15 Essential New Jersey Bucket List Activities & Food

Updated

New Jersey is one of the country’s most dynamic and welcoming states. That may come as a surprise to those who are only familiar with New Jersey via pop culture depictions of it, but in truth, New Jersey is home to a number of attractive destinations, world-class restaurants, and much more.

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Whether you live in New Jersey or are planning to visit the state in the near future, one of the best ways to ensure you make the most of the experience is to put together a New Jersey bucket list. This is simply a list of activities, foods, and destinations you want to try in the state while you can. 

Don’t worry if you’re not sure where to start. This guide offers several ideas to consider. If you need more general help with this task, check our guide on how to make a travel bucket list.

New Jersey Bucket List Trip Destinations

Depending on your interests, you’ll likely find plenty of destinations in New Jersey that appeal to you. These are just a few options to consider:

1. Spend a summer weekend at the Jersey Shore

The Jersey Shore isn’t just one place. The term actually refers to several towns along Jersey’s coast. Noteworthy examples include:

  • Wildwood
  • Long Beach Island
  • Wildwood Crest
  • Cape May
  • Ocean City
  • Sea Isle City
  • Seaside Heights

Despite what TV’s The Jersey Shore might have you believe, many of these towns are quite charming. Visiting any of them in the summer may just be the most quintessential New Jersey experience you can have. 

2. Enjoy the thrills at Six Flags Great Adventure (Jackson, NJ)

If you’re a thrill-seeker (or the parent of budding thrill-seekers) and you only have one day or so to spend in New Jersey, consider visiting Six Flags Great Adventure. Currently, it’s the world’s second-largest theme park, boasting some of the tallest and most intense rides on the planet. If you visit during the warm summer months, you can also stop by Hurricane Harbor, the adjoining waterpark.

3. Make a bet at Atlantic City

Second only to Las Vegas, Atlantic City is one of the most well-known gambling destinations in America. However, you don’t have to gamble to enjoy this town. Visiting Atlantic City gives you access to various restaurants, entertainment venues, and much more. 

Outdoor Activity, Hike, and Adventure Bucket List Ideas for New Jersey

Pop culture depictions of New Jersey often depict the state as being a labyrinth of malls and highways. However, in reality, there are many sections of New Jersey that are fairly undeveloped, offering both residents and visitors the chance to explore the great outdoors. Consider doing so by:

4. Hiking the Pine Barrens

New Jersey is home to many wooded areas that are ideal for hiking and camping. However, the Pine Barrens region may offer the most authentic New Jersey hiking experience. According to legend, this part of the state is home to the Jersey Devil, a monstrous creature who inspired the name of New Jersey’s NHL team. Regardless of whether this being actually exists, visiting its alleged home gives you the opportunity to see a part of the state that many often overlook.

5. Skiing at Mountain Creek (Vernon, NJ)

Mountain Creek is a ski resort that abandons elitism in favor of welcoming winter fun. The resort’s location is one of the most gorgeous spots of New Jersey, showcasing a side of the state that you often don’t see in movies or on TV. As this blog will cover further down, there is also a very good reason to consider visiting this resort in the summer as well.

Spring and Summer New Jersey Bucket List Ideas

Many a travel bucket list focuses on summer activities, as summer is the time when most families can justify taking off work for a few weeks. Spring and summer New Jersey Bucket list ideas include:

6. Visiting the original Action Park (Vernon, NJ)

Action Park is the infamous waterpark that served as the subject of the documentary Class Action Park as well as the inspiration for the Johnny Knoxville movie Action Point. The park’s original owner, Gene Mulvihill, wasn’t a particularly avid fan of rules or regulations, which resulted in the park earning such nicknames as “Traction Park” due to the injuries guests sustained there on a fairly regular basis.

Action Park doesn’t technically exist now. The property is currently Mountain Creek, which operates as a waterpark during the spring and summer and a ski resort during the winter. However, the waterpark section has preserved many of the original Action Park rides (with a much greater emphasis on safety these days), and sometimes even rebrands as Action Park during the busy summer season. 

7. Visiting the roots of The Boss (Asbury Park, NJ)

The name Bruce Springsteen is synonymous with New Jersey. Technically, Springsteen’s home is Freehold, but he first began seriously performing and recording music with his fellow E Street Band members in Asbury Park. While you can visit this part of the state at any time of year and explore the town where one of rock’s most iconic artists forged the foundation of his career, summer is usually the most inviting time to do so.

Fall and Winter New Jersey Bucket List Ideas

While the Jersey Shore may be the ultimate summer destination for those visiting the state, there is also plenty to do in New Jersey during the colder months of the year. Examples include:

8. Going apple picking

The border of northern New Jersey sits right on the border of New York’s Hudson Valley, where apple picking in the autumn is an annual tradition for many. As such, New Jersey also boasts its fair share of apple farms. Along with picking apples, guests can enjoy apple cider, apple cider donuts, apple pie, and, well… you get the idea.

9. Taking a ride down Clinton Road (West Milford, NJ)

Autumn is the Halloween season. Those who like to indulge in the darker side of this time of year might thus want to take a ride down Clinton Road in West Milford, NJ.

This nearly 10-mile stretch of road has earned a reputation for being one of the most haunted roads in the US. Although there are some houses and businesses at either end of the road, for the most part, it offers a winding and isolated journey through dense woods. Motorists have reported encountering phantom trucks that chase them at dangerously high speeds, “demon” dogs, ghost children, and more.

Just be aware that the road features a particularly sharp curve that takes many new visitors by surprise. Drive slowly and carefully at all times.

Bucket List Foods and Restaurants in New Jersey

New Jersey is sandwiched (no pun intended) between Philadelphia and New York, two cities that boast iconic regional food items. Classic New Jersey cuisine is essentially a combination of both. Experience that unique combo by adding these ideas to your food bucket list:

10. Trying a hot dog at Hiram’s (Fort Lee, NJ)

A hot dog may not be fine dining, but when none other than Anthony Bourdain recommends a spot, it’s worth trying out. 

11. Getting pizza at Kinchley’s (Ramsey, NJ)

Again, a great New Jersey meal doesn’t need to be a gourmet dining experience. Kinchley’s Tavern in Ramsey has been serving locals since 1937. Although the spot offers a range of Italian-American classics, it is by far best known for its thin-crust pizza. 

Check for the Clydesdale on the roof if you’re not sure you’ve found the right place. You can’t miss it.

12. Trying any of New Jersey’s independent fast-food spots

For reasons that remain unknown, independent businesses that offer the same menu items that you would expect to find at a typical fast-food spot (burgers, hot dogs, fries, etc.) are very, very abundant throughout New Jersey. Here are just a few examples:

  • The Fireplace (Fairfield)
  • The Hot Grill (Clifton)
  • Johnny and Hanges (Fairlawn)

You can find a McDonald’s or Burger King virtually anywhere in the US. These spots, however, offer their own special takes on classic fast-food meals that you won’t find anywhere but Jersey.

Jersey City, New Jersey Bucket List Ideas

Jersey City may not be the official capital of the state, but as the name implies, it’s one of its major hubs. Experience the best of it by:

13. Visiting Liberty State Park

Liberty State Park is a sprawling space where you can walk, run, play games, or just host a picnic, all while admiring a striking view of the New York City skyline.

14. Visiting Liberty Science Center

If you’re visiting the area with young children who have an interest in STEM, make a point of stopping by Liberty Science Center. Its wide range of exhibits and activities have long inspired many budding scientists to pursue their dreams in this very important field.

15. Seeing the Empty Sky 9/11 Memorial

It’s worth remembering that many of the heroes who sacrificed their lives saving others at Ground Zero in New York City on 9/11 actually called New Jersey their home. Although NYC’s 9/11 memorial may be the most well-known tribute to these brave individuals, Jersey City’s Empty Sky 9/11 memorial is also a moving tribute to those who gave everything on that tragic day.

Of course, given Jersey City’s proximity to NYC, you could also easily go up to Hoboken (it’s directly north of Jersey City) and hop on a PATH train straight to the World Trade Center itself if you want to see both memorials in one day. 

New Jersey Bucket List: How to Enjoy the Garden State

This is a mere sampling of all there is to do in New Jersey. Once more, whether you’ve lived in the Garden State for years or you merely have a few days to spend there, this guide will help you savor the experience.

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