NE New Jersey
Jersey Bucket List
Source: The Jersey Bucket List | NJ.com - Inside Jersey June, 2011, by Matt Dowling
There comes a point in every Jerseyan's life when you wake up, smell the roses (or more likely, the chemically infused whiff of Exit 14 on the Turnpike) and wonder, "Have I done and seen everything in this state that I should have?"
I don't mean simply heading to the Shore, or shopping at every mall in Jersey. I mean one-of-a-kind, Jersey-centric adventures or excursions. You know, things you must do in New Jersey before you leave us. Places you must visit or experiences you must have before going to that great Parkway exit in the sky.
To help you along, IJ proudly presents its Jersey Bucket List.
Visit the Governor
Well, sort of. Take a tour of the state capitol -- the second oldest continuously operated state capitol building in the country -- and learn how the government you pay all those outrageously high taxes to works. Get the rundown on the building's history, art and architecture and learn about the legislative process and the hard work of those public officials you love to lambaste. The hour-long tours include the Senate and Assembly chamber galleries, party conference rooms, the rotunda and the governor's office reception area. The guv, according to the official website, "does not routinely greet tour groups." But you never know. (njleg.state.nj.us/legislativepub/visit ing_guided.asp)
Hike the Appalachian Trail
No, I don't mean all 2,180 miles from Maine to Georgia, just some or all of the 72-mile New Jersey section. It's among the trail's most scenic areas. You can start at High Point State Park or the other end, at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. You'll need good sturdy hiking boots and comfortable clothes; don't just head out there in your sneakers and Bermuda shorts. The trail is marked, so follow the painted white blazes.
Have a Wildwood Weekend
Loud, licentious, kitschy, crude -- in other words, unforgettable. And free -- yes free! -- beaches. Even if it takes a half-day to get from the boardwalk to the water. Book a room at one of the cool retro motels, such as the Caribbean, in Wildwood Crest, or the StarLux, in Wildwood. The boardwalk is Jersey's best, a 2.5-mile-long avenue of pizza joints, T-shirt shops, tattoo parlors, arcades, restaurants, even bars (drinking on the Wildwood boardwalk has been legal since July 2010). For the quintessential Wildwood experience, visit the boardwalk at night, where there's enough neon to light up Vegas. Start, or end, your Wildwood weekend with a ride on the magnificent Ferris wheel, arcing high above the beach and boardwalk.
Sightsee the Swamps of Jersey
Take one of the river cruises hosted by the Hackensack Riverkeeper or through the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, or rent a canoe and go off on your own. To most people, the Meadowlands means the Giants and Jets, but it's also an unlikely urban wilderness minutes from Manhattan. (njmeadowlands.gov/environment/tours.html and hackensackriverkeeper.org)
Visit the State's Small Museums
Stop in Jersey's unique, off-beat museums, including the Museum of American Glass in Millville (home of the world's largest bottle), the New Jersey National Guard Militia Museum in Sea Girt (check out the Intelligent Whale, a Civil War-era submarine), the American Labor Museum in Haledon, the New Jersey Maritime Museum in Beach Haven, the Paranormal Museum in Asbury Park and Grover Cleveland's birthplace in Caldwell, where two pieces of the president's wedding cake -- 150 years old and counting -- are on display. I'm not kidding.
Gaze at the Stars
You don't have to move to Montana to see the heavens in all their glory. Everyone knows, or should know, about the New Jersey State Museum Planetarium in Trenton, a 150-seat state-of-the-art facility (nj.gov/state/museum). If you're looking for a more intimate experience, visit one of the smaller planetariums or observatories scattered around the state. The largest telescope in New Jersey open to the public can be found at the Paul H. Robinson Observatory in Voorhees State Park in High Bridge (njaa.org).
The John W. H. Simpson Observatory in Washington Crossing State Park, operated by the Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton, conducts free public star watches (princetonastronomy.org).
Peyton Hall Astronomical Observatory in Princeton University's Peyton Hall also holds public star watches (astro.princeton.edu/observatory). The Raritan Valley Community College Planetarium holds star shows, laser concerts and other events (raritanval.edu). And don't forget the Dreyfuss Planetarium at the Newark Museum (newarkmuseum.org/planetarium.html), the only planetarium in New Jersey to house a Zeiss Skymaster ZKP3 projector.
Do the Camden Four-Pack
Camden needs all the love it can get, and there really are things to do. On a stroll along the river, you'll find Adventure Aquarium (adventureaquarium.com), Battleship New Jersey (battleshipnewjersey.org), Campbell's Field, where the Camden Riversharks minor league baseball team plays (riversharks.com) and the Children's Garden (camdenchildrensgarden.org). Not far away is the Walt Whitman House, the only home the poet ever owned.
Walk Across the George Washington Bridge
Yes, you can do it legally, it's free and the views are spectacular. At 80 years old, the GW may be the nation's most important -- and underappreciated -- span. You'll be 212 feet above the Hudson, and the bridge will shake just a bit, which adds to the experience. Park on the Fort Lee side, near the corner of Hudson Terrace and Bruce Reynolds Boulevard. The south walkway is open from 6 a.m. to midnight every day; the north walkway is closed at all times. On the way back, visit nearby Fort Lee Historic Park, with exhibits and even better views over the river. (njpalisades.org)
Go on a Brew Pub Tour
Tired of reading stories about vineyards and wine tours and other corked blah-blah-blah? The state is home to 20-plus breweries and brew pubs, from Atlantic City, Cherry Hill and Maple Shade to New Brunswick, Woodbridge, Butler and Sparta. Now, we're not suggesting you visit them all in one day, but a weekend-long beer road trip might be just what the doctor ordered. Most of the brew pubs have good food. A few of my favorites: Long Valley Pub and Brewery in Long Valley, River Horse Brewing Co. in Lambertville, and the Ship Inn in Milford.
Visit the Great Falls in Paterson
It's the state's greatest natural wonder, and you've never been? The fact that it's located in the downtown of the state's third largest city makes it even more remarkable. Start at the Great Falls Historic District Cultural Center, at 65 McBride Ave., then walk across the street to the narrow bridge that takes you right above the falls. For the first-time visitor, it's always a breathtaking sight. Hungry? One of the state's legendary hot dog joints, Libby's, is a short stroll away, at 98 McBride Ave.
Take Your Sweetie to the Drive-in
When the Hazlet Drive-in closed in 1991, New Jersey, birthplace of the drive-in movie theater, was left without one. The Delsea Drive-in, in Vineland, which opened in 1949 and closed in 1987, re-opened in 2004, causing drive-in fans to jump for Technicolor joy. Admission is $8 for those age 12 and older (gone are the pay-by-the-carload prices of your youth), and there's always a double-bill. (delseadrive-in.com)
Attend the Cherry Blossom Festival
Washington, D.C.'s cherry blossoms may be more renowned, but those in Newark's Branch Brook Park are second to none. The festival, which runs for two weeks in early April, includes a bike race, a run, the Cherry Blossom Gala and Bloomfest, a one-day celebration when the blossoms are at their most beautiful. Combine this with a visit to the magnificent Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart nearby, and you have the makings of a special Newark day. (branchbrookpark.org)
You'll be talking about this the rest of your life. I did it twice many years ago, and I still remember every heart-stopping, thrilling moment. Down the Shore, try Skydive Jersey Shore, Monmouth Executive Airport, Route 34, Wall (skydivenjshore.com). In North Jersey, there's Skydive Sussex, at the Sussex County Airport (skydivesussex.com). In South Jersey, head to Skydive Cross Keys, in Williamstown, Gloucester County (crosskeysskydiving.com).
Go Airborne Old-school
So you'd rather stay in the plane than jump out of it? How about a ride in a classic biplane from Long Branch to LBI? It's a Boeing Stearman 1942 open cockpit biplane known as the Cannibal Queen. Gotta love the name. Half-hour tours are $179 for one passenger, $299 for two; hour-long tours are $349 for one passenger, $499 for two. The hour-and-a-half ride from Long Branch to LBI is $499 and $699. (biplaneridesovernjb.com)
Eat a Muskrat
Okay, you've eaten all over the state, from high-end to hole-in-the-wall. But for the dinner to end all dinners, attend the annual muskrat dinner hosted by the Lower Alloways Creek Fire Co. in Salem County. Yes, we said muskrat. It's quite tasty, with the right herbs and fixin's. Muskrat hunting is a way of life in this neck of the woods, and the dinner honors that tradition and benefits the firehouse. Muskrat love -- it's more than just a song. (facebook.com/Lower.Alloways.Creek.NJ)
Explore the Inside of an Elephant
Lucy the Margate Elephant, who else? Sure, you've seen the state's -- the world's! -- most famous wooden elephant, but have you actually walked upstairs and checked out the exhibits inside? No, didn't think so. Watch a video on Lucy's history and walk up more steps to the howdah or platform for the oceanfront view. An outdoor cafe, Lucy's Beach Grille, and restaurant, Bella Luna, are open on the grounds during the summer.
Visit Two Great Old-time Theaters
The Loew's Jersey City was billed as the "Most Lavish Temple of Entertainment'' when it opened its doors in 1929. The magnificent theater fell into disrepair in the 1980s and a $1 million restoration has returned its splendor. Movies play regularly (loewsjerseycity.org). Music lovers need to put the Scottish Rite Auditorium in Collingswood on their must-visit list. This 1930s art deco showplace is intimate (1,000 seats), with great acoustics. I've seen Randy Newman and Patty Griffin there, with nearly front-row seats both times. Amazing. (collingswood.com/entertainment/thearter-and-ballroom)
Ride Jersey's Country Roads
For those stuck with the Parkway or Turnpike every day, this is your escape -- and reward. Spend a nice summer or early fall day following country roads along the Delaware River, from the top of Jersey, in Sussex County, all the way down to Lambertville, just north of Trenton. It's a beautiful drive, and an easy one, since you just have to follow a few roads. Start on Route 521 near High Point State Park in Sussex County, following the road as it twists and turns through Middleville, Stillwater and Blairstown before reaching Hope, in Warren County. There, head south on Route 519, another great country road winding past fields and farm markets and ice cream stands. It'll take you to little Alpha (just outside Phillipsburg), and then down into Hunterdon County to Milford. Keep the river on your right and follow Route 619 (Milford-Frenchtown Road) to Frenchtown, a cozy town where you'll pick up Route 29 for a peaceful ride, with river views, to Stockton and Lambertville, each worth a stop. It'll be a day of discovery.
Visit Jersey's Great Neighborhoods
Chambersburg may not be the Chambersburg of my youth, but it's still the go-to place for Italian restaurants and markets in the capital city. A good blog on the Burg is mackstruckofwisdom.blogspot.com. The Ironbound, with nearly 200 restaurants, is heaven for those who love Spanish/Portuguese/Brazilian food. Just take a walk down Ferry Street, the main drag, which is jammed with bars, restaurants, cafes, markets and bakeries. And check out goironbound.com. Jersey City, to my mind, has the best, or at least most diverse dining scene in New Jersey. A stroll through Little India or Little Manila, jammed, respectively, with Indian and Philippine restaurants and stores, is unforgettable. Visit destinationjerseycity.com.
Get Your Cowboy On
Cowtown Rodeo, which opened 55 years ago, is the oldest weekly rodeo in the country, and a stop on the professional rodeo circuit. Every Saturday night from the end of May to the end of September, the rodeo comes to Pilesgrove in Salem County, located just off Exit 1 on the New Jersey Turnpike. Yeah, it's way down there, so stay overnight in one of several nearby hotels. As you sit in the grandstands, you may pinch yourself to make sure you're still in Jersey. Parking is free and refreshments are available. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for children 2 to 12. Children younger than 2 are free. Cowtown is at 780 Harding Highway (Route 40) in Pilesgrove. For information, call (856) 769-3200 or visit cowtownrodeo.com.
Take a Balloon Ride
Wouldn't you love to fly in my beautiful balloon? Hunterdon County is, for my money, the prettiest county in Jersey: small towns, rolling hills and still largely unspoiled. What better way to see it than along Route 78? Actually, above 78, and everything else, in a hot air balloon. Several balloon companies are located in the Clinton area. In Flight Balloon Adventures (balloonnj.com) describes itself as "the oldest established company on the I-78 corridor." Alexandria Balloon Flights (njballooning.com), located at Sky Manor Airport in that Hunterdon County town, celebrated flying its 15,000th passenger last year. American Balloon (balloonride.net) launches its balloons from the ball field of the Clinton Elks. Above and Beyond (njhotair.com) also is located in the Clinton area. Tewksbury Balloon Adventures (tewksburyballoon.com) is located in Whitehouse Station. Balloonatics & Aeronuts (njballoonrides.com), headquartered outside Phillipsburg, skims the treetops of Warren County. The rides are not cheap -- figure $500 to $600 per couple for an exclusive ride, and $200 to $250 per person going with others, with actual in-the-air time about an hour. But you can't put a price on the view, or memories.
Attend the Ocean City Baby Parade
Two hours of babies and kids dressed as princesses, bathing beauties, Barbies, and fruits and vegetables sounds like a Monty Python skit run amok, but it's only the Ocean City Baby Parade --a colorful, if slightly zany, slice of Americana. The babies sit astride makeshift floats, some Rose Bowl Parade-worthy, others looking like they were thrown together late at night in the garage. The parade is the single greatest spectacle in any Jersey Shore summer. It's held in August on the boardwalk between sixth and 12th streets. Even if you hate the sight, sound and especially smell of babies, you'll love this parade. (ocnj.us)
Get Out to a Ballgame
You don't have to leave Jersey to watch the great American pastime. The state's minor league baseball teams provide all the fun and excitement -- at much lower prices. There are independent baseball teams in Newark (the Newark Bears), Little Falls (the New Jersey Jackals), Bridgewater (Somerset Patriots) and Camden (the Riversharks). And there are major league farm teamsin Trenton (Trenton Thunder, affiliated with the Yankees) and Lakewood (Lakewood BlueClaws, affiliated with the Phillies).Youcan generally walk up and buy game-day tickets, and they won't cost you an arm, a leg and a second mortgage. And there's the added thrill of watching tomorrow's stars today.
Pitch a Tent in the Pine Barrens
It takes up a huge chunk of the state, but how many of us have actually set foot in the Pine Barrens? The Pinelands National Reserve alone covers 1.1 million acres in seven counties and all or part of 56 municipalities. That's a lot of woods and water, and walking, hiking, camping and canoeing possibilities.
At Wharton State Forest, the largest single tract in the New Jersey state park system, there are cabins and trailer sites. But for the quintessential Pine Barrens experience, you gotta pitch a tent. A friend and I once stayed overnight at the Godfrey Bridge Campground -- in bone-chilling November, no less -- and it was a blast. The Hawkins Bridge and Goshen Pond campsites, and part of the Godfrey Bridge site, will be closed until April 2012 for renovations, but there are plenty of spots available at the Atsion, Bodine Field, Lower Forge and Mullica River camp areas. There is nothing quite like sleeping at night in the woods -- in this case, the beautiful, wild, mysterious Pine Barrens. (state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/wharton.html)
Sing Along to the National Anthem
It's been a sunset ritual for several decades at the Sea Gulls' Nest, a Sandy Hook oceanfront bar. Join in as the "The Star Spangled Banner" or Kate Smith's "God Bless America" is played over the loudspeaker. I'm convinced the day the music dies at Sea Gulls' Nest is the day the Jersey Shore just disappears into the mist.
If singing -- or just listening to -- either song doesn't make you all misty-eyed and proud to be an American -- proud to be a Jerseyan! -- there's something seriously wrong with you.