There are plenty of things to do in New Jersey tucked away in natural areas. Nicknamed the “Garden State”, its location in the Mid-Atlantic U.S. makes it easy to get to major metropolitan cities such as New York or Philadelphia, where I live.
This is why I have been spending many weekends for the last four years in the state, trying to visit as many landmarks in New Jersey as I can and enjoying its natural landscapes and wild beaches. This is the fourth-smallest state by area, but the 11th most populous. However, you can still find some natural wonders to get away from the crowds.
From north to south, there are countless activities to do in New Jersey, as you will find out below. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see what kinds of tourist spots and recreational areas you can find here! New Jersey doesn’t always get a good rap, but it’s just because people don’t know where to go.
Now, let’s jump into the 30 top-rated New Jersey attractions you shouldn’t miss. At the end of the article, you will also find a map to help you plan your perfect trip or weekend getaway.
1. Cape May, one of the best beaches in New Jersey
There are lots of places in NJ where you can spend a vacation, but Cape May regularly makes the list of the top 10 beaches in the country. It’s also one of the oldest resort areas in the U.S.
Cape May is at the southern tip of the state and one of the most famous places in New Jersey, thanks to its Victorian buildings and historic landmarks. As you walk the streets of this beachside town, you’ll notice many homes with gingerbread-style architecture and pastel color palettes.
Some of these are rental homes, while others belong to residents of the city. The Emlen Physick Estate is one of those properties. The former home of Dr. Emlen Physick, Jr., this 18-room mansion was built in 1879 and is now a museum.
Also check out the Historic Cold Spring Village, a living-history museum that recreates the old rural New Jersey lifestyle.
I also recommend visiting Cape May Point State Park for hiking, nature walks, swimming, and other outdoor activities. Here you’ll also find the Cape May Lighthouse, a 157-foot-tall tower first lit in 1859.
Of course, you can’t visit Cape May without visiting the beaches! Enjoy the sandy shores, where you might stumble across Cape May “diamonds” (clear quartz pebbles). There, you can take a dolphin-watching tour, such as this 2-hour sunset cruise, although here you can check out the article we have written with the best whale and dolphin watching tours in Cape May.
While there are plenty of things to do in this New Jersey town, you could also take the Cape May-Lewes Ferry into Delaware for a fun day trip.
2. The Wildwoods, an area with more things to do in New Jersey
You might consider The Wildwoods to be Cape May’s rowdier younger sibling. Visiting this area is one of the most popular things to do in South Jersey during the summer. This family resort is about 30 minutes north of Cape May and offers free beaches. It’s famous for its 1.8-mile boardwalk and Doo-Wop-style hotels.
Something you’ll notice about Wildwood is the wide distance between the boardwalk and the ocean. The wide beaches are often venues for many events throughout the year, such as concerts, movie nights, and monster truck rallies.
From the beach, you’ll have a nice view of Morey’s Piers, the three amusement piers that extend from the boardwalk. Spend the night enjoying the rides, which range from kid-friendly to extreme, as well as arcade games and classic boardwalk foods. Morey’s Piers also features two large waterparks and artBOX, repurposed shipping containers that feature local artists’ works.
Take some time to step away from the boardwalk and explore the other New Jersey attractions in Wildwood. The Naval Air Station Wildwoods Aviation Museum has over 20 aircraft on display, mostly vintage models from World War II.
Another little-known attraction is the Hereford Inlet Light in North Wildwood. This 50-foot lighthouse started operating in 1874 and offers pleasant views of the beach. Both these sites are fun things to do in New Jersey with kids, although adults will love them, too.
3. Atlantic City, a place to enjoy the nightlife in New Jersey
Atlantic City is one of the most famous attractions in NJ, mostly for its busy boardwalk and casinos. While there are beaches and oceanfront bars, Atlantic City wouldn’t be my first choice for a beach day. Instead, this place is a hotspot for entertainment and nightlife.
A historical place in New Jersey, Atlantic City was incorporated in 1854 and was the inspiration for the board game Monopoly. Its boardwalk opened in 1870 and continues to be a focal point for dining, entertainment, amusements, and gambling.
There are several casinos along the boardwalk, a few of which Trump Entertainment Resorts owned. Besides the slot machines and table games, the casinos are luxurious venues for concerts and stage productions, as well as fine dining.
Another thing to do in New Jersey‘s Atlantic City is to visit Steel Pier. Opened in 1898, the amusement pier is one of the state’s most famous landmarks. Along with rides, games, and food stalls, it’s a takeoff spot for helicopter tours over the Atlantic Ocean.
If a helicopter ride is too scary, an alternative could be a pleasant parasailing experience.
As you can see, Atlantic City has something for all ages and interests, so be sure to stop by as you make your way along the NJ coastline.
4. The Pine Barrens, one of the top free things to do in New Jersey
Also called the Pinelands or the Pines, this forest is the largest remaining area of the Atlantic coastal pine barrens ecosystem. The Pines stretch across much of New Jersey and provide great opportunities for hiking and camping. It’s also one of the most beautiful places in New Jersey and the perfect place to get some time in nature.
The Pine Barrens consists of temperate forests filled with coniferous trees. You can find pockets of the Pinelands from just about anywhere in the state.
Exploring the NJ Pinelands is a wonderful free thing to do in New Jersey. Here, I’ll share some of the best areas in the Pine Barrens that I recommend.
Batsto Village in the Wharton State Forest is one of the top spots in the Pines. Dating back to the 1760s, today it’s a restored ironworks village and sits by the gorgeous Batsto River and Lake, perfect for canoeing and kayaking.
Double Trouble State Forest is home to another historic village, this one an old cranberry farm. Check out the campground and hiking trails, several of which pass by Cedar Creek, one of the most pleasant nearby areas.
East Plains at Warren Grove is a good place to see pygmy pines, and the Brendan T. Byrne State Forest is where you’ll find wetlands, waterways, and reservoirs, including Pakim Pond.
5. Princeton, NJ, another city to visit in New Jersey
This city is probably best known for Princeton University, but there is more to this college town than its school. Princeton was founded before the Revolutionary War, so it’s one of the oldest cities in the country. With its small-town feel and community-centered attractions, it’s a nice place in New Jersey to pass through.
Since the University is one of the top landmarks in this New Jersey town, I recommend checking it out. The campus is quite beautiful, with green spaces, a lake, and buildings in the collegiate gothic style of architecture. You should also visit the Princeton University Art Museum, which is open to the public for free. The museum has a large collection of Greek and Roman work, although its exhibits span all of art history.
The Morven Museum & Garden is another landmark in the city. This 1700s mansion was the home of Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Today, it’s a museum that focuses on the area’s cultural history. The outdoor grounds include lovely gardens, orchards, and terraces.
The Princeton Battlefield State Park is another historical site. American and British troops fought here during the Revolutionary War in 1777. Here, you’ll find the Clarke House Museum, an old Quaker property housing military exhibits.
Another great thing about Princeton is that it’s just between Philadelphia and New York City, so it’s a convenient pitstop for travelers. Before you leave, stop by the Dutch Farmer’s Market and the Palmer Square downtown area, where you can find restaurants, galleries, shops, and other fun things to do in NJ.
6. Island Beach State Park, a lovely area to visit in New Jersey
Island Beach State Park is my favorite place to visit in New Jersey. It’s in central NJ at the southern end of Island Beach (barrier island), nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Barnegat Bay.
What I love about this place is that it is as it was hundreds of years ago. There are no buildings throughout this 10-mile stretch of wild beaches, just thousands of white dunes, wetlands, coastal forest, and tidal marshes.
Here you can find some of the best beaches in New Jersey, which also serve as habitats to maritime plants and diverse wildlife including foxes, terrapins, blue crabs, dolphins, and even horseshoe crabs. However, the thing that makes Island Beach one of the most popular attractions in NJ is that it’s home to the state’s largest osprey colony.
Although most visitors prefer the southern area, which is accessible with a beach buggy permit, I love the northern area, which is more secluded.
Renting a kayak to explore the Barnegat Bay from here is also one of the best things to do in New Jersey in the summer. If you do so, check out the Sedge Islands Marine Conservation Zone.
Island Beach State Park is pretty popular, so in summer try to be at the entrance very early since it has a limited capacity. If not, you will have to enter on foot or by bike or spend your day at the crowded beach of Seaside Heights, a family resort with a boardwalk and amusement pier.
7. Explore Long Beach Island, one of the best things to do in New Jersey in summer
Long Beach Island is another top-rated place to visit in New Jersey at the Barnegat peninsula just below Island Beach. This is a more upscale beach community and has a more laid-back vibe than places like the Wildwoods or Atlantic City. However, don’t be fooled; you can’t escape the crowds here either!
Still, it’s a family-oriented vacation spot, where the main activities are boating, fishing, parasailing, swimming, and mini-golf rather than amusements and beach bars. It’s the perfect place if you are looking for relaxing things to do in New Jersey, particularly during the summer months.
Moreover, LBI is close to Beach Haven, which has an amusement pier and a variety of restaurants and shops in case you’re seeking something a bit more exciting. During the high season, you can attend outdoor concerts, flea markets, and parades, as well as enjoy some time at the oceanfront waterpark.
Other beautiful places in New Jersey are Surf City, another great holiday destination north of Long Beach Island, and at the northern tip of the Barnegat peninsula. Here you will find the Barnegat Lighthouse State Park overlooking Island Beach.
8. USS New Jersey, another attraction to visit in New Jersey
The USS New Jersey, also known as the Battleship New Jersey, is a museum ship docked in Camden, and a top tourist attraction in New Jersey among history buffs.
This battleship was first launched in 1942 on the first anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Along with its participation in World War II, the ship was also involved in raids during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
The USS New Jersey is especially commendable because it has earned more battle stars for combat than any ship in its class. It’s the largest Navy battleship and was also the only U.S. ship to provide gunfire support during the Vietnam War.
It docked for good in 2000 when it arrived at the Camden Waterfront across the river from Philadelphia. The Waterfront is a hub for cultural things to do in New Jersey, and the battleship is one of the most popular attractions.
The museum exhibits feature anti-aircraft weapons, missiles, and other Navy-related relics. Visitors can take a tour of the ship’s mess hall, communications room, gun turret, and more.
Even if you have a short visit to the USS New Jersey, the Waterfront offers other attractions including the BB&T Pavilion, Camden Children’s Garden, the marina, and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge that crosses over to Philadelphia.
9. Liberty State Park at Jersey City, a spectacular place to see in New Jersey
There are awesome things to do in North Jersey, too. I recommend visiting Liberty State Park in Jersey City, an interesting place to go with family or friends.
The park provides lovely views of the Hudson River with New York’s Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty on the other side. The Liberty Walkway is a scenic promenade that also contains a bridge to Ellis Island. From the Walkway, you can access the Statue of Liberty overlook as well as picnic and play areas.
On the opposite end of the park, be sure to check out the Liberty Science Center. It was the first science museum in the state, and it currently has New Jersey’s largest planetarium. If you’re looking for what to do in New Jersey with kids or on a rainy day, this museum is a great option.
I also think that Liberty Park is a nice place in New Jersey to learn more about the nation’s history. There are several meaningful monuments and areas where you can reflect and have some quiet time. Stop by the U.S. Flag Plaza, Empty Sky 9/11 Memorial, and the Liberation monument dedicated to Holocaust victims.
10. Delaware Water Gap, the best place to hike in New Jersey
Don’t let the name confuse you. The Delaware Water Gap is an area where the Delaware River flows through the border between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Here, there is a large ridge that cuts through the Appalachian Mountains, and this is the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area, one of the most scenic places in NJ.
Covering 7,000 acres, this recreational spot is the perfect place in New Jersey to enjoy some outdoor fun. There are several lauded hiking trails in the region, as well as areas for camping, kayaking, and rock climbing.
Some of the popular hiking paths in the Delaware Water Gap include the Red Dot Trail and the Dunfield Creek Trail, which merges with the Appalachian Trail. The Red Dot Trail is a 3-mile loop that takes you to Mount Tammany, the southernmost peak of the Kittatinny Mountains. The Dunfield Creek Trail is longer, but less strenuous and ends at Sunfish Pond, a large glacial lake. This area is part of Worthington State Forest in northern New Jersey.
Another landmark in the Delaware Water Gap is Buttermilk Falls, something you must see in New Jersey. At 200 feet, it’s the tallest waterfall in the state. Since it doesn’t require any hiking to see the falls, they can get quite crowded.
If you want a challenge, you can climb the steps next to the waterfall and take that trail to Crater Lake and Hemlock Pond. Or hike a quarter-mile north up Mountain Road and follow the eastern trail to see the hidden Silver Spray Falls.
11. Paterson Great Falls, something you can’t miss in New Jersey
Northern NJ has other impressive waterfalls, such as the Paterson Great Falls on the Passaic River. Towering 77 feet high and 260 feet wide, the falls are part of the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park. This NJ attraction is also a National Natural Landmark.
You can watch the falls cascade over the basalt cliffs from Haines Overlook Park or Mary Ellen Kramer Park. Alternatively, you can cross the footbridge over the falls’ gorge for spectacular views of these falls formed during the last ice age.
Nearby is the Garret Mountain Reservation, a major recreational hub for jogging, running, basketball, fishing, birdwatching, and horseback riding. It’s a cool place to go in NJ for all ages, and it offers respite from the more industrial areas of northern New Jersey.
I suggest stopping by Lambert Castle while you’re here. Constructed in 1892, the castle was the home of a silk mill owner named Catholina Lambert. The medieval-style building is now a museum complete with an art gallery and a 70-foot observation tower.
If you’re in this part of the state, you should spend a few hours exploring Garret Mountain and visiting the Paterson Great Falls. Also, if you’d like more time in nature, Rifle Camp Park isn’t far away and offers hiking trails, an observatory, and birdwatching areas.
12. Ringwood State Park, another hike to do in New Jersey
Close to the NJ-NY border, you’ll find Ringwood State Park. The park is part of the Ramapo Mountains and consists of 4,400 acres, including the New Jersey Botanical Gardens, Skylands and Ringwood Manors, and the Shepherd Lake Recreation Area.
Ringwood State Park is one of the many beautiful places in New Jersey‘s northern region. The hiking trails in the park range from moderate to difficult and weave through the dense oak forests of the Ramapo Mountains.
The entrance to the botanical gardens sits conveniently across from the Ringwood State Park entrance. The free gardens are open year-round and cover 96 acres. There are different sections to explore, including lilac, rhododendron, wildflower, peony, and Italian gardens. There are also children’s areas and self-guided or volunteer-led tours available.
The gardens are part of the Skylands estate, where you’ll see the gorgeous Skylands Manor. Visiting this whimsical castle is one of the most romantic things to do in New Jersey, and the property happens to be a popular wedding venue. I also suggest touring Ringwood Manor, a National Historic Home boasting Federal, Italianate, Neo-Greco, architecture, and artistic collections.
Next to Ringwood State Park is the Ramapo Valley County Reservation, where you can hike, raft, or kayak. There are several waterways and a pretty waterfall, too. Another weekend activity in NJ is to visit the Highlands Natural Pool, a stream-fed swimming pool not far from there.
13. Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, one of the nicest views over New Jersey
The Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge is a little-known attraction in South Jersey. This wetland area is a beautiful sanctuary for migrating birds. Its location along the Atlantic Flyway means that you have better chances of seeing rarer species like the piping plover and a variety of woodcocks and songbirds.
Founded in 1984, the refuge is dedicated to preserving tens of thousands of acres of New Jersey’s wetlands and coastal habitats. While the refuge is primarily focused on migratory birds, it is accessible year-round, so you may see different species of ducks, turtles, and butterflies depending on when you visit it.
If you’re a bird photographer, I highly recommend driving the Wildlife Drive for the best photo opportunities.
The refuge is another cool place in NJ to hike, particularly along the deCamp Wildlife Trail or the Cedar Bonnet Island Trail. The former is a 2.5-mile backwoods path sprinkled with wildflowers. The latter is shorter but offers nice views of Manahawkin Bay and Long Beach Island. A word to the wise is to hike during the autumn or spring to avoid swarms of horse flies.
The Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge and the surrounding area is a good place to spend a couple of hours outdoors. If you are looking for things to do near New Jersey‘s southern coast, check out this region.
14. Duke Farms, the most romantic thing to do in New Jersey
Duke Farms is a pleasant attraction in NJ that’s less than 45 minutes from Princeton. The farm was once the estate of James Duke, an American entrepreneur. After James Duke’s death, his environmentalist daughter inherited the estate. Today, Duke Farms is a stunning property focused on environmental stewardship and ecological sustainability.
About half of the property (1,000 acres) is open to the public for free. Spending a few hours here is a great thing to do in New Jersey with kids. There are several charming areas to explore, including the Hay Barn, the Tropical Orchid Garden, and the Coach Barn and clock tower.
Another gorgeous part of the farm is the Great Falls, a tiered waterfall near the Duke Reservoir. The waterfall and reservoir are manmade and fed from the nearby Raritan River. The falls are set to go off at certain times during the day, so ask the visitors center when the scheduled times are.
Among the farm’s 45 buildings and 7 manmade lakes, there are 18 miles of hiking and walking trails. This area is also perfect for birdwatching and wildlife photography. During the winter, visitors can go snowshoeing along the paths.
Be sure to stop by the educational center to hear more about the environmental mission of Duke Farms. Visiting this rural attraction is a fun thing to do in New Jersey for free, and you’ll probably learn something new, too.
15. Go to Six Flags Great Adventure, the best thing to do in New Jersey with kids
Six Flags Great Adventure is one of the top attractions in New Jersey. The amusement park is the 2nd largest theme park in the U.S., after Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and it’s the perfect day trip for families.
The amusement park has attractions for everyone, from gentle family rides to thrilling rollercoasters and extreme rides. There is also a kiddie area and several superhero-themed rides, like The Dark Knight Coaster.
Throughout the park’s themed sections, you can find other amusements such as concerts, entertainment shows, games, and interactive exhibits. Besides the amusement park, Six Flags has a waterpark, Hurricane Harbor, with 12 attractions including waterslides, a lazy river, a children’s play area, and a 1 million-gallon wave pool.
The park is also a cool place to go in NJ during Halloween and Christmas. In October, the park hosts Fright Fest with live shows, walk-through haunted attractions, and trick-or-treating for kids. Holiday in the Park takes place in November and December and includes Christmas-themed festivities and a light show.
No matter what your thrill level, you’ll find fun things to do in NJ‘s Six Flags theme park. It’s not the cheapest place, but you’ll spend all day there, so I think it’s worth it.
16. Ocean City, another popular beach in New Jersey
Ocean City, NJ is one of the most popular beaches in South Jersey, thanks to its family-friendly activities and atmosphere. Founded over 140 years ago, it’s a community full of tradition that has a welcoming small-town feel.
There are 8 miles of beaches where you can swim, surf, parasail, or lounge in the sun, and a 2.5-mile boardwalk full of classic Jersey shore fun, including food, games, amusements, and other activities. Its amusement pier is a big attraction in NJ with a variety of rides and one of the tallest Ferris wheels on the East Coast (141 ft). You can also visit the OC Waterpark or go for a round of minigolf, one of the most popular activities on the boardwalk.
Nearly 40% of the land in Ocean City goes towards parks and recreational areas. Along with the beaches, there is Stainton’s Wildlife Refuge, Corson’s Inlet State Park, and The Bayside Center, a sort of rec center and educational facility where visitors can learn about the shore environment.
About 20 minutes north of Ocean City is the town of Margate. While not nearly as exciting, it has one of the oldest New Jersey landmarks, a 65-foot roadside attraction named Lucy the Elephant. She’s quite a legend, so I think a visit to her is worth the drive.
17. High Point State Park, the most stunning lookout in New Jersey
High Point State Park is at the very tip of New Jersey and, as the name suggests, it’s the highest point in the state (1,800 ft). The park is part of the Kittatinny Mountains, which extend from the Appalachian Mountains. As you might expect, the park is one of the most scenic places in NJ for hiking, backpacking, and camping.
The entire park covers over 15,000 acres, so there is plenty to explore. If you want to camp, I recommend the Sawmill Campground, which is surrounded by a gorgeous blue lake.
For an outdoorsy day trip, the Cedar Swamp Trail is a relaxing 1.5-mile loop around the Dryden Kuser Natural Area, a boggy path known for its great birdwatching opportunities. Or you can hike a section of the Appalachian Trail that winds through High Point State Park for 18 miles.
At the park’s summit, you’ll find the High Point Monument, a 220-foot-tall obelisk dedicated to war veterans. You can climb the 292 steps to the viewing platform, where you’ll be able to see the Catskills and Pocono Mountains.
There are other things to do in North Jersey that are near the park. The Mountain Creek Resort is just 5 minutes away. Its waterpark is open during the summer months, and in winter, it’s a fun ski resort. If you’re traveling during the summer, you should also check out the Sussex County Sunflower Maze, which is just 15 minutes from there.
18. Reeves-Reed Arboretum, and other beautiful arboretums to visit in New Jersey
Reeves-Reed Arboretum is one of the most beautiful free places to visit in New Jersey. It’s open year-round, but depending on when you go, it might be hosting a summer or holiday event, or its annual fall celebration.
The grounds contain several specialty gardens, all decked out in a 20th-century Italianate style: ornate and symmetrical. A visit to the arboretum is one of the most romantic things to do in New Jersey, and it’s no wonder this place is a popular wedding venue!
The Historical Gardens feature the classic rose and azaleas, as well as a rock garden with a pond and waterfall. There is also a Contemporary Garden, a Lilac Garden, the Daffodil Bowl, and an Herb Garden. As you walk around the landscaped grounds, you’ll pass by the Daylily Border and the Wildflower Trail.
Speaking of trails, I recommend taking a stroll along the arboretum’s Woodlands Trails for some easy hiking. Enjoy the exercise and the pleasant shade provided by a canopy of oak, maple, birch, ash, and hickory trees.
A stroll through a beautiful, manicured garden is an underrated thing to do in New Jersey in the summer. If you’re craving more lovely gardens, there are three arboretums within 40 minutes of Reeves-Reed. The Frelinghuysen Arboretum is full of ornamental plants, Willowwood contains wild forests and tree collections, and Laurelwood features unique native plants among intriguing art installations.
19. Presby Memorial Iris Gardens, the best thing to do in New Jersey for couples
The Presby Memorial Iris Gardens is another must-see in New Jersey‘s northern region. The non-profit attraction not only specializes in irises but also history and environmental conservation.
The grounds are often called “The Rainbow on the Hill” for the splendid blooms that burst forth throughout the season. It’s one of the most beautiful places in New Jersey, and it’s open to the public for free. Nearly 100 years old, they were named after a local horticulturist and founding member of the American Iris Society and are now maintained by volunteers.
Here, you’ll find over 14,000 irises of 3,000 or so varieties. The flowers create a stunning display of springtime blooms, about 100,000 in total. Even though the gardens make up just 6.5 acres, the colorful arrangement when they’re in bloom is gorgeous.
Besides the irises, the gardens also serve as a living museum. The nearby Walther House was the former home of Fred and Barbara Walther, who helped to establish the gardens. The Victorian-style house is also open to the public and offers an inside look at the ground’s horticultural history.
The newest addition to the place is the PresBee Sanctuary, which supports 10 active beehives and over 100,000 honeybees.
The lovely iris gardens, with the magnificent Victorian house in the distance, is one of the most scenic places in NJ. I suggest stopping here if you’re in the area and have a couple of hours to spare.
20. Asbury Park, another interesting attraction in New Jersey
Asbury Park is one of the most unique New Jersey points of interest. In this coastal town, you will find a beach and boardwalk, but Asbury Park offers lots more, including arts, culture, dining, sports, and entertainment.
It’s a huge music community and has ties to several famous bands, including The Ramones, the E Street Band, and Bon Jovi. The town was also the home of the New Jersey Music Hall of Fame until 2018, when it moved to Rutherford, about an hour north.
Still, Asbury Park has plenty of live music venues such as The Wonder Bar, Paramount Theatre, The Saint, The Stone Pony, and Springwood Park, an outdoor venue. I suggest stopping by Asbury Lanes, a vintage bowling alley and bar, a hotspot for musical performances.
Being a coastal town, Asbury Park has a beach and boardwalk, one of the most popular in the state. The boardwalk is known for its eclectic mix of flavors, from classic Jersey shore fare to contemporary-fusion cuisine. There is also the Silver Ball Museum Arcade and the Asbury Splash Park, two popular NJ attractions.
If you visit it at the start of the month, check out the First Saturday event. During this time, the downtown restaurants, shops, galleries, and boutiques stay open late, and you’ll find street entertainment and vendors. During the rest of the month, visitors are always welcome to explore the Asbury Park Museum, the Paranormal Museum, or the many breweries and cafes.
21. Red Mill Museum, a unique place to go in New Jersey
The Red Mill Museum is a cool historical place in New Jersey. Situated in Northern NJ, the Red Mill was constructed around 1810 and operated primarily as a wool mill until 1834 when it was refitted to be a grist mill. It eventually became a graphite mill and then a talc mill until it was retired in 1928.
It’s quite a history, and the Red Mill is a relic of the local economy and milling industry. Today, it’s a multi-storied museum with over 40,000 agricultural and industrial artifacts. Most of the core exhibits relate to the history of the mill and the families who took charge of it.
Besides the Red Mill, there are other historic buildings and facilities on the grounds. Visitors can walk through the dynamite shed, stone crusher, blacksmith shop, lime kilns, and spring house to get a feel for how life was like back then. There is also a tenant house, a schoolhouse, a carriage shed, an herb garden, and a log cabin on the premises.
The Red Mill Museum also hosts concerts and seasonal events throughout the year, such as the Winter Village, workshops, and lectures. Its interactive children’s programs are a big hit with families, too. The staff and volunteers recently held a successful campaign to rally for community support and restore the mill’s old waterwheel. It’s safe to say the Red Mill will be a wonderful New Jersey landmark for years to come.
22. Manasquan Reservoir Visitor Center, the calmest place to go in New Jersey
The interesting name of Manasquan originates from the Lenape word for “place to gather grass or reeds”. While the city is industrialized now, it still holds on to some of its natural areas, including the Manasquan Reservoir, a beautiful place in NJ for hiking and wildlife viewing.
This 1,200-acre park in central NJ is open year-round from dawn to dusk and includes a section of wetland where you can rent a kayak or canoe. Surrounding the waterway is a 5-mile walking/jogging trail that is quite easy and suitable for mountain bikes.
The Cove Trail is a scenic 1-mile nature walk around the Environmental Center, where you’ll find interactive displays and exhibits about wildlife conservation and wetlands ecology. The free facility is oriented towards kids, so if you’re traveling with family, it’s the perfect stop.
The Visitors Center is where you’ll find the boat rentals, as well as restrooms, sitting areas, and a second-floor observation deck. The center is also the departure point for seasonal boat tours. These 45-minute reservoir tours include a guided narration by Park System naturalists. Most people end up seeing turtles, egrets, herons, and ospreys during their tours. In some instances, you may spot a bald eagle.
If you visit during the winter, you can ice skate or ice-boat in the reservoir. The Environmental and Visitors Centers will also be open. It’s a great Jersey thing to do in the winter, especially with children.
23. Visit Thomas Edison National Historic Park, something to do in New Jersey if it rains
Thomas Edison National Historic Park is one of the coolest places to go in NJ for a bad weather day.
The park is actually two separate sites: the Edison Laboratories complex and Edison’s former home in Llewellyn Park, just a half-mile away. Both are well worth a visit!
Thomas Edison built the lab in 1887 to support his research. It’s part of a larger complex of a dozen buildings including a library, chemistry, metallurgy, and physics labs, a photo studio, a machine shop, and Edison’s office. It was Thomas Edison’s largest lab complex, so it’s an attraction in NJ you don’t want to miss!
You can also visit the Glenmont Estate in Llewellyn Park, a Queen Anne style home built in the 1880s and the former home of Thomas Edison. The mansion has 29 rooms and amenities that we now consider modern, like indoor flush toilets, a water heater system, and electrical wiring. The residential grounds feature native and exotic plants and trees and a greenhouse.
This New Jersey landmark is absolutely gorgeous on the outside, and the interior boasts Victorian furniture and includes stained glass windows and hand-painted ceilings. Thomas Edison’s burial site is right behind the house, next to his second wife, Mina.
If you can’t get enough of Edison, you can travel 40 minutes south to Menlo Park, where you’ll find the laboratory he built in 1876.
24. Hacklebarney State Park, a breathtaking place to visit in New Jersey
Visiting Hacklebarney State Park is one of the best free things to do in New Jersey, especially if you love the outdoors!
This 978-acre park is cut by the Black River, creating two brooks where you can find huge boulders along the riverbank. The magnificent geology of this park creates a few lovely waterfalls too, which you can find along the hiking paths.
Throughout your hike, you’ll come across tons of critters. The park has over 100 species of flora and fauna, including black bears, woodchucks, foxes, rainbow trout, American ginseng, leatherwood, and Virginia pennywort. A few of the trails end at a pond as well as a picnic area and playground. The entire natural scene makes it one of the most beautiful places in New Jersey.
The park is especially stunning in autumn when the leaves change color. Plus, you can go to the Hacklebarney Farm Cider Mill across from the park and enjoy the fall festivities. The farm is family owned and operated and is a fun thing to do in NJ with your partner or friends. Explore the corn maze or treat yourself to a cider donut or warm apple cider.
Five minutes north of the state park is the Black River County Park, a glacial valley where you’ll also find the Willowwood Arboretum and the Nathan Cooper Gristmill.
25. Walk around The Palisades, another great activity to do in New Jersey
The Palisades Interstate Park is made up of the cliffs of the Hudson River‘s west bank and hovers on the border of New Jersey and New York, across from Manhattan Island.
The New Jersey portion of the Interstate Park is about 12 miles long and has plenty of picnic areas and overlooks. A few that stand out are Rockefeller Lookout (400 feet elevation), the Alpine Lookout (430 feet), and the State Line Lookout (520 feet).
Two of the most popular hikes in the area are Long Path, which starts at Fort Lee Historic Park and goes north past Allison Park and the Rockefeller Lookout, and Shore Trail, which has the same starting point but goes south past the Alpine Picnic Area and the Kearney House, a historic 19th-century homestead and tavern.
Greenbrook Sanctuary is another interesting place to visit in New Jersey if you want to do some birdwatching during the migratory season.
Finally, the Palisades Scenic Byway allows you to drive over cliffs, through forests, and along the Hudson River, and it’s considered one of the most beautiful places in New Jersey.
26. Newark Museum of Art, one of the best museums in New Jersey
During the cold Mid-Atlantic winters, consider a trip to the Newark Museum of Art, the largest museum in New Jersey, and a cool free thing to do in NJ.
Despite its size, the museum is an intimate space where you can explore dozens of galleries and artworks from all around the world. The museum’s most famous works are in the Tibetan art galleries and include a Buddhist altar consecrated by the Dalai Lama.
The museum also includes an extensive natural sciences facility, including the Dreyfuss Planetarium and the Victoria Hall of Science. I also recommend the MakerSPACE interactive area, a fun thing to do in New Jersey with kids.
Outside, be sure to stop by the Alice Ransom Dreyfuss Memorial Garden, which hosts cultural and artistic performances throughout the year. The gardens are full of sculptures as well as a one-room schoolhouse from 1784. The 27-room Ballantine House is also part of the museum. The restored Victorian home features several art galleries and eight specific rooms that reflect different historical eras.
Not far from there is Branch Brook Park, another cool thing to see in New Jersey. The park is known for its cherry blossoms, and there are over 5,000 blooms and 18 varieties. A cherry blossom festival takes place there every April.
27. Grounds for Sculpture, another attraction to visit in New Jersey
Grounds for Sculpture is another fun thing to do in NJ. Just 20 minutes from Princeton, this sculpture park and garden is one of the most unique attractions you’ll see in New Jersey.
There are over 400 works, including more than 270 sculptures, most of which are larger than life. The museum’s founder is a sculptor, so several of his works are at GFS. Other sculptures are commissions by local and international artists.
Along with the sculpture grounds, there are six indoor art galleries full of smaller works and art installations. GFS is a playground for artistic people, but anyone of any age will enjoy walking around the grounds. You really feel like you’re part of the art! I also think this is one of the best attractions in NJ for cool photo opportunities.
I also recommend eating at the museum’s Rat Restaurant if you can. It was designed by GFS’s founder and was heavily inspired by the Impressionist painter Claude Monet. If you’re familiar with Monet’s famous Water Lilies series, you’ll recognize the atmosphere of Rat Restaurant; it’s like you’re dining among those water lilies.
The restaurant has a charming pond with a small waterfall as well as fireplaces, an aquamarine footbridge, and weeping willows. Dining on rustic French cuisine al fresco is definitely one of the most romantic things to do in New Jersey.
28. Jenny Jump State Forest, a lovely place to visit in New Jersey
Another place to visit in NJ‘s northern region is Jenny Jump State Forest. It sits atop the Jenny Jump Mountain at an elevation of over 1,110 feet. The mount is part of the New York-New Jersey Highlands, which is part of the Appalachian Mountains. However, Jenny Jump is more isolated and to the west.
You’ll still get great views from the state forest, particularly glacial boulders, outcroppings, and miles of rolling tree-filled hills. You can also spend hours hiking around the forest. There are seven official trails, and most of them start at the same point, a campground at the northern end.
The paths range from easy to moderate, and most are about a mile long. The longest is the Jenny Jump Trail, which is 8.5 miles and travels along the mountain ridges to a scenic lake.
The Greenwood Observatory is another thing to see in this New Jersey state forest. The United Astronomy Clubs of NJ leased the property and built the observatory, which now offers public programs every Saturday night from April to October.
If you’re in the area during this time, I highly recommend checking it out! Jenny Jump has some of the darkest skies in the state, so it’s perfect for Milky Way photography. You can even camp out under the stars at this beautiful place in New Jersey.
29. The Sterling Hill Mining Museum, a place you can’t miss in New Jersey
Another interesting tourist place in Northern New Jersey is the Sterling Hill Mine & Museum of Fluorescence. As you might guess, you can find fluorescent minerals here, so it’s a cool place to visit if you have the time.
Sterling Hill was an iron and zinc mine, and the last working underground mine in the state. It closed in 1986 and became a museum a few years later. What makes it such a popular mine is the luminescent ore, which is hard to find elsewhere.
A visit to the mine is a fun weekend activity in NJ, especially with kids. The tour starts in the museum’s exhibition hall, where you’ll learn about the different minerals inside the mine. Then, you’ll walk 1,300 feet underground through the mine, including an amazing section called the “Rainbow Tunnel”.
As you walk through the tunnel, you’ll be surrounded by glowing zinc ore in bright colors. The museum uses shortwave UV light to show off the dazzling minerals, and the tour guide will explain which mineral correspond to each color.
Besides the mine tour, be sure to check out the Ellis Astronomical Observatory on the museum grounds. The observatory has a huge 20-inch reflector telescope and a hydrogen-alpha telescope that lets you look at the sun. However, if you want to enter the observatory, you must schedule a reservation in advance.
30. Union City, the best place to enjoy the Manhattan skyline from NJ
Union City is the 2nd-most densely populated city in the U.S. and has a rich history of German and Cuban immigrants. It’s even nicknamed “Little Havana on the Hudson” because of this.
Besides, it’s one of the top places in New Jersey for culture and sightseeing. Some of the most popular sites here include the September 11th Memorial in Echo Lake Park, the Museum of Art, and the Museum of History.
The city is minutes from two other exciting towns: Hoboken and Weehawken, where you can get the most beautiful views of the Manhattan Skyline.
In Hoboken, check out Frank Sinatra Park, named for the famous singer who was born here. There, I recommend taking a stroll along the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway for stunning views. In Weehawken, one of the most scenic places is Hamilton Park.
However, if you want to see Manhattan from the air, I recommend this helicopter tour, one of the most spectacular things to do in New Jersey.
And these are the top attractions in NJ that I recommend! Are you ready to start planning your trip or weekend getaway? Just check out this map of the best places to go in New Jersey in case you don’t know where to start.
It’s easy to think this small state is boring, but as you now know, there are plenty of cool things to do in New Jersey, so shoot me a message below if you still have any questions!