A friend of mine was traveling to New Jersey, so I typed up some notes for her about what to see and do in the state. This is, by no means, a complete list, but in context to her winter-time travels, it made sense. It was cut and pasted into a Facebook message.
If you’re from New Jersey, you’ll likely have strong opinions about the content of this article. It likely won’t feature your favorite places, and you’ll likely disagree. You’ll likely tell me about grammatical errors. But that’s New Jersey for you.
This article is written with a traveler in mind, so when I say things like “Jersey food is horrible” I’m thinking about how often I’ve gotten food poisoning from the average restaurant (a lot). Travelers need to avoid food poisoning. I’m sure your favorite — or your personally owned restaurant — is just fantastic.
Here is the message/notes on New Jersey.
My expertise is mostly with West-northern and Central New Jersey.
NJ has a lot of food choices, including some unique to the state. Those unique to the state are typically due to a regional business or the Shore (beach area). The diversity is due to NJ’s proximity to NYC. Generally speaking, if other states have it, they’re doing it better — for example, NJ is rife with great pizza parlors, but there’s better pizza in Brooklyn. Generally speaking, Jersey food is horrible — or at least no better than chain restaurants. With a few exceptions, the local Applebees is as good or better than the mom & pops.
So what’s unique to NJ?
Pork roll, which is ground up pork parts shaped into bologna-shaped tubes that people slice up and cook with eggs and cheese, and eat them on a bun. A grab-and-go blue-collar belly-warmer. These can be found anywhere. In the north, they call it Taylor Ham, in the south it’s Pork Roll.
Giant hot dogs (found along the shore) and Italian Style Hot dogs (Newark area).
Giant hot dogs are large, thick-skinned hot dogs heated on a metal pan and served on a bun often with chili & cheese. Everyone will have their favorite place to get these, but Windmills are the most reliable — the Windmill in Longbranch is actually shaped like a windmill.
Italian Style hot dogs are hot dogs served in an Italian bread roll, with ketchup, potatoes, and onions. I don’t know a specific place to get these. This is really a variety of the Jersey “Fat Cat” sandwich, with is typically a burger with EVERYTHING on it.
Tomatoes pies. A tomato pie is the inverse of a pizza, in that the sauce goes atop the cheese. That’s about it. Just as good as pizza with the same combination of flavors.
Papa’s is the best known. https://www.papastomatopies.com They also have a mustard pie which I’ve tried once and actually liked.
It’s Nutts has a great name, and their tomato pies are pretty good as well http://www.itsnuttsrestaurant.com .
Disco Fries. French fries with gravy and cheese, but not curds like poutine. Found in diners.
Frozen Custard. This is a south Jersey shore thing. Basically soft serve ice cream, but instead of cream, it’s based on custard (includes egg, which works well with vanilla). Very good, but not much better than plain old soft-serve ice cream.
White Rose style burgers. These are essentially large White Castle burgers. Burgers with a lot of onions mixed into the meat, smash fried by alleged former convicts [this is not said for comic effect — it’s what I’ve been told time and time again]. Burger places have names like the White Rose System and are usually isolated from anything else interesting.
Baked eggs. Instead of frying eggs, these hole-in-the-wall mom & pop places bake them. The result is dry, not buttery, with a faint smell of burnt hair. Don’t recommend it, but the places they serve them are usually interesting as they haven’t updated since the 50s.
The Best City: Asbury Park
Asbury Park might be NJ’s most interesting city.
Wooden Walls Project. A couple dozen graffiti/street artist murals found throughout the town made by world-famous artists like Shephard Fairie, Squid Licker, and others. http://woodenwallsproject.com
The Silver Ball museum http://silverballmuseum.com/asbury-park/
The Carousel/Casino https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/asbury-park-casino-carousel-house
The Steam Plant https://blogfinger.net/tag/the-asbury-park-steam-power-plant/
Morro Castle Monument https://weirdnj.com/stories/mystery-history/morro-castle/
Good galleries [Parlor Gallery is superb], decent restaurants, music venues, and the boardwalk.
Interesting roadside sights are being rapidly destroyed as older businesses fail, so now is the time to see them.
Top of mind is the Clown in Middletown NJ. That’s going to be torn down soon to make way for a Mall and Condos. It’s a giant plywood clown. https://weirdnj.com/stories/roadside-oddities/evil-clown-of-middletown/ . East-central Jersey.
Circus Drive-in sign. https://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/27279 I think it is still up.
Some Unique Weirdness
The Deep Cut Gardens mafia volcano in Middletown. https://www.dancentury.com/travel/the-volcano-of-middletown-nj/ Better in the summer, because the gardens are in bloom.
Light Dispelling Darkness fountain in Edison NJ https://www.dancentury.com/travel/edison-new-jersey-is-boring-dont-go-there/
Quick Stop groceries from Clerks. It’s a real place. https://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/8659
Most museums in NJ are aimed at kids, and so a visit is 2 hours of high-pitched screaming and having strollers shoved into your ankles.
The Silverball Museum in Asbury Park is a pinball machine museum and you actually get to play with the machines. http://silverballmuseum.com/asbury-park/ It is the “#1 attraction in NJ”. East-central Jersey.
Sandy Hook/Hartshorne Woods/Fort Hancock. In the 1960s and prior, this was the military base that protected NYC from Nazis and the US from Russian missiles. Now it’s a huge, disintegrating military base that’s semi-open to the public. The fact that it’s winter and the government shutdown makes a lot of it inaccessible. But the stuff in the woods, and that isn’t fenced off is accessible. It looks like something from a post-apocalyptic video game (admittedly, I’m not a gamer). Two lighthouses. East central Jersey.
Grounds for Sculpture is a gigantic sculpture garden in Hamilton Township. http://www.groundsforsculpture.org It is, however, closed in February. There are many sculptures in the surrounding area outside the grounds. West-central Jersey.
If you know someone interested in model trains Northlandz https://northlandz.com in Flemington is worth enduring screaming children. I’ve never been, but I hear it’s amazing… if you like trains. West-central Jersey.
InfoAge Science Center. Deep historical science and technology nerdery. https://infoage.org East-central Jersey. I’ve been to a computer fair there, but never to their main exhibit.
Holmdel Horn Antenna. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/holmdel-horn-antenna
Closed in February, but the Franklin Mineral Museum quarry is neat because they have glow under black-light rocks https://franklinmineralmuseum.com West-northern Jersey.
Its sister mine might be open though: Sterling Hill Museum https://www.sterlinghillminingmuseum.org West-northern Jersey.
Thomas Edison Center Boring, but the world’s largest light bulb. East-central Jersey.
Decrepit and Abandoned
Other than the aforementioned Sandy Hook/Hartshorne Woods/Fort Hancock, NJ doesn’t have as much decrepit and abandoned that is obvious. Because of our large and ever-growing population, the old gets ground up and replaced pretty quickly. The stuff that doesn’t get rebuilt/processed is typically left alone because it’s a toxic dump, there are legal issues, or it’s far enough from civilization that it gets a pass. Weird NJ http://weirdnj.com chronicles the stuff that’s a little out of the way, and beyond Atlas Obscura and Roadside America.
What is a mystery to me is South Jersey. Pine Barrens, southern Shore, odd little downs. They’re probably interesting stuff there.