Does The Big Island Have Good Beaches

This story was originally published in 2018.

There are about nine million of us living here, and we all can’t be delusional.

Apart from those who live here primarily because of job or family, most New Jerseyans live here because they like it here! New York City is a quick PATH or train ride away — why live there? The Shore, the Pine Barrens, beautiful countryside, diners, beaches, the nation’s second most diverse city, small towns, great scenic highways - does any state pack as much variety into one compact package as New Jersey? Nope.

Yet we remain the most mocked, maligned and misunderstood state in the nation. This will never change. Maybe it’s a good thing. The more people hate us, the fewer will be inclined to move here. We’re already the country’s most densely populated state!

Here are the 50 best reasons to live in New Jersey, from someone who was born here (Trenton) and has travelled endlessly to every part of the state. This list could have easily included 100 or more items.

For the ultimate guide to New Jersey, check out our greatest thing about every single New Jersey town series.

NJ's 33 best small towns, ranked

Allentown (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Small towns

New Jersey may be the nation’s most densely populated state, but its small towns are an underpublicized, underappreciated treasure. Of our 565 municipalities, 397 have populations under 15,000, according to census figures; 190 of those have populations under 5,000. Those numbers don’t even include the towns and hamlets that are part of municipalities, the Chatsworths, Mauricetowns and West Trentons of the world. Unlike, say, the Shore, small towns make for great year-round exploration. Here’s my list of the state’s top 33 small towns, ranked.

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Roadside farm stands

Forget that store-bought, grown-in-California, Mexico, Peru or wherever produce. Nothing beats a tomato, peach or other fruit or vegetable from a Jersey roadside stand. Scores of family-run stands dot the landscape, and there are an additional 140-plus community farmers markets in towns across the state. N.J. ranks third nationally in cranberry production, fourth in tomatoes, bell peppers, peaches and cucumbers (cukes? who knew?), and sixth in blueberries. We’re not called the Garden State for nothing.

The single greatest thing about every North Jersey town

Interior, Summit Diner, Summit (Alexandria Pais I For the Star-Ledger) LNS

Diners

Diners didn’t start in New Jersey — they had their origins in Providence, R.I. - but today the Garden State is the diner capital of the World, with 600 or so of the shiny stainless steel gems. They come in small and super-sized, vintage and brand new, limited hours or open all-night, with menus ranging from one page to telephone book-sized. The Broad Street Diner in Keyport won our N.J.’s best diner showdown, but your favorite diner is always the best. Here’s my list of the best diner in each of N.J.’s 21 counties.

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Delaware Water Gap

Nearly 70,000 acres of woods, mountains and valleys; 100 miles of hiking trails and 30 miles of biking trails; spectacular waterfalls; 27 miles of the vaunted Appalachian Trail; historic villages; abundant wildlife — maybe no other part of the state packs as much outdoor adventure in one place as the Delaware Water Gap. The Old Mine Road is one of the state’s great scenic highways, and this may be the perfect time to take a hike on one of those 100 miles of trails, with fall colors blazing.

The 50 best reasons to live in New Jersey

At low tide students walk their sea kayaks across a sand bar in Barnegat Bay near the Natural Resource Education center on Sedge Island (Ed Murray I The Star-Ledger) SL

The Shore

What would we possibly do without the Shore? It’s New Jersey’s greatest asset, its best calling card, even if it gets overrun in the summer. With 130 miles of beaches, plus small towns, boardwalks, restaurants, parks and maybe even a few secret spots, the Shore beckons us every summer; it’s in our DNA. Just try to ignore those unavoidable traffic jams on the Parkway. I’ve lived nearly half my life Down the Shore. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

The 50 best reasons to live in New Jersey

Flight, Glasstown Brewing, Millville (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Wineries/craft breweries/distilleries

Fifty wineries, 100-plus craft breweries and brew pubs: New Jersey may have a way to go to match California in vino and Colorado in brew, but it’s certainly no slouch. The Garden State Wine Growers Association publishes handy guides in print and online, covering wineries from Alba to Working Dog. And craft beer lovers like me never have to travel far to find a super sour or prize-worthy porter. And let’s not forget our small but growing number of distilleries. A flight from Glasstown Brewing in Millville is shown in the photo.

These 25 great N.J. pizzerias are open right now for takeout

Pepperoni pizza, Nicoletta Pizzeria, Bernardsville (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Pizza (better than New York’s, yeah you heard right)

It’s accepted as truth (by New Yorkers, naturally) that the Big Apple makes the best pizza. Well, as the person who has eaten at more different pizzerias on both sides of the river than anyone (about 1,500-plus places and counting), I’ll give New Jersey a slight edge. (That screaming you hear is from outraged New Yorkers.) My advice to them: Cross the Hudson once in a while. Heck, even the New York Times’ own reviewer called Razza in Jersey the best pizza in NYC. Here are the 10 finalists in our N.J.’s best pizzeria showdown last summer. And here’s our epic list of New Jersey’s 99 best pizzas.

50 best reasons to live in NJ

Most diverse states in the U.S.

Ethnic diversity

New Jersey is the fourth-most ethnically diverse state (more diverse than New York), and Jersey City is the nation’s second most ethnically diverse city (it was No. 1 in the previous ranking). North Jersey especially is a United Nations of dining; no need to schlep into the big city for ethnic eats, no matter how little known.

Our favorite NJ food photos of 2020

Pork roll egg and cheese, Gronsky's Milk House, High Bridge (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Taylor ham/pork roll

A Taylor ham (or pork roll), egg and cheese is New Jersey’s unofficial state sandwich, and since we have an official state reptile, state bug, even a state dinosaur, you’d think some New Jersey governor would come along and proclaim Taylor ham, egg and cheese the official state sandwich. Although we wish North Jerseyans would stop calling every pork roll sandwich Taylor ham; if it’s not Taylor ham, (a brand name) don’t call it Taylor ham! The textbook definition — a lightly smoked and cured pork product, with spices, salt, and preservatives — doesn’t do it justice. When the bread, egg, cheese and Taylor ham/pork roll are just right, you have something pretty close to a breakfast epiphany. Here’s a video by Thrillist in which several experts (one you’ll recognize) explain why Taylor ham (or pork roll) rules New Jersey. The state’s 20 best Taylor ham/pork roll sandwiches? Thought you’d never ask.

The 50 best reasons to live in New Jersey

A time lapse image of the Somerville circle (Joe Epstein I The Star-Ledger) SL

Traffic circles

Many people hate traffic circles. (These are usually people who have no clue how to navigate them.) I love traffic circles and will cry like a baby when the last one bites the dust. Circles have tormented and terrified Jersey drivers since 1925, when the Airport Circle opened in Pennsauken. I love circles so much I even hold the unofficial world’s record for most trips around a circle (55) without stopping. And let’s not forget that World War I officially ended at what is now the Somerville Circle. Really. On July 12, 1921, President Warren Harding signed a joint congressional resolution declaring an end to the war against Germany and Austria. On that historic day, the president found time to play two rounds of golf; in between, he signed the resolution at the country estate of former state Sen. Joseph Frelinghuysen. There’s a marker in front of the PC Richard commemorating the occasion.

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Long Beach Island

It’s an island, and a world, away. Long Beach Island — 18 miles long, although you can easily walk from one side to the other — has always seemed to be the anti-Jersey Shore: less noise, congestion, neon, traffic, although you don’t want to be on Route 72 heading to LBI on a summer weekend. (There’s no other way in unless you have a boat.) Beach Haven, Surf City and Ship Bottom are the main municipalities, although my favorite town is Barnegat Light, at the northern tip, home to Mustache Bill’s Diner, Viking Village and Barnegat Lighthouse — aka Old Barney. It is open for climbing, although masks are required.

The single greatest thing about every Jersey Shore town

Teapot-shaped snack bar, Storybook Land (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Old-school amusement parks

Somehow, in a world of Great Adventure, video games and other distractions, New Jersey’s old-school amusement parks survive if not thrive. The Land of Make Believe, in Hope, has been open since 1954. Storybook Land in Egg Harbor Township, built around nursery rhyme characters, opened one year later, in 1955. Wild West City, the western heritage theme park, opened in 1957. It’s not an amusement park, but Space Farms in Beemerville, does have 500-plus live animals, nine museum buildings, antique cars and more. All four attractions are proof that you don’t need hi-tech to create fun hijinks for kids of all ages.

NJ's best hot dog joints, ranked

Texas Weiner I, Plainfield (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Center of the hot dog universe

If you love hot dogs, don’t move, because New Jersey is the center of the hot dog universe. There are probably more hot dog trucks, carts and storefronts crammed into Passaic, Essex, Bergen and Union counties than any comparably-sized area in the country. New Jersey is not just the center of the hot dog universe, it’s the cradle of hot dog civilization. Birthplace of the Italian hot dog? Newark, Jimmy Buff’s, 1932. Birthplace of the chili dog or Texas weiner? Paterson or Plainfield, take your pick; both cities claim the honor. Sabrett, found at hot dog carts and trucks across the country, is headquartered in Englewood. Best Provision, a major supplier of hot dogs to supermarkets, is headquartered in Newark. Here’s my behind-the-scenes profile of this low-profile company.

New York City? Nathan’s, the most iconic hot dog stand in the world, is there, but otherwise it’s pretty much a million street carts selling the same bland hot dog. Whoopee.

The 40 best boardwalk foods at the Jersey Shore, ranked

Curley's Fries, Wildwood (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Boardwalks

There is something about the soft comforting plunk of shoe or sandal on the boards. Around you are the sights, sounds and smells of summer — wheel operators barking; kids screaming gleefully on the rides; the welcoming whiff of funnel cake, ice cream, pizza and sausage sandwiches. I walked every boardwalk from Sea Bright to Cape May for the ultimate NJ boardwalk guide. And spent three summers devouring boardwalk food for a boardwalk food ranking. But I didn’t need to make those journeys to know the best boardwalk in NJ: Wildwood. Not just because it was the boardwalk of my youth, but because it packs more food, fun, variety, piers and neon than any other, including Seaside. It boasts Jersey’s only boardwalk sundial, and its only boardwalk chapel. And don’t forget to watch the tram car, please.

The 50 best reasons to live in New Jersey

Roosevelt Park, Edison (Tony Kurdzuk I The Star-Ledger)

County parks

County parks are one of Jersey’s underrated treasures, tree-shaded havens perfect for picnics, games, cookouts and more. I worked in Middlesex County for many years, and that county’s parks were second homes to me — Johnson Park in Highland Park and Piscataway; Roosevelt Park in Edison; and Donaldson Park in Highland Park, among others. One of the most beautiful county parks is Mantoloking Bridge County Park in Brick, with a 70-foot-long pier, boardwalk, picnic area and gazebo.

Di Cosmo’s Italian ice, Elizabeth

It’s little more than a shack, and one of the state’s food legends. Di Cosmo’s Italian Ice in Elizabeth has been a Peterstown fixture since 1915, when Katerina and Giovanni Di Cosmo started making Italian ice at the corner of Fourth and High. In the vintage photo at left, Agnes Di Cosmo and Lucy Rainone (aka “Lucy Lemons’') scoop ice. Only three or four flavors are available at any one time. One stop, and you’ll never go to that chain water ice store again. Di Cosmo’s represented Elizabeth in my Greatest Thing About Every New Jersey Town series.

The 21 NJ places you need to visit in 2021

Goshen Pond, Pine Barrens (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Pine Barrens

The Pinelands — 1.1 million acres — take up a major chunk of the state, but I’m guessing a slim minority of New Jerseyans have actually spent time exploring it. (Driving through it on the way to somewhere else doesn’t count.) It’s paradise to hikers, canoeists, fishermen and folks who just want to escape the outside world. Stop at the Pinelands Adventures office in Shamong to pick up a Pinelands Exploration Map and learn about their tours and trips.

The single greatest thing about every Jersey Shore town

Casting off, Belford Seafood Co-Op, Belford (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Seafood co-ops

Fish doesn’t get any fresher than at one of New Jersey’s seafood co-ops, where fishermen offload just-caught fish and shellfish, which are then sold in the co-op’s market. Co-ops include Belford (in photo), Viking Village in Barnegat Light, and Point Pleasant Beach.

NJ's 33 bets soft serve spots

Pedestrians stroll by Kohr's custard and ice cream stand , on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights (Noah K. Murray I The Star-Ledger) SL

Kohr’s/Kohr Bros.

No Jersey Shore visit is complete without a cool, creamy cone or cup from Kohr’s or Kohr Bros., two sides of the family business that started with a stand by five Kohr brothers on the Coney Island boardwalk in 1919. There are Kohr’s or Kohr Bros. locations in Point Pleasant Beach, Seaside Heights, Wildwood and Cape May, among other places.

The most interesting thing about every single North Jersey town

Alex Dos Santos and Paul Scherer work the grill at the Annual Brazil day in the Ironbound section of Newark (Ed Murray I The Star-Ledger) SL

The Ironbound

The state’s greatest food neighborhood, Newark’s Ironbound is home to some 200 restaurants, cafes, markets and specialty food stores. It was “destroyed’' in the 2005 “War of the Worlds’' re-make with Tom Cruise, but this is one neighborhood that seems destined to last forever. There are Portuguese, Spanish and Brazilian restaurants and markets, for sure, but also Italian, Ecuadorian, Mexican and many others. It’s a culinary wonderland, steps from Newark Penn Station.

The 50 best reasons to live in New Jersey

The road to Pakim Pond (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

South Jersey

North Jerseyans seem to take special delight in putting down South Jersey, but South Jerseyans want no part of “up north,’’ and for good reason. Fewer people, less traffic, more peace and quiet, more open space — the Pine Barrens in particular. Probably less aggravation and agita, too. There may be less to “do’' in South Jersey, and that’s just the point. Here are 11 reasons why South Jersey may be better than either North or Central Jersey.

The single greatest thing about every North Jersey town

The view from High Point (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

High Point State Park

It’s the state’s highest point, at 1,803 feet, but have you actually been to the top? Didn’t think so. High Point State Park was dedicated in 1923. The landscaping was done by the Olmsted Brothers of Boston, sons of Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park. Follow the road to the top (there is, improbably, a beach along the way) and take in the breathtaking views from the top of New Jersey.

NJ food trucks teetering on the edge

Marcus Crawford, foreground, owner of the Bro-Ritos food truck (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Food trucks

Ten years ago, the state’s food truck scene was relegated to a handful of trucks; in 2013, the Jersey Shore Food Truck Festival at Monmouth Park was the first large-scale food truck festival. Now scores of food trucks roam the Jersey landscape, fixtures at fairs, festivals, office parks and waterfronts. Check out the Ultimate N.J. Food Truck Guide, broken down into All-American fare, ethnic and seafood, and desserts and beverages.

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Proximity to NYC/Philly

Can’t ignore this one. NYC and Philly are an hour or so away from much of New Jersey, promising bright lights, big city, nightlife, restaurants and more. The Philly food scene is underrated, and New York — well, we all know (New Yorkers keep telling us) that the Big Apple makes the best pizza, bagels and just about every other food on earth. Maybe they should be reminded that New Jersey is the center of the food universe.

NJ's 30 best delis, ranked

Fiore's Deli, Hoboken (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Roast beef & mozzarella sandwich, Fiore’s, Hoboken

If I had to take one sandwich to my desert island, or the great hereafter, it would probably be the roast beef and homemade mozzarella sub at legendary Fiore’s. The deli is an old-school deli movie set — tin ceiling; fluorescent lighting; a display case filled with olives, roasted red peppers, mushrooms, and other specialties. A photo of Mother Teresa is wedged between sardine tins. There’s no web site or official Facebook page — no surprise there. No printed sandwich menu; just tell whomever’s behind the counter what you want, and be sure to ask about the specials. First-timer? Go on Thursday or Saturday, the only days you can get that heavenly roast beef and mozzarella sandwich. It was #1 in our ranking of New Jersey’s best sandwiches.

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Liberty Science Center, Jersey City

The largest planetarium in the Western Hemisphere is in New Jersey — where else did you think it would be? That would be the Jennifer Chalsty Planetarium and LSC Giant Dome Theater at Liberty Science Center in Jersey City. A lighting system capable of producing nearly 300 trillion colors and speakers that can blast 30,000 watts of digital sound add up to a mind-blowing celestial experience.

NJ's best specialty food stores/markets

Rotisserie chicken, Amish Market at Mullica Hill (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Amish markets

The Amish Market at Mullica Hill is one of my two or three favorite specialty food stores in the entire state. There’s a bakery (good bread and sticky buns); a deli; meat and seafood vendors; ice cream, candy and cheese counters. My favorite thing: the barbecue chickens at The Chicken Shack (formerly Yoder’s), in the back. Just thinking of them makes me want to jump in my car right now.

Other Amish or Pennsylvania Dutch markets include Dutch Country Farmers Market in Raritan Township (next to Flemington); the Greater Bridgeton Amish Market and the Williamstown Farmers Market.

The most interesting thing  about every North Jersey town

Jonah Norman, 3, gets wet in the spray of The Great Falls, which look more like Niagara Falls as the floodwaters of the Passaic River flow through Paterson. His father Max Norman brought him down to look at the falls while visiting from Los Angeles (John Munson/The Star-Ledger) SL

The Great Falls, Paterson

Yeah, yeah, everyone’s heard of the Great Falls, but have you actually been there? Not seen it from a distance, but from the bridge overlooking the state’s greatest natural wonder? (Unfortunately, the bridge is closed for repairs as of this writing). Visit the falls in floodwater stage, as seen in the photo above, for maximum magnificent effect. I’m going to keep writing about the Great Falls until every last New Jerseyan visits it. That may take a while; I’m continually astonished how many people have never been there. Go. Now. Or I’m going to pester you until the end of time.

The single greatest thing about every Central Jersey town

Sandip Patel at Chowpatty, which specializes in Indian vegetarian cuisine (Jerry McCrea I The Star-Ledger) SL

Little India, Iselin

The state is packed with great ethnic food neighborhoods — Newark’s Ironbound, the Middle Eastern restaurant/markets on Main Street in South Paterson, Little Korea in Palisades Park, and Bergenline Avenue in Union City among them — but none are more atmospheric than Little India, in Woodbridge’s Iselin section. Scores of restaurants, sweets shops, food markets, jewelry and clothing stores are crammed along Oak Tree Road.

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Cape May

Victorian jewel. Impossibly romantic. Lively dining scene. Excellent beach. And a grace period on your parking meter! Cape May does the Jersey Shore experience like no other town. But it’s not stuffy, encompassing everything from fanciful B&Bs to the hole-in-the-wall Hot Dog Tommy’s. Speaking of food, Cape May was named one of the nation’s top 20 food cities by Conde Nast Traveler magazine.

Long live the Ripper

Cheesesteaks on grill, Donkey's Place, Camden (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Cheesesteaks

What does South Jersey do better than North or Central Jersey? Cheesesteaks, and it’s not even debatable. No less an authority than the late Anthony Bourdain proclaimed the best Philly cheesesteak can actually be found in New Jersey, at Donkey’s Place in Camden (grill shown in photo). Donkey’s also made my list of the state’s 21 best cheesesteaks, ranked.

50 best reasons to live in NJ

Route 521 (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Great scenic roads

New Jersey may not be Colorado or even Vermont, but there are some damn beautiful roads, and scenic countryside, here. From the rolling hills of Sussex and Warren counties clear down to the open empty spaces of Gloucester and Cumberland, our state and county highways provide front-row seats to a New Jersey you may have forgotten existed. Here are my 20 favorite scenic roads for that perfect fall drive. Time to get your motor running and head out on the highway.

The single greatest thing about every North Jersey town

Mama Chicken, Palisades Park (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Korean fried chicken

Korean fried chicken was once largely a Bergen County thing, but restaurants offering this uber-crunchy twist on Southern fried chicken are starting to spread southward, into Edison, New Brunswick and elsewhere. Korean fried chicken is twice-fried, which accounts for the colossal crispiness, and it’s always made to order, which means a wait of about 15-20 minutes. That wait will be so worth it. My two favorite places: Peck Peck in Teaneck and Mama Chicken in Palisades Park (in photo).

County fairs

Ahh, the county fair. Neon-lit midways, rides spinning into the warm summer night and enough deep-fried food to put a smile on your face and stop your heart at the same time. The county fair is one of America’s great summer traditions. Among the best: the Middlesex County Fair in August, the Warren County Farmers’ Fair (late July/early August) and the Somerset County 4-H Fair in August.

50 best reasons to live in NJ

Bakery, Paterson (Brian Donahue I The Star-Ledger)

Main Street, Paterson

The Ironbound in Newark and Little India in Iselin are probably the state’s best-known ethnic food neighborhoods. Less heralded is the cornucopia of Middle Eastern shops, markets, bakeries and restaurants along Main Street in South Paterson. Fattal’s Syrian Bakery and Nouri Brothers are legendary. For Turkish food, try Toros (there’s another location in Clifton); for desserts, Nayef Sweets, just off Main. And on the next blinding hot summer day (I know; it’ll be a while), try the mint lemonade at Al Basha — bracing and refreshing.

Hey you take a hike

The Bridgetender's House, wooden bridge and mill site, Delaware & Raritan Canal. Franklin (Patti Sapone I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

The Delaware & Raritan Canal

A shady, often-overlooked oasis in the midst of the metropolitan area, Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park, 70 miles long, is paradise for walkers, hikers, fishermen, canoeists and folks who just want to lose themselves for a while. Beside the paths, there are tender houses, wooden bridges and remnants of locks, a reminder of an age when freight moved by mule teams or steam tugboats. Scenic spots include Washington Crossing, Bull’s Island and Griggstown.

The 50 best reasons to live in New Jersey

Serene Custard, Vineland (Noah Addis I The Star-Ledger)NOAH ADDIS

Soft serve, Serene Custard, Vineland

There are only a few food-related items in this list, so you know this one is special. Serene Custard, on the other side of the railroad tracks in the state’s largest city by size, opened in 1959; current owner Ed Rone took over in 1984. His wife, Linda, makes the ice cream (32 flavors of hard, three soft-serve). Rone uses what he calls the “Rolls-Royce” of mixes, from Crowley’s, which costs $9 per gallon. Other mixes, he adds, contain “a lot of soy and stabilizers.” Serene was #1 in my ranking of the state’s best soft-serve spots. It’s rich, creamy and colder than any other soft-serve I’ve tried. A recent post on their Facebook page announced Serene is for sale. Here’s hoping the business re-opens next year.

50 best reasons to live in NJ

South branch of the Raritan River and Red Mill Museum, Clinton (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Hunterdon County

Hunterdon County is not on this list because I lived there on two different occasions (Clinton town, Alexandria) but because it’s the prettiest, most picturesque of N.J.’s 21 counties. (Sorry, Warren, Sussex, etc.) Charming small towns, beautiful countryside, winding back roads, farms — Hunterdon is a great place for day trips or weekend-long stays. Three of the top 11 towns in my ranking of N.J.’s best small towns are in Hunterdon, including number one. The photo shows the Red Mill Museum Village and the south branch of the Raritan River in Clinton.

The single greatest thing about every South Jersey town

A cowboy looks over the arena at Cowtown Rodeo (Joe Proudman I For The Star-Ledger) SL

Cowtown Rodeo

The nation’s longest-running weekly professional rodeo is in ... New Jersey? Cowtown Rodeo in Pilesgrove, held every Saturday night from late May to late September, features bull riding, saddle bronc and bareback riding, steer wrestling, barrel racing and more. Sit in the stands; you’ll feel as if you’re in Montana, or at least somewhere far from Jersey. Pilesgrove is also home to the Corner Bar, the winner of our N.J.’s best bar showdown.

50 reasons to live in NJ

Hackensack River (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

The swamps of North Jersey

Bruce sang about them, of course, but the “swamps of North Jersey’'’ have come a long way since the 1970s, when parts of the Hackensack River and its tributaries were an environmental nightmare due to pollution. Today, thanks to the Hackensack Riverkeeper and other organizations, the swamps of North Jersey make for prime nature excursions just off the Turnpike. Sign up for one of the Hackensack Riverkeeper’s eco-cruises; they’re highly recommended.

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Lucy the Elephant

How many states besides New Jersey have a six-story-high, 137-year-old elephant on the National Register of Historic Places? That would be none. Lucy the Elephant, built in 1881 out of a million pieces of timber and 12,000 square feet of tin, is a magnificent must-see. She’s a she, although those tusks of hers are found only on male Asian elephants. Normally, you’d walk up one of Lucy’s legs to reach the informative museum, but it is temporarily closed due to a major exterior restoration project. The gift shop, however, remains open.

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Wawa

There are a handful of Wawas scattered around North Jersey, but folks up there need to visit South Jersey to see how deeply Wawa is ingrained into South Jersey life and culture. To say they are everywhere in South Jersey is an understatement; there are 127 Wawas within 20 miles of Mount Holly. Wawa may have been hatched in Pennsylvania — the first store opened in Folsom, Pa,. on April 16, 1964 — but the chain is more Garden State than Keystone State. There are 245 Wawas in Pennsylvania — and 269 in Jersey, and counting. That’s a lot of geese in flight. Wawa is not only a Lenni Lenape term, it also appears in Longfellow’s “The Song of Hiawatha”: And in flocks/The wild goose Wawa.

For the ultimate Wawa story, check out this one about a reporter’s attempt to visit 50 Wawas all over the state in one day.

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Newark Museum of Art

‘’The state’s largest museum’' barely does the Newark Museum of Art justice. It’s a world-class museum; collections include Arts of Global Africa, American Art, and Arts of the Ancient Mediterranean. The museum actually started at the Newark Public Library in 1909, opening in its current space in 1926. The first floor of the 1885 Ballantine House was saved and restored for the Bicentennial as a showcase for the decorative arts; the Dalai Lama attended the consecration of the museum’s Tibetan Buddhist altar in 1990. The museum also hosts the Newark Black Film Festival, the nation’s longest-running black film festival. Schoolkids around the state can speak of the celestial wonder of the Alice and Leonard Dreyfuss Full-Dome Planetarium.

The 50 best reasons to live in NJ

Mike Laffey feeds two giraffes at the Cape May County Zoo (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Cape May County Park & Zoo, Middle Township

Cape May County Park & Zoo opened in 1978 with an African lion, spider monkeys, and some Jersey wildlife and farm animals. It is now home to 550 animals — parrots, macaws, kookaburras, bongos, ostriches, ring-tailed lemurs, giraffes, bison, Burmese python, elk, a red panda, black bear, lion, and the world’s largest rodent, not to mention flamingos from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. And the 87-acre zoo, amazingly, is free. As in no admission. The zoo is New Jersey’s own wild kingdom, near the end of its busiest highway.

The single greatest thing about every North Jersey town

White Manna, Hackensack (Saed Hindash I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

White Manna, Hackensack

The White Manna in Hackensack (not to be confused with the White Mana in Jersey City) is the Fenway Park of diners — a red-trimmed glass-block jewel with 20 seats and the irresistible smell of meat and onions emanating from the tiny grill. Get a double cheeseburger with onions; it’s not a big fancy designer burger, but you’ll dream about it the day after.

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Adventure Aquarium

Camden is home to the nation’s most decorated battleship, the BB&T Pavilion, Philly’s best cheesesteak, the Walt Whitman House and Adventure Aquarium, where you can find everything from African cichlids and American lobsters to stingrays and waxy monkey frogs. And sharks — zebra sharks, silky sharks and sand tiger sharks, among others. Don’t forget to say hello to Button and Genny, African hippos that weigh in at a colossal 3,000 pounds each. For the ultimate underwater experience, put on a wetsuit and go nose-to-nose with the sharks.

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QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning

One of the state’s grand visual spectacles, the QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning packs mass ascensions of huge, colorful balloons; concerts; food and fireworks in one action-packed summer weekend. The launch site is Solberg Airport in Readington, but you’ll often see the balloons drifting magnificently across Route 202 or 22. The 2022 dates are July 29-31.

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Old Stillwater General Store (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

General stores

You’d think, with shiny new convenience stores marching relentlessly across the Jersey landscape, general stores would die, and quickly. Think again. At the big new QuickCheks and Wawas, you can buy breakfast, lunch and dinner, fill up the car, use the ATM — just about around the clock. The general store soldiers on, all squeaky floors and sagging ceilings and limited stock. In dozens of towns and hamlets across the state, particularly in Sussex, Warren and Hunterdon counties, the general store is the main business, the best place to catch up on local news and gossip; in several towns, it serves as the local post office. The most atmospheric general stores include Rambo’s Country Store in Califon and the Allenwood General Store in Wall, an antiques/second-hand wonderland which happens to serve one of the state’s best Taylor ham/pork roll, egg and cheese sandwiches.

The Great Swamp

The Great Swamp Natural Wildlife Refuge — 7,768 acres of woods, grassland and swamp— is a prime bird-watching spot, and you’ll also see deer, fox, turtles, muskrat and other wildlife along the eight miles of designated hiking trails and the two-mile-long auto tour route on Pleasant Plains Road. Despite the name, it’s striking terrain, and a reminder New Jersey packs a lot of beauty in its overdeveloped self. And to think a major airport was almost built here in the 70s.

The 50 best reasons to live in NJ

Waitresses of the Colonial Diner pose for a group portrait near the counter of the Woodbury, New Jersey eatery (Avi Steinhardt)

The people

“No one likes us, I don’t know why...’' The great Randy Newman was singing about the United States, but he might as well been singing about New Jersey. We’re forever suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous insults from New Yorkers and other folks who don’t know any better. But we somehow rise above it, displaying manners (most of the time, anyway) and a sense of humor, with a bit of attitude thrown in for good measure. Are we perfect? No. But I don’t think residents of any other state are more fiercely proud of who they are than the typical Jerseyan.

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Peter Genovese may be reached at i">>pgenovese@njadvancemedia.com.

Source : https://www.nj.com/entertainment/2021/11/the-50-best-reasons-to-live-in-new-jersey.html

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