A short stroll down the boardwalk from the live music (think Stone Pony of Bruce Springsteen fame), restaurants (Medusa’s wood fired pizza -yum!), and fun architecture of Asbury Park

is the dry, Methodist enclave of Ocean Grove, dominated by the Great Auditorium (c. 1894, 6,000 seats).

The town was founded in 1869 as a Methodist retreat, with over 600 summer tents surrounding the pulpit. Today, The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association of the United Methodist Church still owns the land and is still a central feature of the community. Homebuyers in the community receive 99-year renewable leases on their property, and the church still rents over 100 tents surrounding the auditorium. Tents are leased annually for the summer season (some families have been returning every summer for generations), and although inhabitants do not have to be Methodist, they do have to support the association’s spiritual mission. Most attend daily activities sponsored by the church (they also host public concerts in the auditorium and beach pavilion). Each wooden cottage holds kitchen and bath facilities, while the canvas tent covers the living room/bedroom deck, with small sitting area out front.

Winter view: awaiting canvas tents, flower boxes, and summer residents. You have to use your imagination (or Google) to picture the tents all dolled up for summer.

In addition to the tents and auditorium, the town has one of the best collections of gingerbread-decorated Victorian cottages anywhere. It’s even more impressive than Cape May because there are so many in such close proximity. In fact, Ocean Grove has the largest concentration of Victorian houses in the US (it’s only 1 square mile).

Plus, there’s the Albatross, which seems the perfect setting for a houseful of Oscar Wilde characters.

There is free street parking, although like most NJ beach communities, beach goers need to purchase beach tags to hang out on the sand or in the water. There is a public bath house with toilets and changing rooms.