52 Things You Must Do This Year
Feast or frolic, explore or extol, we’ve got you covered for a self-directed festival of discovery and delight. Every week, meet a bit of the Garden State you need to know by heart.
Go Up, Up and Away
Anyone who thinks all of New Jersey’s hot air is concentrated in Trenton has never been to the Quick Chek Festival of Ballooning, the largest summertime balloon festival in North America. This year more than 125 colorful hot-air balloons from around the world are expected to take flight as the sky-high extravaganza celebrates its 30th anniversary, July 27 to 29 at the Solberg Airport in Readington. The event attracts more than 150,000 guests each year, and last year raised $2 million for local organizations. There will be amusement rides, music, arts and crafts, food vendors, group activities like yoga and Zumba, as well as a fireworks spectacular. Keep your feet on the ground—or book early and take your very own balloon ride. (39 Thor Solberg Road; 973-882-5464)
Re-create the Glory Days
These days, you’re unlikely to find Bruce Springsteen hanging out under the Asbury Park boardwalk, but that doesn’t mean a trip to the town that launched the Boss is wasted time for Bruce-o-philes. At the legendaryStone Pony, tribute acts like the B-Street Band, Tramps Like Us and Bruce in the U.S.A. are in regular rotation. Is it a second-rate experience? By definition, yes. But given the setting, the history and the thump of the music, see if it doesn’t transport you to the days when girls combed their hair in rear-view mirrors and the boys tried to look so hard. (913 Ocean Avenue; 732-502-0600; stoneponyonline.com)
Run With the Crabs
The annual spawning of the Delaware Bay horseshoe crabs is a must-see for even the most tenuous of naturalists. Every year from late May to early June, tens of thousands of these 450-million-year-old creatures emerge from the bay to lay their eggs in the sand. The spectacle attracts enormous flocks of red knots, migratory birds that fly up from South America to gorge themselves on the eggs. The best place to view this prehistoric pageant is on Reed’s Beach in Cape May just after the full moon.
Sample the Original Jersey Pizza
Trenton is the birthplace of pizza in New Jersey, dating to 1912. But like Trenton politics, Trenton pizza is topsy-turvy. Cheese and toppings go on first; then chunky crushed tomatoes (not tomato sauce) are ladled over, producing what are called tomato pies. There are three revered temples of tomato pie, each with deep roots—DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pies (530 Hudson Street, Trenton; 609-695-9534;delorenzostomatopies.com; and 2350 Route 33, Robbinsville; 609-341-8480; same website); DeLorenzo’s Pizza (1007 Hamilton Avenue, Trenton; 609-393-2952; delospizza.com); and Papa’s Tomato Pies, the oldest, continuously operating pizza parlor in the state (804 Chambers Street, Trenton; 609-392-0359). The prominent flavor and texture of the thick tomatoes set tomato pie apart from regular pizza.
Flip for the Falls
Paterson is hardly the garden spot of the Garden State, yet it contains one of Jersey’s greatest natural wonders, the 77-foot-high Great Falls, which comes thundering through its urban surroundings like a gargantuan fish out of water (in this case, the Passaic River). Stop in at the little visitor’s center (65 McBride Avenue; 973-279-9587; patersongreatfalls.org) for some history, then walk out on the overlook for a close view. Next stroll down the hill to Little Lima and grab a bite at one of the many Peruvian sandwich shops along Market Street.
Go Beyond the Boardwalk
It was one of the most welcome sights down the Shore last summer: The return of the Asbury Park swan boats. Pedal one of these iconic crafts around Lake Wesley, then check out other signs of Asbury Park’s ongoing revitalization, including two new entries on Cookman Avenue: the Shore Institute of the Contemporary Arts, and BACA, an upscale cocktail lounge/sports bar. Or browse the vintage fashions at Asbury Park Trading Post (110 Bond Street), Blue Hawaii Vintage (529 Bangs Avenue) and Sweet Joey’s (523 Bangs Avenue).
Get Into Training
Think of Northlandz as a giant work of sculpture that you can walk through. It doesn’t look like much from the exterior, but inside this ambitious model railroad layout is an extraordinary testament to the imagination and skill of one man, creator Bruce Williams Zaccagnino. Its miniature towns, deep canyons and scenes of work and play are animated by up to 100 HO-gauge trains that glide through the manmade landscape on more than eight miles of track. A must for kids, train fans or anyone wowed by works of fantasy. (495 U.S. 202, Flemington; 908-782-4022; northlandz.com)
Wolf Down a Few Old-Fashioned Sliders
In this age of exotic sumo burgers that you can hardly get your jaws (or wallet) around, it’s nice to visit a place that time forgot. People wait on line at Hackensack’s White Manna—a cute little burger-shaped, glass-brick bungalow with a white, dome-like top—to get their hands on pillowy, oniony, crisply beefy burgers that are diminutive in price and size but not in satisfaction. George Motz, in his book, Hamburger America, hails White Manna as “beyond a doubt, one of the most historically important hamburger joints in America.” The Old Faithful of ground beef. (358 River Street; 201-342-0914)
Seek Out Your Roots
Most Jersey folks have immigrant roots. Explore your own at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, a short ferry ride from Jersey City’s Liberty State Park. The museum is located in the main building of the former immigration station complex, where 22 million new arrivals entered the country between 1892 and 1924, after passing the nearby Statue of Liberty. Take a self-guided interactive tour, check out the American Immigrant Wall of Honor and talk to a historian who will help you look up your family’s records. (ellisisland.org; 201-604-2800)
Watch Saltwater Taffy Being Made
Saltwater taffy, which contains no salt and barely any water, supposedly earned its name after a flood tide soaked a Boardwalk taffy stand in Atlantic City in the 1890s. More than a century later, it remains an iconic Shore souvenir. Much more fun than eating the gluey stuff is watching it being made, which you can do atShriver’s on the Ocean City boardwalk. Mostly sugar, the taffy emerges from a steam kettle as a viscous liquid, then cools into a pliant mass that has to be pulled and stretched and folded and refolded and tapered and extruded until, lo and behold, it is finally snipped into the familiar little pieces and wrapped in paper with twirled ends. (9th and Boardwalk; 877-668-2339; shrivers.com)
Go Victorian in Cape May
You don’t need to know the difference between a Queen Anne and a Gothic Revival to fall in love with Cape May Victoriana, which earned the town its designation as a National Historic Landmark. Here, “painted ladies” done up in bold color schemes and bedecked with gingerbread sit majestically, sometimes sweetly, along narrow streets in this increasingly hip seashore town. Bed-and-breakfasts, like the well-loved Chalfonte, abound, but daytrippers can take in the flavor through hourly walking and trolley tours. And don’t count out a wintertime visit: During Christmas in Cape May, through January, the town takes on a charming Dickensian vibe, with twinkling gaslights and robes of fragrant garland.
History, With a View
The Weehawken Dueling Grounds is the site of the July 1804 pistol showdown between Alexander Hamilton (father of industrial Paterson) and Aaron Burr (a Newark native). Hamilton died in the incident; Burr lived on in disgrace. On the cliffs of Weehawken (across from 39 Hamilton Avenue), a plaque marks the spot where “somewhere below” the duel took place. The boulder upon which Hamilton leaned after suffering his mortal wound has been moved to the spot and sits behind a bust of the ill-fated patriot. You’ll come for the history but stay for the incomparable view of midtown Manhattan—best enjoyed from nearby Hamilton Park (at Boulevard East and Duer Place).
Flashback to the ’50s
There’s an endless parade of antique-car shows in New Jersey, but none quite like Lead East, the annual Labor Day weekend celebration of post-World War II kitsch. The cars are the stars—almost 2,000 of them, from showroom-perfect Chevys to eye-popping street rods—but this five-day event also features ’50s music, dancing and movies. It’s a fantasyland of doo-wop bands, poodle skirts and chromed exhaust pipes. This year’s event runs August 29 to September 2 at the Parsippany Hilton. (leadeast.net)
Accept No Sub-stitutes
Some say the White House Sub Shop in Atlantic City is all about the subs, and they have a point. Fresh bread from local bakeries is brought in several times a day, the ingredients are super fresh, the subs are mammoth (even a half will feed two normal people) and the countermen make three-card monte dealers look like slowpokes. But we say it’s equally about the atmosphere, or anti-atmosphere, of fluorescent glare, cramped booths, walls crammed with celeb photos and mementos (including hand towels supposedly used by Sinatra in his last A.C. concert) and lines out the door. Gloriously dingy, the White House has not changed a whit since it opened in 1946. Fortunately. (2301 Arctic Avenue; 609-345-1564)
Get a Blowout at the Jerseylicious Salon
Nobody ever said just because you live in New Jersey you have to look the part—the one portrayed by the many reality-TV series set here, that is—but that doesn’t mean a few hours spent in pursuit of the Jersey Girl look is not an essential New Jersey experience. And why go halfway? Skip the spray tan and head straight to Green Brook and Gatsby Salon, home of the Style Network’s Jerseylicious. It takes a while to get an appointment, and your blow-dry-and-style (starting at $30) is not apt to be administered by owner/star Gayle Giacomo herself. But you will walk out with Texas-sized hair and a feeling of superiority to Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, a poser from Marlboro, New York. (215 U.S. Highway 22; 732-752-4247; gatsbysalon.com)
Get Your Jaws Around an Italian
To consume a Jimmy Buff’s Italian hot dog like a normal sandwich, you need an elastic jaw like a python’s. Short of that, the pleasure is in the deconstruction, bite by bite, of deep-fried potatoes, onions and peppers stuffed into a half loaf of soft pizza bread on top of one or two deep-fried hot dogs or Italian sausages. Jimmy Buff’s has been serving hot dogs this way since 1932. Then as now—the health-conscious will appreciate this—everything is fried in soybean oil. (East Hanover, Scotch Plains, West Orange, Kenilworth and Randolph; jimmybuff.com)
Tear Into a Ripper
Beauty is only skin deep. No one knows this to be truer than the loyal customers of Rutt’s Hut. The shack-like restaurant’s infamous ripper, a hot dog deep-fried in vegetable oil, gets its name from its rugged appearance—the outside skin rips open when fried. While the exterior is rough, the middle is soft and juicy. Rippers can be ordered as “In and Outers” (just barely cooked), “Medium” (name says it all), “Wellers” (well-done) and “Cremators” (cooked until charred). Rutt’s relish, almost as famous as the dogs, is a secret homemade blend. (417 River Road, Clifton; 973-779-8615; ruttshut.com)
See if it’s Better in Buttzville
People journey from all over to drive through Buttzville, home to Hot Dog Johnny’s. What started as a small hot dog stand in 1944 has become a Jersey landmark on the forested end of Route 46. With outdoor picnic tables and a swing set overlooking the Pequest River, this family-friendly stop in Warren County remains open year-round serving their classic hot dogs fried in peanut oil along with frosted mugs of birch beer and fresh buttermilk. Visitors not only stop by Johnny’s for their food, but also for their signature yellow T-shirts and other pieces of Buttzville memorabilia. (333 Route 46; 908-453-2882)
Celebrate Jersey’s Cranberry Culture
Held each year on the third weekend of October, the Chatsworth Cranberry Festival is a tribute to the culture of the Pine Barrens and New Jersey’s cranberry harvest, the third largest in the United States. Artists and craftsmen abound, and myriad food vendors sell everything from cranberry pies to deep-fried Oreos, all under an inspiring canopy of pines. Admission is free. (cranfest.org)
Be a Beacon Down the Shore
On one weekend each fall, New Jersey celebrates its seaside heritage with the Lighthouse Challenge, a contest of sorts that requires you to visit all of the state’s 11 lighthouses (from Sandy Hook to Cape May and up the Delaware River to Tinicum Island in Paulsboro) as well as two lighthouse museums and two life-saving stations. Along the way, you collect souvenirs at each stop and experience some of the state’s most breathtaking shoreline views. Funds raised from the weekend benefit lighthouse upkeep. (lighthousechallengenj.org)
Order Taylor Pork Roll at a Classic Diner
Griddled Taylor pork roll (or Taylor ham, as it’s also known) is the Taylor Provisions Company of Trenton’s gift to the basic blue-collar breakfast. Its salty, round slices provide the perfect finishing touch to the simple fried-egg sandwich. Classic diners provide the perfect porcelain-and-Naugahyde environment in which to contemplate this marriage of meat and egg. One of the last and best of the breed is the cozy little Summit Diner, built in 1938 in the railroad-car style by the Jerry O’Mahony Company of Elizabeth (“In our line we lead the world”). Opt for a stool, the better to inhale the essential aromas wafting from the griddle. (1 Union Place; 908-277-3256)
Saddle Up for the Rodeo
Yes, Virginia, there is a real rodeo in New Jersey. Founded in 1929, Cowtown Rodeo is the longest running weekly rodeo in the United States, attracting cowboys from all over the country to the Salem County town of Pilesgrove. Every Saturday night from May 29 through September 25, the lights come up on the 4,000-seat outdoor arena at 7:30, and spectators are treated to nearly three hours of bronco riding, calf roping, steer wrestling, barrel racing and more. A rodeo clown performs between events. Adults pay $15, children 12 and under get in for $10, and parking is free. (780 U.S. 40; 856-769-3200; cowtownrodeo.com)
Get Rolling With Jersey’s Roller Girls
With team names like Anchor Beach Assassins, Murder Beach Militia and Jersey Shore Beat Down, you can be certain the Jersey Shore Roller Girls are fast and furious. The all-woman, flat-track roller derby league was formed in 2008 and promises some of the fiercest derby action on the East Coast. Home matches are held at the Asbury Park Convention Hall. (1300 Ocean Avenue; 732-775-3533;jerseyshorerollergirls.net)
Hit the Brick City
You don’t know New Jersey until you know Newark, the state’s largest city. Throughout the year, the Newark Preservation & Landmark Committee runs tours of the city’s important landmarks, 75 of which are on the National and New Jersey Registers of Historic Places. Don’t miss the Newark Museum, with its world-class collections of fine and decorative art and fascinating science exhibits. A church tour during the holiday season is especially jaw-dropping: at the 1890-built First Baptist Peddie Memorial, you’ll encounter mysterious half-hidden faces embedded in the cornices of the Byzantine-Romanesque structure. And all year long, the Ironbound District attracts ethnic food fans with its profusion of Brazilian and Portuguese restaurants. For Iberian delicacies, the colorful neighborhood is the next best thing to being in Lisbon; try Seabra’s Marisqueira on Madison Street. For a churrascaria (Brazilian steakhouse), go to Brasilia Grill on Monroe Street.
Float Without a Boat
No shoes, no shirt, no problems. Tubing the Delaware River has become a popular warm-weather pastime, with outfits cropping up all over the Jersey and Pennsylvania riverfronts. For $24, Delaware River Tubing Inc. in Frenchtown supplies shuttles to and from the water, tubes for the three-and-a-half hour float and a mid-trip meal from the River Hot Dog Man’s pontoon boat, a mainstay since 1987. With water temperatures up to 80 degrees and the occasional mild rapids, the river provides a perfect setting to drink in Jersey’s splendor. (2998 Daniel Bray Highway; 908-996-5386; delawarerivertubing.com)
Sample Ivy League Life for a Day
You don’t have to be an art major to appreciate the beauty of Princeton University, the state’s only Ivy League campus. Tours are available year round (for more information, call 609-258-3060). Fall is a particularly beautiful time to visit—and perhaps catch the Tigers in a home football game. After the game, stroll the paved paths of the 500-acre campus, with its grand buildings designed by four centuries of distinguished architects. Next, head to adjacent Nassau Street and Palmer Square to browse the high-end stores and shops full of Princeton paraphernalia.
Stick a Feather in Your Cap
Here’s a must for Norman Rockwell fans: The world’s largest mural by the famed painter of Americana hangs behind the bar at the Nassau Inn’s Yankee Doodle Tap Room in Princeton. Edgar Palmer, the wealthy Princeton graduate and trustee, commissioned the mural more than 70 years ago for the inn. Rockwell delivered with a lively, 13-foot-wide depiction of Yankee Doodle himself—coming to town on a pony, of course. (10 Palmer Square, Princeton; 609-921-7500; nassauinn.com)
Drop in on Chris and Mary Pat
Okay, Chris Christie and family don’t actually live in their official home, but once you’ve seenDrumthwacket, you may want to move in. Hey, why not? You pay enough in taxes, don’t you? The historic Princeton residence, which dates to 1835, doubles as a museum and is open to the public for tours most Wednesdays. Visitors get to see many of the mansion’s rooms, the solarium, the gardens and more. The sprawling property is just down the road from Princeton’s town center. (354 Stockton Street/Route 206, Princeton; 609-683-0057; drumthwacket.org)
Get Hooked on the Blues
Get off the sand this summer and go angling for bluefish on one of the dozen or more Point Pleasant Beach fishing boats that take off through the Manasquan inlet daily when the blues are running, typically late spring through late fall. On a good day you’ll be packed like sardines, literally rubbing elbows with your fellow anglers, but that’s part of the fun. Blues run in large schools; with a good captain at the helm, it’s virtually impossible not to catch one. Crewmates will clean and fillet the fish for a nominal fee. (pointpleasantbeach.com/charterboats)
Look, But Don’t Touch
There’s only a narrow window to enjoy the beauty of the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens in Montclair. The irises typically bloom from mid-May to early June in an explosion of yellows, purples and bright whites such as only nature can provide. The garden was founded in 1927, but some of the 10,000 flowers neatly arrayed in 36 beds can be traced back to the 16th century. Admission is free; donations are requested. Come early to avoid crowds. Bring your camera. (474 Upper Mountain Avenue, Montclair; presbyirisgardens.org)
Stroll Along a River
The Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park is a treat for bicyclists, walkers and joggers almost any time of year, but especially in the fall. The park—actually a gravel path along the Delaware, Millstone and Raritan rivers—is perfectly flat and nicely maintained, although some sections took a beating in last year’s storms. The most popular stretch of about 22 miles runs along the Delaware from Washington’s Crossing to Frenchtown and passes through Lambertville and Stockton. There’s no better way to combine some easy outdoor activity, gorgeous scenery and a bit of brunch or boutique shopping.
Just Do It, Frank’s Way
Hoboken native Frank Sinatra was likely inclined to leisurely strolls, highball in hand. But you won’t be taking the Chairman of the Board’s name in vain with a mild jog along Sinatra Drive, the curvy, park-flanked, mile-long stretch of road that skirts the Hudson River and affords spectacular views of Manhattan. Fill your iPod with some of Frank’s classic tunes (“Fly Me To The Moon” and “The Way You Look Tonight”) for the warm-up from First Street to Pier C Park, then huff it the rest of the way to “My Way.” (Skip “My Kind of Town,” though—that’s about Chicago.)
Go Back in Time
Head to Vineland for a wholly unique and nostalgic experience at the Delsea Drive-In, New Jersey’s only drive-in movie theater. Renovated and reopened in 2004, the Delsea offers a different first-run double feature every week from late spring to early fall for just $8 per person. Gates open at 6:30 pm; the evening’s first show starts at sundown. (2203 South Delsea Drive; 856-696-0011; delseadrive-in.com)
Try a Natural High
How considerate of New Jersey: You can get all the way to the state’s highest point (about 1,800 feet) without breaking a sweat. Route 23 takes you right into High Point State Park, where a paved road leads almost to the base of a 220-foot-tall obelisk marking the Garden State’s apex. Walk around the monument for an unparalleled 360-degree tristate view. The park has abundant picnic areas, 50 miles of hiking trails, lakeside camping, a glacial lake for summertime swims and a cross-country ski center for winter recreation. (973-875-4800; nj.gov/nj/things/parks)
Valley Shepherd Creamery is more than a working sheep dairy; the 120-acre Morris County farm is a living workshop on sheep management and cheesemaking. Take its popular old-fashioned cheesemaking class, and you’ll learn to make your own wheel of artisanal sheep’s-milk cheese, which is then left in the creamery’s hillside cave to age for 90 days. Participants get a tour of the facility, including the milking parlor, ewe barn and lamb house, and enjoy a luncheon and cheese tasting on the farm porch. (50 Fairmount Road, Long Valley; 908-876-3200; valleyshepherd.com)
Watch the Whales
Ready for a whale of a time? Catch a whale-watching cruise out of Cape May. The 110-foot Cape May Whale Watcher, for example, has been plying South Jersey’s coastal waters since 1993. It runs three daily trips from April through September and weekend trips in October, November and March. During summer, these sessions include a two-hour dolphin watch at 10 am, a three-hour whale watch at 1 pm, and a two-hour dinner cruise that sets sail at 6:30 pm. (1218 Wilson Drive; 609-884-5445; capemaywhalewatcher.com)
Let Them Eat Cake
Carlo’s Bakery was founded in 1910 and purchased by Buddy Valastro’s family in 1964. Yet it wasn’t until TLC premiered Cake Boss in 2009 that the Hoboken bakery became a phenomenon. Now, on any given day, the corner of Washington and Newark streets (renamed Carlo’s Bakery Way two years ago) is lined with fans waiting for a taste of sweets and reality television. For the shortest line come early, and avoid summer, when the wait can last up to two hours. Luckily Washington Street is replete with boutiques and restaurants to peruse while Dad holds the family’s spot in line. Hint: Mile Square City residents can skip the line and bring one friend with them. (95 Washington Street; 201-659-3671; carlosbakery.com)
Get Greasy at Rutgers
Sure, you can tour Rutgers, maybe catch a football game on Saturday, but it’s not a true RU experience unless you stop for a bite—a big bite—at one of the Rutgers grease trucks located on the New Brunswick campus. There, you’ll find students cramming down legendary fat sandwiches like the Fat Cat, which piles on two cheeseburgers, French fries, lettuce, tomato, mayo and ketchup. Not enough for you? Then head over to College Avenue and Hamilton Street, where you will find the R U Hungry truck, birthplace of the Fat Darrell, and bite into a stack of chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, fries, lettuce, tomato and marinara sauce. (732-246-2177)
Order an Omelet at 3 am
Pondering the age-old causality dilemma never tasted so good. Chicken or the Egg—fondly called Chegg by regulars—has been serving up breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night to the masses in Beach Haven on LBI since 1991. Open 24 hours every day during the summer season, Chegg is famous for its wings, omelets and everything in between. Whatever you order, make sure to “buffalize” it with one of their homemade sauces, which range in order of taste-bud temperature from mild and sweet honey BBQ to the concoction dubbed “ludicrous”—so hot that minors must be accompanied by an adult when ordering it. (207 North Bay Avenue; 609-492-3695; 492fowl.com)
Watch the Pigskin Fly
They officially may be the New York Jets, but Rex Ryan’s team calls New Jersey home. During the 2012 preseason this August, Jets training camp at the Atlantic Health Training Center in Florham Park will be free and open to the public. Get ready for the season by snagging autographs from the friendly Flight Crew (read: cheerleaders) and watching Mark Sanchez and the rest of Gang Green take their snaps. Snacks, beverages and Jets gear are available for purchase. Young fans can spend the day at the Jets’ interactive theme park featuring rides and skill challenges. Parking is free but limited. (One Jets Drive; 973-549-4844;newyorkjets.com/camp)
Hike a Hunk of the Appalachian Trail
Stretching from Georgia to Maine, the Appalachian Trail is one of the longest continually marked footpaths in the world. Jerseyans lay claim to 72 of its 2,180 miles as it snakes north from the Delaware Water Gap along the Kittatinny Ridge to High Point, then east through the Pochuck Valley. The rugged and remote route features abundant wildlife, moderate elevation changes up to 1,685 feet and striking panoramas. The route passes glacial Sunfish Pond—a national natural landmark—and crosses bogs, wetlands and a wildlife sanctuary. Access points intersect the trail every few miles, making modest day hikes possible. (appalachiantrail.org)
Pick a Winner
Even the uninitiated can place a bet at Monmouth Park in Oceanport; a mere $2 gets you in on the excitement (732-222-5100; monmouthpark.com). Grab a track program as you enter and select your favorites—there are detailed instructions for the novice. Thoroughbred racing starts in mid-May and runs through mid-November, every weekend. You can even bring the kids: Family Fun Days, with pony rides, clowns and face painters take place every Sunday from Memorial Day to Labor Day, noon to 4 pm. Save on the high cost of concession food and pack your own picnic. (The Meadowlands Racetracke offers similar racing action, January through mid-August, generally Thursday through Saturday.)
Tour a Staggeringly Great Wine Collection
With more than 120 different vintages of Chateau Latour (dating to 1863) and 100 different vintages of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, among other treasures, the wine cellar at Restaurant Latour, at the Crystal Springs Resort in Sussex County, “is considered to be the best Bordeaux collection in the United States,” says its sommelier, Susanne Lerescu. But with 100,000 bottles, the collection—the personal stash of Crystal Springs owner Gene Mulvihill—ranges far beyond Bordeaux. Free guided tours through the winding catacombs are offered daily at 3 pm, and each tour includes a complimentary wine tasting—though not of the 1863 Latour, which (though it’s probably vinegar) is worth $17,000. (1 Wild Turkey Way; 973-827-0548;crystalgolfresort.com)
Read a Jersey Classic…
It’s been more than 40 years since John McPhee wrote The Pine Barrens, his classic account of the culture, history and natural wonders of rural southern New Jersey. The Pines may seem worlds away to much of the state’s population, but that’s all the more reason to consider McPhee’s tome the essential Jersey read. Don’t be put off by McPhee’s imposing credentials—Pulitzer Prize winner; longtime Princeton University writing instructor—The Pine Barrens is a pithy, anecdotal gathering of colorful characters and amusing folktales.
…Then Paddle the Pines
The Pine Barrens is a canoe and kayak enthusiast’s dream, with dozens of tucked-away rivers, creeks and lakes brimming with rare wildlife and vegetation. Highlights include the Mullica, Oswego and Batsto rivers, as well as the Rancocas Creek. And don’t worry if you haven’t got a canoe or kayak of your own. There are plenty of places in the Pines that offer day and weekend rentals.
Peek Into a Golfer’s Mecca
Pine Valley Golf Club is one of those places where the elite meet to golf without intrusion from the general rifraff. One day a year, though, most often the last Sunday in September, the mere public can gape during the final round of the Crump Cup, an international amateur event honoring Henry Crump, the course’s founder and architect. For just $20, visitors can follow the players up the fairways and see what most aficionados rank as one of the premier courses in the world. (East Atlantic Avenue; 856-783-3000)
Take a Flyer at Fly Fishing
You don’t have to go to some remote Western river to get caught in the lure of fly fishing. Just head over to Parsippany and hook up with Andrew Moy, owner of Tight Lines Fly Fishing (973-244-5990;tightlinesflyfishing.com). Moy offers fly-fishing lessons—and for about $200-$250 can outfit you with a rod, reel, flyline, leaders, flies, waders and boots. If you’re a novice, he’ll likely point you toward scenic Ken Lockwood Gorge, where the Raritan River’s South Branch meanders near High Bridge, Hunterdon County, or the Pequest Trout Hatchery west of Hackettstown in Warren County. The Hatchery also has a number of programs for the beginner.
Enjoy Newark’s Bounty of Cherry Blossoms
Every April, Branch Brook Park celebrates its assemblage of 4,100 cherry trees with the Cherry Blossom Festival. At this year’s 36th annual event, enjoy bicycle races, benefit runs, music, a photography workshop and free lectures. Or simply wander through the park’s 360 acres of fields and paths. After feasting your eyes, feed your stomach along Bloomfield Avenue, which features options from ethnic eateries to white-linen restaurants. (973-268-2300; branchbrookpark.org)
Watch History Repeat Itself
George Washington was in a bind. In a week, the new year would bring the end of conscription, and his troops would be free to go home. Enthusiasm for the war, so vigorous the previous summer, had ebbed, and Washington needed at least a PR stunt to keep it going. His spies told him that Trenton, just down the road from the riverbank across from New Hope, Pennsylvania, where his army sat, was ill guarded by Hessian mercenaries. In a daring Christmas-night move, Washington gathered the troops, put them in boats across the Delaware, marched them the few miles to Trenton and surprised and defeated the Hessians. Troops re-upped, and the American Revolution continued. Each Christmas Day at 1 pm, dozens of men in Colonial mufti re-enact the voyage across the Delaware at Washington Crossing State Park. The spectacle is free, as is parking. (Route 29, Titusville)
Go Down the Shore in the Winter
The Shore is gloriously desolate in winter. Drive to the southernmost tip of Island Beach State Park and walk the vast dunes to glimpse Barnegat Light across the inlet. Watch in awe as boats tackle the winter surf. In nearby Seaside Heights, stroll amidst the boarded-up boardwalk attractions and visit the Jersey Shore house (1209 Ocean Terrace) with nary a Snooki in sight. Finding an open restaurant might be tough. Try Surf Taco in Point Pleasant Beach (1300 Richmond Avenue), where endless of surfing videos provide a glimpse of summer to come.
Walk on the Water
Practically everyone in New Jersey has driven over the George Washington Bridge, but how many of us have walked (or biked) across the 4,760-foot span? The views up and down the Hudson River are extraordinary. Pick a sunny, calm day, for your crossing. You can stow your four-wheeler in the Fort Lee municipal lot across from Cafe La Maison (140 Main Street), a comfy spot for a post-walk nibble.
Don’t Forget Lucy
You’ve never seen the Atlantic Ocean through the eyes of Lucy the Elephant? What are you waiting for? The six-story wooden pachyderm is perhaps the grandest Jersey icon of them all. Next time you’re near Atlantic City, give Lucy a wave. Better yet, climb inside to check out the exhibits and that elephant’s-eye view of the surf. (9200 Atlantic Avenue, Margate; 609-823-6473; lucytheelephant.org)
Contributors: Ashley J. Cerasaro, Nick DiUlio, Natalia Knochowski, Tammy La Gorce, Eric Levin,
Dervela O’Brien, Lauren Payne, Drew Anne Scarantino, Ken Schlager and Robert Strauss