New Jersey is the fourth-smallest state in the U.S. but it is amazing how much "WOW" is packed into our tiny home.  We are the ultimate tourist destination — you never have to leave the state to find good times.

As the weather warms up, the sun gets higher in the sky, snow chances fade away, and it is finally time to bid farewell to ol' man winter.  Spring has sprung!  (Well, almost.)  

This month, we are casting off our cabin fever in the best way possible — by exploring some great ways to "Spring Around New Jersey" in the coming months.  From the cities to the Shore, you are sure to find the perfect "WOW" destination for a day trip, weekend getaway, or Spring Break vacation.  I can't wait to "Spring on the Wows" and share some of my favorite hotspots and hidden gems around New Jersey!

This article is part of a special series brought to you by the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism.

Ellis Island. Credit: Getty Images
Ellis Island. Credit: Getty Images

Get Outside!

We don't call it the Garden State for nothing!  Every corner of New Jersey has outdoor recreation opportunities perfect for some springtime fresh air and exercise.

You might "elevate" yourself to High Point State Park in Sussex County.  (One of New Jersey's 49 state parks and forests.)  The views from atop New Jersey's highest point — 1,804 feet above sea level — are spectacular.  You will find hiking trails, fishing spots, and picnic facilities, including part of New Jersey's segment of the Appalachian Trail.

Or you might become inspired by visiting Ellis Island near Jersey City or Thomas Edison's Laboratory in West Orange. (Two of nine national parks, trails, and historic sites in the state.)

One of my recent favorite "great outdoors adventures" is on the Watchung Reservation near Summit and Mountainside.  Tons of history, hikes, and a huge variety of recreation opportunities nestled in the woods of Union County. My kids especially love Trailside Nature and Science Center.

I also want to highlight the Essex County Cherry Blossom Festival, scheduled for April 6-14, 2024.  Over five thousand cherry trees will be in bloom, more than any other park in the United States.  (Yes, even more than Washington DC!)  They have a full slate of celebratory events planned, including bike and running races, demonstrations, and more.

Duke Farms is a 2,700-acre estate in Hillsborough that starts its prime season in the spring. Here, you can learn about the environment and conservation. You can even rent a bike for the day. I've heard Duke Farms is especially good for birdwatching and geocaching.

Another hotspot for ornithological enthusiasts is the Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary.  They have four easy trails to walk and watch for birds, butterflies, and bugs galore.  Be sure to follow posted signs and directions, though, as numerous active nests of sensitive species are on-site.

At the opposite end of the state, Lakota Wolf Preserve is another unique destination to get outdoors and communicate with nature.  By howling, that is.  Keep in mind limited tour times are available, so check their website for visitation details.

Finally, for a peaceful yet eclectic outing, check out Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton.  Pristine outdoor gardens accompany nearly 300 sculptures of all sizes. GFS is always hosting special events and their on-site restaurant, Rat's, is top-notch.

Cape May "painted ladies" Credit: Getty Images
Cape May "painted ladies" Credit: Getty Images

Weekend Getaways

Whether you are looking for a romantic rendezvous, a solo adventure, or a family trip, you don't have to travel far this Spring to enjoy a great day trip or staycation.

One of my favorite "hidden gems" of New Jersey is Lambertville, tucked away along the Delaware River in Hunterdon County.  Walk around downtown, go antiquing, enjoy a great meal at Lambertville Station (or any of the town's great restaurants), and end your day with a great show at Music Mountain Theatre.

Cape May is another fantastic choice, especially since there are still a couple of months between the hyperactive summer season. Stroll the beaches or take in the charm of the Victorian homes quaintly called "Painted Ladies.” And don't forget about the ever-popular Cape May Lighthouse, Washington Street Mall, and Cape May County Zoo (which is free year-round).

For a very different vibe and taste of NJ culture, spend a day or weekend among the hustle and bustle of Jersey City or Hoboken.  You will discover some great hotels and restaurants, along with some incredible history and waterfront views.

Finally, for the ultimate weekend getaway, head north to Crystal Springs Resort in Hamburg.  From comfortable hotel accommodations to spas to family-friendly entertainment to a wide variety of dining options, this luxury oasis is worth every penny.
American Dream Credit:

Indoor Fun

I have to put on my "meteorologist hat" for a moment and remind you that Spring can be a rather volatile time of year.  From occasional snowstorms, thunderstorms, heat bursts, and cold snaps, you may have to plan an indoor trip instead.  No worries, as there are lots of those around the Garden State too.

My family recently took a day trip to the American Dream in East Rutherford.  It was our first visit, and we were absolutely blown away by the size and variety of this "mega-mall."  You could spend a whole day just walking around, shopping and eating.  Or take the family to Nickelodeon University theme park and/or DreamWorks Water Park.  Or go skiing or snowboarding at Big Ski.  Pro tip: Have a plan for which hot spot stores, eateries, and attractions you want to visit before you go.  Otherwise, you will get lost, and you will lose track of time.

Another perfect spot for family fun in any weather is iPlay America in Freehold.  You get the full vibe of an amusement park — rides, games, food, and more — in their giant climate-controlled facility.  Check their website for special events and promotions that are coming up.

Want to get wet? Island Waterpark at Showboat in Atlantic City just opened last year, a tropical paradise with 11 thrilling water slides.  Or visit Big Kahuna's Water Park in West Berlin (formerly Sahara Sam's) for slides, tides, a lazy river, and more.  (Their outdoor section does not open until Memorial Day weekend.)

Hands down, one of my favorite indoor attractions in the state is Liberty Science Center in Jersey City.  My fellow science nerds can enjoy the great interactive exhibits, shows, and animals. I'm especially a fan of the Our Hudson Home exhibit on the 4th floor, offering a great view of the NYC skyline. Be sure to give my regards to the Hoberman Sphere too.

Adventure Aquarium along the Camden waterfront is home to 8,000 aquatic residents of New Jersey, including fish, coral, penguins, stingrays, and even hippos. Do you dare to cross through the 40-foot Shark Tunnel and over the 80-foot Shark Bridge?

For an out-of-this-worth experience, plan a trip to the planetarium at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton.  Yes, we have a state museum!  They have exhibits and collections covering history, archeology, science, and more.  And the "stellar" planetarium rotates available shows every weekend — check their website for the full schedule.

Steel Pier Credit:
Steel Pier Credit:

Spring Break

For New Jersey students (and teachers), the best part of springtime is Spring Break!  Whether your seasonal recess happens in March or April this year, there's plenty of fun starting up just in time.

When I think Spring Break fun, I think about New Jersey's theme parks. Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson opens for their 50th anniversary season in mid-March, with operating hours throughout the spring season. Although their newest and greatest ride, Flash: Vertical Velocity, does not open until later this year, they still have 14 roller coasters along with other rides and attractions to make it a great day.

Plus, those classic amusements along the Jersey Shore boardwalks will start firing up for the season. Jenkinson's Boardwalk in Point Pleasant, Casino Pier in Seaside Heights, Steel Pier in Atlantic City, and Morey's Piers in Wildwood are all set to open (at least partially) before Easter Sunday.

Looking for a unique theme park, perfect for kids (and kids at heart). My family loves Diggerland in West Berlin. You can operate real construction equipment, like excavators, steamrollers, skid steers, and mini cranes. Or get a real thrill on Spin Dizzy or Sky Shuttle. My favorite ride is The Greased Beast, where you find out what it feels like to get dumped out of a dump truck. (Really!)

New Jersey's culinary scene may also provide inspiration for your Spring Break staycation.  There are tons of wineries, breweries, and distilleries around the state.  (Drink responsibly, of course.)  Or maybe you embark upon a quest to find the best burger, bagels, and/or ice cream in the state.  We have some of the best!

Let me mention two more off-the-beaten-path NJ Spring Break destinations. Atlantic City is hopping during the summertime but much calmer (and more affordable) during the spring. Still plenty to do, eat, and enjoy. Or how about New Brunswick, especially when the Rutgers kids are away for their own Spring Break fun.  Dinner and a show at State Theatre New Jersey is a favorite date night for my wife and me.

Wherever you go and whatever you do in New Jersey this season, you are sure to find a lot of "WOW." Happy Spring!

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