Forget the idea of just pressing your nose up against the glass. You can get up close and personal with all the under-the-sea creatures at the updated Adventure Aquarium in Camden. Touch moon jellyfish and South American freshwater sting rays at the Interactive Inlet, or channel your inner shark with nine new species of sharks, new underwater shows at the 550,000-gallon Shark Realm exhibit, and the new virtual shark-cage match, an experience that puts you inside the cage while the great whites lurk outside in the deep waters (1 Aquarium Dr; 856-365-3300; adventureaquarium.com).
Something unique beckons at Insectropolis, the insect-centric learning center in Toms River that was started (interestingly enough) by owners of a pest-control service. The learning center features a plethora of displays and terrariums that serve as visual aids; the hands-on exhibits are particularly enticing. Are you brave enough to touch the untouchable? (1761 Lakewood Rd, 732-349-7090, insectropolis.com).
If you want to perform at the Barrington Coffee House open mic, make sure you sign in right at 7:30 on Thursday night. The event, which runs from 8 to 10 pm, is always full. The cafe is small, so you’ll want to grab a seat early. But don’t let the size fool you; the Barrington Coffee House attracts quality local performers—and national acts on Friday and Saturday nights (131 Clements Bridge Rd, 856-573-7800, barringtoncoffeehouse.com).
A broad outdoor patio—with a bar, dining tables, large-screen televisions, and a raw bar—sits between the Stage House Restaurant in Scotch Plains and its adjacent tavern. On evenings from Memorial Day through Labor Day, the outdoor space is filled with diners who gather for family-style barbecue served nonstop. You pay for drinks and side dishes, and for what you think the barbecue is worth—and are rewarded with a gift certificate of equal value to the restaurant. So nobody loses—except, of course, the pigs. (366 Park Ave, Scotch Plains; 908-322-4224, stagehouserestaurant.com)
At Avenue in Long Branch, the only way to get closer to the ocean is to jump over the rail, sprint across the sand, and dive in. But there are powerful reasons to stay put. The view from the elevated wraparound deck is superb, and so is executive chef Antonio Mora’s food. There’s also an outdoor raw bar/drink bar. Finally, no piped-in mood music can match the therapeutic thump and whoosh of the Atlantic surf (23 Ocean Ave, 732-759-2900, leclubavenue.com).
The deck at Redstone Grill in Marlton is built for an outdoor crowd, whatever the weather. Heated in winter, vented in summer, the deck is a South Jersey hot spot for the happy-hour and dinner crowd. Our recommendation: Go for the burger. Notice a lot of hulking gentlemen in the crowd? Redstone’s deck is a popular hangout for the Philadelphia Eagles (500 Rte 73, 856-396-0332, redstonegrill.com).
Lions and tigers and…kangaroos? The Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange is home to fourteen exhibits and more than 200 species of animals, including bison, emu, and penguins. Kids love prairie dog hill, where they can venture underground in tunnels and pop-up burrows with the furry creatures. The zoo also features a 4,000-square-foot reptile center and an animal-themed playground and picnic area (560 Northfield Ave, 973-731-5800, turtlebackzoo.com).
Having trouble spotting a giraffe in Cape May County? Look a little harder. You can find them grazing around the 80-acre, admission-free Cape May County Zoo. This park and zoological facility is a good destination for families who need a break from the sun and surf of the Shore. The zoo’s immaculately maintained exhibits contain more than 200 species. Plus, there is ample picnic and recreation space for children to roam (4 Moore Rd, 609-465-5271).
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