Unless you are a local in New Jersey, you might be completely unaware of how many wonderful locations there are to see and the numerous activities to do here. Any blog post I could write on this topic listing everything, would be way too long for most people to read. So instead I’ve picked out a number of local hotspots that are great places to visit in NJ, that give a real flavor of it’s beauty and culture.
1. Great Falls, Paterson, New Jersey
The Great Falls of the Passaic River is the second largest volume waterfall by volume, east of the Mississippi River, after Niagara Falls. The falls are centered in an industrial historic district, considered to be “The Cradle of American Industry.” Bounded by park area, the waterfall can be viewed 24-hours a day.
The falls were recently named a National Historic Park. Address: 65 McBride Ave, Paterson, NJ 07501.
2. Delaware Water Gap, Delaware River, New Jersey
The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area has an area made up of 70,000 acres of protected lands. It is located along the middle section of the Delaware River in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The Appalachian Trail runs along the eastern side of the park. The Minisink Archaeological Site and Millbrook Village are just two of the many historical and cultural sites to see. Others include the arts center in Peter’s Valley plus remnants of early Dutch colonial structures. The area also contains some significant Native American archaeological sites. Aside from enjoyable scenery, there are many outdoor recreational activities that can be enjoyed here. This includes fishing, canoeing, hiking, camping, swimming, cycling, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, and picnicking.
3. High Point State Park, New Jersey
Located in the extreme northwest corner of Sussex County along the Kittatinny Mountain Ridge, this park of 15,000 acres includes the highest point in New Jersey (1,803 feet above sea level). The High Point Monument, at 220 feet tall, dominates the summit providing superb views of New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The park provides facilities for swimming, boat launching, picnicking, hiking (Appalachian Trail), fishing and camping.
Lake Marcia, is a popular place for families for summer swimming, with cool spring-fed water bordered by a sandy beach, with a bath house and lifeguards provided. During winter, visitors can enjoy snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing and ice-skating. http://www.nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/parks/highpoint.html
4. Cape May, New Jersey
Cape May is a charming Victorian era seaside resort on the Jersey Shore, at the very southern end of New Jersey. There is an array of leisure and recreational activities available, including biking, swimming and kayaking. Few places to visit in NJ have so much to offer. Key attractions include the Cape May Lighthouse, Cape May Zoo, local bird-watching with the Audubon Society or take a whale- and dolphin-watching boat trip. Local restaurants are famous for their high-class cuisine which includes a multitude of fresh seafood dishes. Popular restaurants include the Mad Batter, Washington Inn, Tisha’s and Peter Shield’s Inn & Restaurant.
Cape May is the location of many fun and exciting festivals held throughout the year including a Food and Wine Festival, Mystery Murder weekend, Jazz Festival, Arts & Crafts Festival, Harbor Festival and Horseshoe Crab watching Festival. Look up what’s on at http://www.capemay.com/eventcalendar/
5. Palisades Interstate National Park, New Jersey
Overlooking the Hudson River in Bergen County, the Palisades Interstate Park in New Jersey is about 12 miles long and a half-mile wide. It encompasses around 2,500 acres of wild Hudson River shorefront, uplands, and cliffs. Within this park you will find more than 30 miles of hiking and ski trails, a boat launching ramp, a scenic riverside drive, a cliff-top parkway and overlooks, riverfront picnic areas and playgrounds, a nature sanctuary, two boat basins, historic sites – and mile after mile of rugged woodlands and vistas just minutes from midtown Manhattan. The Palisades Interstate Park is a National Historic Landmark. Entry is via Alpine Approach Rd, Alpine, NJ 07620.
6. Pineland Barrens, New Jersey
Also known as the ‘Pine Barrens’ or ‘Pinelands’, the Pineland Barrens is a heavily forested area of coastal plain stretching across more than seven counties of southern New Jersey. It is an enormous and all-encompassing tract of open space that covers 1.1 million acres. This equates to around 22 percent of New Jersey’s land area. The Pinelands includes large reserves such as Wharton State Forest and Brendan Byrne State Forest. Recreational activities here include kayaking or canoeing along one of the many waterways that traverse the Pinelands. Another popular use is for hiking. Many visitors come to view the restored historical Batsto Village. If these activities don’t appeal, then perhaps you could look for the infamous ‘Jersey Devil’, whose legend is derived from the Pines.
7. Atlantic City Boardwalk, New Jersey
The world-famous Atlantic City Boardwalk was first built in 1870. Originally, it was meant only as a solution to keep the sand out of the ritzy beachfront hotels and the Camden and Atlantic’s railroad passenger cars. A fed-up railroad conductor and hotel owner first petitioned to the city council in 1870, asking that a mile-long foot walk be established. Over its history, there have been several rebuilds after Atlantic storms. In 1889, a 24-feet wide, 10 feet high, nearly 4 miles long, boardwalk was built with railings on both sides. The present day design includes herringbone board pattern, supportive steel pilings, and forty-foot steel beams. These features help make the longest and oldest boardwalk like nothing else in the world.
Contrary to media reports at the time, the historic Atlantic City Boardwalk was not damaged by Hurricane Sandy, other than one minor area due to be demolished. The Boardwalk stands as a historic American symbol of good times and rich culture. If you have to pick one example of truly iconic places to visit in NJ, it would be here.
Aside from the boardwalk, there are many other attractions in Atlantic City including a number or world class restaurants. There are also famous casino hotels such as the Taj Mahal and Caesar’s Palace. Other sources of entertainment do exist though besides gambling. These incluse the Atlantic City Art Center on Garden Pier and the Boardwalk Hall, built in 1929.
8. Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey
What started in 1890 as a mere promenade has evolved into Point Pleasant Beach’s family amusement staple. Jenkinson’s Boardwalk at Point Pleasant Beach, NJ is the location of the highly-rated Jenkinson’s Aquarium and boardwalk amusements that include rides, arcades, games, fun food and different venues for miniature golf. A huge destination point for many families during the summer vacation period, the boardwalk is often crowded on weekends with beach goers. Open at night during summer as well as day helps provide ample opportunities for visitors to enjoy the large range of amusements. (300 Ocean Ave; jenkinsons.com).
9. Great Swamp, Chatham, New Jersey
As one of over 550 national wildlife refuges established in the USA, the Great Swamp’s wilderness areas cover approximately 12 sq. miles, and include a number of habitats such as a mixture of marshes, meadows, dry woods and brush-covered swamps. It is the intermingling of these four habitats that gives the Great Swamp its unique character, allowing the swamp to support a wide variety of plant and animal life. The refuge has a number of boarded trails and walkways, from which visitors can enjoy diverse plant life from the tiny duckweed to the towering red oak, as well as view a range of different animal life. The Swamp has resident populations of frogs, snakes, turtles and a wide variety of visiting birdlife.
The swamp is also one of the best places to visit in NJ during fall and spring. If you visit during fall, you will get to enjoy the spectacular changing foliage. Alternatively, during spring, there is plenty of wildlife to be seen, especially in the swampy ponds near the wildlife viewing area..
10. Grounds for Sculpture, Trenton, New Jersey
Built on the former grounds of the New Jersey State Fairgrounds, this 42-acre park in Hamilton is peppered with 270 contemporary sculpture works. New sculptures are added every year. A recent addition to the sculptures is a 25 feet tall sculpture of Marilyn Monroe, weighing 16,000 pounds and called ‘Forever Marilyn’. Within the grounds is Rats restaurant, a highly rated French lunch style restaurant (18 Fairgrounds Rd; 609-586-0616; groundsforsculpture.org). There is even a wonderful sculptural example that grabs your attention near Hamilton Station, that gives visitors a tiny taste of what’s in store at the park, which is only 2 miles away from the train.
11. Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey
Located in north-central New Jersey, Princeton is a chic college town that’s home to the Ivy League Princeton University. The town’s history dates back to the middle of the 18th century, but the modern town is an eclectic mix of old and new. Downtown Princeton is home to a mix of upscale shops and restaurants, museums and pubs, with architecture befitting a university town, and in synch with its historic backdrop.
Anyone fascinated in American History will find something to peek their interest. You can visit the Princeton Battlefield State Park, where George Washington led American troops to defeat British Regulars on January 3, 1777. At this site, there are regularly held rec-enactments and festivals held focusing on the battle, Revolutionary life and times. The folks who host these are very knowledgeable and happy to share their passion.
Alternatively, you can drive past Albert Einstein’s former home on Mercer Street where he lived in Princeton. Another point of interest is nearby the Institute for Advanced Study. This is where he (with many other great minds) worked for some years after moving to the USA.
Strolling around Princeton is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon in the fall. This is when the centuries-old trees lining the streets begin to turn color making a beautiful vista. Likewise in early spring it is rather magical when cherry blossoms add color to the historic stone buildings. Either way, you can’t help feeling like you are walking on a movie set or being transported back in time.
12. Ellis Island, Liberty State Park, New Jersey
Once the busiest immigration inspection center for new immigrants that entered the USA, Ellis Island was open from 1892 to 1954. Over that time it processed millions of overseas visitors. Built in the Renaissance Revival style originally, this beautiful building now operates as an immigration museum. Together with the Statue of Liberty, these two landmarks form the Statue of Liberty National Monument. Access to Elis Island is from either Battery Park in NYC or from Liberty State Park, in Jersey City.
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused significant damage to both Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, forcing both to close temporarily for repairs. While the Statue of Liberty opened again in July, 2013, Ellis Island reopened only recently on a limited basis. The destruction level caused by Hurricane Sandy to parts of the historic Main Building and museum was extensive. Unfortunately this includes most of the exhibits, which remain closed at this time.
At Ellis Island, visitors can relive the experience of the 12 million plus immigrants who passed through its doors. After undergoing a massive $162 million restoration, Ellis Island today offers visitors an array of programs to experience. Some of these include a genealogy workshop, theatrical productions based on actual immigrant accounts, a learning center, a museum and a new family history research facility. Ferry service to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty is available from Liberty State Park, Jersey City. The ferry service is offered via Statue Cruises, www.statuecruises.com.
13. Duke Farms, Somerville, New Jersey
Duke Farms is a very picturesque 2,740-acre property in Hillsborough, N.J. For nearly 100 years, it has been a destination for the residents of The Garden State and beyond. The property is one of the largest privately-owned parcels of undeveloped land in the state. Duke Farms has a mission to be a model of environmental stewardship in the 21st Century and inspire visitors to become informed stewards of the land. A new orientation center housed in a former thoroughbred horse barn offers educational exhibits, a classroom and café. A tram provides transportation to more than 900 acres in the core of the property. However many of its visitors come for the 18 miles of walking/hiking trails and 12 miles of bicycle trails. Unlike many such destinations, Duke Farms caters for all visitors and has around 4 miles of paved wheelchair-accessible lanes.
14. Liberty Science Museum, Liberty State Park, New Jersey
Established as the first large science museum for New Jersey, Liberty Science museum is a popular destination for schools. This is likely because it was developed with an interactive design so that most exhibits are hands-on. The museum has a number of permanent displays on the ecology and wildlife of the Hudson, together with Skyscrapers and their impact, Other features in the museum are displays on energy, infection and health, predator-prey, communication and Rubik’s Cube. The museum also houses the largest IMAX Dome theatre in the USA.
Address: 222 Jersey City Blvd; Jersey City, NJ. www.lsc.org
15. Carlo’s Bakery, Hoboken, New Jersey
Run by Buddy Valastro, son of the original owner of Carlo’s Bakery (Buddy Valastro Senior), this shop is in downtown Hoboken. The bakery plus its owner are now world-famous, due to the high rating TLC reality show called ‘Cake Boss’. The shop, which is on the southern end of Washington St, is frequently mobbed by crowds of sightseers, as well as customers. Lines of people can be seen queued outside the pavement waiting to tour Carlo’s. Meanwhile, locals struggle past the enthusiastic onlookers to buy some of Buddy and his team’s wonderful creations.
Due to the success of this bakery, Carlo’s Bakery has now expanded. Now there are branches in New York (NYC); and Ridgewood, Westfield and Red Bank, in New Jersey. The Hoboken original store is though where the TV show was filmed.
16. Barnegat Lighthouse, Barnegat Bay, Long Beach Island, New Jersey
This is just one of ten amazing lighthouses still standing along NJ shorelines. Others include Absecon, Navesink, Tucker’s Island, Finn’s Point, Hereford Inlet, Sandy Hook, Cape May, East Point and Sea Girt. Barnegat Lighthouse stands at the northern tip of Long Beach Island.
17. Long Beach Island National Park, Long Beach Island, New Jersey
Island Beach is one of New Jersey’s last significant remnants of a barrier island ecosystem that once existed along much of the coast. It is also one of the few remaining undeveloped barrier beaches on the north Atlantic coast. The park contains close to ten miles of sandy beach, and an extensive shoreline along Barnegat Bay. Habitats around the park include dense maritime forests, rolling sand dunes, and tidal marshes. Island Beach is also home to foxes, ospreys, other wildlife, and more than 400 species of plants.
There are 8 walking trails, and a self-guided tour is available for use. The park is used by visitors for swimming, biking, fishing and hiking.
18. Adventure Aquarium, Camden, New Jersey
Once called the New Jersey State Aquarium, the Adventure Aquarium is an educational entertainment attraction operated in Camden, New Jersey on the Delaware River waterfront. Originally opened in 1992, it re-opened in its current form on May 25, 2005 featuring about 8,000 animals living in varied forms of semi-aquatic, freshwater, and marine habitats. One of its more exciting exhibits is the West African River Experience which houses the only two hippos inside an aquarium. Other exhibits feature crocodiles, porcupines and more than 20 species of African birds in a free-flight aviary. If that’s not enough, then there is a 40-foot, walk-through shark tunnel and the Jules Verne Gallery.
19. New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, New Jersey
The Museum’s main collection of artifacts and fine art dates back to the early 19th century. These treasures, are housed in a modern main building in Trenton, overlooking the Delaware River. Museum visitors experiences also include exciting programs offered in an adjoining 150-seat planetarium. General admission is free. Address: 205 West State Street, Trenton, NJ.
20. Thomas Edison Park, West Orange, New Jersey
Thomas Edison National Historical Park is located near downtown in West Orange, New Jersey. The historical park preserves Thomas Edison’s laboratory and residence, Glenmont, from Llewellyn Park. For more than forty years, the laboratory had a major impact on the lives of people worldwide. Address: 211 Main St, West Orange, NJ.
21. Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey
Located in downtown Newark, the Garden State’s largest museum includes 80 galleries, a planetarium, frequently changing exhibits, the 1885 Ballantine House (a national historic landmark) and the 300-seat Billy Johnson auditorium. (49 Washington St; newarkmuseum.org)
22. Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey
Nestled in the mountains of North Jersey, Lake Hopatcong is considered a recreational wonder offering outstanding boating, sailing, kayaking, swimming, fishing, water sports and more year-round. At the state’s largest freshwater body, you can swim at two public beaches, cast a line for trout and bass, or camp at the Mahlon Dickerson Reservation. The lake’s many coves offer pristine settings for any water sport—from wakeboarding to windsurfing to tubing. Located just 30 miles from the Delaware Water Gap and 40 miles from New York City via I-80, Lake Hopatcong’s 45 miles of shoreline is home to restaurants and marinas making it a great escape for a day, the weekend or an entire season.
23. Allaire State Park, Farmingdale, New Jersey
Allaire State Park is host to a 19th-century iron-bog village known as the Howell Works Company. Dating from the 1830s, it was restored in the 1950s to preserve Jersey’s past. Today, the town and buildings host more than 40 programs and events annually. These include living-history events, antique and craft shows, flea markets and a wine festival. Address: 4265 Atlantic Ave; Website: www.allairevillage.org
24. Empty Sky 9/11 Memorial, Jersey City, New Jersey
Located in Liberty State Park in Jersey City, “Empty Sky” is the official State of New Jersey’s 9/11 Memorial. It was built to honor the memory of the 749 people that lived in or had ties to New Jersey that lost their lives at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
The brushed stainless steel twin walls are 210 feet long, the width of each side of the World Trade Center Towers. They rise 30 feet, standing parallel to each other. A 12-foot wide paved path of bluestone lies between the twin walls. Like the World Trade Center, the stainless steel reflects the constantly changing light of day. The names are placed randomly on the twin brushed stainless steel walls. Individuals’ names (4 inches tall) are within reach and engraved deep enough for hand rubbing. Its original designers were Jessica Jamroz and Frederic Schwartz.
This very moving memorial was dedicated on September 11, 2011, at the 10-year anniversary. The memorial invites visitors to literally and metaphorically look toward the empty sky in memory and look forward as a community. Out of the many memorials to 9/11, this is one of most poignant places to visit in NJ.