The story of Long Branch, N.J., is embedded in the slats of its oceanfront piers and boardwalk, which stretch back centuries. In the 1800s, this Monmouth County beach community lured presidents and performers as a premier Jersey Shore resort destination, then fell into disrepair in the late 20th century as suburban shopping centers siphoned customers from local businesses. Crime rose and neighborhoods became blighted, symbolized by a 1987 fire that destroyed an amusement pier.
The city began its comeback with new investments in the 1990s, and rebuilt the boardwalk after it was all but destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Now it’s lined with new condo construction. And the pier that burned in 1987 has become Pier Village, an upscale mixed-use development.
The redevelopment extends inland, with plans for new residential and mixed-use buildings around the train station and along a section of Broadway (although that project is currently stalled because of litigation involving developers).
Through it all, this city of about 30,000 residents has leaned on its one constant asset — more than four miles of Atlantic Ocean shoreline.
That’s what drew Kelly Krystopowicz, a corporate training consultant and surfer, to Long Branch — twice: first in 2009, and again this year, when Ms. Krystopowicz, 39, and her husband, Allen Rodriguez, 46, a telecommunications technical product manager and also a surfer, returned after a 10-year stint in San Diego. The couple spent $220,000 for a one-bedroom condo in a 1950s garden complex and plan to spend summers there, while living most of the year in San Diego.
“We walk down to the beach almost daily,” Ms. Krystopowicz said. “I love summer here. It’s so much less crowded and congested than San Diego.”
Seeing all the redevelopment in Long Branch “made us feel more comfortable investing in the condo,” she said. “It tells us that there’s a demand there.”
Best of all, the couple’s 2-year-old son “loves the ocean as much as we do.”
Nancy Pavelka, 58, a retired teacher, and her husband, Bernard Fryer, 65, a physical therapist, live in a three-bedroom house that Mr. Fryer bought in June 2019 for $345,000, shortly before their marriage. Mr. Fryer has lived in Long Branch for many years, while Ms. Pavelka lived in neighboring towns. As an interracial couple, the two appreciate the city’s ethnic and economic diversity. According to 2019 U.S. Census Bureau estimates, Long Branch’s population is 52 percent non-Hispanic white, 30 percent Hispanic and 16 percent Black. Nearly a third of its residents are immigrants.
The couple visited the 38-acre Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park almost every day last summer with Ms. Pavelka’s 23-year-old daughter, who is paraplegic and uses a wheelchair. “The lifeguards would take my daughter into the ocean on their breaks,” Ms. Pavelka said. “That was really beautiful.”
What You’ll Find
Long Branch offers a wide range of housing styles in its roughly five square miles, including new waterfront condos, garden apartment complexes and prewar homes on small lots. “It’s a few different towns in one,” said Theresa L. Capuano, an agent with Berkshire Hathaway Fox & Roach Realtors, in nearby Middletown.
As in other, farther-out communities, Long Branch has seen a recent influx of buyers from New York City and northern New Jersey, many seeking either primary residences or weekend getaways since the Covid-19 pandemic made working remotely a possibility. Compared with other shore housing markets that depend on seasonal rentals, Long Branch has more year-round residents, including students at Monmouth University in neighboring West Long Branch, Ms. Capuano said.
Long Branch also increasingly appeals to retirees. “We’ve seen lots of empty nesters who sell the single-family home and buy a condo on or near the ocean,” said George Jackson, the city’s business administrator.
What You’ll Pay
Home prices and sales volume have risen sharply in the past year. According to the Monmouth Ocean Regional Realtors association, 273 condos sold in the year ending Oct. 31, at a median price of $649,000, up from 150 condo sales at a median of $545,000 in the previous 12 months. There were 199 sales of single-family homes, at a median price of $509,000, in the year ending Oct. 31, compared with 146 sales at a median price of $442,000 in the previous 12 months.
A recent review of the Monmouth Ocean multiple listing service found 63 properties on the market, ranging from a one-bedroom condo in a garden complex listed for $199,900 to a six-bedroom oceanfront mansion listed for $11 million.
With demand on the rise, “there’s bidding wars for everything,” said Rose Tawil, an agent with Brokers 3 Realtors in Shrewsbury, N.J.
The beach and boardwalk remain at the heart of Long Branch living, drawing swimmers, surfers, sunbathers and walkers. Pier Village’s shops and restaurants are popular, as are waterfront restaurants like Rooney’s, McLoone’s Pier House, Sirena Ristorante, Avenue, and Charley’s Ocean Grill.
“You go to a restaurant on the waterfront, you feel like you’re on vacation,” said Cathy Ades of Cathy Ades Real Estate in West Long Branch.
Inland, several pedestrian-friendly business districts, including the West End and Broadway, offer a variety of stores and restaurants. Nightlife options include Mix Lounge & Food Bar, Long Branch Distillery, The Whitechapel Projects, and Beach Bee Meadery, which specializes in meads and ciders.
Long Branch also has a nonprofit professional theater, New Jersey Repertory Company, founded in 1997 with a mission to produce new plays. And fans of horse racing can place their bets at Monmouth Park, a racetrack in nearby Oceanport.
The Long Branch Public Schools district serves about 5,800 students in eight schools — three for prekindergarten and kindergarten, three for kindergarten through grade five, a middle school and Long Branch High School. More than 80 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, according to the New Jersey Department of Education. About 58 percent are Hispanic, 25 percent are white and 13.7 percent are Black. For the 2019-20 school year, reading and writing SAT scores averaged 448 and math scores averaged 450, compared with statewide averages of 536 in both.
Families also have a number of private school options in the area, including the Rumson Country Day School, in Rumson; the Ranney School, a pre-K-12 school in Tinton Falls; St. Jerome School, a Catholic elementary school in West Long Branch; and Red Bank Catholic High School in Red Bank. In addition, the Monmouth County Vocational School District has five career academies for high school students, focusing on subjects that include technology, health, communications and marine science.
From the New Jersey Transit train station in Long Branch, the trip to New York’s Penn Station takes about 90 minutes, with a one-way fare of $16.25, or $463 monthly. The train station makes Long Branch “very appealing from a commuter standpoint,” said Anna Garifine, broker at Re/Max Synergy in Long Branch.
Another choice is the Seastreak ferry, which leaves from Highlands, eight miles north. The ride to New York City ranges from 45 minutes to an hour and 20 minutes, and costs $28 one-way, or $695 for a package of 40 trips.
Long Branch is about five miles east of Exit 105 on the Garden State Parkway. The drive to Manhattan takes a little over an hour with no traffic, though it can be much longer in rush hour.
Long Branch, named for a branch of the Shrewsbury River on the north side of the city, made itself one of the premier summer resorts of the 19th century, with mansions and hotels serving high-profile visitors and performers including the actress Lillian Russell, the soldier and showman Buffalo Bill Cody and the sharpshooter Annie Oakley. Starting in 1869, six presidents — Arthur, Garfield, Grant, Hayes, Harrison and McKinley — spent summer vacations in Long Branch, and Woodrow Wilson summered in nearby West Long Branch. This history is commemorated at Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park, the Monmouth County-run beach.