. I thought what a nice way to end the evening with a twilight view of the sun setting and watching the Christmas lights going on at houses around the neighborhood. The Jersey Shore at Christmas can really surprise you.
Kapler’s Pharmacy event at 1 South Bay Avenue in 2021
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 and then returning for the Christmas holiday events. Who says the Shore closes at Labor Day?
Later that day I found out that Michigan State beat Penn State 30-27. What a way to end the day on my November trip!
Christmas at the Shore!
The Beach Haven Christmas Tree Lighting 2020 (virtually of course):
Joe’s Pizzeria on the Wildwood Beach Boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ bills itself “The Biggest Pizza on the Boards” for good reason. The slices are huge! The slices are from a freshly baked 28 inch pizza that prominently displayed in their pizza cases facing the boardwalk. The cheese pizzas have that interesting swirl on top of the cheese that makes it almost geometric.
Joe’s Pizzeria on the Boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ
It is a pricey for a slice ($3.25 for a plain and $4.25 for a slice with one topping) but it well worth it. The pizza slice is as big as two combined slices and one alone can fill up a hungry eater (See my review on TripAdvisor). It’s even hard to fold.
Their ingredients are all very high quality. Their cheese has…
After such a wonderful Christmas holiday in Cape May, I decided to change my plans around and stay in Cape May this time for the Annual Firemen’s Convention which is in mid-September. This is the best time to visit the beach as most of the tourists are away, the kids are back in school and the water is still warm. Hurricane Florence was coming up the coast so it was not the greatest weather but I always find things to do.
While attending the convention in 2018, I was booked at the Chalfonte Hotel in Cape May, which is considering the Southern Grande Dame of hotels. I had stayed at the hotel’s Southern Quarters, the smaller B & B setting next door during Christmas and it had been a nice stay. The room had been decorated with holiday ornaments and decorations. I had a slept like ‘a log’ during the holidays. It had been so quiet at that time of the year.
The Weekend before the Convention 2018:
When I had originally booked the reservation for the weekend, I was told that the restaurant, The Magnolia Room, would be open. Later I found out it would be closing for the end of the season on September 7th and I would not be able to try it for dinner when I was visiting Cape May. This meant a special trip ahead of time. So after work on September 6th on a whim I made a special trip to Cape May to check out the culinary delights of the Chalfonte Hotel.
I called the hotel at the last minute, booked a room with a shared bathroom ($100.00) and off I went down the Garden State Parkway from Bergen County to Cape May which is one side of the state to another. With one break stop, I was there in two hours and forty five minutes.
I got to the hotel by 4:30pm and it was still nice out. Hurricane Florence was just starting to make landfall in Florida and it was supposed to be gloomy all day long but we lucked out the tentacles of the storm had not hit New Jersey (that would come later the next day when I left) and it was still sunny, clear, warm and still a little humid.
I was happy because I got my room immediately and was able to get to the beach for a swim before dinner. One thing about the Chalfonte Hotel (see review on TripAdvisor) is that it is old and I mean old. The rooms themselves have been updated and painted and the beds and furnishings are new and comfortable but the room I got with the shared bath could have used a scraping and repainting of the whole room.
The Chalfonte Hotel in Cape May at 301 Howard Street
The window sill was beginning to rot and I could see in the gingerbread decoration on the roof was rotting as well. The hallway carpets were clean but could have used a good shampooing to bring out the color. Even though the hotel is clean and maintained, it still needs a good gut renovation to bring it up to current standards. It is nice it could be a showplace.
The beach is only three blocks away and since it was off season already and later in the afternoon, the beach was quiet. The water was perfectly warm and the waves were low and no current from the storm (we really lucked out with that) so swimming was nice. I could ride the waves with not much worries. Still I kept close to shore and did not venture out too far.
It was nice to just lie on the beach and just relax. I had not been to the beach all summer and it was nice to just put my feet in the ocean, hear the sound of the waves and just relax on a towel and get some sun. I had not done this in over a year. The salt air is so soothing. The nice part was the beach at this point was practically empty and was filled with mostly locals.
After the beach, I went back to take a shower and relax. I took a quick nap on the bed which I have to say are soft and firm at the same time and I completely relaxed. I didn’t even want to go down for dinner but there was a fried chicken dinner with my name on it downstairs.
The Magnolia Room (see review on TripAdvisor), the hotel’s main dining room, is off the main lobby and located towards the back of the hotel. You really do feel like you are in a Southern hotel in Charleston or Savannah with the long narrow dining room, the pink tablecloths and the over-head chandeliers. It is like stepping into a Southern Plantation. It is elegant and homey at the same time.
Cape May like most shore towns in the Northeast have to depend on foreign help as the college students have to go back to school and there are only so many people living in town to fill the jobs. My server, Michaela, told me she was from Albania and could not have been friendlier. She was the one that told me that the Fried Chicken Dinner was the most popular. The nice part is that the three course meal is $39.00 which includes an appetizer or soup, the main entrée and a dish from the set menu. Another nice aspect of the dining room is that they give hotel guests a 15% discount for eating there and I thought that was very nice.
I traveled three hours to try the Fried Chicken so off the order went to the kitchen. I started with the Chicken Soup with Garden vegetables. Hunks of chicken in a fresh broth with a rough cut of fresh vegetables made the soup almost a complete meal. A good appetizer to offset the Fried Chicken. The nice part was the vegetables were really fresh and it had a well rounded flavor to it.
The Magnolia Room’s Southern Fried Chicken
The Fried Chicken was a bit of a disappointment. Even though it was a nice sized piece of chicken (almost half the bird) and the meat was juicy and moist and perfectly cooked, the coating had no flavor to it. It really needed some spices and I had to end up loading it with salt and pepper. Every bite was crispy and crunchy but not much flavor to it. The fresh Parker House rolls the same thing. They tasted good but were not moist (I found out later that they had been made in advance and had been defrosted).
For dessert, I had the Chocolate pie that was created by one of the owners of the hotel. It was pretty incredible with its dense filling and fresh whipped cream topping. I devoured that in a couple of bites.
The specialty cocktail was strong and on top of all the driving I did in the afternoon, it made me even more tired. Still I had enough energy to go to the Kings Bar, which is a small bar off the main lobby for an after dinner drink and listen to one of the local groups that play there.
The King Edward Bar is a small room that is off the wrap around porch and next to the history room that is part of the main lobby. There are about a half dozen tables around the small room which were always full and a small bar in the back. The service there is extremely friendly and the bartenders can mix a drink. Be prepared!
It was nice to just sit back and drink a Cosmo and listen to the Jazz band. Every night during the season that have a different group there perform every night. It is nice because you don’t have to just sit in the bar. You can sit on the wrap around porch in one of the many rocking chairs, feel the breeze and listen to the music. I sat in one of the chairs and just relaxed. I started to fall asleep.
I went back to the room in the main building just for a quick rest and then I would go back to hear the music group. I fell asleep the second I hit the comfortable bed and did not wake up until much later that evening and then went to bed. I had one of the best night’s sleep I had in a long time.
I woke up completely refreshed and ready to start the day. Since the hotel was not full, I had the shared bathroom all to myself with no one banging on the door. I took a quick shower, dressed and went downstairs to try the second part of the culinary trip, the Magnolia Room Breakfast Buffet.
Magnolia Room at the Chalfonte Hotel
Now I am big breakfast fan (as many of you must know from my dining blog, “DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com) and when there is a buffet I am in high heaven. The food at breakfast just had more zing to it then at dinner. I just could not put my finger on why. I found out when I met Tina Bowser, one of the Magnolia Room’s two well know cooks. Her mother was Dot (Dorothy) Burton, one of the two main cooks at the hotel and as we talked we discovered that we lost our parents at the same time.
Dorothy and Lucille in the kitchen making the famous fried chicken a few years ago
I never had such a heart to heart with a complete stranger and we both talked about our losses and how much we both missed our parents. Funny how you can bond with a complete stranger who was going through exactly what I was going through. It was interesting when Tina said that she still felt like her mother looked over her shoulder when she cooked and could still feel the nudge when she did something wrong.
After our long conversation, she mentioned that she now worked side by side with her Aunt Lucille Thompson, her mother’s sister who was just as well known. Now I had heard so much about her mother and aunt that I asked for a favor, I wanted to meet her Aunt Lucille. She said no problem and I was able to go back in the kitchen to introduce myself.
Lucille Thompson at the Chalfonte Hotel
It is amazing to meet an 87 year old woman who still gets up every morning to cook for the hotel guests, make all the biscuits and rolls from scratch and prepare all the crab cakes, chicken coatings and then prepare breakfast. She was sitting down making her homemade rolls when I met here. It is always such a thrill when you meet a famous cook and Lucille and her family are so well known in the industry.
Lucille seemed thrilled when I made such a fuss. She told me of all her time at the hotel and the countless hours in the kitchen. I could tell there was pride in her voice on her cooking like it was her baby. She put a lot of effort into the food to make it special.
It was then she told me she had not been in the kitchen the night before and the she had made the dinner rolls in advance. That was the reason why there had been such a difference in flavor of the food. It’s not that it was not good it was but it just didn’t have that touch that was missing. There was such that sense that the person who gave it that extra care was not there to oversee it.
I complimented her on the soup and on the chocolate pie I had for dessert but she gave the credit to that to the owners wife, who made the delicious chocolate pie and the chicken vegetable soup. It was she though who made the Southern Breakfast I enjoyed so much. She seemed thrilled that I was so thrilled to finally meet her. I then left her alone to do her magic in the kitchen while I got back to the buffet.
Now this buffet is really nice. On the buffet we had fresh scrambled eggs, thick bacon, Amish sausage, fried hash brown potatoes, fried red tomatoes, spoon bread, fresh rolls and Danishes that were made by the kitchen as well as fresh fruits, juices and a complete waffle bar. This was all you could eat and they have never seen me at a breakfast buffet. Unlike other people who just fill up their plates and then to waste food, I circle the buffet, try a small portion of things and then go back for more so that I don’t waste.
My advice is that you have to go to the Chalfonte Hotel just for the breakfast buffet if not for anything else. Those fried red tomatoes are so sweet and crisp and I thoroughly enjoyed them. I had never eaten anything like this before. The home made rolls when they are still hot are addictive and the Danishes are delicious and burst with fruits and cinnamon. The sausage are those fat Amish sausage that crack when you bite into them and you can taste the freshly ground pork and sage. It was wonderful breakfast full of good food, great service and a beautiful room to eat in on a sunny morning.
By the time I finished it gave me a chance to get a quick walk into downtown Cape May, the Washington Mall, to look at the shops before I left. I needed to work off the breakfast. It was a bright sunny day and I could not believe what the weatherman had said. I walked around the beach and the other half empty hotels that proved that the season was over. After a quick rest in the room, I checked out of the Grande Dame of Cape May for a trip to the zoo. It had been a great stay, truly relaxing and just what the doctor ordered. I had needed this rest.
By the time I left the hotel for the Cape May Zoo (see review on TripAdvisor and VisitingaMuseum.com) up on Route 9, it started to get cloudy and by the time I was walking into the zoo, it poured! Going to a zoo in the rain is not much fun as the animals took shelter too and I didn’t get to see many of them unless they were in a protected environment. As there was a break in the weather, some of the peeked out and greeted the visitors. I enjoyed visiting the zoo but have to say it is another Eighties type of zoo that is need of an update. I think there must be more interesting ways to have animals live then in some of the smaller exhibitions.
I decided I wanted to explore the state and drove up Route 9 which would take me directly to Newark. Big Mistake! It took five hours to get home going through all those smalls towns. I really did see the middle of the State of New Jersey but it took over five hours to get home with traffic instead of the two and half by the Garden State Parkway. I am glad I did it once.
NJ State Firemen’s Convention 2018 and 2019:
The next week I returned to Cape May for the annual NJ Firemen’s Convention when about 8,000 fire fighters from all over the State of New Jersey convene for the Annual Convention. I can’t take the crowds of Wildwood and I stayed at the Chalfonte Hotel for a second time.
This time when I checked into the hotel, I was ‘upgraded’ which I find a dirty word in the hotel industry. It means that you are not getting the room that you were promised. In my case, I was moved out of the main hotel to the ‘Southern Quarters’ annex next door. It was no problem for me. I figured the wedding party that checked in that day all wanted to be together and it meant that I got a better room with my own bathroom (no more sharing).
The weird part was that I got the same exact room that I had at Christmas when I spent one night here on December 26th, 2017 (See Day One Hundred December 2017). Still I enjoyed the piece and quiet of the annex and it was nicer then the main hotel.
The only part about the room at the annex was that it was a top floor room of an old Victorian house and at one time must have been the attic. I am so tall that I had to lean down to brush my teeth and take a shower. Still it offered a lot of privacy when I finished my meetings.
The first day of the convention was really gloomy. The storm had finally hit land down South and it was misty and cloudy our first day of the convention. Since we did not have to be at the meeting until 1:00pm, I got up early and went to Uncle Bill’s Restaurant at 261 Beach Avenue in Cape May (see review on TripAdvisor and DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com) for breakfast since the Magnolia Room was closed. Uncle Bill’s is a institution in the South Jersey Shore area. It was founding in 1962 in Stone Harbor and has expanded to five other locations on the Southern New Jersey shore. I could tell by the food and service it is the typical Jersey Shore restaurant which caters to family who like nice size portions at a good price.
I love the breakfasts here. They cook the eggs in clarified butter so they have that creamy taste to them and the pancakes I ordered in the platter were as light as air. When the Pancake and Egg Platter was served ($12.95), it could have fed two people. It was a great shore breakfast.
Uncle Bill’s at 261 Beach Avenue is wonderful for breakfast. A real beach breakfast.
After breakfast I had some time on my hands before the meeting and had planned to visit the Wildwood Historical Society at 3907 Pacific Avenue in Wildwood, NJ (See my reviews on TripAdvisor and VisitingaMuseum.com). The Society is only open from 9:00am-2:00pm so the only time I could have gone was that morning due to all the meetings.
The Wildwood Historical Society is an interesting little museum filled with photos and memorabilia from all eras of Wildwood’s history. Rooms were dedicated to the fire department, police department, the military, the schools, the amusement areas and the government. Each room had all sorts of artifacts and loaded with pictures in albums and on the wall.
Wildwood Historical Society at 3907 Pacific Avenue
In the hallways was old artifacts from the amusement areas that had been part of the fun of the parks over the many seasons. Many were pieces of the old parts or old rides and signs. Towards the back of the amusement area display were old restaurant menus and hotel displays.
The museum can be a little overwhelming because there is so much crammed into the rooms that there is a lot to see at one time and the only problem with the museum is its limited hours. Surprisingly when I was there, the morning was so gloomy that there were many people from the convention there as well. A group of us were watching a video of the history of Wildwood, NJ before I left for the convention.
The Annual NJ Firemen’s Convention is interesting. There were about 8,000 fire fighters from all over the State of New Jersey in the convention hall all ready to vote on issues. We had the usual welcome speeches, flag salute and color guard and then it was business as usual. We wrapped by 2:30pm so we had time to walk around and see the fire equipment displays.
Since it was so cloudy most people packed up and went back to their hotels. I walked the Boardwalk to my favorite pizzeria, Joe’s Italian Pizzeria at 2812 Boardwalk between Magnolia & Poplar Streets (see reviews on TripAdvisor and DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com) for one of their giant slices of pizza.
The slices at Joe’s are double the size of a normal slice of pizza and they even put a little swirl of sauce on top to finish it off. Their pizza is consistent and delicious and it is fun trying to eat that giant 28 inch slice. There are two problems with the place though. One is that it is cash only in the 21st Century and second is that try to load their glasses up with ice and give you very little soda so you have to ask for just a little ice. Otherwise it is a nice place for a slice.
As I left the Boardwalk it got darker outside and there were very few people walking around the Boardwalk. I left to visit the Hereford Lighthouse at 111 North Central Avenue in North Wildwood, NJ (see reviews on TripAdvisor and VisitingaMuseum.com). The Hereford Lighthouse is a Victorian Lighthouse that was built in 1874 and was operational until no longer deemed functional after the early 1960’s and a more modern structure was built leaving this building to rot away. Preservationists saved the building and restored it in 1983.
The Hereford Lighthouse at 111 North Central Avenue
I was surprised on how busy the museum was that afternoon. I guess people just did not want to walk on the beach on such a gloomy day. Each floor of the lighthouse shows it use and progress over almost one hundred years, with period furniture, family heirlooms and pictures, sea-going maps and nautical items. Floor by floor you see family living arrangements and the life the families had when they lived here.
The most beautiful view is from the top of the lighthouse on the third floor which had a spectacular view on the ocean and the surrounding area. What fascinated me the most was the history of the families who lived here and how they adapted to life here. The pictures of the holidays in the lighthouse were interesting. They even had a family reunion of the children who lived here a few years ago and to see these kids as children then as senior citizens was pretty remarkable.
What I liked about the museum was the gardens that surrounded the property. Even though it was not a nice afternoon out it was nice to walk through the flowered paths and shrubs and then take the back path to the bay area behind the property and see the bay and ocean. On a nice day in the middle of the summer it must be something.
After my trip to the Hereford Lighthouse at 111 North Central Avenue, I drove through the neighborhood to see the changes in the town. Even though Hurricane Sandy did not affect the Wildwood’s the way it did other shore towns there has been a lot of building in both North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest with the edges of Wildwood proper going through the change.
All these towns are being knocked down and rebuilt with newer homes and businesses. Here and there are traces of the old Wildwood but slowly the towns are coming into the modern age with new condos and homes being built replacing the small shore houses of the 50’s and 60’s. Even the old motels that catered to the tourists are slowly disappearing which is going to affect all of us at the convention as these places vanish. I could see that the towns are becoming year round communities.
For dinner for all three years of the Convention (2018, 2019 and 2021), I went to my favorite restaurant in Wildwood, The Ravioli House and Bakery at 102 Bennett Avenue in Wildwood, NJ (see reviews on TripAdvisor and LittleShoponMainStreet@Wordpress.com). I love their bakery which is located in the back of the restaurant which has a separate entrance.
The bakery has cases of Italian pastries that are all beautifully displayed and you just want to try one after another. I settled on a chocolate éclair ($3.00) just in time to spoil my dinner but what is wrong with eating dessert first? This delicious pastry was loaded with vanilla custard and topped with a thick layer of chocolate icing. There is nothing better but making a choice was hard. The custard doughnut that looked like a peach would have to be tried as well.
The Ravioli House at 102 Bennett Avenue in Wildwood, NJ
I managed to walk around a little before dinner and then went in for dinner at The Ravioli House for the second year in a row. It was loaded with fire fighting families and groups of people from the convention. The restaurant was busy that whole evening and I could tell that they were short on help.
It some time for dinner but I was in no rush. Dinner here is well worth the wait. I started with one of their garden salads ($3.95) which was loaded with fresh greens, cucumbers and tomatoes. No hot house vegetables here. The salad was crisp and nicely accented by the oil and vinegar dressing. For dinner, I had the Trio of Ravioli ($19.95) which ended up being a duo since they ran out of spinach ravioli. So I just had the meat and cheese ravioli which are freshly made in the restaurant and were as light as air. The meat ravioli were some of the best I have eaten.
For dessert, I had the Peach Custard Doughnut ($3.95), which was a doughnut, split in half, filled with cream rolled in sugar and liqueur to give it that peach color exterior. It was well worth the second dessert but was a little sweet to end the meal. I ended up talking to the owners daughter again who works the register. I swear it was like ‘Some Time Next Year’ visiting places I had last year.
The Bakery at the Ravioli House is amazing!
There was no Convention in 2020 because of COVID and in 2021, the Convention was a one day walk through where we showed our cards, went into the Convention Center, filled out our forms and voted. We exited the building and then signed in with the department representatives. That was the extent of the Convention. About fifteen minutes.
I got to bed early that night when I started to get tired after listening to the band at the King Edward Bar for a bit. I said ‘I’ll just lie down for a second’. I woke up at Midnight and then went back to bed.
My last morning in Wildwood was nice. I woke up early, checked out of the hotel and headed to the boardwalk for breakfast. I had walked around the Boardwalk the day before and passed Franconi’s Pizza at 3318 Boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ (See review on TripAdvisor and LittleShoponMainStreet@Wordpress.com).
In 2018, 2019 and 2021, the owners were outside shoving menus into everyone’s hands in the three years I attended the Convention in Wildwood and one of the items on the menu was a breakfast special for firefighters for $5.99. I thought I have to try this. I was not disappointed in the three years I ate here and now look forward to visiting the restaurant every time I come to the Wildwood Boardwalk.
Franconi’s Pizza at 3318 Boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ
I have never had breakfast at a pizzeria on a boardwalk before but this is the standard that all should be set. The food was delicious! For $5.99, I got two pancakes, two eggs, two slices of bacon, a mound of potatoes and two slices of toast. The juice was separate. It was meal that could have fed two people and everything was delicious.
All the food was cooked in clarified butter and you could taste it in the scrambled eggs which were fluffy and in the pancakes which you could taste in the caramelization of the outside of the pancakes. I was so stuffed that I rolled out of the restaurant. It was one of the best breakfast’s I ever had out and I highly recommend it when walking the Boardwalk in Wildwood in the morning.
Don’t miss the breakfasts at Franconi’s; they are excellent!
In 2021, I had the number eight breakfast special, which was two slices of French Toast, two scrambled eggs, two pieces of bacon, two pieces of sausage and hash browns for $7.95 which included hot tea and coffee. The breakfast could have fed two people easily. The eggs still tasted the same with the wonderful flavor of the clarified butter and the French Toast was two big Texas Toast slices cut in half so it was four big pieces. The French Toast was loaded with cinnamon and had the most wonderful sweet caramelized flavor to it.
In 2018 and 2019, it had cleared and was sunny and blue outside. It was a spectacular day to walk around the Boardwalk. The morning meeting went by quickly as I could see that everyone wanted to get out of there and go outside to enjoy the sunny morning. We started our meeting at 9:00am, voted for our new officers for the Association and were out by 10:30am.
Most people were outside walking around the fire equipment or walking with their families on the Boardwalk by the time I got outside. I took one last walk on the Boardwalk to stretch my legs before I left for Newark, DE for the Cornell versus University of Delaware football game (we lost 27-10 but not the blood bath of last year). So there was a distance to drive.
Cornell versus University of Delaware (We can’t seem to beat them!) Watch the game below.
I left Wildwood until ‘Same Time Next Year’ for the next convention. There are a lot more places to explore and restaurants to try. You never know what you will come across in a shore town.
NJ State Firemen’s Convention 2021:
In 2021, things had changed a lot due to COVID. The Convention went from a two day event to a one day walk through where all we did was get scanned in and then fill out the form to vote and get that scanned and then walk out of the convention center. Some people wore masks and some didn’t but we were not there long enough to worry about it.
I decided this year to make this a working vacation trip since I had pulled my back out and needed to catch up on trips down the shore to visit museums. I was going to stay at the Chalfonte Hotel again for two nights and do the walk through voting but on my way down to Cape May, I decided to visit many of the shore towns to visit their historical museums for my blog, VisitingaMuseum.com.
So my trip started early Thursday morning with my first stop being the Ocean City Historical Museum at 1735 Simpson Avenue in downtown Ocean City, NJ. It was a beautiful morning with not much traffic so it was easy to manage the trip into town. I forgot what a picturesque town Ocean City is when you enter it. It looks like a little New England town.
It took a bit to find the museum until I realized that it was part of the town’s Municipal complex and you had to go through the museum to enter it. It really is an interesting little museum. I liked the history of the shore town with its Victorian hotels, the progression of the Boardwalk over the years, the ship wrecks of the coast line and the exhibit dedicated to Princess Grace Kelly whose family used to vacation here during the summers. I was surprised when the Royal family visited as well when she came home (See review on TripAdvisor and VisitingaMuseum.com).
After the visit to the museum, I walked down a few blocks to the shoreline where the Boardwalk was located and took a long walk down the length of the Boardwalk to see what was still open. My therapist suggested a lot of walking for me and that is what I did going all the way to the end and back. Still it gave me a chance to visit old businesses I had been to before.
I started with lunch at Manco & Manco Pizza at 816 East 9th Street on the Boardwalk. I love the pizza here and when I am in Ocean City, NJ this is the only place that I go. The sauce is well spiced and the pizza is always delicious. It has that nice tomato sauce swirl that is so famous at the Jersey Shore and they use a high quality mozzarella cheese on their pies. The place was mobbed that day and the line was ten deep while the other places on the boardwalk were quiet (see my review on TripAdvisor.com).
After that, I walked back down the Boardwalk to Johnson’s Popcorn at 1360 Boardwalk for a small popcorn for dessert. I had tried the caramel corn many times before and this time I decided on the Cheese popcorn. It was amazing! (See my review on TripAdvisor).
You could tell it was a combination of Cheddar and what tasted like Blue Cheese as well. It was so rich and savory you could taste it in every bite. They really loaded on the cheese coating. I happily munched on it on my way back to the car needing several napkins to wipe up what I could not lick off. What was nice is that they give it to you in a bag so the extra popcorn spills over and you get extra. This more than filled me up on my next trip to Sea Isle City Historical Museum.
Sea Isle City was really quiet the afternoon that I was there and it seemed that the whole town had rolled up its sleeves and then left. There were not that many cars on the road so it was easy to get around. It took a bit to find the Sea Isle City Museum as it was tucked into the Municipal Building behind their library. It was a small historical society manned by very dedicated and helpful volunteers. They looked like they were happy to see a visitor and explained the whole museum to me.
They had a very interesting ‘Wedding Dresses through the Ages’ exhibition when you walked in which displayed residents of Sea Isle City’s wedding costumes from the late 1880’s through today which the volunteers said were very popular. There were various historical displays of kitchens, fishing equipment and items from old hotels and restaurants. There were also binders of families that lived here for generations. Outside there was a Diamondback Turtle Refuge and a small botanical garden dedicated to the former President of the museum.
I knew I would never get to Stone Harbor in time to see their museum so I took my time to drive to Avalon, NJ. There was no one on the road but me so it was a quick trip and I got to the Avalon History Center at 215 39th Street in time to have about an hour to tour the museum. It was just the right amount of time.
Since I got there before it closed, I was the only one in the museum and a staff member greeted me and let me know if I had any questions that he would be in the back. After that, I was alone to enjoy looking at the displays.
The Avalon History Center is similar in displays to the other shore historical societies. There were displays on local hotels and restaurants, a small history on the growing music scene from the 1960’s and 70’s, the formation of the railroad head at the shore and big display on the Beach Patrol, which is a big part of the culture at the shore. It recorded the competitions over the years and its importance in the town. Outside these is a small garden and out buildings to explore.
After I left Avalon, I followed the Shore Highway to Wildwood and wanted to walk the Boardwalk there have a stretch before I arrived at the Chalfonte Hotel for the evening. So with a brisk walk with the ocean air, I found myself back at Franco’s again at 3318 Boardwalk indulging in a Cheesesteak ($8.95). I would highly recommend it. It was the best cheesesteak I had eaten outside of Philly (as Wildwood caters to the Philly crowd and probably knows their way around a cheesesteak). The sandwich was on a fresh chewy roll loaded with thin steaks and a large portion of Cheese Wiz on top. It was like heaven in each bite.
The cheesesteaks at Franconi’s rival anything in Philly
I got to my room at the Chalfonte Hotel later that evening. I have to say that I have been staying at this hotel now for almost six years and I have never seen it so run down. It just looked like they had not done any renovation work in a long time. I was not impressed by the peeling paint and the stained carpets in the second floor hallways. My room had water damage in the corner of the room (I could not believe that they would sell this room).
Voting the next morning took only fifteen minutes. We showed our ID’s, filled out the form and had them scanned and walked out of the Convention Center. Done in minutes and then off to the Boardwalk again to visit restaurants and stores.
Breakfast again was Franconi’s and I swear their breakfasts are the best on the Boardwalk. You can not top their French Toast platter with scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage with a side of Hash Browns (see review on TripAdvisor and LittleShoponMainStreet@Wordpress.com).
I spent the rest of the morning walking off breakfast by touring the entire Boardwalk and then walking back. From here I visited a series of museums that have been on bucket list for a long time. I also stopped by a series of farms along the way to look for the elusive Beach Plum jelly.
My first stop was the Stone Harbor Historical Museum at 9410 Second Avenue in Stone Harbor, NJ. This delightful little museum has an extensive collection of artifacts packed into a small space just off Downtown Stone Harbor.
The museum like many along the shore has the history of their tourism, the competition in the Beach Patrol, artifacts from homes and families from the area and even had a 9/11 exhibition that was donated from the Stone Harbor Fire Department chief (See reviews on TripAdvisor and VisitingaMuseum.com).
Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum at 500 Forrestal Road
The next museum on my list was the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum at 500 Forrestal Road in West Cape May. This unique museum at the Cape May Airport explains the region’s role in WWII. Serving as an Army base during the beginning of WWII, there were stories from locals about their time in the armed forces, how the area catered to our uniformed soldiers and their stories about training in the area and then all the vehicles from planes to trucks. Plan to be here for a few hours (See my review on TripAdvisor and VisitingaMuseum.com).
On my way back from visiting all the museums, I stopped at two farms in search of Beach Plum jelly, something of a local delicacy in Southern New Jersey. My first stop was the Beach Plum Farm which is part of the Cape Resorts. I love coming here for breakfast (See TripAdvisor review) and to just look around at the gift shop and the grounds. It has really expanded over the years.
The gift shop had an array of gift and food items to choose from and the small restaurant even expanded since my last visit two years ago. There are many fresh and frozen items to choose from as well as gourmet gift products and even fresh eggs from their chickens. There were lots of breakfast and lunch items on the menu.
I love walking the grounds and looking at the garden beds, chicken coops and looking at the crops which were in their last stages of growing as the summer grew to close. It has gotten very commercial since my first visit about ten years ago but the farm has grown more popular and has really expanded. I could not find the elusive jelly.
Down the road is the more authentic working farm, the Rea Farm and their Market. This is more of what you would think of as a farm. The fields are in the back and the owner of the farm’s wife works the farm stand market. She and I talked for almost an hour about life on the farm and the Farm Act and protecting precious New Jersey farm land.
It was here that I found the Beach Plum jelly ($6.95) which I thought was reasonably priced. Mrs. Rea said that she made the jelly herself and that all of her fruit jams and baked products are made at the commercial kitchen they had in the old farmhouse. They also too had a nice selection of baked products and fresh eggs. It was less fancy as going to Beach Plum Farms but just as nice of an experience.
Dinner that night was back at the Ravioli House in Wildwood, NJ. Because of COVID and the number of people at the Convention, the restaurant had set up a tent with outdoor dining in their parking lot next to the restaurant. Thank God it was a nice sunny warm night that was perfect to dine out.
I love the food here and before dinner I managed to sneak in a piece of pastry from their bakery. I had one of their St. Joseph custard filled pastries ($3.75) about an hour before dinner. I should have waited though as it did put a slight damper on dinner. Still I was starved.
The Ravioli House bakery is located behind the restaurant
Since it would be both lunch and dinner for me and I planned to head back to the hotel after dinner for a long walk, I decided to have a big meal when I saw some of the things on the menu that I had not tried in my last few trips to the restaurant.
I started with the Chicken Pastina soup ($4.25) which was a flavorful chicken stock loaded with fresh vegetables, chunks of chicken and Pastina, which are small pieces of pasta in the shape of a thumb nail. The soup was rich in chicken flavor and was the perfect starter for a cool night.
Since I was starved, I decided to try the Trip Around Italy ($26.95), which was a sampling of all the pastas on the menu that included two stuffed shells, four ravioli and a big portion size of both Gnocchi and Spaghetti along with a large meatball and a piece of sausage. All the pastas were fresh and made in house and the meatballs and sausage were also made in house along with their fresh red sauce.
The dish was amazing but filling. I was starved and somehow I ate everything including a whole bread basket of fresh rolls to dip the sauce in and butter. The pastas were delicious and the cheese filling in the ravioli and stuffed shells was a combination of parmesan, ricotta and mozzarella which felt creamy and you could taste the complexity of the mixture. When the waitress came to collect my plate she could not believe I ate everything on the plate plus the rolls. She said most people take half of it home.
The ‘Tour Around Italy’ can feed two people
After a dinner like that I did not need any dessert and ended up taking a long walk around the neighborhood to work it off and digest. I think I walked about a mile and a half from the restaurant to the Boardwalk and back.
I drove back to Cape May through the Wildwoods and could not believe how quiet it seemed. Most of the hotels in town were not full and even the Boardwalk seemed quiet that evening. It was busy but not like two years ago. I think most people voted and then went home. The hotels by the Boardwalk still had vacancy signs. When I arrived back in Cape May, their downtown was hopping.
The next morning I toured around Cape May and revisited some of the sights from the day before and walked down to the beach. It was so warm that people were hitting the beach and walking around downtown. I tried to go to Uncle Bill’s Pancake House again a few blocks away but the line was about fifty deep with families and a waitstaff that was hustling as fast as they could. So I walked a few blocks away and went to an old standby, The Mad Batter at 19 Jackson Street for breakfast.
Unfortunately it was the same thing but this time with young couples and older families waiting outside. I lucked out with the host and she let me eat at the bar so I was immediately seated and served. Breakfast as usual here was fantastic. I could not believe how fast breakfast came out as the whole restaurant was mobbed from the time I got there to the long line left when I departed.
The bar area at the Mad Batter at 19 Jackson Street
I had a Three Egg with Cheddar and Bacon and a side of home fries with rye toast. The bartender at The Mad Batter does mix a very strong Mimosa. The omelet was excellent and so well spiced. The hash browns had a bit of kick to them with the peppers. The service was excellent. When I left, the line was still long to get in.
On this beautiful morning, I left for the Cape May-Lewes Ferry to visit my mother for an overnight trip. I owed her dinner for her delayed Christmas present. So off I went taking the ferry again across Delaware Bay while watching the Michigan State-U of Miami Game. I did not even see the beautiful views as I was glued to the set. By the time we arrived at Lewes, DE we won the game.
The Cape May-Lewes Ferry can be a real treat on a sunny day
The evening my mom, her partner and I went to Big Fish at 20298 Coastal Highway in Rehoboth Beach, DE which was part of my mother’s Christmas present that we had not been able to plan since I had gotten hurt over the summer. It was a relaxing evening where we all indulged in their sweet Fried Shrimp platter and various appetizers. After three days of running around visiting museums, stores and restaurants for updates on my blog and visiting small towns and farms to add to these blogs, it was nice to just relax.
The Big Fish Grille at 20298 Costal Highway in Rehoboth Beach, DE
The next day I took off for home but not after another visit to the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk. I had to have my Louis Pizza fix. Louis Pizza at 11 Rehoboth Avenue right near the Boardwalk and is the best place in town to get pizza. After a slice and a quick walk on the Boardwalk to enjoy the sunshine, it was back home again to answer calls and get back to work.
Built in the nineteenth century, the Chalfonte offers ‘the view from yesterday, genteel Southern-style hospitality, ornate gingerbread verandas line with comfortable rocking chairs and a constant sea breeze to rejuvenate and refresh. The Chalfonte’s distinctive ship-like profile, crowned by her Italianate cupola, now occupies nearly an entire city block. The hotel was built in 1876 by Civil War Colonel Henry Sawyer and was originally planned as a boarding house. Sawyer’s Chalfonte underwent most of its expansion between 1876 and 1909 and the present footprint is much as it was in 1909. This venerable Grande Dame by the sea still retains its Victorian Charm-louvered door to let the breeze through, Southern cuisine in The Magnolia Room and original antiques and fixtures throughout.
President Lincoln and the Chalfonte:
The history of the Chalfonte Hotel begins with a story that rivals “Gone with the Wind”. Sawyer arrived in Cape May in 1848 at the age of eighteen, a supporter of the Union side in the Civil War. He enlisted in a Pennsylvania regiment since a New Jersey one had not been formed. After three months service and rising to the rank of Captain, he returned home only to re-enlist in a New Jersey regiment. In June 1863, after being captured during a bloody exchange at the Battle of Brandy in Virginia, Sawyer was incarcerated at Libby Prison in Richmond.
In retaliation for shooting two Confederate Cavalry prisoners of war, the Confederacy proposed to execute two Union prisoners, drawn by lottery. Sawyer was on of the two selected in the lottery of death. When Sawyer’s wife heard new of her husband’s execution, she did not go into a state of morning, instead rushing cross country to Washington to meet with President Lincoln and beg for his intervention. As a result, Secretary of War Stanton warned the South they would execute two Confederates if they executed the two Union prisoners. Upping the stakes, one of the Confederate prisoners selected was the son of General Robert E. Lee. The situation ended with Sawyer being released in a swap with Robert E. Lee’s son. He resumed active duty and returned to Cape May in 1875 as a recognized war hero.
Having bought a parcel of land in 1872 at the corner of Howard Street and Sewell Avenue in 1875, Sawyer began construction of “Sawyer’s Chalfonte” (Chalfonte means ‘cool fountain’ in French; Sawyer’s reason for using the name is unknown). In 1876, Colonel Sawyer bought all the rest of the square bounded by Columbia, Franklin, Sewell and Howard except for the lot at the corner of Columbia and Howard except for the lot at the corner of Columbia and Howard.
Cape May’s inclination away from resort hotels in favor of the intimacy of cottages had already begun. This trend was sealed in the fall of 1878 when the city suffered yet another disastrous fire. Previous fires had seen the total destruction of the Mt. Vernon Hotel in 1858 and of more properties in 1869. While the fire of 1878 reduced Cape May’s count of hotel rooms from 2200 to 200 in a single night and marked the demise of large hotel construction in the rest of Cape May, the Chalfonte, standing unscathed beyond the fire’s reach was about to experience an unprecedented expansion.
The same year Henry Sawyer extended his then two year old boarding house down Sewell Avenue, adding nineteen rooms to his existing eighteen. The original residence and addition were significant improvement in architectural refinement over the pre-Civil War hotels. While in no way extravagant, the building had a simple dignified Italian form (some times known as ‘Cube Italian’ in Cape May) with a balanced plan and façade.
In spite of suffering the ravages of time and storm, with minimal foundations, the first three phases of the building are soundly built with an eye to graceful resolution of any geometrical anomalies. Sawyer owned the hotel for another ten years, selling it in 1888 after just thirteen years of ownership. He died in 1893.
Between 1888 and 1911 the Chalfonte was extended to its current size, adding another twenty three rooms along Sewell Avenue, enlarging the dining room and providing delightful architectural riddles for future preservationist to solve.
The University of Delaware versus Cornell Football game in 2018
Michigan State University versus University of Miami game in 2021:
To all of my readers and fellow bloggers following my blog, ‘MywalkinManhattan.com’. I created two more blog sites to accompany the main site.
I created ‘VisitingaMuseum.com’ and ‘DiningonaShoeStringinNYC.Wordpress.com’ to take what I have discovered on the walk around the city and put it into more detail.
I created ‘VisitingaMuseum.com’ to feature all the small and medium museums, pocket parks, community gardens and historical sites that I have found along the way in my walking the streets of the island and in the outlining areas of Manhattan. There are loads of sites you can easily miss either by not visiting the neighborhoods by foot or not consulting a guidebook. Most of the these places are not visited by most residents of the City and should not be missed.
I never realized how many small museums exist in New York City, let alone the outer boroughs and in New Jersey. I have discovered so many wonderful and interesting artifacts in these museums that not only have so much historical value but they also deal with local history.
Gallery Bergen at Bergen Community College
There are so many pocket parks, community gardens and historical sites that you would miss if you did not walk the neighborhoods. What has also been fascinating about it is the people you meet along the way that volunteer in these facilities. There is so much pride to be had by these local residents dedicating their time to make these places successful.
‘DiningonaShoeStringinNYC.Wordpress.com’ is my latest site:
I am featuring and promoting wonderful local restaurants that I have found along the way when doing the walk as well as places I have recently visited outside the city for $10.00 and below. I am not just featuring them for their price but for the quality of the food, the selection and the portion size.
Delicious Dumplings at ‘Dumplings’ on Henry Street
These little ‘hole in the wall’ dining establishments offer a good meal at a fair price as well as supporting the local economy. I have a very limited budget for meals and thought this blog site would help all of you economize when touring New York City and the outlying regions. I cross reference my reviews on TripAdvisor.com.
For anyone thinking of doing a similar project like ‘MywalkinManhattan.com’, I want to let you know how expensive it is to do. I have to pay not just for bus tickets, subway passes, meals, donations to museums and historical sites but the general wear and tear on my clothes. I am on my third pair of sneakers due to this walk. This is why you need to set a budget for it:
Please check out my fire fighting blog sites, ‘The Bergen County Firemen’s Home Association’, ‘tbcfma.Wordpress.com’, where I am blogging about the activities of the association that I am volunteering for at the home on a quarterly basis and the support that the organization gives to The New Jersey Firemen’s Home in Boonton, New Jersey. Firemen for all over Bergen County, where I live, volunteer their time up at the nursing home with activities to engage and cheer up our fellow fire fighters.
The second site about fire fighting I blog about is ‘The Brothers of Engine One Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department”, ‘EngineOneHasbrouckHeightsFireDepartmentNJ.Wordpress.com’, where I blog about the activities of Engine Company One, in which I am a member, as part of the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department. We do a lot of volunteer work for the department and many of our members are very active and hold a lot of positions on the department.
The Brothers of Engine One HHFD (site now closed-Blogs moved to section of MywalkinManhattan.com called “My life as a Fireman”):
The most frequented of my blogs is “BergenCountyCaregiver.com’, a caregivers blog site to help adult caregivers take care of their loved ones. This helps caregivers navigate a very broken system and put all sorts of programs that might help them all in one place to read and chose what might help them. This deals with county, state and federal programs that most social workers miss because there are so many of them that don’t get a lot of attention. It is by far the most popular site.
The Bergen County Firemen’s Home Association
I wanted to share these with my readers and thank you for following my main blog, ‘MywalkinManhattan.com’. Please also share this with your friends who are visiting New York City to really tour the city by foot and see it for its own beauty and uniqueness.
(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!