As a true-life Jersey Girl, to me, the shore is the mark of many: the destination I inadvertently end up most weekends, a place where every beach house, no matter the size, has at least 14 mattresses, lit-up and almost tacky sprawling boardwalks, and the biggest hub of the best bars and the coolest people I can come across.
With only a few weekends left in the summer, I decided it may be time to take my shore life to new horizons – the horizons of the Hamptons, that is. The Hamptons are sort of like the Jersey Shore of the North in the fact that similar to how New Jerseyans flock to the Shore every Friday afternoon May through September, New Yorkers hop on 495 and head to the Hamptons on their summer weekends.
The difference is that the Hamptons have an intoxicating smell of money.
Driving into Southampton, a traffic-ridden drive of about four hours from northwestern Jersey, I clutched a sheet I had compiled with activities to do with some angst. There weren’t many, and for one I gave up and listed a beach just to hit four. The place wasn’t made for toddlers.
Biking by Agawam Lake on Gin Lane
When the highway turned into quaint lanes, this became much clearer. Otherwordly mansions beckoned from behind six-foot-tall hedge barriers, BMWs and Range Rovers literally lined the streets, and brick walkways had the undeniable air of trying too hard to be normal with perfectly manicured shrubbery and purposely vintage decor.
Not to say it wasn’t lovable – just fashionable. After we checked into our hotel, the Southampton Inn, which was voted the Best Family Hotel in Southampton by the Travel Channel, and we took the complimentary shuttle to Cooper’s Beach, which sits about a mile and a half away from the hotel and costs $40 just to park for the day.
The Southampton Inn
Pulling up to Cooper’s Beach after winding down the dark, romantic roads of Southampton, its immediately obvious that this is no Seaside – the sign proudly boasts the beach’s status of the #1 Beach in America (it is consistently named one of America’s Top Ten Beaches) and islanders are dressed in designer garb and carry everything from designer towels to designer beach bags. The beach is undoubtedly nice – clean, white sand, clear waters, and no clouding of pollution or artificial lights. A thousand identical umbrellas bloom from the sand, rented from the beach shack and grill (equipped with a deck) near the parking lot.
Cooper’s Beach, consistently voted one of America’s Top Ten Beaches in America
From where I sat, I could hear dozens of conversations I definitely didn’t hear often in north Jersey – how a mother was trying to get her kid into Stanford, the most stuck-up private schools in Manhattan, why some college kids just loved Seville, France, and how only those that lived in Scarsdale grew up in a “bubble.” Even as it got dark and we hung around drinking local wine from plastic cups, the beach stayed packed with families watching the weekly plays and movies that show and hosting bonfires.
Cooper’s Beach by Dusk
Cooper’s Beach calls Meadow Lane home, a modest name for a lane that has a median home sale price of $18 million. David Koch, William Salomon, Calvin Klein and Gerald Ford all call the five-mile road home, and one another, neighbors. Being the unashamed tourist that I am, I mercilessly snapped photos of the hidden mansions as we cruised by – the only Jeep to grace the road among the Audis and the only one to even bother looking out the window to admire the works of real estate art.
One of the many mansions of Meadow Lane, where the median home price is $18 million
Later, when I ran down the streets in the morning, it became obvious who was a tourist and who was a native based on who gawked at the multimillion dollar mansions. I constantly checked out faces walking and in cars, wondering who was a famous financier I had read about or just another normal loaded local.
I was shocked to find that as we drove the lane, we came across an attraction that I hadn’t researched and set on my list – Shinnecock Bay, which lies on the other side of Meadow Lane. The Bay has many rustic docks and walkways that run into the water, where homebound beachgoers stop to watch the sunset, fish and boat. We hung our legs over the water, scaring the minnows and snapping photos as the sun went down.
Sunset at Shinnecock Bay
Even as we drove inland to Southampton Village and up Main Street later in the weekend, the classic glitz did not stop. Most homes on the beach-country roads had domineering gates and more hedges and trees blocking any views to even see one brick of the buildings that lay behind. For the ones that did, we tried to glance at their beautiful wrap-around porches, waterfall pools and private tennis courts.
A very secretive driveway of First Neck Lane
Main Street itself is lined with well-cared-for flowers and benches and, of course, designer boutiques where I didn’t see one piece of clothing for under $179 (most disappointing). Every restaurant had white tablecloths and asked if I wanted tap or sparkling. Tate’s Bake Shop, located just north of Main Street, felt like being home again besides more BMWs that parked in front and ran in for a cookie. An award-winning bakery featuring vintage decor and a grandma’s-house feel, the place feels remote from the other gaudy shops nearby.
Vintage shops near Tate’s Bake Shop on North Sea Road
Southampton felt like a step into a reality that I had only ever seen on television – the owners of pristine penthouses in New York City, flocking to their wealthy beach houses where they needed no boardwalks, clubs or fried food to entertain them. Instead, they were surrounded by private pools, beach clubs and tennis courts where they took the yacht out for a spin and talked about the merits of investment in French accents.
However, as exhilarating as it was to listen in on those lives and pretend to fit in, at the end of the trip, I was exhausted. Not just exhausted for myself in always having to wear my best clothes and pretend to not be shocked at an $80 lunch for two, but exhausted for those around me. I wondered how the teenagers felt, straddled in their button-up shirts who probably just wanted to go drink beer with their friends. I wondered how this life made you into someone you couldn’t recognize and why, at 145 miles between, it felt so very far away from the nearby beaches that marked my very existence.