In a past life I must have been a DJ, or a pop singer, or played in a rock band (none of which I do in this life, though I fake it with all the passion and bravery I can muster – especially after a couple of beers!). Music transports me to distinct, vivid memories and the accompanying raw emotions of each past moment. Little Red Corvette takes me back to the pure joy and innocence of my first love – riding in my boyfriend’s car during high school. With or Without You – I’m in my Regis dorm dancing and singing with roommates as U2 blasts from the windows on the quad at Fairfield U. And, anything remotely associated with the 70s/80s, the beaches of Lavallette, NJ. My little slice of Heaven, aka… our annual family vacation destination growing up.
Established in 1887, Lavallette is a small “Jersey Shore” community with one of the best beaches in the country. If you are looking for a beach town where your teens can walk to the sub shop, ice cream and stores without worrying about their safety, this is the town for you. It is only a little over a mile long with the ocean on one side and the bay on the other, divided by two separate one-way, two-lane roads.
In between the bay and ocean lies every type of rental property you can imagine – from little bungalows on the bay side, to multifamily ocean-front “beachmansions” overlooking the dunes and the Atlantic. Having visited for over 40 years, I’m glad that every year when we return, it’s as if we were just there. I’m also thankful for the new spots that fit right in with this small-town, everyone on the street says hello atmosphere. Young, old, or anything in between and Lavallette (or Love-a-Lot as some call it) has got you covered. If your family is looking for a new beach vacation destination, here’s what Lavallette has to offer:
Small, but Mighty, Eateries
Meg’s Grill. This is a delicious spot for a healthy breakfast or lunch. This place hasn’t been around as long as some of the other spots we love, but it has become one of our favorites in the past few years. And, it looks like they are branching out to offer a kids painting class this summer as well!
Colonial Bakery. When I was a kid it used to be called Kay’s Bakery, but the recipes have remained the same. Kids today really don’t know what a yummy, freshly-baked donut tastes like. It’s sad that their frame of reference comes from Dunkin’, Honey Dew and Krispy Kreme. Do they know anything about Crumb Buns and French Creullers and Jersey hard rolls? Have they ever experienced the guilty pleasure of biting into a mouth-watering, rich, lick your fingers to get every last bit of chocolate, need a wet wipe to clean myself up after, homemade chocolate-covered donut?!
Every Labor Day we make our voyage to Lavallette (my mom, sisters and their girls). Colonial never lets us down. When we put in a special request for them to make French Creullers for my birthday they always come through! If you go to Lavallette, visit often, visit daily. Don’t miss out on this gem. Be prepared to take a ticket and wait in line. All these fabulous bakery items don’t come easy. You have to work for your purchase, but I guarantee it isn’t half as hard as the bakers did. You won’t be disappointed. If you go, tell them Raising STRONG Girls sent you. I mean really, what’s a STRONG girl without her favorite donut?
The Oven Pizza. This BYOB Italian spot is perfect for an affordable family meal. The pizza is amazing, the calzones are fab and the garlic knots smell as good as they taste. The inside seating area isn’t huge but there are options to sit outside as well. My great Aunt Mary used to own the house next to the Oven Pizza. Make at least one trip to this beloved Italian eatery.
You Scream, I Scream … What beach town is complete without an ice cream shop for the kids (both young and old)? Thanks to my Godfather, Steve, I was introduced to Hoffman’s in Point Pleasant. You will need to drive there, but it’s sooooooo worth the trip! Homemade and heavenly. My favorite combination is a scoop of banana and a scoop of chocolate chip. Bring your appetite and make sure you have time on your side. During the busy summer months, you could wait a half hour or longer to be served. They also ship so if you have a craving once you get home, no worries.
If you want to stay local, or are wondering if the kids will hear the melodic sounds of the summer ice cream truck at the beach, they will. Each day the ice cream truck travels up and down the streets of Lavallette waiting for kids to flock to its window. My “go to” choice…Good Humor Chocolate Éclair bar.
Ben Franklin. This store hasn’t changed in 50 years. That is certainly its charm. If you are looking for an old-fashioned five and dime, this is it! Family-owned since 1948, there is no need Ben Franklin can’t fill. Need a pot for the kitchen? How about a bike to ride on the boardwalk? Some taffy to bring home for your neighbor? A souvenir Lavallette sweatshirt? Beach toys or rainy-day games for the kids? How about flip flops, beach towels, sand chairs or crab traps? There’s not much you can’t find here.
Island Gypsy. Looking for that perfect date night outfit at the Shore? Island Gypsy is your one-stop resource for the latest in sophisticated style and fashion. Browse the trendy, upscale clothing options, pick up a pair of sexy sandals and complete the ensemble with a bold, unique piece of jewelry. Every year we look forward to finding another great fashion favorite at Island Gypsy!
Beach, Boardwalk & Bay
The sand on the Lavallette beach feels like stepping onto a pillow of cotton balls and its almost as clean. I’d rank it first or second with any other beach I’ve visited in my lifetime – anywhere. I’m talking about California, Turks & Caicos, Florida, Bahamas, Hawaii, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Cape Cod, etc. The beaches are monitored by lifeguards seven days a week (10:00 – 5:00 p.m. weekdays and 10:00 – 6:00 p.m. weekends/holidays). There is also a dedicated section just for boogie boards/surfing. Beach badges are required for all visitors and the cost helps keep it ridiculously clean and beautiful. Kids 12 and under are free. Daily, weekly and summer season passes are available for purchase.
Crabbing. Head over the bay side to experience some good ole family fun crabbing. All you need is an inexpensive trap you can pick up at Ben Franklin, some string and some raw chicken for bait. Our kids love to catch crabs and watch grandma cook and eat them!
Under (and Above!) the Boardwalk. Lavallette has a boardwalk just over a mile long that doubles as “street front” to some of the state’s most beautiful beachside homes. Beginning around 7:00 a.m. there is no shortage of young couples getting their workout in, older adults power walking to stay fit, or middle-aged friends laughing about 20-year old memories. Its filled with new parents pushing baby strollers and bikes of all shapes and sizes ringing their bells to get past those so deep in conversation that they don’t realize the rubber wheels and nipping at their heels. Bikes are allowed on the boardwalk until 10:00 a.m.
At night, the top of each street on the ocean block transforms into a teen hangout filled with nervous giggling, talking, and flirting as the Shore kids stumble through their first taste of independence searching for the perfect summer love. If they aren’t chatting on the benches or gazeebos they are walking up and down the boardwalk seeking their next big summer crush. As long as the activity stays on the top of the boardwalk it’s all good. Actually, after Hurricane Sandy the ability to “hide” under the boardwalk was taken away. So, parents, you have a lot less to worry about!
You really can’t go wrong in this family beach setting. My parents introduced Lavallette to me and my sisters and we still love it, nearly 50 years later. We introduced it to our kids and they love it in their teens and twenties. We hope to keep the tradition alive!
As Bruce Springsteen says… ’Cause Down the Shore Everything’s All Right
Visit RSG’s other Teen Travel Tips here.