Sandwiched between New York City in the northeast and Philadelphia in the southwest, the geographically small state of New Jersey packs in just under 9 million people in just 9,000 square miles, making it the most densely populated state in the union. Despite the imagery of traffic jams and urban congestion though, there are relaxing places here… if you know where to look.
It is these former characteristics, unfortunately present in some parts of New Jersey, that do give this state its bad reputation. If you’re willing to challenge these stereotypes, something that us travelers are good at, you will find plenty of history, natural, and modern attractions here that will entertain, inform and allow you to have experiences that few manage to ever find, solely because they don’t even try to look for them.
So ignore all the snide jokes about this pocket-sized state and experience the best that this jam-packed place has to offer, and let all the impatient and ignorant punters speed on past… they won’t realize what they’re missing.
What To Do – Culture & History
Having long been a place where one could live in rural to suburban surroundings while having easy access to all the major cities of the Eastern Seaboard, New Jersey has drawn many spirited souls to live within its borders. One of those folks was none other than Thomas Edison, who went on to become one of the greatest inventors in world history.
The Thomas Edison National Historical Park chronicles the life and times of this creative person, as it preserves his residence and personal lab in the town of West Orange. Many impactful inventions emerged from this workshop of wonders, as the nickel iron battery, motion-picture cameras, and the game changing light bulb changed life in the civilized world in immeasurable ways.
While it didn’t change commerce quite like the Erie Canal did, the Delaware and Raritan Canal improved business prospects for coal miners and other shippers looking to route goods between New York City and Philadelphia, cutting many miles off the journey between these two centers in the days before widespread railroads.
While the canal has been fragmented by road construction in places, the portions that do remain provide a greenbelt across the state, allowing those that enjoy hiking, running, canoeing and kayaking a place to enjoy their sports. Those that wish to observe the old machinations of the canal can find remains of locks at Griggstown among other places, many of which have been converted into mini-waterfalls, as the unmaintained infrastructure no longer functions as it once did.
Those looking for the best visual arts display in New Jersey will find it at the Newark Museum, home to this state’s largest collection. This institution’s biggest claim to fame is that it possesses one of the best collections of Tibetan art in the world, but you can also find art from a wide range of American artists, as well as pieces from elsewhere around the globe.
Military buffs will jump at the chance to explore the USS New Jersey, which is a recently decommissioned Navy battleship located in Camden. Visitors will get to examine a ship that served in the Second World War, Korean War, Vietnam War, and the First Gulf War. This type of ship is more massive than you probably realize, so allow more time than you think you’ll need before visiting here.
One of the quintessential American things to do involves going out to eat in a diner, whether it is 8 AM, 3 PM, or 3 AM. Serving greasy oversized portions of comfort food classics (including breakfast all day long), finding a diner in New Jersey is an effortless task, as you are rarely more than a 15 minute drive from one of these convenient joints, as most towns in the state have at least one.
What To Do – Modern & Natural Attractions
New Jersey has more nature than you would initially give it credit for… all you need to do as a traveler is to get off the New Jersey Turnpike and go exploring! The first place you should hit up on your nature-hunting quest should be The Palisades, a series of high cliffs lining the west bank of the Hudson River in far Northeastern New Jersey.
Starting from Jersey City just across from New York City and stretching along the west bank of the Hudson as you head north alongside it, this near vertical geological formation soars upwards of 500 feet above the surface of the river, making it a feast for the eyes. Hiking is popular here, and you might think rock climbing would be as well, but sadly, it is presently prohibited here.
One place where rock climbing is allowed is at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, located further west along the Delaware River, which forms the border with Pennsylvania. While the features here are not as impressive as the Palisades, they are safer and perfectly legal, while those who aren’t into ascending vertical cliff faces will find excitement here by rafting and/or tubing in the peak of summer, while hiking to numerous waterfalls will thrill those who love a good trek.
If the waterfalls of Delaware Water Gap have you craving the sight of more cataracts, then seeing the Great Falls of the Passaic River will top all other before it. One of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi, this waterfall may not be like Niagara Falls, it isn’t a slouch either, as any heavy rainfall turns it into a raging torrent that will humble most other similar sites in the region.
Sick of the outdoors and looking for a nice spot of adult entertainment? This is a task that Atlantic City has handled with ease for well over a century, welcoming legions of young people, professionals and senior citizens from NYC and Philly, all of whom are seeking good times.
Try your luck at Taj Mahal, Borgata, or one of many other casinos that are found throughout this beachside city; if gambling isn’t your bag, then amusement parks, shops, bars, and the beach all offer avenues to obtain your fix of excitement in the entertainment capital of the Eastern Seaboard.
If the frenetic pace of Atlantic City is too much for you, there are plenty of other towns on the Jersey Shore that have a personality that might be a better match for yours. From Allenhurst’s age-old homes that reek with character, to the gritty edge of Asbury Park’s recovering seafront (Boss lovers, note well: this is also the home of Bruce Springsteen), and the lively nightlife of Manasquan and Seaside Heights, the Jersey Shore has a wide variety of beach destinations to explore, so take your time and settle down in the town that resonates the most with you!