Forget what you think you know about New Jersey. Smoke stacks, factories and traffic clogged highways are only a tiny part of its story. Away from its industrial heartlands, the third state in the Union is fabulously rural and brimming with history, home to quaint towns, wild green forests, classic old diners and the revitalised beach resorts of the 140-mile Jersey Shore. Heading to the East Coast soon? We shine a light on why you should make time for the Garden State on your next trip.
Pretty, preppy and prestigious: the college town of Princeton is home to some gorgeous architecture, the leafy colonial-style Palmer Square, and an elite Ivy League university attended by a roll-call of heavyweight political figures, including Woodrow Wilson, Donald Rumsfeld and Michelle Obama.
The best way to soak up the lovely surroundings is on a student-led guided tour. You’ll explore the park-like campus and its architectural highlights, like the 2000-seat Gothic chapel, the Italianate Prospect House and Garden, and the national historic landmark Nassau Hall. Alternatively, the Princeton Tour Company offers walking tours encompassing both the university and the wider town, including the homes and hangouts of famous residents Albert Einstein and F. Scott Fitzgerald. If there’s time, visit the charming wisteria-clad Morven Museum & Garden or just soak up the general air of privilege in town. You’ll find an absorbing mix of indie stores and boho boutiques, along with a lively dining scene on Palmer Square.
Asbury Park has witnessed a considerable renaissance in recent years. What was once a fading seaside resort – full of derelict buildings and dilapidated streets – is once again in the ascendancy, with weekending New Yorkers flocking to its shores. The young, artistic and entrepreneurial have revived the boardwalk and downtown district along Cookman Avenue. The 1920s-era Paramount Theatre has been restored to its former glory, along with a complete transformation of the surrounding area. New restaurants, boutique hotels, vintage stores, coffee shops and food trucks have been cropping up all over town, setting the tone for its hip new identity. And its legendary music scene – which catapulted local heroes Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi into the spotlight – remains as influential as ever, anchored by the enduring Stone Pony and Wonder Bar venues.
It’s one of the USA’s most famous beach resorts and gambling destinations. Maybe you know it best from the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, or perhaps you’d heard this so-called Vegas of the East was down on its luck after fallout from the global recession and Hurricane Sandy. It’s fair to say that Atlantic City has fallen on some tough times over the years, but a multi-million dollar tourism campaign has helped kickstart its latest comeback. This year, what was once the Trump Taj Mahal will become a new Hard Rock casino after a $375 million facelift, while the former luxury Revel casino is expected to re-open as the Ocean Casino Resort by the summer, complete with 2,200 slot machines.
As with Asbury Park, the shiny newcomers are all part of Atlantic City’s ongoing reinvention, which includes plenty of non-gaming activities too. Come for a flutter, and stay for the beaches, the historic boardwalk, the sea air, the shopping, the dining, the nightlife, the spas and the A-list gigs. An adult playground this most certainly still is.
At the tip of the Cape May peninsula, the town of Cape May is the classic Jersey Shore resort and claims to be the oldest holiday destination in the United States. The quaint beach town has maintained a strong sense of idenity through its commitment to conservation, with more than 600 beautifully preserved Victorian houses, hotels and B&Bs lining the streets of the downtown core. Head to the Emlen Physick Estate – the resort’s only Victorian house museum – for an insight into life in a Victorian household. Or to really soak up the seaside vibe, check yourself into a traditional lodging like the Carroll Villa Hotel and spend a few days exploring the sights. Highlights include the two-mile beach promenade with its candy stores and arcades, along with the 1859-built Cape May Lighthouse and a string of lovely dune-backed beaches.
Hoboken, New Jersey. It’s practically New York City isn’t it? Just not quite as cool? Well, that’s up for discussion. While it may not have the cultural clout of Brooklyn or Queens, this waterfront city and unofficial sixth NYC borough is still worthy of exploration – and it’s all just a 10-minute train ride from Greenwich Village or the Financial District.
Hoboken may be small but it has several claims to fame. It’s the birthplace of baseball and Frank Sinatra, and was the setting for Marlon Brando’s Oscar-winning performance in On the Waterfront, which was filmed here in its entirety. But for all its gritty history, Hoboken is best known to tourists today for its magnificent views of the Manhattan skyline, best viewed from Pier A Park and its neighbour Pier C Park, or the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway that runs between the two. Back from the river, 15-block Washington Street is Hoboken’s main drag. This wide commercial thoroughfare is home to stalwarts like the 1910-founded Carlo’s Bakery, along with hip boutiques and big brand chains. Stop for colossal pizza slices at Benny Tudino’s before heading back to the city.
Virgin Atlantic operates daily flights to Newark, New Jersey and JFK, New York from London Heathrow.