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The best things to do in New Jersey

Uncover the state’s diverse food offerings, art scene and rich heritage with the very best things to do in New Jersey

Scott Snowden
Written by
Jenn Hall
Contributor
Scott Snowden
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For the uninitiated, New Jersey might be regarded as not-quite-NYC, but the truth is very far from it. The best things to do in New Jersey include some of the best coastline views on the Eastern Seaboard (beaches!), plus the state is postivley dripping in history, from the gentrified brownstone beauty of Weehawken and Hoboken, down the coast to Jersey City and Liberty State Park, past Sandy Hook and Atlantic City. (We know you were wondering what is there to do in New Jersey at night.) 

And did you know that the Statue of Liberty is actually in New Jersey? OK, yes, Liberty Island and a portion of Ellis Island are within the territorial jurisdiction of New York state, but still, the monument is in New Jersey waters.

So what are the best things to do in New Jersey? The state’s huge—and frankly, 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.

RECOMMENDED: The best places to go wine tasting in New Jersey

Best things to do in New Jersey

Jersey City
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. Jersey City

The city named after the state rests on the Hudson River and offers the best views of Manhattan... that exist. Head down to the Historic Downtown, build up an appetite as you walk along the waterfront pathway. You can head up as far as Hoboken, have lunch at any one of a near-infinite number of amazing bars and restaurants—or sit outside on of the grassy pier-parks—before heading south towards Liberty State Park. Then saunter back to Old Town and head for Grove Street and the pedestrianized part of Newark Avenue, which is where many of the best eateries can be found. 

Liberty State Park
Photograph: Shutterstock

2. Liberty State Park

South of Historic Downtown and past the Morris Canal Basin you'll reach an enormous swath of green that is Liberty State Park. With it's dedicated barbecue area and vast open spaces, this park quickly fills up on July 4 and Juneteenth, when temporary stages are set up for music acts. The waterfront views are amongst the very best in New York City and Lady Liberty has never looked more impressive. You can access both Liberty Island and the amazing Ellis Island Museum from here, plus you can lazily wander through the old riverside, Romanesque-style ferry and train terminal from 1889.

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Hoboken
Photograph: Shutterstock

3. Hoboken

The one-time home of Frank Sinatra and Bruce Willis, Hoboken has now become a super-gentrified town within New Jersey. Consequently, property here is super-expensive. But have a wander around and you'll see why. This is a beautiful suburb that sits serenely on the edge of the Hudson River. There are quirky local shops, great bars and quality restaurants. Saunter along Washington Street for most of these, but others can also be found on side roads and off streets. 

Hindenburg Crash Site
Photograph: Courtesy Navy Lakehurst Historical Society

4. Hindenburg Crash Site

During the late 1930s, regardless of the extreme right-wing politics, Nazi German technology was leading the world and before the offical declaration of World War II, the pride of the German airship fleet, the LZ 129 Hindenburg would, from time to time visit New York City, carrying wealthy Europeans across the Atlantic Ocean. Then on May 6, 1937, as it attempted to dock at Naval Air Station Lakehurst in New Jersey, it caught fire. The photographs taken and accounts given are now an entranched part of history. A visit to this site is an absolute must for history buffs. Contact the museum for details and times of tours.

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Clerks
Photograph: Courtesy the Weinstein Company

5. Clerks

Kevin Smith's contribution to contemporary pop-culture is undeniable, even if you're not a fan of his films. And it all started in New Jersey with a movie made on a shoestring budget called Clerks. (Incidentally, at the time of writing, Clerks III no less is currently in post-production.) The legendary convenience store is a Quick Stop Groceries and is located at 58 Leonard Avenue, Leonardo, on the eastern tip of New Jersey. If you're in the area, exploring many of the other unknown jems of New Jersey, it would be a shame to pass by and not take a selfie. 

Sandy Hook
Photograph: Shutterstock

6. Sandy Hook

The whole Highlands area of New Jersey, incorporating Sandy Hook Bay and Sandy Hook Beach, is a little like stepping back in time. Given its close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean means it offers incredible views of both the water and even of New York City and Long Island. It also means most of the houses here are lifted up on stilts and the ones that aren't already are having construction work done... to have them lifted up on stilts. It's not surprising, this area—as gorgeous as it is—is prone to severe flooding during storm season. But during the summer, this quaint seaside town is a delight to visit and the beach is well worth spending a day relaxing on.

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Atlantic City
Photograph: Shutterstock

7. Atlantic City

If you've spent time in Vegas, then you know what the inside of a casino looks like. However, this is not quite on the same scale as Las Vegas. But...what it does offer that Sin City doesn't, is an amazing view of the Atlantic Ocean. Sure, spend a bit of time in the hotel casino and then explore the boardwalk and nightlife.

While the Trump Taj Mahal Casino is permanently closed following an unsuccessful attempt to save it after it lost over $350 million, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is still thriving as are many of the smaller venues. Given this city's history and heritage as an East Coast gambling epicenter, it's worth a visit. 

8. Hudson River Waterfront Walk

Much of Newark is industrial and parts even look like they could be some Pennsylvania small steel mill town. But hidden around this part of New Jersey are some really great places to explore. And ironically, while some areas look like they're a little run down, there are other adjacent neighborhoods next door that represent the opposite end of the extreme. Both Liberty National Golf Club and Bayonne Golf Club are two of the most expensive golf clubs in the tri-state area. They even have their own dedicated ferry boats running from their own private jetties to Wall Street. And while you can't wander around the fairways, you can walk around much of the perfectly manucured course if you follow the Hudson River Waterfront Walk.

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Liberty Science Center
Photograph: Courtesy Liberty Science Center

9. Liberty Science Center

When it was opened in 1993, the Liberty Science Center was the largest planetarium in the Western Hemisphere and the world's fourth largest. This is an absolute must for any fan of science and the permanent exhibits include Skyscraper! Achievement and Impact—which is believed to be the most comprehensive exhibit on the topic of skyscrapers, Eat and Be Eaten—an exhibit of unusual live animals explores the predator-prey relationship and Communication—a 7,000-square foot exhibit that explores human communication

Battleship New Jersey
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Vladsinger

10. Battleship New Jersey

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.

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Asbury Park Boardwalk
Photograph: littleny / Shutterstock.com

11. Asbury Park Boardwalk

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. 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.

Pinelands Adventures
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Famartin

12. Pinelands Adventures

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.

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Surf & Sip Brew Trail
Photograph: Courtesy of Tom Hislop

13. Surf & Sip Brew Trail

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.

Tuckerton Seaport Museum
Tuckerton Seaport Museum

14. Tuckerton Seaport Museum

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.

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Thomas Edison Home and Laboratory
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Euku

15. Thomas Edison Home and Laboratory

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.

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