Here’s the thing about New Jersey. Within an hour’s drive from your hotel, you can find yourself just about anywhere. The state’s huge—and dare we say, underrated—cities are home to fabulous hotels and restaurants and vibrant art scenes. Deep forests with twisting trails make the outside world disappear. There’s the beach, which ranges from deserted island to laid-back urbane by the mile. Then, the world-class museums and heritage sites that tell the state’s story while maintaining a modern heartbeat. When you tire of one vibe, just hop in the car, load up the GPS and give your itinerary a remix. Being the country’s most densely populated state definitely has its advantages.
Best things to do in New Jersey
Where: Asbury Park
The AP revival is no longer a secret. That’s especially true with the opening of the Asbury Hotel, which has turned the head of global tastemakers. Hit the beach and see why Brooklynites keep moving here. First things first: Caffeinate with ocean views at High Voltage Seafront Cafe. Play retro pinball at the Silverball Museum. Then rock out at Asbury Park Yacht Club or sip beers in the sand at the Beach Bar.
From ghost towns and meandering rivers to stories of pirates, privateers and industrialists, the New Jersey Pine Barrens is a place where secrets hide amid the pines. On tours and hikes that take in attractions on both land and water, Pinelands Adventures brings the magic of the region to life. From long-gone ironworks to some of the nation’s most productive cranberry bogs, you’ll learn to read the forest and appreciate its deep history.
You know that feeling you had as a kid, when a well-meaning adult suggested a museum outing? Ditch that mindset. During Late Thursdays, the Newark Museum attracts in-the-know locals who sip free wine, explore an incredible collection and give Brick City nightlife a remix. A recent night dedicated to Michael Jackson included dance lessons, live beats and live artmaking. While there, duck into the opulent Ballantine house, once home to the famed Newark brewers.
In Jersey, people have a DIY mindset. Maybe that’s why the Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market at the historic Roebling Wire Works and over the bridge in Croyden, PA has blown up into such a popular event. Several times a year, vendors convene shilling everything from taxidermy and vinyl to streetwear and jacket patches. More like a festival than a market, it features loud music, food trucks like Johnny’s Pork Roll (obligatory) and a friendly crowd with hardcore style.
With a large Portuguese and Spanish community, Newark’s Ironbound is a destination for Iberian cuisine. Start your day with heavenly pastel de nata and espresso from Teixiera’s. Enjoyed beside a blue-tile mural, these perfect custard tarts will transport you directly to Lisbon. Then tapas crawl around town, savoring bacalhau, paprika-laced chorizo and the best selection of sangria and port in the state. Be sure to veer off Ferry Street to uncover lesser-traveled neighborhood gems.
In Wildwood, the neon shines bright when the sun sets. Home to the largest collection of preserved mid-century motels in America, if not the world, the city by the sea is quietly reinventing itself. Yet unlike in Asbury, hipsters haven’t gotten the memo…yet. With the opening of the city’s first brewery and smokehouse, Mud Hen Brewing Co., the writing is on the wall. Explore the neon by foot or take a tour with the Doo Wop Preservation League.
Sibling rivalry aside, most folks in Jersey appreciate having New York City in their backyard—and you don’t need to cross the river to enjoy it. From May through October at Hoboken’s Pier 13, DJs spin tunes, food trucks sling global cuisine and the craft beer and cocktails flow. Kick back on a pier over the Hudson with an adult beverage in hand and take in the panoramic skyline views.
Where: Hamilton Township
Your first hint that this isn’t your average art museum are figures strewn like sculptural clues in the area nearby: enormous blue and red heads along the highway, a 20-foot rendition of King Lear as you approach. Inside Grounds for Sculpture, the wonder continues across 42 acres, a range of artwork evoking the frontiers of the form (and speaking of form… Carole Feuerman’s “Employee Shower” shows more than the average statue). Watch for resident peacocks and sip a cocktail at Rat’s Restaurant while there.
The best $4 you can spend in the state may be at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. For the cost of a car pass, one gains access to an eight-mile unpaved Wildlife Drive that winds through a salt-marsh refuge of startling beauty. Along the way, the marvel of an ecosystem situated along the North Atlantic Flyway is revealed. Spring and fall migrations are especially breathtaking. Stop to watch shorebirds dive for fish and shellfish and meander along pathways and up observation towers. Watch for osprey on special nesting platforms.
Redefine any preconceptions about yoga at these Metta Made traveling classes that hit up cool spots around the state. Take a sound-off class with headphone-delivered beats at Bell Works, the cavernous former Bell Labs site where seven Nobel prizes were earned. Gather your buds for VinoVinyasa at Laurita Winery. Or stretch your mind during bend-and-glow blacklight classes at Asbury Park Brewery. Bonus: an after-class beverage is included in the ticket price.
Wandering the decks of this formidable World War II ship, put into service in 1942, it’s easy to get a sense of its history. During twilight adult tours, you’ll hear raucous tales (like that of a Playboy Bunny’s visit) while sipping grown-up beverages and watching the sun sink behind the Philadelphia skyline. Watch for beer garden and stargazing party events.
With the craft beer scene exploding, one brewery can seemingly run into the next. Not so here. Along the Surf & Sip Brew trail, you’ll meet the Long Beach Island region’s rising guard of brewers, surfers, makers and shakers. Paired with an app, the trail links taprooms and unique experiences; think stand-up paddle boarding, shore-inspired art and a surf museum. Uniting salt air, creativity and killer brews, it’s a relaxing way to savor the shore’s vibe.
Where: Atlantic City
The best energy in AC is coming out of this gallery / studio space. Hosted by Stockton University, the Arts Garage is indeed attached to a mural-painted parking deck. Inside, explore Jersey-bred creativity; don’t miss a chance to chat up Victor Sandoval of The Culprits. With a nod to graffiti culture and strong fonts, his streetwear line reflects his LA-to-AC upbringing. Embedded in his craft is a message: renewal comes from within.
With 127 miles of ocean coastline, Jersey used to be a rugged place. (Some say it still is.) At the Tuckerton Seaport Museum, the world of baymen and women comes to life, from clammers to boat-makers. Yet the seaport isn’t stuck in a time capsule. From yoga on the dock to food truck fests—one themed around bacon—it unites past and present along the creek. Visit the Union Market & Gallery for matcha lattes and indie art.
The D&R canal was built in the 1830s to get freight and coal from Pennsylvania to New York City. In Hunterdon County, it has been transformed into a glorious park, with a canal-side path perfect for a sunny-day bike ride. Rent wheels and caffeinate at Pure Energy Cycling & Java House, then bike north to the Stockton Market. There, you can refuel with a wood-fired pie from Market Pizza and something fizzy from the Kombucha Bar.
Where: West Orange
As night falls, turn out the lights and stare into the void for a moment. Then thank Thomas Edison for making affordable light bulbs part of the modern experience. Known as the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” Edison contributed to motion pictures and built the battery for the Model T, and that’s just scratching the surface. Touring his New Jersey lab, you’ll quickly understand why he kept a bed in his office. Watch Facebook for occasional live streams of wax cylinder recordings.
Even if we still call it soccer, Americans have finally gotten the memo on futbol. And even if the team has New York in its name, it plays in Jersey and locals call it their own. Right now, it’s all about Alejandro Romero Gamarra, AKA Kaku, a 23-year-old Argentinian midfielder added to the roster to be a playmaker. When the energy is high, it spreads like a wave. Locals head to nearby Catas to pre-game and then march to the stadium.
Attention nostalgic types and those with a love of Americana and roots music: This booze-free, throwback Albert Music Hall is the place to be on Saturday nights. Nope, there’s no beer. But there’s enough pie, coffee and down-home tunes to keep you occupied well into the night. Or at least until 11pm when the show stops. Be sure to check out the Pickin’ Shed, especially if you play. Sometimes, the most enchanting sounds happen here.
Think bourbon, and you probably don’t think Jersey. Fair enough. Yet as the distillery scene blossoms, more are trying their hand at brown liquor. If you must choose one, make it Silk City Distillers. In a converted garage behind Rutt’s Hutt (legendary for deep-fried hot dogs), Silk City is transforming Jersey grains into bourbons that read like thought experiments: personal, unique and very sippable. Also try nearby Claremont Distilling Company and Jersey Spirits.
Where: Asbury Park
Recently voted the best arthouse cinema in the state, the ShowRoom brings critically acclaimed international and films to Asbury Park. Think RBG, the 2018 documentary about Supreme Court Justice and recently crowned pop icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Or limited-engagement screenings like “Vincent Van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing.” Visit on Wednesdays for MOGO & a Movie. For $16, you can take in Korean fusion tacos and a film.
Sometimes you just want to get weird—and this is as good a place as any to do it. A rockin’ venue with an old-school, roadhouse vibe, Roxy & Duke’s hosts everything from tongue-in-cheek drag and burlesque shows to punk, prog and rockabilly acts. Rich, reds curtains and circus art on the walls set the scene.
This WWII airport punches well above its weight. After breakfast at charming Verna’s Flight Line, housed in a converted guardhouse, visit the Millville Army Airfield Museum. You’ll learn about the 1,500 fighter pilots trained to man P-47 Thunderbolt and P-40 Warhawk fighter planes here. Then toast history at Glasstown Brewing Company or Jersey Shine, which specializes in moonshine of the legal variety.
There’s something stilling about the keening sound of a pack of wolves. Even more so when they’re mere feet away. More than a dozen Timber, Arctic and British Columbian wolves call this North Jersey preserve in the Kittatinny Mountains home, along with a few fox and bobcats for good measure. Rescued from zoos and other preserves, they’re tended by Jim Stein and Becky Mace, whose tours that reveal the wolves’ social habits, diets and more.
If one had to venture a guess as to which state hosted the nation’s longest running weekly rodeo, New Jersey likely wouldn’t crack the top 20. Yet here it is. Every Saturday, May through September, riders don cowboy gear and buck up, testing their mettle riding bareback or roping steer at the Cowtown Rodeo. Come early to check out the Cowtown Farmers Market, which runs year-round, and be sure to snap an Instagram photo with the 22-foot Cowtown Muffler Man.
Where: Port Norris
Spry at 90, the A.J. Meerwald oyster schooner first set sail in 1928. Back then, oysters were a huge industry here, building vast fortunes along the Delaware Bayshore. These days, the ship helps preserve that history, docking throughout the state and inviting residents to set sail. Its home port, in the appropriately named village of Bivalve, features an engaging museum. Visit during second Fridays for live music, a raw bar and Jersey wine and beer.
Admittedly, this is not the most sophisticated meal in town. Medieval Times specializes in historic cuisine of the roast chicken variety. Nevertheless, it’s riveting—especially these days. In December 2017, ye olde tournament-style dinner theater cast its first female lead, putting 35 years of kings in their place. Regal on horseback, she’s up for it. Cheer her on amid raucous duels and jousting matches while donning your paper crown.
More of the best in New Jersey
From affordable neighborhood joints to high-end temples recognized on the national scene, New Jersey’s restaurants reflect its ranking as one of the most culturally and socioeconomically diverse states in the nation.
With options including Airstream trailers, safari tents, carriage houses or modern luxury with top-notch restaurant attached, it could be very hard to choose from our pick of the best places to stay, but, the cool thing about Jersey? It’s easy to mix it up, so you don’t have to choose.