Asbury Park: We Still Love You!

Population: 16,081
Average Home Price: $314,755

Greetings from Asbury Park.

As beloved as this seaside resort city made famous by Bruce Springsteen’s debut album “Greetings from Asbury Park” is, it’s also not at the top of the list of places to move if you have young kids.

On the numbers alone, we get it. Our annual ranking of Best Towns for Families is based on criteria that measure quality of life—things like how good the schools are and how high the crime rate is. Asbury, admittedly, has a school system fighting to improve, and the city struggles with pockets of high crime. So it brought up the rear in our third annual tally of the Garden State’s best towns to raise a family.

But like a Springsteen song might say, dig into that coal with a Jersey attitude and you might find there’s a diamond waiting inside. Ask Angelica Morales, a mother of three (19, 7 and 4) who’s lived in the city most of her life and watched its renaissance in recent years.

She’s seen how Cookman Avenue, the downtown’s main retail and dining drag, has evolved from hollowed out storefronts to a bevy of antique stores, artisanal restaurants and studios. She’s witnessed how the train station at the city’s edge that takes commuters to Manhattan has helped make the community a more affordable option for New York City dwellers looking for a summer home.

And there’s no way she could miss the oceanfront redevelopment that’s transformed the city’s boardwalk. It used to be the famed Stone Pony music club, a Paramount Theater and Asbury Park Convention Hall and little else. Now, Asbury’s a gem that attracts more families every summer. (It definitely feels that way on a hot day when Morales is trying to get the kids a sweet treat at Just Another Day’s Ice Cream shop on the boardwalk). Heck, the new Asbury Hotel that opened a few blocks from the ocean was voted the country’s best new hotel in January by USA Today.

“I love it here,” Morales says. “My kids are lucky. They have the lake across from us where they can go fishing. And, blocks away, the ocean is there. We can go to the beach. We can go the park…my kids have fun.”

Morales, whose two young boys both go to Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, knows the education system in town isn’t perfect. But brothers Luis, 7, and Eber, 4, are in the same building with teachers and support staff that Morales trusts and believes in, she says. And progress takes time.

So when the last school bell of the day rings, Morales and her family take every chance they get to explore. It’s the word she often chooses for learning more about her ever-changing city. “You can’t sit somewhere and think the ocean is going to come to you,” she says, sounding a bit like one of the Springsteen songs that helped make her hometown famous. “You have to look for it. If you don’t look for it, you’re never going to get it.” — by Richard Quinn


     See New Jersey's Best Towns
     for Families for 2017         
     Plus: The Top Town in Every County


   See New Jersey's Best Towns
   for Families 2016 


    See New Jersey's Best Towns
    for Families for 2015 list