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An entertaining Jersey Shore getaway in a former Salvation Army: An eclectic stay at The Asbury Hotel

Sept. 10, 2022
14 min read
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As a born and raised Jersey Girl, I have a long history with Asbury Park.

I’ve visited the beach town made famous by Bruce Springsteen since I was a child intent on taking a spin on the indoor carousel (now defunct). I came back as a teen for the rock scene at the still-kicking Stone Pony. And I've been returning as an adult to check out the reenergized boardwalk, which has been transformed into a vibrant destination with indie boutiques and trendy restaurants, creating a cool strand along the Atlantic Ocean shore.

One thing I've never done, though, is spend the night — I've always hit the sand then headed back at the end of the day. Why pay to stay when I could drive home in an hour?

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Then I caught sight of the stylish offerings at The Asbury Hotel, just two blocks off the sand. With a pool, rooftop bar, multiple entertainment spaces and a price tag that wouldn't break the bank, I was finally persuaded that it was indeed time to sleep by the beach.

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MELISSA KLURMAN/THE POINTS GUY

Quick take

The Asbury Hotel is more than just a simple place to stay. It’s an entertainment venue and hipster hangout housed in a sprawling, red brick building that started life as a Salvation Army outpost in the 1950s. If those original tenants could see it now, they would be amazed.

The lobby stretches across the entire footprint of the first floor and feels like a cool communal workspace combined with a bar and lounge — think a WeWork with cocktails and beach vibes. Up on the roof, there's the open-air Salvation bar with 360-degree views stretching to the ocean and around the neighborhood. On a terrace a few floors down, there’s an alfresco movie theater, The Baronet, that shows throwback crowd favorites — like Mamma Mia and Dr. Strangelove — Thursday through Sunday evenings during the summer.

Back downstairs, push past the lobby to find the Soundbooth bar and live music venue, an open and airy space stocked with classic vinyl that's brighter and more inviting than any other local music spot I've visited. Out back there's a sceney pool with, yes, another bar. Oh, and behind the pool is Asbury Lanes, a sister property that bills itself as a bar/bowling alley/concert space/retro diner.

In other words: If you're bored here, you need to get your pulse checked.

Related: Finding luxury at the Jersey Shore: My stay at the Asbury Ocean Club Hotel

MELISSA KLURMAN/THE POINTS GUY

Getting there

Asbury Park is easily accessible from New York City Penn's Station via New Jersey Transit's Coastal Line rail service for just $16.25 each way, or $32.50 round trip. The trip takes between 90 minutes and two hours depending on train schedules. You'll arrive at Asbury Park's train station, which is about a 15-minute walk or five-minute ride from the hotel.

The airport closest to the funky beach town is Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) which is about a 55-minute drive. New York City's LaGuardia (LGA) and John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) are about a 90-minute trip without traffic, but could take more than two hours during busy times.

I drove from another beach town (Atlantic City, about a 90-minute drive) and paid $45 plus tax for valet parking per night.

Booking details

The 110 guest rooms at The Asbury come in a variety of sizes including standard queen, king and double rooms plus a number of suites -- with a few truly unique options, including a "quad" with two sets of bunk beds and the "octo" comprising four sets of bunk beds and plenty of hangout space for a grownup group sleepover.

Rates start at a low $180 for offseason November mid-week evenings (when truthfully, it would be a little cold to spend much time here) to around $600 on a prime summer Saturday night for a king room and $800 a night for a multi-person bunk room.

The Asbury Hotel is part of IHG's Mr. & Mrs. Smith hotel partnership and you can use IHG points to book a Mr. & Mrs. Smith stay. Points stays, when there's availability, start at around 40,000 per night for either a queen or a quad room. Paid stays booked through the Mr. and Mrs. Smith portal include a bottle of wine and two free drink tokens redeemable at one of three locations on the property.

However, you cannot book The Asbury Hotel directly through IHG if you don't want to utilize the Mr. & Mrs. Smith partnership. Since doing that would cost more and really only would include alcohol, and I was traveling with my underaged teen, I chose to book directly through the hotel and paid $445 plus tax for a Tuesday night stay in mid-July, the cheapest offering I could find during the peak summer season.

My total came to $588 after taxes and the resort fee. The $29 "amenities" fee covered the usual hotel amenities such as "free" Wi-Fi and pool towels, but happily also included two coupons for a beverage and a breakfast sandwich at The Counter, which I was told could be used on any drink and food combo during my stay. The breakfast sandwich and hot beverage combo for two is easily a $29 value since coffee drinks clock in at around $5 and many sandwiches are $10.

Related: From Sri Lanka to the Arctic: 35 amazing Mr & Mrs Smith hotels to book through IHG Rewards

Standout features

  • Every time I set foot in the hotel's always-hopping first floor, I found something else to make me want to stay and play, including The Counter, where the matcha lattes were better than almost anywhere else I've tried them, and the free pinball machine in the game area and the deep vinyl collection at Soundbooth kept me occupied for an hour.
  • A pool at the Jersey Shore is really a treat, and this one, with a bar for cocktails, a "beer bus" and plenty of lounge chairs and shaded seating, almost made me forget there was a beach nearby.
  • I've been to Asbury Park dozens of times, but the view from the rooftop bar was the first time I've seen the city splayed out at my feet. The breezes and the views — especially of Asbury Park's Art Deco Convention Hall with the Atlantic just beyond — would get me to come back again.
MELISSA KLURMAN/THE POINTS GUY

Drawbacks

  • Even though the hotel is two blocks from the beach, it doesn’t offer any beach supplies to rent or borrow, so if you didn't pack your own chair or umbrella, you're out of luck.
  • There’s no free coffee. I get it, not every hotel room has to have a coffee maker, but if that's the case an urn of coffee in the lobby goes a long way toward pleasing travelers. A $5 cup of morning Joe, on the other hand, forces me to get up on the wrong side of the bed.
  • Don't count on seeing a movie or a music show at one of the hotels' venues if you book early in the week. Monday and Tuesday are slow days here with no programming of this type scheduled — a lesson I learned the hard way with my early-in-the-week stay. Arrive closer to the weekend to have full access to all the hotel's entertainment.
MELISSA KLURMAN/THE POINTS GUY

The vibe

If you'd rather have the party come to you than go out to find the action, the Asbury Hotel is going to be your perfect getaway.

Even though I checked in on a quiet Tuesday afternoon, there was a flower arranging workshop taking place at several communal tables adjacent to The Counter, the hotel's all-day grab-and-go snack and coffee bar (the check-in desk adjoins The Counter). In another section of the downstairs space, the game room area was so spacious that it had bleacher-style seating, all the better for spectating a billiards match that was taking place when I arrived.

Across the lobby, guests played board games and relaxed in a sunken, living room-style space filled with couches in bright pops of sea blue with woven lamps hanging overhead and a wall of Panama hats that made for a perfect Instagram background, as evident by the aspiring influencers taking photos.

During the week, the laid-back clientele at the pool ranged from a young couple with a baby to what seemed to be a mid-week bachelorette party enjoying mid-morning cocktails. As the day progressed, an artsy crowd slowly filled the public spaces, picking up drinks at the Counter and Soundspace, posing for lots (and lots) of photos and getting more animated as the sun set.

The room

Once you leave the leisurely pursuits of the first floor, and before you get to the rooftop spaces, things are a lot less interesting. Traversing the long, dark hallways on the way to my double room was the first time I could sense a bit of the Salvation Army past here. Rooms are spartan with an Ikea-warehouse meets bare-bones beach aesthetic. But they’re spacious enough and feel bright and clean.

I really liked the black and white photos of the Jersey Shore circa the 1950s, around the time the building was erected, but it felt like someone gave up on the design after completing 80% of the room. There were no touches of color, save one turquoise desk chair. While there were outlets and USB lightning ports at the bedside, there was not a single accessible outlet near the desk, the only other piece of furniture in the room.

On the other hand, the rooms were surprisingly soundproof, and the white, subway-tiled bathroom had plenty of elbow room as well as Malin + Goetz products.

The message the room gives you is clear: The hotel is designed for you to enjoy the public spaces and spend less time in your accommodation.

Food and drink

If you want a cocktail, you've come to the right place. There's no sit-down restaurant in the hotel, but you can choose from an array of classic or creative drinks from the same menu in the lobby's Soundbooth bar, at rooftop Salvation, or by the pool. I sampled an Asbury No. 1 ($14), a sweet mix of Milagro tequila, fresh watermelon juice, lime, and simple syrup at Salvation that was the perfect pink accompaniment to the sunset views. To be honest, the early-in-the-week, early-sunset drink didn't really showcase Salvation at its best, since it was pretty quiet when I was there. But the ocean breeze, views and comfy couches still made it a pleasant experience. Note that Salvation has a strict 21+ policy — even on sleepy Tuesdays — so I couldn't bring my teen upstairs with me.

Still thirsty? There's also a retrofitted turquoise VW bus at the pool that serves craft brews on tap.

For a different kind of buzz, the all-day lobby spot, The Counter, has baristas to brew up caffeinated concoctions. Since I run mostly on caffeine, I sampled a regular drip coffee, a cappuccino, a cold brew and a matcha latte during my 24-hour stay and all were excellent. This is also where guests can pick up grab-and-go snacks, including muffins and pastries ($4), premade sandwiches (I had a turkey option, $10, that was as unremarkable as you'd expect from a refrigerated wrap) and hot breakfast sandwiches (from $7 for a bacon, egg and cheese to $10 for the "morning after" with shaved sirloin, fried egg, Monterey jack and peppers).

For breakfast the morning of my stay, I headed out past the pool to the free-standing Asbury Lanes, a sister property to the hotel, which has a kitschy diner attached. The diner serves breakfast and then lunch items, and is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. I ordered a healthy-sounding avocado toast ($16) that managed to incorporate stacked layers of bacon and eggs — so maybe not so healthy, but definitely hearty.

Amenities and service

If you're here in the summer months, the pool's the thing that really sets The Asbury Hotel apart. Most Jersey Shore hotel pools are an aside; a "here it is if you need it, but you'll probably go the beach anyway" kind of situation. Not here. The pool area, accessed from the back of the first-floor lobby and encompassing the entire "backyard" of the hotel, is a social hub and a centerpiece, with rows of bright yellow lounge chairs for daytime sunning, well-shaded seating areas (some with swings, too), cocktail service and a party soundtrack playing in the background. I had a hard time dragging myself away to go explore the beach.

On the negative side, I found check-in to be slow and the front desk to be inconsistent. The person who checked me in didn't mention any special offers or amenities beyond what my resort fee breakfast vouchers covered. The next morning, however, when I asked for directions to breakfast, the new person on duty offered me 25% off coupons for the diner and also told me about a free car service for downtown restaurants.

Out and about

Although it's tempting to spend the day and evening at The Asbury Hotel, you'll want to get out and explore Asbury Park since there's lots going on in this vibrant beach town — including a well-maintained stretch of sand for some waterside tanning and relaxing.

I've always spent time eating and shopping on the boardwalk, but this trip I finally made it downtown (about a 15-minute walk from the hotel) to check out the offerings on the main thoroughfare, Cookman Avenue. Even on a Tuesday night, restaurants were full and patrons were spilling out onto the sidewalk, giving the whole stretch a more urban downtown feel than a beach vibe. I grabbed an outdoor table at Homesick, a restaurant that focuses on local produce and seafood, and ordered an heirloom tomato and cornbread appetizer that brought all the tastes of summer to my plate — a true chef's kiss dish.

The popular Asbury Festhalle & Biergarten, a local brewery and beer hall adjacent to Asbury Park Distilling, was closed during my visit, but Asbury Brewery was full all night.

MELISSA KLURMAN/THE POINTS GUY

Back on the beach, I was able to see the boardwalk lit up from end to end, including the Asbury Park Casino — where I once rode the carousel — which now hosts rotating art exhibits; Madam Marie’s, a fortune-telling booth made famous in The Boss' song, "4th of July, Asbury Park;" on down to the 1930s Asbury Park Convention Hall now filled with only-here shops and snack stands.

Back on the boards, check out the Silverball Museum, a collection of antique pinball machines and arcade games with unlimited play for a set price of $10 a person for 30 minutes, $15 for an hour or $20 for all day.

Checking out

The Asbury Hotel made my first overnight in Asbury Park a memorable experience. I loved being able to sit at a true resort pool while enjoying cocktail service and ocean breezes, which made my local, one-night stay feel like a real vacation. Exploring downtown in the evening and returning to a lively hotel lobby scene was another top perk. I'm already planning a return stay but will come later during the week so I can enjoy an outdoor movie at the Baronet and live music at the Soundbooth.

Featured image by (Photo by Melissa Klurman/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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  • Annual Fee

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

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  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases