- Special Features
Blogs & Columns
- Fun & Games
We’ve all thought about it at one time or another- the idea of pulling the pin on the rat race and moving to the beach is too appealing to ignore.
Unfortunately, for most of us it’s a pipe dream, or so we’ve been told. But for Mary Ellen and Eric that dream became a reality. After a decade or so of trudging through the corporate world, they met, fell in love, got married, and, four years ago, decided to move to the beach and open a bed & breakfast. After exploring their options, they settled on Ocean Grove, NJ, where they opened the Sea Spray Inn. After spending a recent, snowy weekend there, I can say without hesitation that they found their calling and have created a beach retreat that feels like a home away from home.
Despite living in New York and Philadelphia for the past 20 years, I had never heard of the town of Ocean Grove. Ideally situated right in the middle of the Jersey coastline at mile marker 100, it is easily accessible by either train or car from New York and a straight shot across 195 from the northern Philadelphia area. Encompassing approximately one square mile in the middle of the coastline, Ocean Grove has a boardwalk that links Asbury Park to the North and Bradley Beach to the south, extending nearly eight miles along the Jersey shore.
Founded in 1869 as a Victorian camp meeting site, Ocean Grove has undergone a revitalization in recent years, but still retains all of its original charm. The small main street is filled with quaint shops, restaurants and ice cream parlors, and boasts the highest concentration of Victorian architecture in the country. In short, it’s quintessential small town America. Picture Bedford Falls from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but on the beach. Honestly, on our quick walk to the Sea Grass restaurant on picturesque Main street in a snowstorm, I half expected to run into Jimmy Stewart. (FYI, it’s a dry town – just like its Southern NJ sister town, Ocean City – so be sure to stop at the wine/beer/liquor store on your way to town for any adult beverages you may want to take to dinner during your stay).
The Sea Spray Inn is ideally situated only 2 blocks from the beach and right on Fletcher lake, with unobstructed views of the ocean from most of the guest rooms. A planned community, the streets in Ocean Grove were built on the setback concept, meaning each house is successively set back slight from the one before in the 2 blocks leading away from the beach, affording a view of the ocean from each home (albeit in exchange for a smaller yard!).
The Inn has eight rooms in total, each with a private bath and all the amenities you could want to make your stay comfortable. The innkeepers have updated almost all of the rooms adding their own personal touches with an eye towards maximum comfort. While my husband often shies away from the B&B scene, he thoroughly enjoyed our stay and was quite happy with the flat screen TV, king sized bed, and claw foot soaking tub, complete with bath salts.
On Saturdays, the Innkeepers provide a wine and cheese reception for guests, which is a nice way to unwind from the day or travels and meet with other guests before dinner. The cheese (and sumptuous breadsticks) are sourced from a local shop and the opportunity to unwind in front of the fireplace while watching the snow fall over the lake was priceless.
It's no secret that the Jersey Shore was hit pretty hard last year when superstorm Sandy came to down and took large portions of the beach with her. The Sea Spray fared pretty well in the storm, but some renovations have now happened, perhaps a little sooner than originally planned, due to a small amount of damage. Mary Ellen and Eric poured all their efforts into renovating and opened last season to record bookings, proving that Jersey is indeed stronger than the storm!
But, let’s be honest. Anyone who’s spent even a single night in a B&B knows full well that, regardless of the town, the property or the amenities, the difference between a simple “place to stay” and a truly memorable experience is purely the quality of the innkeepers. And in this category, The Sea Spray really shines. From the moment you walk in the door you are made to feel welcome. Running an inn is a delicate dance, knowing when to give space to your guests and when to dote on them, and Eric and Mary Ellen have a knack for knowing how to put people at ease. Then again, if your stomach really is the way to your heart, then you had me at the breakfast scones.
I know that many B&B's are known for their breakfasts, but having stayed in quite a few Inns in my day I feel it is fair to say that the cheesecake stuffed french toast and the cranberry orange scones may be some of the most delectable breakfast food I have yet encountered. Not to mention the crumb cake, with it's perfect ratio of top to bottom, is not to be missed! Prior to settling on the B&B, Mary Ellen considered turning to baking as a full time endeavor, and without a doubt she would have made an equal success of that. Thankfully for him, Eric doesn't have a huge sweet tooth, so his waistline has held up well to the day-to-day temptation of her baking creations. But for the guests Mary Ellen is constantly tweaking the fare based on feedback, personal preferences or special requests.
The Sea Spray has a following of loyal customers, so be sure to book summer weeks early to avoid disappointment. Or take a page from our book and go in the off season where you can have the place to yourself and enjoy a low key time at the beach. The weather certainly didn't stop us from taking a leisurely stroll on the boardwalk.
In short, if you are looking for a romantic weekend away, a girls trip or even a quiet solo retreat to the beach, the Sea Spray Inn has something to offer you. The one thing they don't allow is children under 12. Which, having two children under the age of three, sounds just perfect to me!