New Jersey was *controversially* popularized by the show The Jersey Shore, and I’m not sure if people think of anything other than sleezy people and beaches when they think of the state. But its not called The Garden State for nothing! I visited New Jersey for two weeks to catch up with a few friends of mine, and during this fortnight I repeatedly heard the phrase “there’s nothing to do in Jersey.”
Well as it turns out, no matter how small the state, there’s always something to do if you know what to look for. So began my search of little hidden treasures. I’m really into hiking, outdoors, walkable streets, and urbexing so this made my search a bit easier.
The Garden State really lives up to its name in that there are dozens of parks of all sizes, and while its a relatively flat state, there are hundreds of trails suitable for all fitness levels and interests. The first trail I hiked was at the Delaware Water Gap.
The Buttermilk Falls trail is a highly shaded and lush out and back trail. The waterfall is at the trailhead, so it starts out beautiful, however the 2 mile hike up is not to the top of the waterfall like I had imagined. Rather it was through the woods and connected to the 28 mile Appalachian trail. The Buttermilk falls trail just ends; there is not peak or lookout point and that was disappointing for me, but the trail itself was absolutely lovely; regardless of the fact that it was incredibly infested with bugs.
I absolutely loved the surrounding areas of Princeton University and the campus itself. Its lined with unique shops and cafes like most places in New Jersey, but the college vibe made it seem more upbeat and enjoyable. Plus there is an amazing underground Japanese restaurant called Ajihei that serves INCREDIBLE foods. The campus is massive so there is a lot to explore, plus it holds many secret gardens. We only found one of them, but in it we found two 4-leaf clovers and they’re the first ones I’ve ever seen in my life. Clearly its a lucky little spot. There is also a cutesy anime shop very reminiscent of the ones I saw in japan, and a large bookstore with a basement. I wish I would have spent more time in this area, but unfortunately our parking meter ran out.
Urbex locations in New Jersey are abundant. A lot of these places are written about online, but many you can find just driving down any of the small roads. Given, these homes are fulls of knives, and drugs, but they’re so cool to go through. My favorite was a 3 story house with every room still accessible. There was writing on the walls and clothes and creepy dolls. Exploring places like that get my adrenaline pumping so I pretty much live for these discoveries. The people that write on the walls do an excellent job of making everything extra creepy. 10/10 would recommend.
Delaware Raritan Canal State Park
Allaire State Park
This park looks huge on a map, and maybe it is, but my friends and I got pretty lost and parking was 5$ so we parked quick enough to see the abandoned train and buildings and left. I got bitten by 2 ticks there though so its not exactly the safest little park. Not very well kept either, however there is a historic village that we didn’t check out but we heard it was a cool experience.
The park at Hoboken looks out onto the skyline of NYC and it was absolutely breathtaking. Hoboken is one long road full of restaurants and its near liberty state park and well as pretty close to Staten Island. While there isn’t much to explore in Hoboken, its a nice area for a picnic!
Washington Valley Park
This littler park located near Bridgewater Commons (the best mall in NJ apparently) is a hidden treasure with *illegal* cliff jumping spots and provides about 10 miles of hiking trails. Walking around the lake is beautiful since its shaded and relatively flat, it makes for a good day outside. I wouldn’t recommend cliff jumping though (even though a group of boys were) because the water is very dirty. But hey if you’re into it, JUMP AWAY!
This park was my absolute favorite. It was a huge area of land that held so many different attractions, such as; waterfalls, ruins, greenhouses, statues, lakes, mansions, wildflower fields and 18 miles of trails. Its a free park and it would be so easy to spend all day there (they close at 6). They have an amazing restaurant on site as well. The ruins were so cool to see since nature was taking its land back, and they look like they came straight from an ancient civilization. There is a gate surrounding the ruins, but its a very VERY short gate… 😉
This little area is near Duke Farms so its easy to access. Red Mills has a short main street with little local shops and ice cream parlors, as well as the red mill museum which is 5$. Its a nice spot for pictures!
This super hip town next to the sea is probably the best area to walk around outdoors. Its a large area lined with botiques, antique shops, stores, restaurants, and cafes. There was this restaurant called Surf Taco and lemme tell you IT WAS TO DIE FOR. And so cheap!! Plus the antique stores are massive.
One unpictured park, worth a huge honorable mention was Holmdel Park. It was a large area with multiple trails and beautiful scenery.
Outside of outdoor adventure type things, the malls in New Jersey are one of a kind. They’re all so upscale and fancy and actually have unique stores. I pretty much went to every mall in New Jersey just to have something to do after hiking and I actually didn’t hate my life walking around in them!!!
Food wise, definitely check out the diners! They’re out of this world. First of all, they’re open 24 hours. Secondly, they all have the most comprehensive menus of all time. From salads to fried foods, burgers to fish, pastas to pancakes. They legitimately encapsulate the entire world’s menu.
And even though they have a bad rep, the beaches and boardwalks are quite pretty. Some better than others. The best is Cape May though. Its clean and trendy and feels much safer than some of the others!
The two weeks I spent back east went so quickly and I miss it already. The 9pm sunsets and post storm skies were breathtaking. Oh how I wish I had another week!