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As Quiet as a Grove

I'm no regular churchgoer, but in Ocean Grove I like to stroll down Pilgrim Pathway at 9 a.m. and listen to bold Methodist hymns emanating from Janes Tabernacle, where the adults meet, and often enough I find myself wandering in to sing along and absorb the day's lesson.

Then it's back to the room to change into swimming trunks, with the front door left open so the sea breeze can barrel through the gauzy curtain fitted to the doorway of every room for just that purpose.

The stock of Victorian houses in Ocean Grove, N.J., has sparked a recent restoration boom. (Angus Phillips)

My wife's favorite feature in our room at the House by the Sea was a handmade, baby blue crocheted cover for the spare toilet paper roll in the bathroom.

"A toilet paper cozy," she gushed. "You won't find that in a Hampton Inn."

Escape Keys

GETTING THERE: It takes a little more than three hours to drive to Ocean Grove, N.J., from Washington. Take I-95 north to the New Jersey Turnpike, then I-195 east (Exit 7A) to the shore and work your way north when the highway ends.

EATING: If you like wine with your dinner, bring some, as no alcohol is sold in Ocean Grove. The best restaurant in town is Capt. Jack's (68 Main Ave.), where you may bring your own bottle. The menu is upscale American cuisine, from beef to seafood, with main courses running $15 to $25. There are a number of sandwich and pizza places on Main, and no one should leave Ocean Grove without enjoying an ice cream at Nagles (43 Main) or Days (48 Pitman Ave.), two emporiums where crowds line up for cones and sundaes. There's a wonderful Italian restaurant, La Nonna Piancone's, just south of Ocean Grove on Route 71 in Bradley Beach, and a grand old seafood place, Bahr's, 20 miles north in the town of Highlands. Main courses at both are in the $15 to $25 range.

WHERE TO STAY: There are scores of small hotels and bed-and-breakfasts, most of which have double rooms for less than $100 a night. Even the oceanfront hotels on Ocean Avenue have rooms without a water view for $75 or so. At the House by the Sea (14 Ocean Ave., 732-774-4771, www.travelguides.com/bb/house_by_the_sea), rates run $75 to $120 through mid-September. The well-located Ocean Plaza Hotel, (18 Ocean Pathway, 888-891-9442, www.ogplaza.com), another Victorian, is open year-round with "quiet season" rates of $75 to $165 starting in October. In most of these hotels, rooms are small, and don't expect to find high-end electronics. But every property has a porch, and almost all include continental breakfast.

WHAT TO DO: Swim and bodysurf, of course, and worship if you like. The church organizes some evening concerts, often free, and big Saturday shows at the Great Auditorium (732-775-0035; www.oceangrovenj.com/auditorium.htm) at the juncture of Ocean Pathway and Pilgrim Pathway. The last show of the summer season is Sept. 11, featuring the Orchestra of St. Peter by the Sea. Tennis courts are available at $5 an hour on Fletcher Lake Avenue. It's fun just to walk around Ocean Grove, admiring the gingerbread construction. One rainy day, we drove 20 miles north to Sandy Hook, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area (732-872-5790, www.nps.gov/gate), where the beaches are relatively uncrowded and there's an interesting museum at the old lifesaving station. Admission is $10 a car if you plan to stay long, but the rangers let us in for a drive-around at no cost. From the entrance to Sandy Hook, cross the bridge to Highlands and tour the twin Navesink Lighthouses on Lighthouse Road, off Route 36 (free, 732-872-1814, www.njlhs.burlco.org/twinlights.htm).

INFO: Ocean Grove Chamber of Commerce, 800-388-GROVE, www.oceangrovenj.com.

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