Destination: Red Bank “The City by the Sea”

By Sarah Emily Gilbert 

In the early 1800s, the southern banks of the Navesink River bustled with steamboats, sailboats, and commercial fishermen transporting shellfish and local crops to New York City. In 1908, the area was incorporated into the town of Red Bank, whose name is attributed to the clay found along its coast. Come 2017, you’ll still find sailors and fisherman along these red banks, but you’ll also find young professionals on their way to stand-up paddle yoga. Indeed, some of Red Bank’s 12,200 residents start their day floating on the Navesink River with Flow Paddle Yoga. Others grab a Rook Coffee before walking their dogs past the shops on Broad Street. Many drive fifteen minutes to the Atlantic Highlands to catch the Seastreak Ferry to Wall Street. Only five miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean and a 40-minute cruise to New York City, the 1.7-square-mile town of Red Bank offers urban amenities with Jersey Shore sensibilities. This “city-lite” atmosphere attracts its affluent neighbors from Fair Haven; Shrewsbury; Little Silver; Tinton Falls; and Middletown, along with tourists and young people.

Come summertime, the brick streets of Red Bank are alive with people exploring its art scene. On Front Street and West Front Street, you’ll find several antique shops including the Antique Center of Red Bank, which houses over 100 dealers in two warehouses. StreetLife music and entertainment take place in the business district on Saturdays and select Thursdays in June as couples walk to nearby art galleries. An eclectic array of international artwork can be found at the Beacon Fine Arts Gallery and Chetkin Gallery, but strictly local art inhabits the walls at the non-profit Art Alliance of Monmouth County. At Gotham, a speakeasy-style lounge and gallery, fine art can be savored with a martini until 2 a.m. That allows plenty of time to see a classic or contemporary play at the Two River Theatre that opened in 1994, 68 years after the historic Count Basie Theatre. Named after Red Bank native and jazz great William James “Count” Basie, the theatre brings over 130,000 people to town annually to see big name performers. Along with musicians like Art Garfunkel, Tony Bennett, and Sheryl Crow, the Count Basie hosts locals Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi.

If you miss one of Bon Jovi’s performances, you might find him at his community kitchen, JBJ Soul Kitchen, where diners pay a cash-only donation for a meal. Casual dining options continue at Mr. Pizza Slice, Juanito’s, and Good Karma Vegan Café.For hip eateries, look for the one-word restaurants in town. For happy hour and sushi, it’s Teak; for authentic Italian, it’s Taste; for brunch, it’s Toast; for seafood, it’s Catch; and for seasonal plates, it’s Dish. For a quality beer list, head to The Dublin House or Red Rock Tap + Grill, which has outdoor rooftop dining. For a glass of wine, or sips of many, there’s Faustini Tasting Room and Wine Shop.

The Molly Pitcher Inn offers a taste of history. Along with a dining room overlooking the Navesink River, the 1928 Colonial Revival style hotel has stunning rooms for weddings and other events. The same goes for its luxurious sister hotel, The Oyster Point. The lavishness continues at Garmany, a 40,000-square-foot department store complete with a tailor shop, bar and lounge, and movie theatre. A 50-foot wall of Valentino, Christian Louboutin, and Jimmy Choo shoes awaits discerning shoppers at CoCo Pari. Equally impressive are the jewels and gems at Tiffany & Co., Leonardo Jewelers, and Goldtinker. Fashion girls head to Dor L’DorCabana 19Sorella Bella, and Madison to capture that urban-beach look, while their male counterparts shop Carbone’s Clothing Co., Castello, and Urban Outfitters. Little cuties are welcomed at Lil’ Cutie Pops for all things sweet, including a kids baking club, and furry cuties are embraced at Paws for a Cause. This unique pet shop sells organic treats and toys made out of recycled materials. They only carry products made by small, American businesses, and a portion of their sales go to those who cannot afford pet care.

During the warm weather months, the Jersey Shore takes the stage. Residents can reach the charming beach town of Sea Bright in twenty minutes, or go ten minutes further north to catch some rays at Sandy Hook, which is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. If they’re looking to stay local, they can rent a rowboat from the Red Bank Marina or drop a line off of Chris’s River Plaza to catch some Navesink Blue Claws. The River Plaza neighbors The Galleria, a 1917 uniform factory that now houses boutiques, restaurants, offices, and over 30 vendors every Sunday at the Red Bank Farmers Market. There’s also the two-acre Riverside Garden Park that won several design awards since its creation in 2000. Every Thursday night in July and August, crowds are beckoned to Riverside’s Jazz in the Park by the syncopated rhythms of saxophones. On Wednesday evenings, the sounds are more peaceful as yoga or Pilates is taught on the Park’s outdoor stage during Fitness in the Park. 

The town keeps the energy alive with events held throughout the summer and into the fall. The five-day Indie Street Festivalreturns to venues across Red Bank from July 26-30 to provide emerging independent filmmakers industry opportunities, regardless of their budget size. At last year’s inaugural festival, over 75 films were screened, and the winners from each category received a minimum one-week release in New York City. Also in July is the Red Bank Sidewalk Sale, which is followed by the Red Bank Guinness Oyster Festival on September 24, marking summer’s end. As its name suggests, the annual event brings a healthy supply of oysters and beer to the town’s streets, along with music and food from local restaurants.

On rainy days, the Red Bank Armory Ice Complex is available for open skating. Built in 1914, the armory originally held the National Guard’s Red Bank Calvary, but it’s now home to an ice rink and several local hockey leagues. Pac-Man and Space Invaders are ready to be played at the classic video game arcade, YESTERcades, while adventure awaits at The Trap Door Escape Room. This real-life, interactive game locks a team of people into a room and challenges them to complete a scavenger hunt that uncovers the key to the door.

Luckily, the door is always open in Red Bank. Named the third-best small town in the U.S. by Smithsonian Magazine and “Best Downtown Arts District” by Discover Jersey Arts People’s Choice Awards, it’s clear that this little borough packs a big punch. Located at the intersection of New York City and the Jersey Shore, Red Bank, New Jersey is the summer destination for 2017.