All of the Atlantic coast that we've visited is varied, but New Jersey is the most varied of all! As we drove north from Atlantic City to Sandy Hook, we were flabbergasted by the sudden changes and stark contrasts between one section of the oceanfront and the next. It all has to do (or so we suppose) with the politics and economics of each individual seaside community. A sandy road down to the sea is flanked by dozens of nearly identical white cottages Tiny seaside cottages

It has turned cold -- abruptly -- although just a couple of days ago we were wishing it would be cooler. Only the bravest were out on the beach this Saturday, although people are getting ready for the season, which starts on Mothers' Day. Atlantic City, of course, was an exception. Weekend exursion buses, mostly from Philadelphia, were waiting in the parking lots outside of town to carry the gamblers home on Sunday.

The dozen or so large Atlantic City casinos, glass and chrome and brightly painted plaster (e.g., Trump's Taj Mahal) rising up from the surrounding slums remind us of newspaper photos taken after a hurricane or a bombing raid: vacant lots, boarded-up houses and stores, trash everywhere, and next door is Harrah's or Bally's or the Hilton. Then more collapsed and decaying buildings. Inside the Hilton, the casino seemed identical to its Nevada siblings, although the slots were more expensive and less varied. It seemed strange to pay for parking, but we did feel the truck would be safe -- on a Saturday morning.

The boardwalk was nearly deserted, but that may have been due to the weather -- cold and windy, and later on we had some actual snow flurries.

After Atlantic City we had to turn inland, and headed north on highway U.S. 9, on the west side of Barnegat Bay. Towns here were unpretentious, and people were starting to put their boats in the water for the season. Pleasure boating seems to be mostly of the power boat variety; probably the winds here A flat-roofed corner building, painted black and boarded up, sits on a deserted corner of a potholed street in Asbury Park Asbury Park needs redevelopment are too light for reliable sailing.

We returned to the beachfront at Seaside Heights and headed north. Some towns had tiny little cabins on postage stamp lots, with a little sandy road heading to the water. Others had strings of cabana clubs. Some places had lots of public beach access; others had none. Some towns had big old victorian seaside homes and condos; others had square brick high-rise apartments.

Perhaps the biggest contrasts came in a stretch of three miles north of Bradley Beach. First we hit the town of Ocean Grove, which appeared to be a religious center, dominated by an immense church, with narrow streets lined with parked cars. The streets were named Mt. Zion Way, Bethel Court, and so on.

Just across the inlet from Ocean Grove, literally a stone's throw, is Asbury Park. As we rounded the inlet and headed back towards the beach we saw a man urinating against a boarded up store. The buildings were covered with graffiti. Whole blocks had been razed, but many buildings were literally falling down. The old fun house was boarded up but still standing. The amusement park buildings, the beachhouse, stores, parks, were boarded up, surrounded by rusting chain link fence. One huge building was a half-built shell, abandoned with building materials still piled nearby. For block after block, nothing was working. A 1920's-style white modern two-story seaside home with large glass windows and curving walls Waterfront home in Deal

Then we rounded another inlet and immediately were in an area of solid, well-maintained beach homes. Evidently we had passed outside of the city limits of Asbury Park. Another half mile or so found us in the town of Deal, probably the ritziest town on the coast, with huge mansions set on large lots with manicured gardens. Every architectural style from Tudor to thirties modern was represented, but all the homes were big and beautiful.

Further north the beach changed again, as we crossed another city line. We marveled at the changes the rest of the drive.

We've finished another exploratory trip, and gained a lot of appreciation for the Atlantic coast between New York and Jacksonville. There's a lot of variety, with something for every taste and pocketbook. Some of the ocean front land has been set aside as national seashore and wildlife refuge; other islands are accessible only by sea. We can report that wherever the beach can be reached by a paved road, people have been and still are developing it.

For the next couple of months we'll be concentrating on our genealogical research, so our travel reports will be less frequent. Right now we're digging around in our suitcases looking for some cold weather clothing!