New Jersey, the Garden State, the land of Jersey Shore and Atlantic City, has so much more to offer its visitors. A myriad of activities ranging from family friendly locations to scenic drives will keep you entertained when you leave the metropolitan areas. Hop in the car and get ready to explore the countryside as well as the coast. You’ll see some historic parks and buildings, and maybe even a giant elephant, so be ready to be impressed. Don’t worry, there are plenty of fun places to stop to eat and recharge as you go on your way!
Check out our list of the best hidden gems in New Jersey!
1. Diggerland, USA, West Berlin
Diggerland is not your average amusement park, ladies and gentlemen. It is actually the only construction themed park in the United States, and chock full of inventive rides. Instead of bumper cars, why not try driving construction vehicles and enjoying a whole new interpretation of what makes an amusement parks.
Take a spin on the Spin Dizzy, which is a 20-ton excavator modified to carry passengers for a spin-tastic experience. If you happen to be in West Berlin in October, they offer “Diggerfest”, a family-friendly festival. Take a hay ride or race the mazes, or check out the stunt shows. You might never go back to standard amusement parks after this hidden amusement park gem!
2. Old Mine Road
Old Mine Road is one of the oldest continually used roads in the United States, and crosses both New Jersey and New York. It runs a length of 104 miles, from the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area to Kingston, New York. The road has been modernized in New York, but a large portion is untouched in New Jersey, where corresponding Dutch buildings and other historic sites have been preserved in honor of the Dutch settlers to the area.
Hop in the car and explore the stretch of road between the Delaware Water Gap and Port Jervis. You can even stop to camp at Worthington State Forest and extend your trip. Enjoy the quaint two-lane roads and the chance to retrace some early Dutch American colonial history as you explore this historic hidden gem.
3. The Crab Shack
New Jersey boasts a long Atlantic coast, so it only stands to reason that there is some delicious seafood awaiting you. Sometimes it tastes best to grab a bite at the local favorite and hang out by the beach. Something about eating outdoors next to the ocean, with the ocean breeze, makes that seafood taste just a little bit better.
Stop in at the Crab Shack at Brick for fresh, yummy seafood or fish. Grab a tuna burger, or try the coconut shrimp! Or you can always stick to the classics and have some clam chowder. Regardless of your seafood preferences, the Crab Shack will leave you full and satisfied.
4. Yankee Doodle Tap Room
If you find yourself in Princeton, stop in at the historic Nassau Inn if only just for a drink at the Yankee Doodle Tap Room. This historic tavern first opened its doors in 1756, and has continued to honor its English pub style traditions. It’s a favorite for locals and visitors alike.
Try any of the 19 beers on tap; they offer excellent craft beer and food selections. Also, be sure to check out the large Norman Rockwell mural, which is 13 feet wide and is one of the highlights of the bar. Kick back in the solid oak booths and catch a music performance while you are there, if you can. It’s a perfect corner of the world for relaxation, good food and drink.
5. Rutgers Garden
Tucked away between the Turnpike and Route 1 is a little garden that not even all New Jersey locals always know about. Stretch your legs and stop off in Rutgers Garden, the university gardens for Rutger, if you find yourself in New Brunswick.
Rutgers Garden has the second largest collection of holly in the United States. Enjoy wandering the gardens and experiencing the flowers, and don’t miss out on their farmers market! It is sourced directly by the fruits and vegetables grown in the gardens, all of which are fresh and delicious! This is a little heavenly corner of the Turnpike and well worth the time to experience.
6. Asbury Park Pedal Boats, Wesley Lake
Located between Asbury Park and Ocean Grove is quaint Wesley Lake. In the 1960s the lake was home to a popular local attraction, a large, motorized Swan Boat. This attraction eventually disappeared until it was revived when the lake brought in swan paddle boats.
While not nearly as big as the original, the small paddle boats are perfect for family fun. Taking a few of these swans for a whirl is the perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon. So go out, make some memories, and enjoy taking this trip down memory lane as you make new memories. There is something to be said for good, clean fun after all.
7. The Brewer’s Apprentice, Freehold
If you’re a beer enthusiast, the Brewer’s Apprentice is just the place for you. It is located in Freehold, and offers a wide variety of options to keep yourself entertained. You can make your own beer or wine, or even mead if you’re interested in that ancient drink! Customizable sodas are also available for non-alcohol lovers. Dedicate an hour (or more!) and enjoy the user-friendly experience they have created here.
Stop by to learn about the whole process, make your own beverage creation, or just enjoy sampling what they have on tap. It’s also a ideal party solution as they offer private parties and in-home events as options. Even if it’s just a quick stop, have fun and drink responsibly at this fun brewery. You might start out as the apprentice, but after a while you’ll at least be a master beer taster.
8. Lucy the Elephant, Atlantic City
Lucy is a 6 story tall building in the shape of an elephant. She was designed by James Lafferty in 1881 and is the oldest surviving roadside attraction in the United States! She was originally intended to boost real estate sales, and now has retired and stands patiently in Atlantic City awaiting her visitors.
Stop by and pay Lucy a visit the next time that you are in the area. She even hides a spiral staircase that you can climb is you’re brave enough. Once you’re at the top, you’ll be rewarded by an excellent view of the area (don’t miss the water tower with the smiley face!). Snap a few photos of the skyline and you in front of this towering elephant!
9. Gardner’s Basin, Atlantic City
Most people think of gambling and the Boardwalk when they think about Atlantic City, but there is a hidden gem awaiting you if you step off the boardwalk and explore the rest of the area. Gardner’s Basin was previously used by rum runners smuggling their loads, and now is home to teeming marine life, splendid houses, restaurants and so much more entertainment.
Enjoy the historic corner of Atlantic City, and don’t miss out on the aquarium – it features more than 100 kinds of fish! Go out on a fishing or boating excursion before relaxing over a delicious meal at Back Bay Ale House. You’ll make some entirely new and unique memories of Atlantic City on your next trip and enjoy the relaxing time away from the casinos!
10. Deep Cut Gardens, Middletown
Deep Cut Gardens spans over 50 acres of Middletown, and is a must-see for any horticultural enthusiast or at-home gardener. Stop in at the horticultural center to talk to the expert staff and get some advice for your own garden, or just suggestions on what to see on your visit. It is specifically designed for those home gardeners and locals with green thumbs.
There are over 50 varieties of rose bushes and some native plants that have been cultivated for your viewing pleasure. Visit the on-site library or sign up for some of the events and classes offered here at Deep Cut Gardens. You won’t regret taking the time to pop in and learn more about both local and exotic plants.
11. Papa’s Tomato Pies, Robbinsville
Papa’s Tomato Pies is famous for being the oldest family-owned pizza restaurant in the United States! It was first opened in 1912 and has since been featured on the cooking channel! This restaurant is full of authentic, homey charm that you won’t find elsewhere, and after over 100 years of practice, you can be certain they’ve perfected the pizza.
Try any of their famous pies – still made by descendants of the original owner, Giuseppe Papa, who was originally from Naples. The family has kept the recipes and essence of the owners alive, even in the third and fourth generations! It’s a one-of-a-kind experience that can feed both your stomach and your soul, so stop in and talk to any of the friendly staff or the family who still are the only ones to touch the pies.
12. Valley Shepherd Creamery, Long Valley
Sometimes it is nice to get out of the city and explore the quiet of the countryside. Valley Shepherd Creamery spans over 100 acres in Long Valley and is the perfect place to visit if you are seeking an escape. What are you waiting for? A rustic day trip awaits.
Come sample the artisanal cheeses they make from their own sheep, who are raised with traditional European inspired sheep farming practices. The staff will educate you on their cheese-making processes – they make over 30 varieties of cheese, butter and yogurt! It’s a perfect rural haven for the dairy lover, so don’t miss out! Sample everything and take your favorites for the road. You can never have too much cheese in your life.
13. Grover’s Mill Coffee House, West Windsor
This cafe, besides boasting a mean cup of coffee, is also home to a rather unusual bit of New Jersey history. It’s located in West Windsor, and boasts some artwork that will make you stop and look at least for a second. Try their classic cup of coffee, or the nitro on tap if you’re feeling crazy that day!
You’ll see the curious artwork that decorates the shop, which depicts the night that a radio show managed to convince half of New Jersey that aliens had attacked Grover’s Mill. People believed the broadcast for a half hour, and were properly terrified as you could understand. The art hanging in this cafe shows some creative interpretations of what that imaginary attack might have looked like, and you’re welcome to analyze them as you sip on your delicious coffee or have a small bite to eat. You don’t see alien attack artwork every day, after all.
14. The Stickley Museum, Morris Plains
This museum is located on the 30 acre plot of land owned by Gustav Stickley, the first son of German immigrants and a believer in the European Arts and Crafts movement in the United States. He built this sprawling complex to promote his new furniture lines that broke away from Victorian style designs and were inspired by his time in Europe rubbing shoulders with the Arts and Crafts artists.
Come visit and get a glimpse into the life of a visionary who was disillusioned with the treatment given to the working class. He valued simplicity, honesty and quality above all else, and connected his ideas of design to his life. Learn more about this refreshing concept and let yourself be transported to a simpler time. Your mind and soul will be stimulated and you’ll be able to look at furniture and design in a whole different light after being exposed to his forward thinking philosophy.
15. Greenwood Gardens, Short Hills
Greenwood Gardens was originally a 76 acre stretch of land purchased by Joseph Day in 1906. He constructed a mansion and designed extensive surrounding gardens, which underwent a complete remodel and facelift in 1944 when the estate was purchased by Peter Blanchard. Blanchard breathed new life into the gardens and dubbed it “Greenwoods Gardens”.
An admissions fee is required, but is well worth it to see the lush, sprawling grounds. There are parts that will appeal to art as well as horticulture lovers. Don’t miss the wrought iron gate designed by Samuel Yellin or the bronze statue by Emilio Angela, both of which add a touch of whimsy to the expansive estate. Check the schedule for educational and musical events that are also hosted here occasionally to maximize your experience at this gem of a garden.
16. Green Sergeant’s Covered Bridge
New Jersey was once dotted by over 75 covered bridges. Now, Green Sergeant’s Covered Bridge is one of the few remaining in the state. Located in Delaware Township, the bridge was first constructed in 1872, and was reconstructed with original materials in 1960 amid protests that the state has tainted the authenticity of the bridge when they remodeled it in a modern style.
As you drive through the garden state, stop here to enjoy the last historic covered bridge and the beautiful nature that encompasses it. Snap a few photos and soak in the whimsical setting before continuing on your way. Not many of these old style bridges are left, but you’ll find that they really take you back to a time where people didn’t have cars and life was a bit slower.
17. Franklin Mineral Museum, Franklin
Nestled in Sussex County is a true New Jersey gem: the Franklin Mineral Museum. It is located at the site of a former active mine, also named the Franklin Mine. The mine was open and operational until the 1950s, when it was then turned into an open-air museum in 1964.
Visit the museum to learn more about minerals, geology and mining. You can see a simulated mine tunnel and some Native American artifacts. Explore the mine replica and the fluorescent mineral rooms for some experiences you’ll never forget! Whether you’re a history buff or geology fan, the Franklin Mineral Museum will not disappoint.
18. Sunset Beach, Cape May
Take advantage of your proximity to the coast the next time that you are in New Jersey and stop off at Sunset Beach in Cape May. It is a more remote beach destination compared to the rest of the Jersey Shore, and is a romantic place to view the sunset, as the name would imply.
Get there with some daylight left so you can check out the shipwreck of an old World War I boat that got stuck in a sandbar and has been there ever since. The Atlantus now forms a part of the beach as nature has gradually reclaimed her over the years. Take a walk along the beach and search for the quartz rocks that are scattered in with the sand. You can take a few home to remind you of the beautiful place.
19. Cowtown Rodeo
Located in Pilesgrove and Woodstown is the longest running weekly rodeo in the US – who would have thought?! It was founded in 1929 and has continued to entertain generations ever since. What are you waiting for? Grab those cowboy boots and head out the door.
You don’t have to go to the South to indulge in those western fantasies. Grant Harris’ family has provided entertainment much closer to home. Check out the greatest cowboys and cowgirls in the nation as they compete for 2 hours weekly. The Wild West is closer than ever!
20. Buttermilk Falls State Park
Buttermilk Falls is a hidden nature-filled gem tucked away in northern New Jersey. It is the tallest waterfall in the state and an excellent location for hiking and bird watching. Put on those hiking boots and get ready to get back in touch with Mother Nature.
Hike up to the falls, take some photos and enjoy the bird watching opportunities. If you continue, you can see Hemlock Pond or Crater Lake. Buttermilk Falls is easily accessible from the parking lot, but continue on for a more challenging and fun hike – you can also ascend to see the Hidden Falls. Take the chance to get away from the city and explore!