From Poughkeepsie: 2 hours, 45 mins
In summer, families converge upon Spring Lake, but as the crowds pack up and the leaves change color, the quiet beach town transforms into a romantic hideaway. Before checking into your cozy B&B (you can’t beat White Lilac Inn for all-out romance), head to the water’s edge, where you and your honey can stroll along the sand dunes in off-season solitude. (Really, what’s more romantic than waves crashing on the shore?)
It’s de rigueur that you spend a day in the charming downtown area. Start with breakfast at The Scone Pony, a nod to the Asbury Park venue The Stone Pony, made famous by shore native and rocker Bruce Springsteen. Explore the shops along Third Avenue and pick up some brightly printed womenswear at Waterlily or home décor and gifts at Nest Home Garden & You. Spring Lake’s demographics have lent it the moniker “The Irish Riviera,” and shops like Irish Centre don’t forget that. Finally, swap your summer rosés for red vintages at the Bottle Shop of Spring Lake.
An intimate dinner awaits at Scarborough Fair in neighboring Sea Girt (one of Open Table’s Top 100 Diners’ Choice Most Romantic Restaurants), where alcoves branch off from the 167-year-old farmhouse’s brick stairwell, so couples can dine at secluded tables. As you leave, don’t miss Pierre Chocolat next door, a fairy-tale-cottage shop where the luscious aroma of handmade chocolates mixes with wood smoke from the brick fireplace.
STAY: The White Lilac Inn
With three stories’ worth of outdoor terraces, this idyllic paradise looks as if it were transplanted from a Southern plantation. Each of its eight spacious rooms is prettier than the last: All rooms have fireplaces and private baths (some with a double-size whirlpool tub), and most have access to the outdoor porches. Go all out and get the “Room at the Top,” with a rooftop terrace and views of Wreck Pond. No matter which room you choose, a hot, made-to-order breakfast is served in the sunny, wicker-furnished breakfast room. Take time to enjoy the book-filled library and Victorian parlor, as well. To ensure you have the best experience, proprietor Mari Kennelly (who cooks your breakfast herself) attends to every detail, from advice on restaurants to a pair of unbreakable wine goblets on the rim of your whirlpool tub.
From $179/night; www.whitelilac.com