What do U.S. Presidents Buchanan, Grant, Harrison, Pierce and Arthur have in common? These five presidents favored Cape May as a summer retreat when they were in office during the second half of the 19th century. The cordial reception and privacy afforded the Presidents at Cape May’s Congress Hall provided them a welcomed respite from politicians and the sweltering hot summers in Washington, D.C.

Although some of us might not be able to afford to vacation in the popular summer months like a US President, a fall visit to Cape May during the week offers cheaper accommodations, dining and entertainment. It may be a bit chilly for swimming, but the crowds are gone and the days are still sunny and pleasant. If you want to see the “other” Cape May, put on some comfortable walking shoes and discover Victorian Cape May in the fall.

 

199 Steps…But Who’s Counting

Photo 1. Cape May Lighthouse
For the best view of the cape, head for the Cape May Lighthouse, located at Cape May Point State Park. If you climb the 199 steps to the top you might end up out of breath, but you won’t be disappointed. Circle the outer walkway at the top of the lighthouse and you’ll see the Jersey Cape where the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay meet. As you look out toward the beach you’ll be rewarded with a view of an historic, but deteriorated World War II bunker. During the war, the southern New Jersey coastline was in danger of enemy invasions and attacks from hostile warships. As a result, the US Army Corps of Engineers built the bunker which contained heavy artillery and was manned by naval gunnery crews.

 

Watch Out for the Hawks
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Take a moment to stroll around Cape May Point State Park where you’ll discover a prime bird-watching area for fall migration. Hawks heading south toward the Delaware Bay first pass over the narrow corridor of land along the Cape May peninsula. A number of trails give you a view of various ponds, coastal dunes, a marsh and forest habitats. Take the Red Trail and you’ll come upon an observation platform overlooking freshwater ponds where you’ll be able to see wading birds, swans and ducks. Different habitats including coastal dunes, the wetland marsh and the beach are accessible on the Yellow Trail. Follow the Blue Trail along the beach where you’ll have a chance to see flora and fauna as well as shore birds.

 

Concrete Lasts Forever
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A short distance from Cape May Point State Park you’ll discover two of Cape May’s historic landmarks. Take Sunset Boulevard towards the water and on your left you’ll see the World War II Fire Lookout Tower. Built in 1942, this tall concrete tower was one of 15 towers on the New Jersey and Delaware shores that were used to spot and fire upon enemy ships attempting to enter Delaware Bay during the war. This is the only free standing tower that remains today. (Check dates and times of operation.)
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Continue down Sunset Boulevard until you reach the beach. About 150 feet off the coast of Sunset Beach you’ll see the remains of the S.S. Atlantus, an experimental concrete ship. There were twelve built during World War I, but were proven impractical because of weight. In 1926, the Atlantus was to be used as a ferry dock for a proposed ferry between Cape May and Henlopen, Delaware. A storm hit and the Atlantus broke free of her moorings and ran aground, where parts of the concrete ship remain today.

 

Victorian Homes Rule
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Take a stroll or a horse-drawn carriage ride through the town’s historic district and enjoy Victorian architectural styled homes with spirited colors and gingerbread trim. Gurney Street off Beach Avenue has a number of colorful Victorian homes.

If you want to get a real taste for Victorian lifestyles, make sure you visit the Emlen Physick Estate, an 18-room Victorian house museum, built in 1879. Here you’ll see how both the wealthy and their servants lived during the late 19th century.

Need a break from history and the Victorian way of life? Wander over to the Washington Street Mall, an outdoor concourse closed to traffic. Here you’ll find everything from ice cream parlors and sidewalk cafes to art galleries and candy stores.

 

Captain Kidd and Cape May-Perfect Together
Did I mention Captain Kidd’s ties to New Jersey’s southernmost tip? The notorious pirate visited Cape May during the 17th century, long before our distinguished presidents, but not for a summer retreat. Rumor has it that Captain Kidd allegedly buried some of his stolen treasures close to the Cape May Lighthouse near a tree that came to be called Kidd’s Tree. The tree was supposed to help lead Kidd and his crew back to the buried treasures. But Kidd was captured by the British and hung. He claimed, until his death, that he buried some of his treasures in what is now Cape May Point. Unfortunately the tree was cut down in 1893 and the treasures never unearthed. One can only imagine what lurks beneath the sands at Cape May Point.

 

If You Go by Air: Philadelphia International Airport serves all major airlines and is about an hour and forty minutes to Cape May.

By Water from Delaware: The Cape May-Lewes Ferry runs daily between Cape May and Lewes, Del. Reservations recommended. (800) 643-3779. www.capemaylewesferry.com

Driving: From Philadelphia-Take the Ben Franklin or Walt Whitman Bridge to Rt. 676 south. Follow signs for Rt. 42, Atlantic City. Take Atlantic City Expressway to Exit 7. Take Garden State Pkwy. south to Cape May. From New York and New Jersey-Take the Holland or Lincoln Tunnel, or the GW Bridge to the NJ Turnpike south. Get off at exit 11 and take the Garden State Pkwy. south to Cape May.

Where to stay: Montreal Inn, 1025 Beach Ave.; (609)884-7011 (right on the ocean, reduced rates; no minimum stay in October). The Mainstay Inn, 635 Columbia Ave.; (609) 884-8690 (historic bed and breakfast one block from the ocean, reduced rates weekdays in off season)

Where to Eat: The Blue Pig Tavern, 200 Congress Place; (609) 884-8422; American classic comfort food; www.caperesorts.com/restaurants/capemay/bluepigtavern; The Blue Moon Pizza; 425 Beach Avenue; (609)884-3033; gourmet, traditional and Sicilian pizza; www.bluemoonpizzanj.com

Additional Accommodations and Restaurants: www.capemaytimes.com; (Call ahead to ensure they are open during the fall)

For More Information: Concrete Ship, Sunset Beach, Sunset Boulevard; www.concreteships.org

Cape May Lighthouse, Lighthouse Ave.; www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/capemay.html

Washington Street Mall: www.washingtonstreetmall.com

Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington Street; www.capemaytimes.com/history/physick.htm

Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May: www.capemaychamber.com

Just one hour from Philadelphia or New York City, there is a seaside haven of rocking chairs on porches and a boardwalk bandstand, old-time penny candy and homemade ice cream, free parking and quiet streets, and more Victorian houses than the famed Cape May. Ocean Grove, New Jersey’s best-kept secret for more than a hundred years, is quickly becoming the hippest getaway for urban professionals, artists, families, and those in search of refuge, rest, and renewal.

The area sustained some beach and boardwalk damage from Superstorm Sandy, but Ocean Grove is now open and ready for business, just as beautiful and tranquil as ever.
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A Shangri-la of seagulls and a non-commercialized boardwalk, Ocean Grove boasts a dignified row of eateries and shops on the tree-lined Main Avenue. There are no tacky T-shirt joints in sight. No arcades. No water slides or rides. Visitors rent bicycles (the old-fashioned kind: no gears or handlebar brakes) at Ocean Grove Hardware, a wooden-floored establishment with antiques upstairs. The hungry have ten restaurants from which to choose, including Nagle s Apothecary Cafe with its collection of old pharmaceutical bottles and the best selection of ice cream this side of the moon.

Ocean Grove is the town that time forgot. A National Historic district, the community was founded by Dr. William Osborn, a Methodist minister. The location was just what the doctor ordered: a high beach, thick groves of pine, cedar, and hickory trees, and no mosquitoes. Natural boundaries were made by two lakes and the ocean, with gates across the remaining side. Until 1980, the town gates were closed with chains from midnight Saturday through midnight Sunday. No cars were allowed on the Sabbath.

Dr. Osborn and a group of other religious-minded folks joined together in 1869 to form the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association. The association continues to this day. The town is dry, with no alcohol served within the one-mile radius of Ocean Grove.
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The center of activity in the town is the Great Auditorium, an impressive structure that s almost football-field size. Featuring speakers and statesmen, opera stars and orchestras, the Auditorium has been visited by Presidents and personalities from Ulysses S. Grant to Guy Lombardo. Boasting a huge pipe organ, the Great Auditorium offers free organ concerts on summer Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Nestled around the Auditorium are 114 tent structures, with fireproof canvas in the front and cabin/cottages built onto the back. Many of those who own the tents are fourth and fifth generation families: relatives of the original Camp Meeting Methodists. Some say that there s a 30-year waiting period to buy a tent.
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The beach, named by USA Today as one of the best in the world, is clean and thong-free. The beach badge, at $7.00 per day and $35.00 per week, is well-worth the cost. Lifeguards are on duty from 9:00 a.m. – 5:30 on Mondays through Saturdays; 12:30 – 5:30 on Sundays.
A perfect example of a 19th century planned urban community, the town is laid out so that the buildings nearest the ocean were built farther back from the street. This created a funnel to capture the sea breezes and channel them westward. This clever plan also allowed most porches along the street to enjoy the ocean view. Savvy innkeepers have lined their porches and balconies with rocking chairs.

Even a loud car radio seems out of place here, where most of the bed and breakfast establishments lock the doors at 11 p.m. Claiming the country s largest collection of Victoriana, Ocean Grove offers many lovingly-preserved guest houses and B&Bs.

One block from the ocean and 1/2 block from the Auditorium, reigns Ocean Pathway’s Albatross Inn, a family-friendly establishment circa 1894, as well as sister properties Ocean Plaza and the Ocean View Inn. All three of these Ocean Pathway jewels are now open and ready for business.

In the southern part of Ocean Grove is the Sea Spray Inn, previously known as the Love Letter Inn. A sensuous French Victorian Inn, the Sea Spray faces Fletcher Lake and is a short block from the ocean. Recently restored after the storm, the Sea Spray welcomed its first guests in April.

In the middle of town, one block from the beach, the stately Majestic Hotel’s grand doors are also open to guests. A short walk away, the charming Melrose B&B is open, offering quiet respites to visitors.

For families in search of an informal and comfortable hotel, the Ocean Vista fits the bill. One of the few boardwalk properties, the Ocean Vista offers the requisite porch with rockers, a continental breakfast and morning coffee, and affordable prices. The family dog greets guests, and the mood is upbeat. The rooms are clean and cozy.

Travelers craving night life have only a 5-minute walk to historic Asbury Park, where the famed Stone Pony, legendary Wonder Bar and The Saint, and the newer Langosta Lounge rock late into the evening hours. If you prefer to sleep in Asbury Park, Mikell’s Big House Bed and Breakfast is the place to stay.
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Ocean Grove has something for everyone, and the crown jewel of the Jersey shore has proven itself to be stronger than the storm: still a seagull Shangri-la with charm to spare.

http://www.albatrosshotel.net/
http://www.theoceanplaza.com/
http://www.theseaspray.com/
http://majesticoceangrove.com/
http://www.melroseog.com/
http://ocean-vista-hotel.com/
http://www.stoneponyonline.com/
http://langostalounge.com/
http://www.thesaintnj.com/
http://www.mikellsbighouse.com

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I grew up in pre-casino Atlantic City. So when news reached me of a new, non-casino hotel on the city’s famous boardwalk, I was interested to say the least. The fact is, The Chelsea is the first non-casino hotel to be built on the boardwalk in many years. I quickly decided that a visit was in order.

The Chelsea was created by joining together two older hotels. The old Holiday Inn has been re-imagined as The Chelsea’s “Luxe Tower.” The tower features 218 non-smoking guest rooms, and five suites. Most of the rooms have ocean or bay views. The “Annex,” on the site of the old Howard Johnson’s, has 113 rooms, and offers a lower cost alternative. The entire hotel has been renovated in a style that is intended to evoke the Atlantic City of the ’50s and ’60s. The designers made sure that the overall effect is subtle, employing just the right accents to put the visitor in mind of an earlier era.
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Among the amenities are two new restaurants. Teplitzky’s serves comfort food and offers a full bar. The restaurant’s name pays homage to the kosher hotel that originally stood on the Howard Johnson site. It is a classic hotel coffee shop and cocktail lounge. Chelsea Prime is a very stylish steakhouse that returns the diner to the lavish Atlantic City supper clubs of the 1940’s. The upscale restaurant is dramatically lit, and features spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean from its fifth floor location.

The Chelsea’s oasis of calm is the Sea Spa. Various massage styles and body treatments are offered. There is an open-air saltwater pool, and a fitness center that includes the basic equipment necessary for a workout. The fitness center can be accessed 24 hours a day.
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There is no doubt that The Chelsea is directing their appeal to a younger, more active demographic. Toward that end, The Fifth (on the fifth floor of course) has been created. Among the elements included as a part of The Fifth are the C5 nightclub for after dinner drinks or dancing, the Living Room, which as the name suggests is a cocktail lounge offering comfortable seating for socializing, and the Cabana Club – an outdoor pool area that features an island bar, music provided by dj’s, live performances and events, and private cabanas that offer plasma screen televisions and stocked mini-bars.

I visited The Chelsea in May, a couple of weeks before the start of the summer season. Many of the amenities are only open on weekends until the summer begins, so I didn’t get a chance to take advantage of them.
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I did have a clean, spacious room, with lovely ocean views. The service from the hotel staff was first rate. I have a couple of relatively minor quibbles. The promised wireless in-room Internet service never arrived, despite several calls to the hotel’s third party provider. The shower area has a nice look, and the hotel offers the standard shampoo and soap products, but there are no shelves in the shower area, forcing you to place the products on the shower floor, which can get kind of annoying when you have soap in your eyes. The location of the electrical outlets in the room could be better too. The only convenient place to plug in a laptop or mobile phone for recharging was on the floor beside the bed.
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As I said, these issues are relatively minor, though for me, and I’m sure other people, access to e-mail and other Internet services is more and more important. It won’t be hard for the young hotel to put these items in order. The Chelsea offers very reasonable rates, even during the high season. It’s a great alternative to the cacophony of the casino hotels, but if it’s gaming you want, there are numerous options that are a short boardwalk stroll from the hotel.

I’m not much of a fan of the casinos. I am a lifelong fan of Atlantic City however. The world famous beaches remain beautiful, and there is just enough of the city’s grand tradition remaining to keep me coming back. The Chelsea is all at once a return to a better time in the city’s life, and a breath of fresh air. I’m rooting for it to be a success.

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Let’s start with the fact that I went to Columbia College and the Columbia Graduate School of Business. Our mascot is the Lion. Princeton’s mascot is the Tiger. On an early fall Sunday I arrived in Princeton for a two day visit. A few weeks earlier the Columbia football team, not known as a powerhouse, destroyed Princeton 38-0. This was Columbia’s first road shutout since 1961. Trivia alert- the 1869 game between Rutgers and Princeton is notable because it was the first documented game of any sport called “football” between two American colleges.

Princeton, New Jersey, is located in Mercer County with the university founded in 1746 and moved to Princeton in 1756. New Jersey’s capital is the city of Trenton, but the governor’s official residence has been in Princeton since 1945. Although Princeton is a “college town,” (the area gets almost 1 1/2 million visitors a year) there are other important institutions in the area, including Rider University, the Institute for Advanced Study, Educational Testing Service (ETS), Siemens Corporate Research, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Tyco International, Verizon, Bristol Myers Squibb, Berlitz International, and Dow Jones & Company. The town is roughly equidistant between New York and Philadelphia. Princeton has been home to New York commuters since the end of World War II. It took me less than two hours to arrive at The Nassau Inn in the center of town. The original building (on Nassau Street) was also built in 1756 (they moved to their present location in 1937) and their 203 guestrooms have been updated with all modern conveniences. I stopped for a bagel in the Yankee Doodle Tap Room & Restaurant to admire their 13-foot wide Norman Rockwell mural, valued at over 1 1/2 million dollars. All the other 47 name brand hotels are located outside of the downtown area, mainly along Route 1.

Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the United States Federal Reserve is a Princeton University professor. So are writers Joyce Carol Oates and Toni Morrison as well as John Forbes Nash, Jr., mathematician, subject of A Beautiful Mind. Notable visiting writers have included: Saul Bellows, Philip Roth and Gertrude Stein. Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th President of the United States retired to, died in, and is buried in Princeton. Albert Einstein, physicist, was a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study. Christopher Reeve, actor, grew up in Princeton, attended Princeton Day School. Paul Robeson, singer, actor, athlete, civil rights activist, also born and raised in Princeton. Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States, 13th president of Princeton University and Governor of New Jersey also went here. First Lady Michelle Obama graduated from Princeton, as did Brooke Shields and David Duchovny. Former US Senator Bill Bradley and Princeton basketball All-American is also a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. One comical note- Brooke Shields dated Dean Cain who would play Superman. Christopher Reeve was also Superman and he grew up in Princeton.

Mimi Omiecinski, owner and operator of the Princeton Tour Company, greeted me in the lobby of the Nassau Inn. The first hour was a walking tour of the university. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League. Princeton University has traditionally focused on undergraduate education (4,900), although it has almost 2,500 graduate students. I was surprised to learn that Princeton does not have a law, medical or business school, but it does offer professional master’s degrees (through the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs) and doctoral programs in the sciences, humanities, and social sciences, as well as engineering. Nassau Hall, the oldest building on campus was named for the Dutch William III of England of the House of Orange-Nassau. The college also adopted orange as its school color from William III. Originally, the sculptures in front of the building were lions (Go Columbia!). These were later replaced with tigers in 1911. A variety of sculptures adorn the campus. They include pieces by Henry Moore, Clement Meadmore, and Alexander Calder. In 1969, Princeton University first admitted women as undergraduates (Columbia did the same in 1983). During the American Revolution, British and American forces occupied Princeton on different occasions.
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The Battle of Princeton, fought in a nearby field in January of 1777, proved to be a decisive victory for General George Washington and his troops. Two of Princeton’s leading citizens signed the United States Declaration of Independence: Richard Stockton and Clergyman John Witherspoon, who was later president of the college (whose great, great, great granddaughter is the actress Reese Witherspoon).

The Princeton Triangle Club, a student performance group, built the Tony-award-winning McCarter Theatre. Today, the Triangle Club performs its annual freshmen revue and fall musicals in McCarter. McCarter is also recognized as one of the leading regional theaters in the United States. The Princeton University Art Museum has nearly 60,000 objects. The collections range from ancient to contemporary art and concentrate geographically on the Mediterranean regions, Western Europe, China, the United States, and Latin America. There is a collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, including ceramics, marble, bronzes, and Roman mosaics.
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The collection of Western European paintings includes examples from the early Renaissance through the nineteenth century and features a collection of twentieth-century and contemporary art. One of the best features of the museums is its collection of Chinese art including bronzes, tomb figurines, painting, and calligraphy. The museum has collections of old master prints and drawings and a comprehensive collection of original photographs. African and Indian art are also represented. Princeton University Chapel is the third-largest college chapel in the world, behind those of Valparaiso University and King’s College, Cambridge, England. Known for its gothic architecture, the chapel houses one of the largest and most precious stained glass collections in the country.
For the next hour Mimi drove me around the Princeton area and a visit first to The Institute for Advanced Study,a center for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry. The Institute is perhaps best known as the academic home of Albert Einstein, after his immigration to the United States. The Institute has no formal links to Princeton University or other educational institutions. Princeton is also the home of Drumthwacket, the official residence of the Governor of New Jersey, although nearby Trenton is the state capitol. I had a brief visit to Princeton Battlefield State Park, the 100-acre state park that preserves the site of the Battle of Princeton (January 3, 1777); we didn’t have time to enter the Princeton Cemetery where Aaron Burr, Grover Cleveland and George Gallup, among others, are buried as I had a half-hour drive to my next appointment.
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The Grounds for Sculpture is a 35-acre sculpture park with two museum buildings on the site of the former NJ State Fairgrounds in Trenton. My only problem was having enough time to see the 250 sculptures, most in their natural settings. They were kind enough to provide a golf cart and docent to speed me through. I have to return and spend an afternoon there. Founded in 1992 by John Seward Johnson II (of Johnson & Johnson fame) the venue was intended to be dedicated to promoting an understanding of and appreciation for contemporary sculpture, including many by Johnson. Richard Moscovitz, the manager of Rat’s Restaurant, gave me a tour. Why the name Rat’s? In Kenneth Grahame’s classic, “The Wind in the Willows”, one of Seward Johnson’s favorite books, the character Ratty represented everything a host should be. As founder of Rat’s and Grounds For Sculpture, Johnson likens himself to Ratty who threw the best parties with the best wine. It is designed to make visitors feel they have stepped into a village reminiscent of French impressionist Claude Monet’s beloved town of Giverny. The restaurant overlooks Johnson’s sculptures inspired by Impressionists paintings, as well as the lily pond and bridge inspired by the works of Monet. After a meal one is invited to enter the Grounds for Sculpture at no charge. I can’t wait to go back for Sunday brunch and a few more hours touring the grounds.

My dinner that night was at Mediterra, only a block from the Nassau Inn. It features cuisine from the 21 countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Chef Luis Bollo prepared two dishes from scratch based on my allergy to all nuts. A great meal. My other meal was lunch at Witherspoon Grill also only 1 block from my hotel. I met Adam Perle, Vice President of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce who arranged all my visits, at this classic steakhouse. After lunch we walked to The Princeton Corkscrew Wine Shop, considered the premier wine shop in town. We also stopped by the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, again only a few blocks from the wine shop.

Moving backwards to earlier that morning I was given a tour of the Nassau Inn by General Manager Lori Rabon and then a private tour of the Princeton Art Museum (see the description earlier in this story) by associate director Becky Sender. The museum is closed on Mondays so we had it all to ourselves. I did learn that admission to the museum is free. The kind folks at the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce gave me a gift certificate for the Princeton Record Exchange, again only a few blocks from the Nassau Inn. It is one of the largest independent music stores in the US and I found a prefect CD set of the US Presidents. It was time to return to NYC with a desire to return very soon.
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For More Information-
www.visitprinceton.org
www.nassauinn.com
www.princetontourcompany.com
www.groundsforsculpture.org
www.groundsforsculpture.org/ ratsrestaurant
www.terramomo.com
www.artmuseum.princeton.edu
www.witherspoongrill.com
www.princetonchamber.org
www.artscouncilofprinceton.org
www.princetoncorkscrew.com
www.prexnj.com

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When the couple, there for their 20th visit, commented that it was the first time they had taken the house tour — one of the staples of the Mohonk Mountain House experience — I asked what they had been doing all those years. Liz and Dan Gleason from Haddon Heights, NJ, replied: “There’s just so much to do all the time, you just can’t fit it all in. Every year, there’s a new surprise. This year, it’s the Smiley family parlor.”

And therein lie two of the greatest pleasures at this glorious old resort in New Paltz, NY — activities to keep you busy all day (but only if desired) and the connection to the Smiley family, who has owned and operated the resort for over 140 years. That connection reverberates throughout the property, which has been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. First bought in 1869 by twins Albert and Alfred Smiley, the 10-room tavern that sat on 300 acres of lake and farm area has been expanded to encompass 265 rooms in connected buildings spanning a sixth of a mile, while the property now extends to 2200 acres.

Their most recent nod to architectural modernity came in 2005 when they added an ecologically sensitive, geothermally heated spa wing and the first and only — and long overdue (at least to my way of thinking…) — cocktail lounge. The structural expansion prior to that? 1902. This leaves you very unprepared for the grandiose creation greeting you as you drive up. The mammoth building sitting atop a hill more resembles a haunted house than a mountain resort. All jutting angles and balustrades, widows, peaks and turrets, circular, angular and pointed wood, stone and rock cliffs result in a hodge-podge of architectural styles for which eclectic is an understatement. It’s an imposing mish-mosh of disparate styles, all tacked one upon the other, without thought to form or aesthetic. You don’t know whether you’ve arrived at a world-class hotel (which it is), Rapunzel’s castle or the Addams Family abode; you do know that it’s wonderful.

A walk through its many halls presents a similar adventure. A labyrinth of hallways, stairways, cubicles and cubby halls features a surprise at every turn: an aquarium, library, billiard room, activity center. The life-size stuffed Basset Hound and Russell Terrier in front of the gift shop were so real I was sure I heard them bark. A Rogue’s Gallery of famous people and family members who contributed to the long history of Mohonk features pictures of Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Carnegies who vacationed here along with several presidents and other heads of state. Around every corner, a rocking chair, lounge chair, or settee looking out on yet another beautiful view. Long porches and outdoor alcoves everywhere lined with more rocking chairs, many facing the lake caressed by canoes, rowboats, kayaks and paddle boats beckoning for attention. The whole idea is to get guests to look at, get out in and enjoy the surrounding nature. Or not. Sitting also is good.
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Some resorts boast multiple restaurants and swimming pools — at Mohonk, it’s rocking chairs and gazebos. Thus many a guest can be found sitting in any one of 138 gazebos spread throughout the property — the Smileys put them in areas they identified as beautiful locations, which accounts for their large number — either reading a book or just staring out at the lake or mountain before them. Or equally entranced by flower-laden, canopied pathways interconnected by wooden bridges, trellised walkways, green bushes and rock outcroppings. The connection with nature is all-encompassing. Be prepared: there are so many places — gazebos, benches, chairs, hidden nooks, alcoves, both indoors and out — enticing you to just sit and read that you should carry a book with you at all times (or, if you’re under 18, your iPod).

Sitting on our balcony — there we had to make due with yet another rocking chair, which are the only things that outnumber the gazebos — overlooking the views was so peaceful we had to force ourselves to get up and start undertaking the myriad of activities awaiting us. As an incentive to get moving, the map of the building lists 58 different destinations — and those are just indoors! We’ll talk about the outdoor options later.

Just as the current structure is essentially unchanged since 1902, the same goes for the initial mission of the resort, as first espoused by Albert Smiley: it remains dedicated to a renewal of the mind, body and spirit in a beautiful natural setting. That vision still permeates the property, embodying an old-world ambience that adds charm and character that no modern-day hotel complex can come close to matching.
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You want to do some hiking, rock-climbing or caving? You’re in the right place. Want to ride a snowmobile, a Jet Ski or watch TV – you’re not. Mohonk is all about tranquility. And simplicity. This is not the kind of place where they bring you umbrella drinks by the pool. That same Quaker philosophy also limits any raucous nightlife options. In lieu of the usual resort band and dancing, there may be a lecture on the Geology and Paleontology of the Hudson Valley. Seems like a fair trade-off… Okay, there actually is a TV located in one of the meeting rooms but a guest survey taken five years ago in which 97% of respondents said they didn’t want them in the rooms probably assures that there won’t be many more making an appearance. And the 15-20 local Smileys still involved in day-to-day operations probably also guaranty that the same ideal will continue. But make no mistake: this is no out-dated, out-of-touch, old-fashioned resort experience; I predict an exciting, activity-laden, fun-filled time to which, like the Gleasons, you’ll want to return to year-after-year.

Now, about those other activities? There’s swimming, inside and out, fitness center and spa, boating, fishing, yoga, guided nature tours, croquet, golf, tennis and, in winter, ice skating, snowshoeing and tubing. Eighty-five miles of carriage roads and trails are available for hiking, running, biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing. Strolling the grounds is an activity in itself, past fish ponds, a putting green, stables, a Barn Museum chock-full of fascinating antiques and historic memorabilia, and extensive award-winning gardens. Some are laid out in a well-marked precisely structured design, an interesting antidote to the resort’s chaotic architectural structure; other less manicured foliage spill out over more trellised walkways and, yes, more gazebos, leading around, through, between, beneath and beyond an intricate maze — literally — of evergreen trees.
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Rates start at $500 per room, double occupancy. Three meals daily plus afternoon tea and cookies are also included in the room rates, as is a Kids’ Club providing as many hour-by-hour activities for children ages 2-12 as for adults. Although there’s an additional charge for some of the usual suspects (horseback riding, carriage rides, spa treatments), all those other activities are complimentary.

Mohonk is also well-known for its more than 40 theme weekends throughout the year from Mystery Weekends to Rock `n Roll to Culinary to Hiking to Yoga and so much more. If you have an interest, they probably have a weekend.

For more information, call 1/800-772-6646 or visit www.mohonk.com.

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Mary Higgins Clark set a bestselling book here, but it’s still – mysteriously – one of New Jersey’s best-kept secrets. The idyllic beach town of Spring Lake, situated 65 miles south of Manhattan and the same distance east of Philadelphia, might not have the name recognition of Wildwood or Cape May, but it’s famous to those who visit.

The peaceful haven is a tranquil place: no traffic jams, parking meters, honking horns, or gaudy arcades. Developed by wealthy Irish-Americans in the 1870s, this is a place of elegance and grace. With the largest percentage of Irish-Americans in the United States, Spring Lake has earned the nickname of “The Irish Riviera” from admirers of the village of rambling Victorian mansions and sprawling lawns. The two-mile boardwalk (the longest non-commercial boardwalk in Jersey) is sparkling clean and made of recycled grocery bags and sawdust. The sand is pristine; the beach non-cluttered. It’s well-worth the $8.00 beach tag, and many of the local B&Bs offer free tags for guests.
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One of the best bed and breakfasts in Spring Lake is the White Lilac Inn. Circa 1880, the Inn was built with a bit of Southern flair, with triple-tiered porches encircling the immaculate white exterior of 414 Central Avenue. Owned for over a decade by Mari Kennelly, this B&B is a refuge from everyday life. Decorated with an eclectic Victorian touch, the property is well-loved and comfortable, and there’s even a secret garden that beckons. Guests are provided with complimentary beach tags and bicycle use, and it’s an easy five minute ride to the ocean.
Mari’s breakfast specialty is mandarin orange French toast, served in the bright morning light of the sparkling white Garden Room. Early-riser coffee is available, and many fair-weather guests enjoy sitting on the veranda’s wicker chairs with the morning newspaper. The White Lilac isn’t just a summertime getaway, though. It’s just as lovely in the frosty autumn crisp or bitter winter winds, with the fireplace flickering in the parlor. The White Lilac participated in the 18th annual Candlelight Christmas Inn Tour in December, providing free tour tickets to weekend guests.
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The White Lilac offers a choice of nine exquisite rooms, some with double whirlpool tubs and private porches, all carefully and thoughtfully decorated. I stayed in the Vermont Cabin, a third-level room with a northwoods theme. Sporting fish netting on the slanted ceiling, a brass bed, electric fireplace, and a private bath, the room has proven to be a favorite with the most challenging of bed and breakfast guests: the men. “Lots of women buy gift certificates for their men,” says Mari Kennelly. “It’s a good guy getaway.” Indeed it is! Mari has decorated the walls with old paint-by-number framed works by her grandfather, and the sentimentality is palpable here.
A kid-free environment, the White Lilac has been the setting of proposals, weddings, and anniversaries. Perfect not only for the quintessential romantic getaways, the Inn is also a favorite gathering place for girlfriend weekends, mother/daughter trips, Boomer bondings, and family reunions. “The wallpaper and charming atmosphere remind me of my grandmother’s house,” reflected one guest. “Even the smell of the hydrangeas outside take me back in time.” Spring Lake is ideal for going back in time, yet with plenty to do nearby. There’s antiquing and art galleries, shopping and spas, golfing and Great Adventure park, horse-racing and the historic village of Allaire State Park. Atlantic City is a little more than a hour’s drive, yet a world away from this unspoiled place.
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Another great place of accommodation is The Spring Lake Inn, built in 1888 as the Grand Central Stables. Nestled on a quiet side street one block from the ocean, the inn’s crowning glories are the blueberry-hued Turret room and the majestic Tower View, a two-room ocean view suite with a crystal chandelier and queen-size sleigh bed.
One really can’t go wrong in booking a room – any room – in Spring Lake. Other fine choices are The Chateau Inn and Suites (plasma televisions and imported marble bathrooms), the Evergreen Inn with its Mistletoe Suite and the Juniper Room (sunken bed; floating fireplace; need I say more?!), and the landmark Breakers, an oceanfront resort hotel
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With only 3000 permanent residents, Spring Lake is one of the few seaside places in which visitors can enjoy not only the ocean, but also the lakes. Swans glide and pedestrians stroll or ride bikes over the arched wooden bridges. The main strip of town is Third Avenue, with a lineup of classy shops and stylish little eateries. Even the Pizzeria is gourmet here, with some of the tastiest slices around. Also nearby are fine dining spots such as The Black Trumpet with chef Mark Mikolojczyk’s delectable menu, and The Mill, which boasts of water views and epicurean food.

No stranger to tragedy, the tranquil Spring Lake leapt to action when the Hindenburg zeppelin exploded nearby. The peaceful sanctuary was also the site where lifeguards pulled to shore the survivors of the 1934 Morro Castle cruise ship fire. History buffs dive into their research of the area’s past in the elaborate building housing the Spring Lake Historical Society.

Named for a multitude of underground springs, Spring Lake’s wide tree-lined streets full of weeping willows are a delight. Culture abounds with concerts in the shaded park gazebo, shows by the Spring Lake Theatre group, and a plethora of events at the lovely Tudor-style public library. Easily accessible by highway or train (just one hour via New Jersey Transit from Penn Station), Spring Lake is heaven by the seaside . . . and the lake.

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In the past, we had found some areas of New England and the Middle Atlantic too crowded and too much traffic to really enjoy traveling the area by RV, but this time was different. We discovered some excellent RV parks to enjoy, and we plan to return again. Keep in mind, when planning your trip, that many campgrounds in the Northeast are open only from May through October, so call first to be sure. We were there just before Memorial Day and had the campgrounds almost to ourselves, yet by the week-end each was already booked completely.
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In New Jersey near Morristown, which is centrally located and about 45 minutes to New York City by car or train, we stayed in a beautiful campground, Fla-Cong. With a large grassy park and a little brook running through it, trees, and large, well laid-out, full hook-up spaces on three different levels. This campground has the forest and field look of the best state parks, yet it is just a few blocks from major malls and restaurants.

Just outside the town of Lake George, New York, we we found another beautiful campground, Adirondacks Camping Area, which is about five miles from the town. If you are towing a car so that you can drive to town, this is a perfect location because you are in lovely trees with wide, flat camping sites and full hook-ups. The large swimming pool is well maintained. We preferred to be in this mountainside, forest camping area instead of by the lake, yet all the Lake George activities, shopping, swimming, boating, galleries, restaurants, and hiking are just ten minutes away. It was fascinating to watch the town wake up for the season, which officially opens on Memorial Day.
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Traveling on to Vermont, we discovered an excellent campground just a mile west of the city of Stowe. Although the huge red barn at the entrance by Nichol’s is a bit shabby, we found Nichol’s Campground on Goldbrook (802 253 7683) to be one of the most beautiful private campgrounds we have ever found. On a wide bend in the little river, Goldbrook, this pastureland-turned-campground is cradled on its circumference by the wonderful babbling stream at its confluence with a wider river. Tent sites are all along the edge of the water, with large shade trees. The central bathhouse is an easy, open walk within the pasture, although it would seem longer in the middle of the night. The RV sites, also beside a small stream, have full hook-ups but not many trees. Children have a nice playground area, as well. Ask for directions to the famous haunted Goldbrook Bridge. You might even see the ghost of the jilted lover who, according to legend, threw herself to her death here in the 1800’s but returns often looking for her lover at their midnight meeting spot on this picturesque old covered bridge.

Vermont has many beautiful State Parks with camping for RV’s as well as tents, and some with cabins to rent. Most have dump stations, but no hook-ups.

Just South of Burlington is a very conveniently located campground, The Shelburne Camping Area (802 985 2540.) This park is behind the Dutch Mill Restaurant and the RV sites are small and close and on gravel, all back-ins. There are nce cabins to rent here, with full kitchens and sleeping 2 – 4 people. This campground, with full hook-ups and an especially nice and accommodating manager, is a good location to come and go from Burlington (10 minutes away) or from the historic little community of Shelburne (very nearby.) Both places have many things to see and do. This campground is open year-round.

Burlington,VT, area is worth a stay.With many festivals and restaurants, eateries, and local artists, there are many things to see and do on the shores of Lake Champlaine. Of course, you can enjoy the fishing pier, SCUBA diving lessons, and boat rentals at the sailing center. The waterfront has a long brick bikeway for pleasant rides near the water and also a free, open skating/skateboard area with challenging ramps. There is an excellent Science Center for hands-on discovery and an Aquarium here also. Union Station and the Ferry Dock are also located here. Our favorite thing was a half-day trip to Ausable Chasm, just on the other side of the lake on the New York shore. In 1608 Samuel de Champlain discovered the huge lake named in his honor. In 1808 Fulton’s Claremont became the first steamer on the Hudson River and just one year later the Vermont was built in Burlington to navigate Lake Champlain. She was followed by the Ticonderoga, built in Shelburne, the first Side-Wheeler. However, in 1906 the side-wheeler became too expensive to operate and was taken out of commission. Now you can see this famous old steamer in the Shelburne Museum.

Today the ferries (802 864 9804), which cross year-round, are modern and comfortable. We had a pleasant one hour Ferry ride at the Port Kent crossing. Then we were just a couple of minutes from one of the most beautiful places in the United States! Ausable Chasm (518 834 7454) should have been a National Park because it is such a wondrous place, but it is privately owned and maintained in a pristine and beautiful way…not trashed with commercialism as Niagara Falls is. Open from mid-May through mid-October, this is a place not to miss! Bus trips from New York City come here on Thursdays and Sundays.
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We were there on a rainy day, but we wore our ponchos and were so glad we didn’t back out. In fact, in the rain we pretty much had this place of wonder to ourselves. The Visitor Center is beside the enormous falls, discovered by Mather Adgate who settled here in 1792 and named it for himself. The name was changed to Birmingham Falls in 1824 by James Pilling who said it reminded him of Birmingham, England. In 1877 the falls were purchased for tourism and named Rainbow Falls. The entire area has been kept completely natural and beautiful trails are for the comfort and safety of visitors. The car and pedestrian bridge is the best vantage point for the overwhelming water falls. Then you can choose whether to walk on the mostly flat trail on the rim of the Chasm or on the solid rock trail with excellent iron rails for safety right beside the rushing Ausable River. Both are magnificently beautiful pathways.
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The rim trail is spongey-soft with a deep bed of wood chips, so it is dry even in rainy weather. You are in a sweet-smelling tall and thick forest of many hardwoods and evergreens, with each species named and explained with good signage. There are carefully planned overlooks for good views of the chasm below. The lower, rock trail is, of course, down in the chasm and has the best views of the rushing river and the huge canyon walls; however, it requires descending and climbing many steps. If you are physically able, this is well-worth the effort. We spent several hours enjoying ambling along both trails and taking many photos. In summer 2006 an extra mile to the lower trail was completed, allowing pedestrians to walk beside the gentler rafting part of the river. This section of the river, when the water is the right height for safety, is a wonderful place to experience Class 1 rapids in rafting, kayaking, or tubing. You can spend longer on over 1,000 acres of interconnected hiking and biking trails in this gorgeous area. This is one of the most spectacularly beautiful and awe-inspiring places we have ever been and a memory we’ll carry with us always. President William McKinley in 1897 said it best when he said, “No prose, photograph or painting can do justice to the beauty of the natural wonder of Ausable Chasm; you must see it to appreciate it.”

From Ausable Chasm we spent a lovely half-day driving about 30 miles Northward on Hwy 9 beside Lake Champlain on the New York side, which has beautiful scenery all along the way. After stopping in Plattsburgh at the Former Fort Scott Army Base, we took the 12 minute ferry across to Vermont. We enjoyed ambling Hwy 2 to the top of Grand Island and there we took Hwy 78 East to Hwy 7 South to return to Burlington, a beautiful drive with many historic 18th and 19th century townships along the way. We enjoyed dinner in the impressive old town of St. Albans.

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Just an hour from Philly or New York City, there’s a seaside haven of rocking chairs on porches and a boardwalk bandstand, old-time penny candy and homemade ice cream, free parking, quiet streets, and more Victorian houses than the famed Cape May. It’s a magical place, transcendent, not unlike the setting of a really good beach book.
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Ocean Grove, New Jersey’s best-kept secret for more than 130 years, is quickly becoming the hippest getaway for urban professionals, artists, families, and those in search of refuge, rest, and renewal. I’m here now, writing this article on my own private balcony from the king-sized Room #5 of the Majestic Hotel. The Majestic has it all: a widow’s walk, an underground surf shop, a video library of movies for all tastes, and the on-site Oceania Restaurant where you can grab an Ostrich Burger for lunch. The Majestic is a castle, fit for any discriminating king or queen. Catering to the corporate market, there’s the requisite wireless access and the modern conveniences of the office with all the ambience and repose of the beach. My room is quiet, and my balcony is sublime. From here, right now, I can hear the ocean, and the strains of a group of kids singing “God Bless America.” A dog barks. A boy skims past on a skateboard. An August nighttime breeze blows, and for this moment I can forget about impending winter and tragic news in the world outside. It’s a Sunday evening in Ocean Grove, and a church bell chimes. Down at the Daily Grind, home of the best coffee in town, a husband-wife acoustic team called Raphael and Aly croons. Earlier today I saw a “praise band” religious service being held in a tent on the beach, just a few feet away from where a group of goth teens huddled in metal band shirts. Sporting black lipstick, thick eyeliner, and chains, the teens sneakily smoked cigarettes, probably hoping that their parents wouldn’t show up early from church.
This is a diverse place, but it seems to have no divisions. I was watching an elderly woman – probably 90 years old and 90 pounds at her heaviest – as she watched the acoustic music at The Daily Grind. The lady had a cane, and she was bopping it to the beat. She was also lifting her feet and bringing them down as Raphael strummed his guitar. She was in sync with him, and I was digging her digging the music.
All is cool in Ocean Grove, and Ocean Grove is cool for all. In the past two days, I’ve met a fabric designer, a harpist, a multi-pierced rock star, three teachers, a pro baseball player, two attorneys, a construction worker, a “magician” who used to work on Wall Street but now washes the sheets for a B&B, five writers, one painter, a maid who makes great quilts from men’s ties, and a few chefs. I’ve discovered that Bruce Springsteen’s publicity agent lives here, and so does a nice old aqua-haired lady named Alice, who does needlepoint and sings in her church choir.
A Shangri-la of seagulls and a non-commercialized boardwalk, Ocean Grove boasts a dignified row of eateries and shops on the tree-lined Main Avenue. There are no tacky T-shirt joints in sight. No arcades. No water slides or rides. Visitors rent bicycles (the old-fashioned kind: no gears or handlebar brakes) at Ocean Grove Hardware, a wooden-floored establishment with antiques upstairs. The hungry have about ten restaurants from which to choose, including Nagle’s Apothecary Cafe with its collection of old pharmaceutical bottles. In the evenings, people line the sidewalk, waiting patiently for an ice cream cone from Nagle’s takeout window. Another great choice is Ott’s Restaurant, perched on the north end of Ocean Grove’s boardwalk, bordering the edges of Asbury Park. Ott’s menu is reasonably-priced and the food is outstanding, not to mention the view.
Ocean Grove is the quintessential town that time forgot. A National Historic district, the community was founded by Dr. William Osborn, a Methodist minister. The location was just what the doctor ordered: a high beach, thick groves of pine, cedar, and hickory trees, and no mosquitoes. Natural boundaries were made by two lakes and the ocean, with gates across the remaining side. Until 1980, the town gates were closed with chains from midnight Saturday through midnight Sunday. No cars were allowed on the Sabbath. The nickname of the place was “Ocean Grave,” back in those days.
Dr. Osborn and a group of other religious-minded folks joined together in 1869 to form the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association. The association continues to this day. The town is dry, with no alcohol served within the one-mile radius of Ocean Grove. Those with a thirst for alcohol or clubs, though, can make a two-minute drive and be in the hottest music scene around: Asbury Park, home of the famed Stone Pony. I’ve seen a couple of great bands there: Days Awake, Jody Joseph, Big Brother and the Holding Company. The Pony is a happening place, and there are always the rumors of Bruce or Bon Jovi stopping by for a surprise visit. It’s happened, just never when I’m there.
I attended Asbury’s 31st annual Clearwater Festival. Continuing in the Pete Seeger tradition, Clearwater includes lots of environmental and political activism, plenty of kids’ activities, and a Circle of Song. There were lots of hippies young and old, rocking out to the Smithereens and the Maybe Pete band. Singer-songwriter Ken Shane played on the Family Stage, as did George Wirth. It was a great day, and now I’m back in Ocean Grove, as Asbury Park goes dark and people prepare for another week of work.
The center of activity in Ocean Grove is the Great Auditorium, an impressive structure that’s almost football-field size. Featuring speakers and statesmen, opera stars and orchestras, as well as old folkies such as Peter, Paul, and Mary, the Auditorium has been visited by Presidents and personalities from Ulysses S. Grant to Guy Lombardo. Boasting a huge pipe organ, the Great Auditorium offers free organ concerts on summer Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Nestled around the Auditorium are 114 tent structures, with fireproof canvas in the front and cabin/cottages built onto the back. Many of those who own the tents are fourth and fifth generation families: relatives of the original Camp Meeting Methodists. Some say that there s a 30-year waiting period to buy a tent.
The beach, named by USA Today as one of the best in the world, is clean and thong-free. The beach badge, at $7.00 per day, is well-worth the cost.
A perfect example of a 19th century planned urban community, the town is laid out so that the buildings nearest the ocean were built farther back from the street. This created a funnel to capture the sea breezes and channel them westward. This clever plan also allowed most porches along the street to enjoy the ocean view. Savvy innkeepers have lined their porches and balconies with rocking chairs.
Even a loud car radio seems out of place here, where most of the bed and breakfast establishments lock the doors at 11:00.
Claiming the country s largest collection of Victoriana, Ocean Grove offers many lovingly-preserved guest houses and B&Bs. One of the best-known is the Manchester Inn. Reigning upon Ocean Pathway, the Manchester beckons visitors with its huge and welcoming front porch. Located just one block from the ocean, The Manchester’s magic begins with camel back sofas and a Steinway piano in the lobby/common room. Muraled hallways and a collection of antique hand mirrors greet those ascending to one of the many charming guest rooms. There s a Sunday jazz brunch at the Inn’s Secret Garden Restaurant, and murder mystery events throughout the year. Innkeepers Clark and Margaret Cate have brainstormed a litany of popular events that keep the rooms filled throughout the year. There’s a Civil War Re-Enactment Weekend in November and a Chocolate-Lovers party in February and my own Writing by the Seaside in the summertime. The Manchester also offers a Harpists Escape and Spiritual Renewal Weekends.
In the southern part of Ocean Grove is the Sea Spray Inn. The epitome of elegance, the Sea Spray faces both Fletcher Lake and the ocean, giving each and every guest a magnificent panoramic view hard to find anywhere else on the East Coast. There’s a garden that provides flowers for the rooms and herbs for the kitchen, as well as a porch and a second floor wrap-around deck. The formal dining room is used for breakfast, and guests often stray to the porch swing for morning coffee. The house offers all the modern conveniences, such as wireless internet connections and big-screen TV in the living room, but also available are old-fashioned entertainment such as Backgammon and Scrabble. Innkeepers Nancy and Tom Garson seem to have thought of everything, including beach bags in the rooms, towels, chairs, and all the necessities for a trek to the sand.

With a choice of 6 guest rooms, I stayed in the Venetian room, charming with its red and gold theme and elaborate wall fresco. Considered by many to be the most romantic room in the Inn, the Venetian room boats a huge bathroom with a shower built for two. There is also the Asian-themed Birdcage Room, The twin-bedded Rosebud Room, the quaint blue and white Toile Room, the British Colonial Paisley Room with a gentleman’s flair, and the lovely Lavender Room. Located beneath the Sea Spray Inn is Sea Spray Snacks, an informal and easy option for beach-goers.
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A great choice for families with toddlers or teens in tow is the Albatross Hotel, directly across the grass of Ocean Pathway from The Manchester. Owners Bill and Marcie Reiley are parents of a big brood, and cheerfully welcome tousling two-year-olds as well as sulking teens. “This is what life is all about!” says the perpetually unruffled Marcie.
The Albatross offers a clean and cozy stay, with delicious continental breakfast. “I love the cranberry/apple muffins,” raved one young guest as her sister munched on a bowl of Fruity Pebbles.
Guests love to return to The Albatross again and again, and many think of the Inn as their “home away from home.”
For families in search of an informal and comfortable hotel, the Ocean Vista is another fine choice. One of the few boardwalk properties, the Ocean Vista offers the mandatory porch with rockers, a continental breakfast and morning coffee, and affordable prices. That’s important. The house dog Pelle recently passed away, and so his beloved Frisbee, collar, and leash form a poignant altar in the lobby. Guests have been breaking down in tears upon finding that sweet old Pelle has died.
“He was loved,” says Diana Herr, owner/innkeeper. “He was really loved.”
And so is Ocean Grove.

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The Harriman Hikers have been hiking weekly, year-round, in every type of weather imaginable for over 30 years. That said, we feel like we have a good deal of collective experience and knowledge to share regarding winter hiking and making the experience comfortable. Nature has given each season its own unique beauty for each of us to enjoy but many people miss out in cold weather because they fear they will feel uncomfortable or that hiking in such weather is unsafe.
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The areas we hike experience sub-freezing temperatures regularly in the winter (i.e. average winter temperature for Suffern, NY is about 18deg F) but we don’t generally get the frigid, consistently sub-zero lows associated with Canada or New England so where we hike is considered somewhat “temperate” in the big scheme of things! The fact is that if you dress appropriately and follow some simple guidelines you can hike in just about any weather. Ironically, half the battle of being comfortable while hiking in cold weather is staying cool and dry. The other half is staying warm and dry when you aren’t moving around a lot. Here are a few clothing and equipment items that are essential for winter hiking and some tips for staying comfortable:

 

 

Waterproof Boots- Comfortable, broken-in, calf-height (minimum), waterproof boots are indispensable for cold weather hiking. These could be insulated or not (you can build insulation layers with socks and sock liners); the most important quality your boots should have is that they keep your feet dry. You don’t want melting snow or moisture from wet leaves and brush soaking thru your boots. Inevitably there will be a low area that is mushy or you misstep crossing a running brook. When you find yourself ankle-deep in cold muddy water you want to be wearing waterproof footwear. Nor do you want perspiration from your body making your feet wet which brings us to:

 

 

Wear layers of Wick-Away light clothing, underwear and sock liners- “Wick-Away” is a common term for many brands and names of athletic clothing made with the same purpose in mind: This type of clothing draws the moisture (perspiration you create while exerting yourself) away from your body. A big part of staying warm and comfortable in cold weather is staying dry. “Wick-Away” type clothing is generally made of specifically designed synthetic nylon and/or polyester fabric blends. The most important items of clothing in terms of keeping you dry are the items closest to your skin: long underwear bottoms and tops (when it’s cold enough to warrant wearing them) or your bottom shirt and sock liners. On top of this layer wool is often a good choice especially for socks- it helps draw moisture away from your body and it breathes; at the same it is a good insulator meaning it helps keep body heat in and cold out. If it is a secondary layer (as in a sweater) and you start feeling warm from exertion you can always remove it until you stop and begin to feel chilled. Synthetic sock liners can also help those who suffer allergies or itchiness from wool enjoy its benefits while keeping it off their skin. In general, stay away from cotton for cold weather hiking, it absorbs moisture and holds it like a sponge; therefore it is generally a poor choice for cold weather hiking clothing (particularly clothing close to your body where you don’t want that moisture cooling you down). Think of perspiration as a low-tech air-conditioner. When perspiration cools and wind passes over it on your body it has a cooling effect. You need cooling when you are active or if the temperature is warm but perspiration can make you very uncomfortable very quickly after you stop and your heart rate goes back down. Extreme cases of this effect are called hypothermia and can in fact be very dangerous which is why it is important to wear proper clothing. For some reason a chill seems to set in after you’ve stopped, had lunch and your body begins the digestion process. Be prepared for this. Put your layers of clothes back on and you will warm up again. (p.s. we most often hike to a shelter and build a fire in cold weather) You will be much more comfortable if you dress in many layers of light clothing instead of one bulky layer (i.e. heavy winter coat) You will be much more adaptable to keep yourself comfortable as your body temperature changes as you alternately become more active or stop or if the atmospheric temperature or wind changes if you have a number of light layers you can add or remove as needed. Lighter layers also tend to be more form-fitting, making it easier for you to move about and are easier to store economically when not being worn. Start the day wearing lots of light layers and devise a carrying system for yourself that allows you to stow the extra layers conveniently while you are moving and quickly accessible when you start cooling down.

 

 

A Back Pack roomy enough for your extra layers of clothing in addition to your beverages, lunch etc. or has extra stowage straps is recommended. Some prefer fanny packs but these are generally smaller and more suited to warm weather hiking when there is less to wear (and carry). Suit yourself, but please be organized- don’t let constantly needing to fidget and adjust your load distract you from keeping your footing and watching where you
are going or detain your fellow hikers.

 
A Hat that can cover your ears. A large percentage of body heat is expelled thru the head. If your hat or cap has ear flaps or can be rolled up and down, it can do a surprisingly good job of helping you regulate your temperature before adding or removing clothing layers. Some people also fancy a scarf or ascot for their neck but a good outdoor shell jacket will be have likely have been engineered to cover your neck.

 

 

A lightweight Nylon Shell. Your outermost layer should be a light, synthetic shell with a hood. This item of clothing might also be called a wind breaker and is appropriately named as it deflects the wind off you. the shell should be as windproof and waterproof as possible but should also “breathe” (or allow moisture to escape)

 

 

Gloves or Mittens are obvious accessories you should have when hiking in cold weather. Waterproof gloves with separate cloth liners inside are a plus. Some people like hand warmers of which several types are made that can be found at a well-stocked outdoors store.

 

 

A pair of Gaiters. These are waterproof “leggings” that fit around your legs and cover the tops of your feet and boots. Their foremost function is to keep snow or water from getting into your boots over the tops. They also keep your pants legs dry if you find yourself encountering snow or ice-laden underbrush. If you are wearing knee-high gaiters, they serve extra duty in that they provide an extra layer of insulation to keep your body heat in and your lower legs warm.
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Ice Cleats (Crampons) Get the kind with short cleats- the ones with really long tines are overkill and inappropriate for this part of the country 99% of the time. The ones with really long tines are for mountaineering in extreme ice conditions and people who live in areas that experience really deep snow combined with ice for extended periods. Even during snowy times we inevitably end up on bare ground and rocks at some point and sometimes hike along cleared paved roads. In addition to making walking awkward, heavy-duty ice cleats tend to start falling apart pretty quickly. Some lighter duty ice cleats have become available recently that are made so they fit around and over your boot toes and heels using Velcro straps or are similar to galoshes, made of neoprene. These generally have the short cleats on the bottoms (similar to shortspiked golf shoes) and have served our hikers well. Another design using small chrome chains in lieu of spikes has been seen. Yet another design employing lengths of steel spring for traction along the bottoms was tried by a few people but they fell apart after one or two hikes.

Some people have found a walking stick or hiking poles to be helpful for steadying themselves climbing or staying upright in slippery conditions. A bonus of using a pair of hiking poles is that you can use them to add an upper-body and increased respiratory workout to your hike similar to the exercise benefits you receive cross-country skiing or using a Nordic-Trak exercise machine. You can usually find a wooden walking stick of sorts somewhere along the trail courtesy of a dying tree; sometimes other hikers will be good Samaritans and leave a walking stick they have been using at a trail head after they have finished hiking. Hiking poles can be found at many outdoors stores and are most often of a collapsible, telescoping design that makes them easier to stow when not being used. An old pair of ski poles might suit you but if you ski regularly it’s not recommended to use your best (or only) pair for hiking as continually stabbing them into potentially frozen, bare ground or rocks is not the purpose for which they were designed and the tips will likely become damaged or broken.

A thermos of a hot beverage such as coffee, cocoa or soup is a genuine treat that you can carry in your backpack to enjoy during breaks, but you should still carry enough plain drinking water to quench your thirst during the day. Even though the weather is cold, you can still generate a great deal of body heat and lose a lot of water via perspiration while hiking. Don’t forget- you can get dehydrated well before you feel thirsty. If you ski you may have a pair of ski goggles. On a particularly cold, windy or snowy day these could help keep the elements off your face and out of your eyes but these are pretty rare circumstances. A cloth ski mask is something many people find might find hanging around a closet or can be purchased cheaply. There are many outdoors stores in our area (Campmor or Ramsey Outdoor in Paramus, NJ to name a few…) and there are many websites to shop online for the items you will need for winter hiking. You may already have some of these items if you ski. You needn’t spend a fortune to equip yourself for winter hiking but generally speaking (especially where boots are concerned) you are probably better off spending just a little more for better quality items- look at it as investing in your health and fitness: if you are comfortable you are more apt to be motivated to get out more often; the more you get out the better shape you will be in physically. Do you have any winter hiking tips or recommendations of your own to add? Questions about anything discussed here? Need recco’s about places/ brands to shop for winter hiking gear? If so, please email us harrimanhikers@gmail.com. We’ll help you. We appreciate your input! Don’t be a lump this winter- Take a hike!
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