Ocean Grove: God's Square Mile With Symphonic Sounds & Tent Camps. No #1 for Victorian architecture.

Updated: May 9

The Grand Auditorium from the beach.. All photos by R.C. Staab

As beach towns go, Ocean Grove wins the prize for the most unusual. And that's now just because of the shocking contrast of the town to its boisterous neighbor Asbury Park. Founded in 1869 as a seaside retreat for Methodists, the town became known as “God’s Square Mile.” The founding

entity—Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association—still owns most of the land and has sought to preserve rather than tear down and modernize. Walk through town to see the largest assemblage of authentic Victorian architecture in the nation, resulting in its placement on the National Register of Historic Places.

Interestingly, Ocean Grove isn't a town, village or municipality, but part of Neptune Township. The Association largely controls parking and beach access and welcomes all.

The Great Auditorium is great except for the air-conditioning

Few American concert halls have featured concerts by John Philip Sousa, Enrico Caruso, Kenny Rogers, and the Beach Boys. Even fewer have natural acoustics that conductor Leonard Bernstein once compared to Carnegie Hall. More than 120 years ago, Ocean Grove’s founders built this amazing, mostly wooden building, which today seats more than 6,000 people. Among its features are one of the world’s largest pipe organs and a huge painted American flag at the back of the stage with lights bulbs that flash in an undulating manner. Visitors are invited, free of charge, to tour

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the Auditorium between 12:30-2:00pm Monday-Friday through August 30.

Most events are religious oriented, but check for additional pop and symphonic concerts now that pandemic restrictions have been listed. The calendar is online here. It's well worth the time to hear any concert in the space. Unfortunately there is no air conditioning, but the barn-like doors on the ground floor open in the summer. Most days, this creates a decent airflow, but dress for sweat.

The tent camps

There are 114 tent camps—each a 14-foot by 21-foot cottage that includes a bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, and living room. They are available for rent in the summer season, but there is an extensive waiting list, and applicants are interviewed by the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association. The tent camps are not occupied in the winter, so make sure to come in the summer to see the colorful awnings and flags.

A pier and a walkway

For more than seven miles starting at northern end of the Asbury Park Boardwalk and continuing through Ocean Grove, there's either a boardwalk or promenade. The stretch is interrupted by the draw bridge between Belmar and Spring Lake, providing an opportunity for walkers and runners to travel beside the ocean on a flat surface all the way to Sea Girt without having to touch the sand.

Ocean Grove features a short pier without any large structures, so visitors can sit on a bench and enjoy a view as the ocean waves break on the sand.

Tips for Visiting Ocean Grove

What's New: The Great Auditorium features a full schedule of events and activities. Craft fairs are planned for Main Avenue's shopping district.

Road Access & Parking: The main entry to Ocean Grove is along Route 71/Main Street. Flanked by stone pillars, there's an official looking entrance at Main Street. Parking is free but is often taken by visitors heading over to Asbury Park where it costs to park. The streets are very narrow, so drive cautiously.

Amenities: There are restrooms at the southern end of the promenade.

Beaches: Beach badges are required weekends from May 29 through June 13 and then daily from June 19 to September 5. In words of the Association, the beach is only "open" on these days. Daily beach badges are $10 and can be purchased through the Viply app or at the beach. Seasonal beach badges are $95 for people 18 and older, $20 for people 12-17 and seniors 65 or older. Complimentary seasonal badges are available to clergy appointed to full-time pastoral service of a local church in New Jersey.

Starring Role: Ocean Grove has been featured in the movies -- Woody Allen's Stardust Memories and According to Greta with Hilary Duff.

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