Although one of the smallest US states, New Jersey is home to many first-rate tourist attractions. From national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty to fine museums and historical sites, New Jersey is a state that is well worth taking time to explore. A good place to start is along the state’s Atlantic Coast, using any one of its quaint harbor towns or resorts – even the entertainment hot spot of Atlantic City – as a jumping-off point. It’s also a good base from which to explore all the attractions of New York City, with excellent public transit and accommodation options.
1 Atlantic City and The Boardwalk
One of the most popular coastal resort towns on the northeastern coast of the US, Atlantic City is best known for its famous Boardwalk. This four-mile-long promenade was constructed in 1870 and to this day remains the place where the majority of the city’s attractions are found. Among its most popular tourist spots is Steel Pier, a carnival-style amusement park that has rides for all ages, including a massive observation wheel with climate-controlled gondolas that give riders amazing views over the city and the ocean year-round. Bike rentals, the historic electric tram, or traditional rickshaw-like rolling chairs make a fun alternative to walking the Boardwalk. While there, check out the Entrance to the Stars, with hand-prints of celebrities such as Frank Sinatra. Atlantic city is also home to several historic and cultural attractions, including Abs-econ Lighthouse; an aquarium; and Boardwalk Hall, a venue that hosts concerts and events like the Miss America finals.
2 Old Victorian Cape May
The many attractions of Cape May, at the southernmost tip of New Jersey on Delaware Bay, were largely discovered by the wealthy during the 18th and 19th centuries when it enjoyed its heyday as a fashionable resort town. It was so popular that six US presidents had summer homes here, attracted by the very things that draw tourists today: fine beaches, Cape May Point Lighthouse (built in 1859), and its many handsome Victorian-style holiday homes, one of the best examples being Emlen Physics Estate. Now a museum, this 18-room mansion was built in 1879 and is a fine example of the American Stick Style of architecture. Also of interest is the Yankee, an 80-foot-tall schooner offering a variety of harbor tours, as well as dolphin and whale-sighting cruises.
3 Liberty State Park
Overlooking the Upper New York Bay, Liberty Island, and Ellis Island (home to New York’s Statue of Liberty), Liberty State Park encompasses 1,212 waterside acres. In addition to its wonderful views of the aforementioned attractions, the park contains many highlights of its own, including Communicant Cove, a 36-acre tidal salt marsh that has been designated a nature preserve (an interpretive center is on-site). The park is also home to a number of interesting memorials and monuments, including Liberation, dedicated to the Holocaust, and the sobering Empty Sky, a memorial consisting of two 210-foot-long steel walls with the names of those victims of the tragic events of 9/11 who had ties to New Jersey. The park also has recreational facilities, from picnic areas to fishing, kayaking, and cycling.
4 Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
Covering more than 70,000 acres, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area straddles the border between New Jersey and Pennsylvania and includes a spectacular 40-mile protected stretch of the Delaware River. This large recreation area is accessible at numerous points, with the New Jersey section being serviced by two visitor centers: Mill brook Village, a recreation of a 19th-century community with displays of traditional crafts; and the Kitting Point Visitor Center, with numerous exhibits, magnificent views, and an access point for the Appalachian Trail. Other park highlights include the Mini sink Archaeological Site, where remnants from a 10,000-year-old settlement were found, as well as activities such as canoeing, kayaking, swimming, fishing, and camping.
5 Princeton and the Battlefield State Park
The small town of Princeton owes its international reputation to its university and associated research institutes, including the Institute for Advanced Study, where Albert Einstein carried out his final work. Established in 1756, the school’s 1,600-acre grounds are wonderful to explore, and one of the best ways to do so is by joining the student-run tour program (tours last an hour). Another famous historic site is Princeton Battlefield State Park, the 200-acre location of the Battle of Princeton of 1777, which resulted in Washington’s victory over the British. In addition to the battlefield itself, other highlights include Clarke House Museum, built in 1772 and used as a hospital by troops from both sides of the conflict, the Ionic Colonnade, and a memorial marking the graves of British and American soldiers
6 Battleship New Jersey
The US Navy’s most decorated vessel, the mammoth New Jersey is now an excellent floating museum moored on the Delaware River. Highlights of a visit include guided tours through this historic Iowa-class ship, launched in 1942 and one of the largest battleships ever built. Throughout the ship, you’ll see numerous exhibits and displays of artifacts relating to the ship’s involvement in conflict zones from WWII to the Middle East in the 1980s. Other highlights include visiting the bridge where Admiral Halsey commanded the Pacific Fleet and viewing its huge 16-inch guns. If you can manage it, take advantage of the opportunity to spend a night aboard the ship or join one of its popular twilight tour packages.
7 The Adventure Aquarium
Another popular family attraction is the Adventure Aquarium on the Delaware River in Camden. Considered one of the best aquatic educational facilities in the United States, this two-million-gallon aquarium is home to more than 8,500 marine animals, including a large collection of sharks, sea turtles, penguins, and stingrays. It also has the distinction of being the only aquarium in the world with hippos. In addition to observing animals in their habitats, the aquarium gives visitors the opportunity to go “behind the scenes” and meet some up close, including African penguins, sea turtles, and an in-water encounter with sharks and stingrays.
8 Cape May County Park & Zoo
Cape May County Park & Zoo is a favorite attraction for families due to its numerous things to do and free admission. The public park offers many recreational facilities that are all free and open to the public, including hiking and biking trails, a disc golf course, volleyball and tennis courts, and many more outdoor game areas. It’s also equipped with picnic tables and grills. The zoo was added to the park’s facilities in 1978 and has grown over the years to include both native and exotic species. Among its residents, you will find the bald eagle, African lion, giraffe, ring-tailed lemur, zebra, and many more. For a fee, visitors can sign up for a guided tour, a specialty tour for a behind-the-scenes look at caring for the animals, and even encounters with select zoo residents such as reptiles, primates, camels, and giraffes.
9 Thomas Edison National Historical Park
A must-see when visiting New Jersey is the former home and laboratory of the state’s most famous son, Thomas Edison. Preserved under the Thomas Edison National Historical Park, these two structures were where such breakthrough technologies as movie cameras, sound recordings, and batteries first saw the light of day. Highlights of a visit include a close-up look at the labs, vintage movies, and original artifacts, as well as a chance to tour Glendon, Edison’s magnificent Queen Anne-style home, a perfectly preserved 29-room mansion. Guided and audio tours are available for both sites. Hot Tip: Tickets for Glen more are on a first-come first-served basis, so arrive early.
10 Grounds For Sculpture
Art lovers (and nature lovers) won’t want to miss the incredible Grounds For Sculpture, a 42-acre museum and sculpture park in the town of Hamilton. Established in 1992 to facilitate the appreciation of contemporary sculpture, it has become one of the state’s most popular art exhibits, boasting 270 large-scale works by Seward Johnson and other US artists. In addition to the sculptures, the park itself is wonderfully landscaped with numerous trees and flowerbeds. Another great art experience awaits at the Jersey City Museum with its collection of more than 300 paintings, as well as a large permanent collection of historical artifacts from the region. Also of interest is the Newark Museum, home to more than 80 galleries containing American paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts, as well as American Indian and African items.
11 Morey’s Piers
Located on the shore of Cape May, the amusement and water parks at Morey’s Piers cover six blocks parallel to the sandy beach. Beginning in 1968 with a lone waterside and a concession stand, the Morey brothers have expanded the park over the past 50 years and have a legacy as the creators of one of the country’s best parks. There are rides for every age, from kiddie to family-friendly favorites like the tilt-a-whirl, bumper cars, and a 156-foot ferries wheel. There is also no lack of thrill rides, including several roller coasters and daredevil rides with names like IT and Springs hot. The park also includes a go-kart track, as well as several driving rides and interactive attractions like the “Ghost Ship.” Morey’s Piers also includes two water parks that offer refreshing water slides, a lazy river, and pools with floating snack bars
12 Liberty Science Center
A highlight for kids visiting Liberty State Park is the Liberty Science Center. Lying on the park’s northwestern tip, this fun interactive science museum offers numerous fascinating hands-on exhibits and displays relating to science and technology. The recently updated planetarium conducts regular shows that explore the night sky and outer space, and is also host to films and amazing laser shows that envelop the audience. The center also has a 3D theater that shows immersive films about science, technology, and nature. Interactive exhibits include the Infinity Climber and a pixel art wall, and there are plenty of educational presentations, including a lightning show, an animals encounter, and a touch-tank with sea creatures. Other highlights include exhibits about robotics, engineering, bees, energy, and much more.