Though New Jersey is, geographically, one of the smaller states in the country, it’s also one with an extremely exciting history and cultural diversity. Its proximity to New York led to the rise of many of the music industry’s most beloved rockers, starting with Frank Sinatra and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons from the heavily Italian-American areas of New York-adjacent Hoboken and Newark, respectively, while further south, closer to the Jersey Shore sprang the ‘70s and ‘80s rock icons Bon Jovi, Southside Johnny and the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen – all of whom cut their teeth at the rock clubs and biker bars by Asbury Park. Jersey’s got picturesque capes and seaside towns, casino-lined boardwalks perfect for a night with lady luck, Gatsby-esque mansions in East Orange, intellectual and culture-laden college towns, and beaches that’ll get you the kind of Deathray orange only mythologized on MTV shows. Need a break? Chances are, Jersey’s got you settled.
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Residents of New York City or Philadelphia who are itching to release themselves from the broiling concrete slabs of their respective megalopoli for a weekend don’t have to travel very far to get to Cape May, a sunny little peninsula studded with handsome Victorian houses and surrounded on three sides by coastline. Cape May has pretty much everything an over-congested city doesn’t: fishing boats and harbor-docked restaurants shelling out some of the freshest crustaceans and bivalves on the East Coast (we recommend The Lobster House), a century-and-a-half old lighthouse which allows visitors to climb up and observe the surrounding harbor, acres and acres of vibrant and hikable parkland (go in the autumn and watch the bird migration), and clean, crisp country air. Hit the beach, where visitors are guaranteed a spot to stretch out in, and don’t forget to grab an excessively dressed dog from the neighborhood beach shack, Hot Dog Tommy’s.
Though Hoboken is quite often overlooked by travelers in favor of Manhattan, its big brother on the other side of the Hudson River, there are actually a lot of reasons to stop into this much less congested seaside city. Visitors with a penchant for industrial architecture will find themselves among handsome former warehouses lining the harbor, while the generous spread of parks and public green spaces open up to opportunities for film screenings under the stairs, outdoor concerts, and fresh air yoga facing the gleaming skyline of NYC. Beyond that, Hoboken’s got criminally underrated restaurants (except maybe Carlo’s Bakery of Cake Boss fame, which is pretty appropriately beloved), a rich and thriving arts scene and hotels that boast amazing views of Manhattan at half the price. Located right on the commuter train line between New York and Newark, Hoboken is not merely a great place to headquarter a trip to NYC, but a pretty fun place to stroll around in in its own right.
Trenton is not a big city, but it’s an attractive one, sculpted by the Delaware River and patched over with vast stretches of parkland and green fields, while its streets lay out classic mid-century architecture, most notably its gold-tipped State House, all white stucco and a west wing that trumps even that of the White House. The 42-acre Grounds for Sculpture park and museum is also a remarkable attraction, displaying over 270 works by renowned American sculptors across its unique and informal lakeside setting. However, there’s no denying that if you’re in Trenton, you’re there to try the pizza – or rather, their tomato pies, as one of the few places you can get proper pizza, following the Neapolitan tradition, is at Massimo’s Pizzeria & Cucina. Otherwise, Papa’s Tomato Pies can offer the real Trenton deal, having laid claim the title of the oldest family-run pizza place in the United States (They were opening roughly around the time the Titanic was setting its course into the deep blue ocean). With a thin and crispy base and real tomatoes rather than a sauce, one bite of this pie will tell you exactly why it’s not pizza, and why that is a good thing.
Those who find themselves in Princeton find themselves following some heavy footsteps – those of Albert Einstein, TS Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jimmy Stewart and Michelle Obama. Despite Princeton being, at its most fundamental level, just another university town, it is also one of the seminal university towns in the country. The institution lends itself over to the pervasive arts culture, best unearthed at the Princeton University Art Museum which houses over 80,000 works of art; the historical attractions, which include the Einstein Museum, the Princeton Battlefield State Park, and the handful of tour companies which operate around the area, as well as its restaurant scene that at once caters to both the upmarket visiting parents and alumni as well as financially weary students. For a refreshing break after a nice stroll around campus, The Bent Spoon offers some of the best ice cream in the city.
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Atlantic City rose with American industry, following the aristocratic masses from New York and Philadelphia as they made their way to the South Jersey seascape to build vacation homes and resorts, following a tradition of gilded luxury through the city’s boomtown years of the turn of the century. They planted ornate and illustrious hotels along the boardwalk, each one bigger than the last. In the 1920s, when Prohibition settled like heavy dust through the rest of the states, Atlantic City became America’s Playground, running on an alternate trajectory, this time away from the Progressive era temperance movements and towards an industry where visitors and resort guests could guiltlessly indulge in tipple, gambling and girls with very little penalty. The Depression barely hit AC, but the post-war period did, slowing production and preventing redevelopment. Preserved along the boardwalk are still the same Art Nouveau palaces of sin, Art Deco theaters, late night speakeasies and mega casinos. Dive into the windowless universe in the electric buzz of Harrah’s, or under the ornately imperial Roman architecture of Caesar’s Casino. For a step back into true AC tradition, check out the Knife & Fork Inn, once the exclusive drinking and smoking club of early 20th century political luminaries (host to Enoch "Nucky" Johnson himself).
A lot of shade has been thrown at the Jersey Shore over the years, but the sun still shines in Ocean City. Nestled right at the heart of the shore, the resort town has been a perennial fixture on best beach rankings and its boardwalk is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the country. The famous boardwalk stretches 2.5 miles and extends past family amusement parks, an arcade, street musician pavilions, water parks, mini-golf courses, fashion boutiques and souvenir shops, restaurants and beach shacks. Ocean City is very much a family oriented resort town, and beyond the illustrious boardwalk is a historic town with tons of shopping and fun attractions and arcades as well as museums that detail the history of the city.
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This innocuous town an hour from New York City has seen some big action – if not cult action. If you’ve ever seen Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy, Dogma, or Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, then you’ve definitely seen Red Bank; and fans of legendary pianist and bandleader Count Basie will undoubtedly recognize some solid Red Bank repping in his Red Bank Boogie and The Kid from Red Bank. Directly related to these two fairly iconic former Red Bank residents, there’s an interesting arts culture in the area of 12,000: film and comic book nerds have a home in this place, especially at Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash on Broad Street, which sells movie memorabilia (like Jason Mewes’ beanie and Clerks T-shirts) and rare comics and also happens to be the filming location of Smith’s AMC television show Comic Book Men. There’s a busy festival calendar in Red Bank, ranging from the Jazz & Blues Fest, and the Red Bank Film Festival. Around town, visitors can catch a show at the prestigious Count Basie Theater, or walk around the affluent town, replete with boutique fashion and jewellery shops and gorgeous Victorian architecture.
BIg-city amenities meets vast snow-blanketed peaks and valleys at the East Coast’s premier ski spot. Mountain Creek Ski Resort encompasses 167 skiable acres along four mountain peaks (vertical of 1040 feet and plenty of trails for all types of skiers), the largest tubing park in the country, a huge terrain park, upscale and on-the-go restaurants and luxury hotels and spas – and it’s merely an hour and change from NYC. Perfect for the Aspen set on a weekend getaway, the alpine-chic Grand Cascades Lodge at the Crystal Springs Resort is home to an indoor tropical biosphere pool complex, the sumptuous Reflections Spa and upscale French restaurant, Restaurant Latour & Wine Cellar. During the day, first-timers can hit the baby-bunny slopes at the specially designed teaching terrain, with soft rolling bumps, a mini half-pipe and beginner snowbanks.
Asbury Park has come a long way since its immortalization in Bruce Springsteen’s 1973 debut album, Greetings From Asbury Park, having undergone slow decline through their honky tonk years and later, gentrification, settling down on that reputation as a boardwalk beach town that it had always carried so well. But, as was sonically punctuated and lyrically alluded to in that early album, the freneticism lingers on the boardwalk to this day, with the gleeful adolescence of drunk punks packed into the legendary Stone Pony rock club and eccentric mix of art galleries, antiques and music venues downtown and over the multiple festival circuits. These days, the scope has expanded beyond the queer clubs, rock venues and biker bars that once peppered the town when the Boss was coming up, but wizards who want to take a shot down Pinball Way can still hit the Silver Ball Museum, where vintage pinball machines are waiting to be rocked for hours, and visitors can try to get a glimpse of the boys from the casino dancing with their shirts open over by Casino Pier. The only difference is that it’s probably easier to be a saint in this city now, more than ever.
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Bordentown might occupy just one square mile of New Jersey and be home to an estimated 3,914, but this riverside community – like the rest of Jersey – has no shortage of rock in its roots. No better example of that is at The Record Collector, a popular consignment shop decked in neon lit, retro art deco style filled with vinyls, pop culture knick knacks and retro gift items. The shop physically bears a striking similarity to Empire Records in the eponymous 1995 movie, and holds regular live music shows as part of their Living Room At The Record Collector series. Families who are visiting Bordentown for a day from nearby New York City or surrounding areas can better take advantage of this visit by dropping in during the Bordentown Cranberry Festival, an open air pedestrian market and fair, with crafts for sale, wines and gourmet foods on offer, childrens’ attractions and little surprises as well as tons of great live music.