Yuppies discover the Jersey Shore; The oceans and beaches are cleaner and new restaurants are open; Lower-priced than the Hamptons


LOVELADIES, N.J. -- When Carrie and David Harmon went out to the Hamptons in their pre-parenthood years, David Harmon packed a blue blazer, khakis and a pair of bucks, and the couple, both lawyers, typically ate at expensive places like the Palm restaurant.

When they made the switch to the Jersey Shore three years ago, he left the blazer at home but brought the khakis and bucks. This summer, for their two-week vacation in this Long Beach Island community, where soaring contemporary homes rise from the dunes, his wardrobe consisted of shorts and T-shirts.

"Now he's dressed up if the shirt doesn't have a hole in it," said Carrie Harmon, as the foamy surf washed over her calves. "I don't put on makeup, and my hair's in a ponytail. It's so much more relaxed. We're not checking ourselves in the mirror."

The Jersey Shore, long thought of as the uncool cousin of the Hamptons and Fire Island, is undergoing something of a renaissance. More and more, it is attracting refugees from the traffic and trendiness of the Hamptons, people who want a reasonably priced rental and a long white beach.

It is not just that the Hamptons have scared some souls away. The Jersey Shore itself has changed, particularly in places like Long Beach Island and the genteel towns of Sea Girt and Spring Lake farther north.

The ocean and beaches are cleaner than they have been in years. And a few sleek restaurants that would look right at home in SoHo have opened, offering an alternative to fried seafood platters and lobster-trap decor.

"It's a funny way to gauge things, but years ago the automobiles were sort of Chevrolets and Buicks, but now it's BMW's and Mercedeses," said Arthur C. Bennett, who, with his wife, Kay Brover, just bought a house at the peaceful northern end of Long Beach Island in the town of Barnegat Light. "You also see a lot more New York license plates."

The couple, who live on Riverside Drive on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, could certainly afford to be in the Hamptons. He is the chief human resources officer at the Dime Savings Bank; she is a director of sales at the high-end real estate agency DDouglas Elliman. But they both like the break that Long Beach Island provides from their weeknight regimen of cultural outings and social events.

"Personally, I don't like the Hamptons," Bennett said. "I work in midtown, and there's no restaurant I haven't been to. You take that whole scene and stick it 120 miles east, and forget it."

Ms. Brover said: "We wanted a respite from that. We love the fact that we don't know anybody here."

Yes, there are still towns that scream "Jersey Shore," where boardwalks bustle with tattooed bodies and blaring radios, where amusement rides whir, video arcades and bingo halls beckon and shops like Ooh La-La, at the southern end of Long Beach Island, sell glow-in-the-dark paper towel holders shaped like fish with big lips and sunglasses.

And some vacationers say they favor the Jersey Shore over other beach resorts precisely because of what they affectionately called the "schlock."

"The Jersey Shore has the tacky stores and the hoagie shops, and I love that," said Kathy Schiffer, 50, a divorced mother of two now renting a house for five weeks in Loveladies, Long Beach Island's wealthiest community.

But the professionals choosing the Jersey Shore over the east end of Long Island gingerly sidestep those locales for the northern half of Long Beach Island, as well as places like Spring Lake. Long Beach Island is especially popular among young parents who appreciate the relatively easy commute, the miniature-golf courses and the multitude of ice cream parlors.

For David Harmon, who loved the summers he spent in Westhampton as a boy and a young man, the Jersey Shore started to look more attractive when he had two boys and moved from Manhattan to Short Hills, N.J., a few years ago.

"The Hamptons are a happening place for single people," said Harmon, a partner in a New York law firm. "They are magnificent, and there's a lot more glamour there. But I'm 40 years old, have two kids and live in New Jersey, and this makes a lot more sense for me now."

Spring Lake, on the other hand, is emerging as a stylish place for Wall Street singles.

Perhaps no place reflects the changing sensibility of the Jersey Shore as much as the Warren Hotel, a 19th-century Tudor-style establishment in Spring Lake that has become the place for singles to drink strawberry daiquiris and be seen in the setting sun. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the hotel's outdoor pool bar draws as many as 500 tanned young people on the grassy lawn.

Five years ago, the same bar attracted maybe 10 or 20 hotel guests and older patrons, and one bartender was sufficient. Today, there are 10 bartenders.

"I don't know how it happened but they started coming here, and now they come by the droves," said Mary Russell, the hotel's owner. "It's a very yuppie scene."

But in the last few years, renters have noticed changes, and some worry that the excesses of the Hamptons may be drifting their way.

"There are still women who wear shorts at night, but now you also see them in their downtown dresses and heels," said Marty Moore, an advertising saleswoman who lives on the Upper West Side and who has rented a house with friends for six years in Sea Girt.

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