New Jersey is always a surprise. It’s part metropolitan area, part farmland, part oceanfront getaway, and part Appalachian Mountains. Those features are usually associated with other states, but all are found in New Jersey. The state is a little bit of New York and a little bit of Pennsylvania. There are places in New Jersey where you’d swear you’re in Vermont -- and then places where you’d swear you’re in South Carolina.
But when New Jersey comes to mind, people generally think of two things: an extension of New York City just across the Hudson River, from Newark to Hackensack, and the beach getaways like Atlantic City, forever popular with residents of New York City. But New Jersey is much more than that.
Here are eight hidden gems in the Garden State.
1. Jenkinson’s Boardwalk
You’re undoubtedly familiar with the world-famous Atlantic City Boardwalk, but that’s not the only boardwalk in New Jersey. North of Atlantic City, in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, you’ll find Jenkinson’s Boardwalk.
One one side of the boardwalk is Point Pleasant Beach, with sand stretching as far as you can see. On the opposite side is every single thing you might associate with a New Jersey beachside boardwalk: an arcade, mini golf, an amusement park, ice cream stands, pizza joints, and the beloved Jenkinson’s Sweet Shop.
Nothing says summer in New Jersey like grabbing an ice cream cone and walking the boardwalk next to the beach while listening to the sounds of the amusement park. If you have time, stop and check out the aquarium or the Jenks Inlet Bar & Restaurant.
2. Gilchrist Downbeach
If you’ve ever been to Atlantic City, you know that the pancake houses are quite busy in the morning, even during the off-season. One of the more popular pancake spots is Gilchrist Restaurant. There are four locations, and the Gardner’s Basin and Tropicana locations always seem to be busy. But many aren’t aware of the Gilchrist Downbeach location.
Located only 4 miles down the beach from the Atlantic City Boardwalk, Gilchrist Downbeach is a great place to enjoy your breakfast and (perhaps) escape the crowd. Heading there from the heart of Atlantic City, Monopoly players will certainly recognize the names. You’ll drive down Ventnor Avenue through Marven Gardens (the inspiration for the game’s Marvin Gardens) to get to Gilchrist Downbeach.
What to order? The world-famous pancakes, of course. If you’re a blueberry person, try the blueberry pancakes, but if not, the standard hotcakes are just fine. Perhaps the most popular item is the Hungry Man Combo: two eggs, two hotcakes, and your choice of meat.
3. High Point State Park
New Jersey isn’t usually associated with mountains. But the northwestern portion of the state is a part of the Appalachian range. The highest point in New Jersey -- aptly named High Point -- is located there in the Kittatinny Mountains.
Surrounding High Point is High Point State Park. And at the peak sits the High Point Veterans Memorial, a 220-foot spire with the single best view in New Jersey. You don’t have to climb the stairs of the spire to appreciate the great views -- the top of High Point provides plenty.
In-state vehicles pay $10 to enter the park, while out-of-state vehicles pay $20. The views are worth the money, though -- you won’t believe you’re in New Jersey.
4. The Cape May-Lewes Ferry
At the very southern tip of New Jersey is the town of Cape May. It sits at the mouth of the Delaware River, which narrows as it extends up to Philadelphia and beyond. But at Cape May, the distance across is only 17 miles, and that makes for an excellent ferry ride.
If you’re visiting New Jersey and are interested in a day trip, taking the Cape May-Lewes Ferry across to Delaware and back is an excellent one. There’s much to see and do in beachside Delaware, but when I was visiting the area, the ferry ride across the Delaware River was perhaps my favorite part.
And no, this isn’t the spot where George Washington famously crossed the Delaware. That was north of Cape May, near Trenton, New Jersey. Cape May is right on the Atlantic Ocean, so you’ll be crossing the mouth of the Delaware where the river meets the ocean.
5. The Pub
You’re visiting the Garden State, so you’ll want to do something quintessentially New Jersey. Visit The Pub in Camden, New Jersey, to be transported back to the 1950s. The tables, the carpet, the decor, and even the old sign outside will take you back to a time when a Saturday night at a restaurant like The Pub was the high point of the weekend. Close your eyes, and you’ll be able to picture the lounge singer in the corner.
But the nostalgia isn’t the only thing to love about the restaurant. The Pub is also known for its food. The dining room is massive (again, think 1950s New Jersey on a Saturday night), seating up to 500 guests. And the food is excellent, from the famous zucchini bread brought to each table to the steaks and seafood. The steak is perhaps the most popular dish here, especially the filet mignon, but for something different try the “sea-kebab,” a shish kebab featuring shrimp, scallops, and lobster instead of the traditional beef and chicken.
6. The State Line Lookout
The Hudson River Valley is a photographer’s dream. And while many think of the Hudson River Valley as being a New York thing, parts of the valley are located in New Jersey on one side and New York on the other. This area is known as The Palisades, and perhaps the best place to visit is the State Line Lookout near the New Jersey-New York state line.
The State Line Lookout is located on a portion of the cliff above the Hudson River that juts out into the valley. The views are unobstructed to the north, east, and south. Squint, and you’ll be able to see the New York City skyline with the George Washington Bridge in the foreground. To the north, you’ll see the new Tappan Zee Bridge spanning the Hudson. To the east, you'll see Yonkers, Mount Vernon, and New Rochelle in New York.
While you’re at the lookout, stop at the State Line Café for a meal or perhaps walk one of the trails in Palisades Park. Otherwise, just drive along Hudson Drive and enjoy the incredible views of the beginnings of the Hudson Valley.
7. The Empty Sky Memorial
Since opening in 2014, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum has become one of the most-visited locations in New York City. But many aren’t aware of another memorial just across the river in New Jersey -- the Empty Sky Memorial in Liberty State Park.
Liberty State Park is located just across the Hudson River from the Manhattan skyline. And, as its name suggests, it is very near the Statue of Liberty out in Hudson Bay. In the northeastern corner of Liberty State Park is the Empty Sky Memorial, which commemorates the 746 New Jerseyans who lost their lives on September 11, 2001.
It’s a simple yet powerful memorial. Two large stainless steel walls with the names of the people who lost their lives frame the sky where the towers once stood. As you enter the memorial, look across the Hudson, and you’ll see the exact spot where the buildings once were. It’s a poignant reminder of all that was lost on that fateful day.
8. Grand Cascades Lodge
In the northern part of New Jersey -- the mountainous area -- is the Grand Cascades Lodge. Part of the Crystal Springs Resort, the lodge is perhaps the most luxurious place to stay in the entire region.
Planning a getaway with friends? The Grand Cascades Lodge is your spot. The town of Warwick, New York, is nearby, with shops, restaurants, and wineries. But you could have a wonderful time just staying at the Crystal Springs Resort and enjoying the golf course, the spa, and the restaurants.
Perhaps the best time to visit this region (and the lodge) is in the fall. The lodge can put together a harvest-themed package for you featuring orchards, pumpkin patches, farmers markets, cider houses, wineries, breweries, and distilleries. Relax at the end of the day at the luxurious resort located in the mountains of New Jersey -- yes, the mountains of New Jersey!