Even though not many people (more then you think, not as much as we’d like) point New Jersey as their destination of choice, the state has a lot to offer in the areas of dining, entertainment, history, culture and shopping.
New Jersey is a small but populous state located between New York City and Philadelphia, with many well known folks who call (or used to call) NJ home (see a condensed list here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_from_New_Jersey).
I must tell you that New Jersey is not a cheap place to visit or live in, certainly less expensive then NYC or Philly, but that’s not saying much.
How to get here:
Most people will probably fly into Newark airport, or you can take a bus or a short ferry ride from NYC or Philly. You can also rent a car and drive in
It is recommended to have a car as public transportation in the state is dismal at best, but beware – New Jersey has got a nasty reputation for its drivers (and rightly so).
There are two major highways in the state:
The New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway (New Jersey’s nickname is The Garden State). Both are toll roads and will get you across the state quickly (One of the best conversation starters at bars is “what exit are you from?”); however if you want to see the state I would recommend to stay off those roads and take the side roads when possible. You’ll get a better flavor, better food and better shopping.
What to wear:
That depends on the season (of course) and could get very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter.
If you do come in the winter be prepared, the winter in NJ is rough, and by that I mean that it could be hot one week, and very cold the next – it’s very rough on the body even for those of us who lived here for most of our lives.
There are several Youth Hostels in NJ as well as guest houses, many people visit NYC and sleep in NJ (Jersey City, Hoboken or any other northern town). Even though sometimes the trip in the city could take anywhere between 30 to 90 min. depends on the day and time – but there is a big difference in the price and if you’re on a budget you might consider staying here. Transportation to NYC is very good, between buses, trains and ferries you have many options.
There are also bed & breakfast type places, but they are expensive and cater mostly to folks who want to get away to a bit of R&R (the missus and myself love B&B places).
New Jersey has to compete with possibly two cities known for their cuisine, so the food is good and not as expensive as it is in the big cities (but can get quite costly). For the traveler on a budget you can eat fairly well in sub-shops, bagel stores, or even pubs (since they don’t make money on food but on drinks, the food at most pubs is cheap and descent).
If you are lost somewhere in NJ and looking for a good hot cup of coffee or a quick, cheap and good bite to eat try one of the many famous NJ Diners around.
If you feel for a fine dining experience, but without NY pricing try the northern NJ restaurants (especially the Italian ones). The Southern Jersey restaurants are also descent because they compete with Philadelphia, but I cannot vouch for them firsthand.
One of the best areas to eat in NJ is the Ironbound section in Newark – try the Portuguese, Brazilian or Spanish restaurants (good place to go if you are stuck in Newark airport for several hours between flights).
If you have kids five or older they would love Medieval Times – dinner & tournament in Lyndshurst.
As usual – ask the locals. For example in Tavern 344 in Wayne you can go for a wine event which includes 5 course dinner + wine pairings for $40pp.
Entertainment & Culture:
New Jersey has several venues which can compete with any major venue in the world, among them is the Meadowlands (Giants Stadium, Continental arena and a horse racing track) home to the American football teams Giants & Jets (even though they are “officially” from New York), the soccer team Metrostars (this is where the world cup was played – not in NY),, the basketball team Nets, hockey team Rangers and more. The NJPAC (NJ Performing Arts Center), and the new Prudential arena in Newark. Any major performer (by large) arriving on the east coast will play at least one of these venues.
Gambling – of course we have gambling – we have Atlantic City. It’s a fun place but don’t spend all your money there (it’s easy to do so) and the city outside the casino area is not exactly safe so when you book a cheap hotel know what you’re getting yourself into.
The Jersey Shore – A famous vacation spot, but not cheap. How much you will pay for staying and what to do depends on the season (of course summer is the high season). However you don’t have to stay there, its fun walking around Cape May for the day, the AC boardwalk or Wildwood.
Amusement Parks – there are several in NJ – the most famous (and most expensive) is Six Flags Great Adventure (which has the largest drive thru safari out of Africa).
Bars / Clubs:
For bars and clubs you can go to Hoboken (the current hotspot), and another great place is New Brunswick.
Of course you can go to the Jersey Shore where the nightlife never stops – don’t forget to check out the many rock n roll bars we have; some of the bands are fantastic. The most famous club “The Stone Pony” in Asbury Park was the bouncing board for many famous bands like Bon Jovi, Springsteen and many more (they are known for show up unannounced and join the band playing).
New Jersey is one of the thirteen original states which made up the United States; the history is amusing and fascinating. From some reason our illustrious politicians in the state capital - Trenton (who make Tony Soprano look like a stand-up guy) never took advantage to promote this fact. The oversight of our politicians does not make it less interesting, quite the opposite since the sights are not as touristic as in Philadelphia yet have just as much, if not more, historical significance. You can visit George Washington headquarters in Morristown (great pubs and restaurants as well), or walk in the footsteps of Albert Einstein in Princeton (a beautiful city –highly recommended) or visit several of the lighthouses in the area and several battlefields from the Revolutionary War.
One of my favorite places in Waterloo Village, where you can see how people lived 200 - 300 years ago with actors in customs, tours, shops and restaurants; a huge stage also accommodates concerts and special events, so check before you go.
Many people from NYC and Philly come to NJ to shop, we have everything they have, at a lesser price and less taxes (7% instead of 8%). If you buy high-ticket items you might want to go to an “urban enterprise zone” where the sales tax is cut in half (3.5%).
New Jersey does not charge tax on necessities which include clothe (even if it’s your $2,000 wedding dress), unprocessed and uncooked food, soap and shampoo.
Where NOT to go:
Camden (South Jersey by Philly) has a wonderful aquarium, if you do go do not venture far and get out – it is the most violent city in the US!!!
Irvington (Central Jersey) is like the Wild West – you have been warned.
Some places in Newark (even though that’s changing for the better) – best not to take a stroll at night if you are not familiar with the area.
A new port was recently opened in Bayonne (Northern NJ – across the river from NYC) which is big enough to accommodate cruise lines.
I’m not a big fan of cruises myself, but you can get really good deals if you buy last minute tickets and let’s face it $300 a week which includes a cabin, all you can eat food 24/7, non-alcoholic drinks, transportation, 5 star accommodations and all the ship has to offer and shore excursions is not a bad deal.
In 2008, for the first time, they will be offering year-round cruises to the Eastern and Southern Caribbean. From April through October, they offer 5- and 9-Night cruises to Bermuda and the Caribbean, and, from July through October, cruises to Canada and New England.
What to see:
Liberty State Park (where you can take a ferry to Ellis Island & the Statue of Liberty).
Hudson River Cruises (dinner cruises available as well)
Edison National Historic Site in West Orange – yes, Thomas Edison lived and worked in NJ
Trenton – especially the state house and the old barracks museum
The Newark Museum
Chester & Boonton for antiquing
The state has many festivals and special events all throughout the year and has many locations to visit for every taste and age. Give me a shout if you intend to be in the area and what you are interested in, and I’ll try to help (also give you my contact info in case of emergency).