FAMILY TRAVEL – VIAGGI
Family vacation New Jersey is not a phrase you often hear. After all, my home state has a bad reputation. I never realized this fact until I attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Many of us came from New Jersey, but the others – many of whom were from Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and New York – constantly put down our place and our people.
Back then, HBO’s Sopranos was one of the most popular shows on television. In one way, New Jersey experienced a renaissance during that time because people who never paid attention to it were suddenly interested. In another way, it worsened the rep by making everyone think that corruption was rampant.
Misconceptions about New Jersey
We New Jerseyans heard it all. You live in the “armpit of America.” Isn’t New Jersey just a turnpike? As an Italian American who came from northern New Jersey just like the characters and many of the actual actors on the Sopranos, I was often asked, “Are you in the mafia?” Oy!
Truly, I could not believe what people thought of my lovely home state. In defending N.J., I grew to appreciate all it had to offer. I ended up writing a book, Fun with the Family New Jersey (Globe Pequot Press, 2012), and I continue to discover its many wonders. I encourage others to do the same. The first step in planning a trip to New Jersey is deciding on which part to zone in. Discover the regions of the state and what they have to offer:
Family Vacation New Jersey: Northern New Jersey
Home sweet home is what comes to mind whenever I think about northern New Jersey. This is where I grew up. It has way more to offer than the strip clubs made famous in the Sopranos or the various restaurants where New Jersey Housewives have exploded on each other in front of Bravo TV cameras. Lots of famous people have lived here, including Frank Sinatra (in Hoboken), John Travolta (in Englewood), Eddie Murphy (in Englewood), and of course James Gandolfini (Park Ridge).
Here you’ll find pieces of New Jersey’s history, particularly as it relates to the Revolutionary War and the leadership of our first President George Washington. At the Fort Lee Historic Park, you can take check out Revolutionary cannons and a museum. You can also take epic photos of the George Washington Bridge made famous by Gov. Chris Christie, who allegedly loaded up traffic as an act of revenge to the town’s mayor who would not back him.
In Paramus, you’ll find lots of grand malls for shopping. The best part is you pay no sales tax on clothes in New Jersey. The Jets and the Giants play at the Meadowlands, where you’ll also find many concerts and other entertainment throughout the year. You can seek out your inner Einstein at Liberty Science Center, or check out the digs of inventor Thomas Edison. Not many people realize this, but you can also get to the Statue of Liberty from Jersey, which is a nicer ride than the one in Battery Park, in my humble opinion. New York City and the other boroughs, not to mention Connecticut, are a hop skip and a jump from northern N.J., so there are plenty of day trips to plan.
Family Vacation New Jersey: Central New Jersey
When trashing New Jersey, people often forget it is the Garden State for a reason. This is where we grow fresh Jersey tomatoes, sweet summer corn, and fall’s favorite cranberries. And central New Jersey is where you’ll be reminded that the state has its countryside, too. Forget the farmer’s market. You can go directly to the source and pick your own peaches, strawberries, and other goodies all summer long. But the fall is the best time to head to one of the farms, including Alstede Farms in Chester, N.J. Hay rides, pumpkin picking, and interactions with the farm animals can’t be beat.
In central New Jersey, you’ll also find the historic towns of Princeton and Trenton. Perhaps, Princeton is best known for the university. But it also home to Drumthwacket, the residence of the governor and his family, and the Princeton Battlefield, site of a Revolutionary War battle that is now a great place for hiking and bird watching in the midst of history. Trenton is the state capital, so you can visit the New Jersey State House. But you can also travel back in time by visiting the British soldier’s barracks at the Old Barrack’s Museum or the oldest house in the city, the Willian Trent House.
The Garden State Discovery Museum with its hands-on exhibits for kids in Cherry Hill and Camden, which is home to the Adventure Aquarium and Camden Children’s Garden are perfect destinations for families. Of course, you can easily visit nearby Philadelphia, too.
Family Vacation New Jersey: Southern New Jersey
South Jersey is where everyone goes down the shore. This is the best known region for family travel and with good reason. Nobody does summer quite like the Jersey Shore. Truly, you have a bevy options. Wildwood, Seaside Heights, and Point Pleasant offer the beach and the boardwalk for kids and kids at heart alike. In Asbury Park, you can check out the Stone Pony, where rockers such as N.J. native Bruce Springsteen launched his career. (This is also the part of the state from whence Bon Jovi came, so it’s kind of sacred ground as home to Tommy and Gina, who are still “living on a prayer” as far as I know.)
Atlantic City is full of must-see attractions, even if you’re not a gambler or have kids with you . The Steel Pier offers lots of fun rides and games for the whole family. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not offers unbelievable stuff to spark the imagination. A quick stop at White House for sub sandwiches that still attract the rich and famous whets the appetite. But don’t forget to grab some salt water taffy for dessert.
Near Atlantic City in Margate, you’ll find Lucy the Elephant, which makes for a great photo backdrop. Another must do in south Jersey is Cape May. Here, you’ll find the beach, a zoo, and the famous Victorian houses, some of which are open for tours. If you read this far, you now realize that New Jersey is in no way America’s garbage dump. In fact, it is the flowering garden of the United States.
Di Meglio has written the Our Paesani column for ItaliansRus.com since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10. For more handmade crafts and party gear, visit the Italian Mamma store on Etsy.