New Jersey has long been the subject of many jokes. The state has been referred to as the "armpit of New York"..."the land of big hair"...the place where people ask "What's your exit?" before asking "What's your name?"... And certainly, with the influx of reality-television series featuring (unfairly) stereotypical New Jersey behavior, some might say "the situation" has not quite improved.
But New Jersey is my homestate, and I love it! So I'm hoping to dispel the myths and show how this tiny state can be a huge "anytime" escape. Located just hours from 4 major metropolitan areas, the Garden State has so much to offer! It is home to over 100 miles of coastline, world-class sporting events, culture and entertainment, and one of the most competitive universities in the country. Famous New Jerseyans include Jon Stewart, Susan Sarandon, and Jack Nicholson. And the boardgame that pretty much defines Americana - Monopoly - is modeled after the famous streets of Atlantic City!
Here are just a few of my favorite homestate destinations:
The Liberty Science Center
The perfect place to take the entire family, this center proves that science is actually fun! With exhibits that feature high-tech, interactive opportunities and an endless amount of learning, visitors can explore every aspect of science, including space, wildlife, energy, health, weather, and even architecture. Personally, I would stay away from the room full of bugs, but if you were to ask my 3-year old nephew, he would say that can be a highlight of your trip. The IMAX theater features films that transport viewers through larger-than-life eco-systems and visitors can assist in live science demonstrations every day!
Six Flags Great Adventure
Home to the highest and fastest roller coaster in the world, this famous amusement park provides something for everyone. With 12 roller-coasters, a water park, safari, daily musicals and other shows, a boardwalk with games, and tons of family and child-friendly rides, this is definitely an all-day entertainment destination. If you arrive in the morning when the park first opens, you'll be able to avoid the lines that build for many of the most popular attractions. Plus, a five-minute drive down the street will lead you to the Jackson Premium Outlets - and remember, New Jersey does not charge a sales tax on clothing purchases!
It's no surprise that this picturesque college town is filled with local and worldly charms that attract visitors near and far. After all, it's halfway between New York City and Philadelphia and just steps from one of the nation's top schools. Some of my favorite stops in town? For music fans: The Princeton Record Exchange, an independent music store, is a treasure chest of over 150,000 used CDs, DVDs, LPs, and video games for sale. For a night out on the town: one of the country's leading theaters, McCarter Theater offers over 200 performances a year, including drama, dance, music, and special performances; then visit Triumph Brewing Company, New Jersey's largest brewpub, with its architecturally stunning interior and a two-story glass-enclosed brewhouse. Lastly, a visit to Princeton is not complete without stopping at Halo Pub for some of its to-die-for homemade ice cream (definitely order a pint).
Monmouth Park Racetrack
A visit to the famous Jersey Shore cannot be complete without a stop at Monmouth Park Racetrack. Whether you cheer on your favorites from the grandstands or simply admire the horses during their parades around the paddocks, you will certainly feel as though you've travelled back in time as you spend the afternoon partaking in this traditional American pasttime. Open between the months of May and September, every Sunday is Family Fun Day, when children can take pony rides and have their faces painted. Monmouth Park is also home to the Haskell Invitational race, during which some of the best racing horses in the country, including Triple Crown contestants, vie for a $1 million prize.
Hoboken Cove Boathouse
One of the best ways to take in the spectacular views of the New York City skyline, this non-profit public boathouse offers kayaking and small non-motorized boat access to the Hudson River during the summer months. There are specific days (usually Saturdays and Sundays) where you can kayak for free - and all of the equipment - boats, oars, and lifejackets - are included.
It's the birthplace of college football, and if you're looking for a big-time sporting event experience without the big-time prices, Rutgers Stadium at Rutgers University is the place to be. Here, you can join in on the chaos and excitement as thousands of fans tailgate and then cheer on their NCAA Division 1 Scarlet Knights, a football team that has truly shined in recent years. The best part? Since the seats don't cost an arm and a leg, you will still have enough cash left over to try a Fat Cat sandwich at the famous grease trucks on College Avenue!
Photos courtesy of flickr users redjar; tenioman; dougtone;
jwannie; linda dougherty, and dinesh cyanam.