Thanksgiving in NJ: 15 Family-Friendly Things To Do


It’s the start of the most wonderful time of the year, and if you plan on spending Thanksgiving in NJ (or have family coming in), we’ve got plenty of things to do over the long holiday weekend besides the obvious Black Friday shopping. Check out the sparkling lights displays, sneak in a visit with Santa, catch a holiday performance, or bring the whole family to an indoor water park to splash around. Ready to make the most of Thanksgiving weekend? Scroll down to see what you can do to keep the fam busy (besides eating leftovers). (featured photo credit: Diggerland USA)

Get set for fun during Thanksgiving in NJ

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See holiday lights twinkle and dazzle. Photo Caption: Six Flags Great Adventure

Get into the holiday spirit with a light display

Holiday events are here, and if you’re spending Thanksgiving in NJ, you can get a head start on all there is to do during this special time of year. Admire the lights and festive displays of one of the holiday light shows near you, putting the whole family in a merry mood. And lights are on display when you board one of the Christmas train rides, where you can dress up in those holiday PJs for a festive-filled and merry ride on the Polar Express or with Santa and friends.

Go over the river and through the woods (Delaware or Hudson)

One of the awesome things about living here is our access to two world-class cities—New York and Philadelphia—that can put you in the heart of each one for a day trip or overnight. Use these days off to explore the NYC classics like the Empire State Building and Central Park Zoo or unique attractions like Little Island or the Museum of Ice Cream in NYC. Or check out the historical sights and museums in the City of Brotherly Love, like Independence Hall and The Franklin Institute, or different Philly spots like Once Upon a Nation Storytelling. And if you don’t want to head to a busy city, New Jersey is full of unique downtowns to explore, from historical Morristown to nostalgic Cape May.

Have some fun indoors

As temps start to cool off, why not try indoor mini-golf, challenge your family to a bowling competition, test your speed at an indoor go-kart track, or bounce it out at a trampoline park in NJ? Most of these places are more than just one activity—many offer arcades, laser tag, games, and gourmet cuisine to make a full day of it. Or, if you want to introduce your kids to the video games you played as a kid (hello, Donkey Kong), head to a retro arcade in the Garden State.

Get active outdoors

Take a deep breath in the great outdoors while sneaking in some fitness (and not feel guilty about that extra piece of pumpkin pie). We found plenty of trails around the Garden State to hike with the fam. Or, if you prefer to get around on two wheels, take a spin on one of the bike paths like the Patriot’s Path in Morris Township or Cooper River Park in Camden.

Get your thrills out at area attractions

Didn’t get an amusement park this summer? You can catch one now decorated in all the holiday finery. Head to Six Flags Great Adventure for Holiday in the Park, stop by Diggerland USA for their annual Winterfest, or stay inside at Nickelodeon Universe in the American Dream Mall. Or plan a trip to a famous NJ attraction, like Paterson Great Falls, before the winter weather is in full swing. There are also places in NJ where you don’t have to buy a ticket or pay an entry fee —from the Cape May County Park & Zoo to tours of the governor’s mansion at Drumthwacket—and these free attractions are worth checking out during the days off.

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Visit Santa and Mrs. Claus this Thanksgiving break so kids can get their wish list at the German Christmas Market of New Jersey. Photo Credit: German Christmas Market of New Jersey

Tree lightings, shows, and, of course—Santa

As soon as you finish that turkey, it’s time to kick off the holiday season. Start by going to one of the Christmas tree, menorah, and holiday lightings happening all over the state. Afterward, head to a Winter Market like those you’ll find abroad or cut down your tree from a Christmas tree farm. Or catch one of the holiday performances like The Nutcracker or a show with Santa to get in the spirit. Speaking of the guy in the red suit, he’s making the rounds in all the usual spots (and a few new ones) this year, and there’s no better time to get those lists out and a head start on shopping, with a Santa visit this weekend before the big crowds

Go on a playground field trip

Playground time isn’t seasonal, so if the weather looks nice, take a field trip to playgrounds by the shore, lake, or beach with awesome themes like castles, jungles, and ships. Heading to the shore? We’ve rounded up the best beach playgrounds to swing and slide over the sand, and if you can’t get to the shore, the Regatta Playground in the South Mountain Recreation Complex overlooking a pond is worth a visit, too.

Get lost in space

Sit back, relax, and get lost in space while looking up at the stars and watching a special film presentation in the domes of New Jersey’s educational and entertaining planetariums. Kids (and parents!) of all ages will be mesmerized by the enchantment of the dome’s crystal clear projection – all while learning something new.

Check out a limited museum exhibit

Now is a great excuse to get to that museum in New Jersey you’ve wanted to check out. Witness art coming to life indoors and outdoors in the fall weather at the unique Grounds For Sculpture. Or explore Liberty Science Center, Monmouth Museum,  New Jersey State Museum, or the Battleship New Jersey.

Go on a weekend road trip

A long weekend road trip can be just what you need to recharge your family’s batteries after a busy fall. Luckily, there are plenty of family-friendly resorts in and around NJ for all ages and budgets you can drive to in under 2 hours. Whether you want to experience the shore at the Ocean Place Resort & Spa in Long Branch or stay overnight nestled in the mountains at the Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, NY, a little getaway is always a good idea.

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A waterpark with a tropical temperature is a great way to spend Thanksgiving in NJ. Photo Credit: DreamWorks Water Park

Get wet indoors

Think waterparks are only a summertime thing? Nope—you can plunge down a waterslide, drift in the lazy river, or get knocked down in the wave pool. Dive into one of the indoor waterparks in NJ and across the state lines, including American Dream DreamWorks Waterpark in East Rutherford and Great Wolf Lodge in PA and MD. Kids will have a ball getting soaked indoors, and you’ll all feel like you went on a resort vacay miles away.

See the sea come to life

The temps may be dropping, but there is plenty of sea life to see indoors. From observing brilliant and bright fish at Jenkinson’s Aquarium in Point Pleasant Beach to seeing the sharks up close at the NJ SEA LIFE Aquarium in East Rutherford or hanging with the hippos at the Camden Adventure Aquarium, there are a bunch of aquariums in NJ that are perfect for your little sea explorer.

Hang with animal friends

As fall winds down, getting in those last zoo visits before the first frost can be a great way to spend the days off. Whatever animals your kids want to see, there’s no shortage of exotic species, wildlife education, and friendly farm petting zoos in the state. Check out what flamingos, lions, bears, and the like are doing at Turtle Back Zoo or Cape May County Zoo. And if fuzzy, soft creatures are more your speed, your littles will love getting to know the gentle alpacas at one of the alpaca farms in NJ.

Climb to new heights indoors

Climbing as a family at an indoor rock climbing space is a fantastic way to work on team-building. Children and parents can work together to overcome a difficult wall or conquer unique challenges like blindfolded or three-legged climbing. And many also have zip lines or places to do bouldering, making you feel like you’ve escaped to a mountain range activity park.

Explore a state park

Reach the highest point in NJ at High Point State Park in Sussex, or take it easy on 10 miles of sandy beaches at Island Beach State Park in Seaside Park. You can find a state park in NJ without going far—catch the Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park spanning several New Jersey counties or take in the fantastic views at Liberty State Park in Jersey City.

Stay entertained on those chilly days

If it’s a cold day and you want to keep the fam indoors, make it a day of indoor entertainment. Step back in time at Medieval Times or power up with games at Dave and Buster’s. LIttles can run loose at an indoor play space, and older kids will get that energy out by zapping the competition at one of the laser tag places all over the Garden State.

What are you planning to do over your Thanksgiving in NJ?

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About Author

Melanie Bodner has always had a love for writing, but now she has a new love…being a mom. Before having her kids, Melanie was no stranger to writing or working with children. She wrote for a local newspaper as a reporter and taught English and Dance in a public school. Now Melanie enjoys spending time with her kids, doing yoga, writing and decorating her home. Check out her Instagram @burlapbythebeach.