Being a lifelong resident of New Jersey, it’s become clear to me that the majority of the people in the United States (as well as many people around the world) believe that New Jersey consists of only three things: a beach where spray-tanned Italian-Americans drink to excess, a turnpike, and an airport that comes up when you search for destinations in New York City on Google Flights. And, yes, each of these three things is an integral part of New Jersey culture. But I find it unfortunate that most outsiders who I’ve talked to who have visited New Jersey have only ever driven through on their way to some other state. Believe it or not, there are quite a few fun things to do around the state around this often-overlooked state.
New Jersey is one of the most ethnically and racially diverse states in the country and it’s also a very ecologically diverse state. The state is home to many different cultures, which can change from town to town and county to county. Within New Jersey, there is a range of different ecoregions with their own unique characteristics. There are coastal marshes and barrier islands, limestone ridges and valleys, beaches, low Poconos, and, of course, the famous Pine Barrens.
Yes, New Jersey is a state of diversity, blending, and, most of all, action. As the most densely populated state in the country, New Jersey is a bustling metropolis with endless things to see and do. So, if you were planning on driving right through New Jersey on your way to New York City or Philadelphia, you may want to schedule a day or two to stop. Here are 6 fun things to do in New Jersey.
1. American Dream
If you’re arriving in New Jersey by air, chances are you’re flying into Newark Liberty International Airport. And, if that’s your port of arrival, then you’re just a short ride away from one of the most incredible shopping malls in the United States: American Dream. This magnificent temple of consumerism is located in the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford. This mall was in construction for around a decade and several companies went bankrupt while trying to develop it. But, in 2019, this mega-mall finally opened its doors in 2019 and it was every bit as extravagant as us New Jersey locals had hoped.
This mall contains a vast array of retail shops, several mini-golf courses, a waterpark, a Ferris wheel, roller coasters, a mirror maze, a miniature train, an aquarium, an indoor skiing park, and much more. Even if shopping malls aren’t really your happy place, the American Dream mall is a sight worth seeing for its sheer scale and decadence.
2. Asbury Park Boardwalk
There are a lot of amazing spots along the Jersey Shore and most of them aren’t littered with liquor-soaked party animals (like a certain MTV reality show might suggest). However, as a local, if I had to choose one place on the Jersey Shore to recommend to a visitor, it would be Asbury Park. This town has a beautiful beach bordered by a vibrant and historic boardwalk covered in gorgeous street art. There are plenty of amazing places to grab a cocktail or a bite to eat and, of course, you can always just stroll down the boardwalk with a slice of New Jersey pizza.
If you’re able to stay the evening in Asbury Park, two of the town’s most famous landmarks are The Stone Pony and Wonder Bar, both of which are historic music venues and drinking establishments. The Stone Pony is probably most well-known as the venue that iconic New Jerseyan Bruce Springsteen frequented before his ascent to international stardom.
3. Liberty State Park
Even if you’re staying in Manhattan, you may want to skip across the river to Jersey City to experience Liberty State Park, a common launch point for ferries to the Statue of Liberty and the home of Ellis Island. The area in and around Liberty State Park is incredibly important to the history of immigration in the United States and it’s also just a great place to hang out and have a picnic on a sunny day. If you’re into getting some exercise, this park features a walkway that’s great for jogging.
If you decide to take a trip to Liberty State Park, I would highly recommend taking a ferry to the Statue of Liberty. You can see the statue from the park, but standing directly under it really allows you to appreciate its size. Yes, despite the fact that everyone thinks the Statue of Liberty is in New York, it’s actually in New Jersey.
4. Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park
If you’re interested in seeing a beautiful natural formation with some interesting historical significance, then head over to Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park. The city of Paterson was established in 1792 as the country’s first planned industrial city around the Passaic River and the Paterson Great Falls were used for some of the country’s first forays into developing water power systems.
Now, the area is managed by the National Park Service, meaning there’s an information center where you can learn all about the history of the falls. There are also some great walking trails where you can see the Great Falls from several different vantage points. There is no entrance fee to see the fall, nor is there one to enter the nearby Paterson Museum.
5. Barnegat Lighthouse State Park
Located on the northern tip of Long Beach Island (one of the finest parts of the Jersey Shore) is the historic Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. As you might expect, the centerpiece of the park is a functional lighthouse that the locals affectionately refer to as “Old Barnie”. You can actually climb the 217 steps to the top of this lighthouse to get an outstanding view of the surrounding coastline, including Island Beach and Barnegat Bay. If you don’t feel like climbing stairs on your vacation, you can still see the view via four monitors in the nearby Interpretive Center displaying live feeds from cameras at the top of the lighthouse.
If you’re making the pilgrimage to Barnegat Lighthouse State Park anyway, you should definitely explore some of the other areas of Long Beach Island as well. This area has some of the finest beaches in New Jersey and is a hotspot for surfers and seafood enthusiasts.
6. Six Flags Great Adventure
If you’re a fan of amusement parks, you should know that New Jersey is home to one of the best amusement parks in all the 50 states. Six Flags Great Adventure is located in Jackson Township and contains 14 world-class roller coasters as well as a drive-through safari park.
Probably the most notable attraction at Six Flags Great Adventure is Kingda Ka, the world’s tallest roller coaster at a terrifying 456 feet high. You definitely have to be a bit of a maniac to ride this coaster. If you want something a bit milder, El Toro has been rated as one of the most enjoyable roller coasters in the world time and time again. The Jersey Devil Coaster is another good one that’s named after a local legend and is one of the fastest single-rail coasters in the world.