This article originally appeared in the May 15th Washington Post Travel section.
What do you get when you combine a colossal pachyderm, a Wild West rodeo, miles of beaches, a classic American entertainment mecca, and a dash of revolutionary history? New Jersey, for shore.
While the Garden State is America’s fourth smallest, you’d never know it by the diverse attractions within its borders. High climbers can scale the Appalachians, while high rollers can weigh their odds in Atlantic City. There are 130 miles of shoreline, plenty of seaside amusements, and eco-extras for the hikers, bikers, and birdwatchers among us. And, as it is all within a four-hour-or-less drive from Washington, getting to New Jersey’s wild side can be done on a tankful of gas.
During the summer, many city dwellers are attracted to New Jersey’s shores. Beach towns run the gamut, from the vintage Victorian village of Cape May (the entire place is a National Historic District) to the glitz and glamour of Atlantic City. In between are places like Seaside, Point Pleasant Beach and Wildwood, whose boardwalk amusements are stuff of legend.
Atlantic City has plenty of offerings for adults, including almost a dozen major casino resorts, showrooms, spas, and stellar cuisine. But like any coastal community, the A-C’s family-friendly nature can’t be denied. What kid wouldn’t love the midway games and rides dotting the country’s most famous boardwalk? The area’s family-friendly attractions run the gamut from an aquarium to a lighthouse to Lucy. Lucy the Margate Elephant, that is. The six-story elephantine structure hangs out just south of Atlantic City and is the only National Historic Landmark shaped like an animal. The wood and tin behemoth is a classic example of eccentric Victorian architecture circa the late 1800s.
Another New Jersey novelty is the Cowtown Rodeo in Pilesgrove. It’s the longest running Saturday night rodeo in the country, dating back to 1929.
Speaking of times past, don’t forget that New Jersey was the Crossroads of the American Revolution. The state has more than 500 farmlands, hillsides and homesteads that played some part in that war. Some of the prime sites include Morristown National Historical Park (where Washington and company endured the war’s long winters) and Monmouth Battlefield State Park. While others are commemorating the Civil War this summer, Yankee Doodle Dandies can participate in June’s Battle of Monmouth reenactment, remembering the largest artillery battle of the American Revolution. Washington Crossing State Park, where the boys landed after fording the Delaware River, was originally preserved for its historical significance. But today, it is also a popular place due to miles of trails, wildlife habitats, and a plethora of bird-watching perches.
In fact, New Jersey’s wealth of wilderness and wetlands is often a surprise to the out-of-stater. There’s Lake Wawayanda, a prime place for fishing, canoeing and boating. A twenty-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail runs through the park. Outside adventurers might also ramble over to the Meadowlands. Say what? That’s right, the Meadowlands is an ecotourism paradise. The thriving marshes and vast recreational opportunities along the Hackensack River are the best kept secret of the 30.4-square-mile Meadowlands District. Visitors can take a guided tour of the wetlands by boat, witness wildflowers or warblers, or explore tidal creeks and marshes by canoe.
For more ideas on New Jersey’s panorama of authentic, iconic, and original attractions, go to www.visitnj.org.