Staycation, All I Ever Wanted

When I was little there were few things I looked forward to more than the family vacation. Every summer we would go out of state, often going to Myrtle Beach, SC or Fort Myers, FL. For such a wide eyed kid as me it seemed like we would never run out of places to explore. Compared to places like Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach, or the majestic beaches of FL, Monmouth County seemed dull by comparison. Even today I enjoy going out to see the world beyond NJ, but as I grew older I began to realize that these extravagant journeys were not always feasible- they simply cost far too much. Last summer it got even worse: air fare soared to prices that neither my family nor I myself were comfortable with. So we drove all the way to FL. Those two days stuck in a car with my grumpy family were not fun.

The world beyond our state’s borders is an exciting one, but contrary to my childhood biases Monmouth County is actually quite far from boring. Let’s face it, we’re not in NY, but we aren’t in one of those giant rectangular states in the Midwest that no one can remember anything about either. Enter the staycation, which is in essence giving up faraway landmarks in favor of more local hot spots. Monmouth is a county with a lot of history behind it, as well as a lot of things to see and do. Granted some of these depend on the season, but nevertheless none are really worth not doing at least once.

Some places are a short drive from MU. The Monmouth Park Racetrack is one of these. A few years ago my family and I went to see the horse races held there, as well as get a glimpse of Big Brown, a notable racehorse which in 2008 had missed the Triple Crown. The place was a lot more crowded than I could have expected but it was still easy to get lost in the air of it all. Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned FL vacation I missed my chance to see American Pharaoh, the stallion which was the first to win the coveted award since 1978.

Asbury Park is further down the road, and there is so much there that it would be impossible to write it all in such a short piece. But really, who wouldn’t want to hang out with Tilly? (Okay, maybe me at least…ugh, that smile.)

If you’re more into the arts then there are two places which would be worth a visit. The first is of course the PNC Bank Arts Center, but I’m sure a lot of you have already been there. The other is a more low profile spot, yet I’m pretty sure most of you who live locally have already heard of it. I’m talking of course, about the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank. My mother went to see Jon Stewart there when I was young. In addition to Jon, a lot of high profile names and bands have performed at the venue. After your visit you can stop at one of the local restaurants and stores, all of which convene to give Red Bank its artsy aura.

Speaking of restaurants and food, there is one spot up in Colts Neck where you can get some of the best pies and donuts known to man. Delicious Orchards is another open secret in our county; I’m sure many of you who live locally have already been there. But for those not in the know, Delicious Orchards is a farm and food market which has literally everything. My favorite would have to be the aforementioned apple cider donuts, but the market has more produce and baked goods than you can eat all season. Who knows, you might even bump into Bruce Springsteen, who is known to visit the store occasionally. Just try not to get into a fight with a stranger over the last pie. A classmate once told me that she saw two older men do just that.

As I said earlier, Monmouth County is a place with a lot of history behind it. Nowhere is that more apparent than Allaire State Park, a campground located in Wall Township. At the park’s center is Allaire Village, a living history museum with some buildings dating from the 18th century. The town appears much as it did in 1837 due to the efforts of historical reenactors who succeed in bringing the former town to life.

I distinctly remember watching the people go about their “daily lives” as a kid. Indeed, I almost felt like I had been briefly flung back in time. Sandy Hook is also home to a similar landmark, the now defunct Fort Hancock. Although lacking the life Allaire has, the various coastal fortifications and buildings make for a scenic place for a picnic. And that’s to say nothing of the Sandy Hook Lighthouse, the oldest standing lighthouse in the United States, or its more mainland neighbor, the Navesink Twin Lights. Both the Sandy Hook tower and Twin Lights’ north tower can be climbed and the view is incredible from both.

Again, I’m not going to deny that there’s a lot of exciting places all over the country, but we often get so lost in the romance of travel that we can forget about what we’ve got only a short drive away. With student finances to worry about on top of the current economy, a staycation sounds not just like a good idea, but an experience that can be on par with most actual vacations. You just have to know where to look.