Did you know that the light bulb, saltwater taffy, and the boardwalk all started in New Jersey? New Jersey was the third state to ratify the US Constitution, and since then, it has made quite an impact with record-breaking facts, a colorful history, and one-of-a-kind attractions. Whether it’s being known as the diner capital of the world, having the oldest seaside resort in the US, or the only place you can ski inside with real snow in the Western Hemisphere, New Jersey is filled with a myriad of places, facts, and activities that will allow you to see the Garden State in a new light. Scroll down for the most fascinating, and add them to your bucket list of the best things to do in New Jersey. (featured photo credit: istock/arlutz73)
17 Unique Places And Fun Facts About New Jersey
Atlantic City Boardwalk
Boardwalks are uniquely NJ, and did you know that the first boardwalk was meant to keep sand out of railroad cars and hotels in the resort town of Atlantic City? The AC Boardwalk remains the oldest constructed and longest (5.5 miles) in the world. Take a walk down the boards where you can ride a tram to see the sights or take a rolling chair, the best mode of transportation for over 100 years. Along the way, sample the sweet and sticky salt water taffy treat invented in AC and remains a family favorite today. Boardwalk Hall is another notable place to visit, where you can see the pipe organ, which is the largest in the world based on the number of pipes. If you plan to spend more than a few hours, book a night at Ocean Casino Resort at the end of the boardwalk, with sweeping ocean and beach views.
The oldest seaside resort in the United States and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976, Cape May was named after Dutch Sea Captain Cornelius Jacobsen Mey. Today, you can walk the streets in this Victorian-era town with charming homes, restaurants, and a pedestrian walkway that makes you feel like you’ve stepped into a Hallmark movie (especially during the holidays). Opt to spend a few days at the iconic Congress Hall, which has been hosting families in the beachfront setting since 1816. Whether you watch for whales and dolphins, shop at Washington Street Mall, or see the Cape May Zoo, there are many iconic activities in town.
Set out to hunt for dinosaur bones at Pennypacker Park, a national historic landmark where the world’s first complete dinosaur skeleton — “Haddy” the Hadrosaurus—was discovered in 1858. Or take a free tour or sign up for an educational program at the 200-year-old facility at the Indian King Tavern Museum. If you want more to do, visit Haddon Lake, Camden Adventure Aquarium, or Battleship New Jersey, all nearby.
Fluorescent Rocks of Sterling Hill Mine
The most extensive collection of fluorescent minerals worldwide is (drumroll please) in New Jersey. Today, you can enter the 1,300 ft. tunnel inside the mine where the miners would start and end their workday and then head into the Warren Museum with more than 700 fluorescent minerals and objects on display. Kids and adults can even go mining for their own minerals at the Mine Run Dump and Sluicing (aka panning) stations.
The Garden State
Why is New Jersey called the Garden State? It ranks number five in blueberry production, 3rd in cranberries, 3rd in spinach, 3rd in bell peppers, and 4th in peach production. And don’t miss the opportunity to pick your produce, and you can visit the organic farms, too. And fun fact—the family favorite, Welch’s Grape Juice, can trace its origins to Vineland, NJ, where it was first used as an alternative to wine for church communion services.
Diner Capital of the World
With over 500 diners in the state, New Jersey has earned the title of The Diner Capital of the World. Whether you are looking for meringue pie, a Greek salad, or the best cup of coffee, there’s a classic diner near you to uphold our state’s title. Both the Dumont Crystal Diner and The Summit Diner are among the oldest in the state and are housed in the original retro train car-style locations. Other popular diners include The Red Lion Diner & Bakery in Southhampton and The Colonial Diner in Lyndhurst. But the most recognizable belongs to the Bendix Diner in Hasbrouck Heights, which has appeared in six movies and a bunch of commercials, including one with Ray Charles.
Known as the World’s Largest Miniature Wonderland, Northlandz is 52,000 square feet of fun. Built by hand over 35 years ago, Northlandz took 300,000 hours of construction time and uses 8 miles of railroad tracks, tunnels, and details that create a tiny world that’s a work of art as well as a mesmerizing display. Spend hours exploring, then head outside to ride on the 1890s steam engine replica train. There is also a music hall and a doll museum on the grounds.
Howell Living History Farm
Ever wonder what life was like before the 20th century? Visit the Howell Living History Farm, where the farm’s calendar reflects the cycles of a fully functioning, working farm from 1890–1910. It’s a unique part of New Jersey history—you’ll get a hands-on look to see actual farming operations up close, speak with farmers and interpreters, and sometimes even be asked to help out. Throughout the year, be a part of their events, such as the ice harvest, corn harvest, and maple sugaring.
70 Woodens Lane, Hopewell Twp., NJ 08530
Hit a water park and ski on real snow inside under the same roof? Yup, it’s here in East Rutherford, New Jersey, at the 3-million-square-foot entertainment complex known as the American Dream. Plan a snow day any time of the year at Big Snow (the only indoor ski resort in North America), get lost in the labyrinth of the Mirror Maze, or ride a roller coaster at the biggest indoor theme park in the Western Hemisphere at the Nickelodeon Universe Theme Park. You can also get wet any time of the year in their largest indoor water park in the US, visit the world’s most extensive collection of paradox exhibits at the Paradox Museum, or step into the massive It’s Sugar, with over 10,000 types of candy to indulge in.
Black Horse Tavern & Pub
Did you know that New Jersey has a restaurant that has continuously been operating since 1742? For almost 300 years, The Black Horse Pub & Tavern has been a cozy, rustic setting serving colonial statemen and weary travelers who passed through Mendham. Today, the restaurant still stands in the original building and offers up classic American dishes like Stout Braised mussels or a crock of French Onion soup. This Mendham restaurant on Main Street will curb your interest and your appetite.
One of the oldest operating rodeos in the US is in New Jersey? Yup, you read that right—Cowtown Rodeo opened in 1929 in conjunction with the Salem County Fair and is the longest-running weekly professional rodeo in the USA and the only place to see a professional rodeo in the Garden State. Catch all the Old West-style ranching traditions, from bull riding to team roping in Pilesgrove from Memorial Day weekend through the end of September. All events are rain or shine, so get ready to saddle up for a good time.
Known as The Wizard of Menlo Park, Thomas Edison did more than give us the lights to use in our homes—he invented the phonograph and motion picture camera, improved the telegraph and the telephone, and invented and marketed a design to use the incandescent lightbulb all over the world. And all these innovations came out of his lab in Menlo Park, now a national museum. Tour Glenmont Estate and Laboratory Complex to learn more about the inventor and check out the world’s largest lightbulb made of Corning Pyrex glass that is 13 feet and eight feet tall at The Edison Memorial Tower, with a base lit 24/7 in honor of Thomas Edison.
The Revolutionary War and New Jersey
New Jersey played a large part in the Revolutionary War, where the British and American troops fought serious battles and encamped in many areas around the state, many of which are dedicated historical landmarks open to visitors. From Ford Mansion and Washington Headquarters Museum in Morris County to Washington Crossing State Park in Titusville, there is no shortage of history in the state. Some other Revolutionary War sites to visit with kids today include The Old Barracks Museum in Trenton, Princeton Battlefield State Park in Princeton, and the Monmouth Battlefield State Park in Manalapan.
Sandy Hook Lighthouse
The oldest existing lighthouse is in Sandy Hook, NJ, created in 1764 and has been a National Historic Landmark since the 200th anniversary of its first lighting. Today, the lighthouse continues its original function and is visible for nineteen miles on clear nights, and the beacon remains lit 24 hours a day. Visit the lighthouse in Sandy Hook and stop by the Highlands, the highest elevation on the East Coast from Maine to Florida.
Batsto Village is a New Jersey village frozen in time. Photo Credit: istock.com/wynnter
Incorporated in 1766 in Wharton Forest, Batsto Village looks the same as it did back then. Today, you can visit this interactive, well-preserved piece of history and learn about the ironworks, glass blowing, and other industries that helped the village thrive back then. The post office (one of four of the oldest operating in the United States), the mansion, the ice house, the gristmill, and the general store are all authentic and worth a visit.
31 Batsto Road, Hammonton, NJ 08037
Largest matchbox car collection
If you have a little collector who loves Matchbox cars, you may want to check out a museum in Newfield, New Jersey. The Matchbox Road Museum has more than 50,000 items gathered over the past 40 years; it’s so big that it set a world record. You can visit to see old and new all in one location—even adults will get a kick out of reliving their childhood with these tiny cars.
Lucy The Elephant
The oldest roadside attraction in the world stands over 65 feet tall and is over a century old—with big eyes and a cartoonish stature, Lucy the Elephant in Margate is one of those NJ attractions you must visit at least once. After a multi-million dollar renovation, Lucy is officially open again, with a new restaurant and a renovated climb to see the sweeping 360 views offering a peek back in time to the shore’s earliest days.
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