Best of New Jersey: Recreation

In the warmer months, there are no shortage of recreation activities offered in NJ. Our readers have a few unique choices of their own...along with some staple favorites.

Amusement Park (Overall)
Six Flags Great Adventure, the largest Six Flags in North America, will soon debut its 154-foot-tall Green Lantern roller coaster, which reaches speeds of 63 mph with passengers strapped in standing throughout the two-and-half-minute ride. If that’s more adrenaline than you care to pump, there are plenty of other attractions and events. “It is a place that I can take both my young son and teenage daughter to have a great time,” writes reader Lynn Patuto of Nutley. “They have something to do for all ages.” (1 Six Flags Blvd; 732-928-1821;
Runners-Up: Jenkinson’s Boardwalk, Point Pleasant Beach; Morey’s Piers & Beachfront Waterparks, Wildwood; Keansburg Amusement Park & Runaway Rapids Waterpark, Keansburg

Amusement Park (Ride)
Turns out NJM readers are totally fine with shooting from 0 to 128 mph in 3.5 seconds while climbing to a height of 45 stories and then plunging down. “Kingda Ka is the tallest coaster in the world and fastest in North America,” says Six Flags Great Adventure spokesperson Angel Aristone. “It offers a thrill unlike any other. It’s quite the adrenaline rush.” (1 Six Flags Blvd; 732-928-1821;
Runners-Up: El Toro, Six Flags Great Adventure, Jackson; Great White, Morey’s Adventure Pier, Wildwood

Celebrating 20 years this June, Jenkinson’s Aquarium in Point Pleasant Beach attracts about 220,000 visitors a year to see its sharks, penguins and seals, as well as exhibits on rainforests and the Pine Barrens, events, talks by marine professionals and the ever-popular touch tank, where kids can press the flesh with a sea star, a sting ray and more. Director Cindy Claus says the aquarium’s best attribute is the staff’s one-on-one interaction with visitors. Agrees reader Tanya Crindell of Manasquan, “That personal touch is so worth the trip.” (300 Ocean Ave; 732-899-1212;
Runners-Up: Adventure Aquarium, Camden; Atlantic City Aquarium, Atlantic City

Biking Trail
From the marshy Bayshore regions into the woods and fields of Marlboro and Freehold, the Henry Hudson Trail offers a changing landscape as it traverses Monmouth County. Formerly a railroad right-of-way, the 10-foot-wide path is paved, flat and tree-lined in most places. The 12-mile northern section travels east – west, roughly parallel to Route 36, from Highlands to Aberdeen. The separate 10-mile southern section runs from Matawan to Marlboro to Freehold. According to Karen Livingstone of the Monmouth County Park System, the county would one day like to complete the southern section and join it with the northern section, but proximity to the Garden State Parkway has slowed progress. “We’re just patient until we find a way,” she says. (Various entrances, 732-842-4000;
Runners-Up: Patriots’ Path, Morris County; Sandy Hook Gateway National Park, Sandy Hook; Barnegat Branch Trail, Ocean County

Though it dates to 1890, the Point Pleasant Beach Boardwalk has no trouble keeping current. Writes reader Marybeth Zampino of Neptune, “It is a nice family atmosphere where the kids can enjoy the rides and then we all play a leisurely game of miniature golf followed by a visit to the Jenkinson’s Aquarium.” From the northern end of the boardwalk, you can also watch the boats at the Manasquan Inlet. Later sip a cocktail at Martell’s Tiki Bar and dance till late at Jenkinson’s nightclub. (Boardwalk extends from Broadway to New Jersey Avenue,
Runners-Up: Wildwood; Asbury Park

Canoeing & Kayaking
Its twisting path defines the slanted forehead, blunt nose and protruding belly we recognize as the profile of New Jersey’s western border. The Delaware River is easy to take for granted, but our readers don’t. With access points and canoe or kayak rental facilities along its 360-mile length, the river is great for day trips. But its twists and turns and sets of rapids make it worthy of longer travels, too. If you’re exploring the Delaware Water Gap at the northern end, check out the National Park Service website for access points, distances, safety information and more at
Runners-Up: Cranford Canoe Club, Cranford; Island Beach State Park, Ocean County

Lake Hopatcong has come a long way since it served as the source of water for the commercially important Morris Canal in the 1860s. Now it is a recreational wonderland. The state’s largest lake provides 2,650 acres of fresh water in which to cast a line. Fishermen can reel in trout, bass, pickerel and muskies; but the lake’s depth and size offers more challenging catch—like the hybrid striper. “I’ve never run into a freshwater fish that fights that hard,” says Tim Clancy, director of the lake’s Knee Deep Fishing Club. (Mt. Arlington,
Runners-Up: Round Valley Reservoir, Clinton; Ken Lockwood Gorge, High Bridge, Califon; Audubon Lake, Audubon

The 1,665-acre barrier peninsula that is Sandy Hook provides access to the Atlantic Ocean and Sandy Hook Bay. As the northern starting point of the Jersey Shore, this recreation area, maintained by the National Park Service, provides marquee angling for bluefish, fluke and striped bass, among other species. (732-872-5970;
Runners-Up: Long Beach Island; Island Beach State Park, Berkeley

Golf Course (Public)
Hominy Hill in Colt’s Neck contains no hominy and not much that could be called a hill. But it is still the showpiece among Monmouth County’s public golf courses, which are the envy of the rest of the state. Thanks to its creator, famed Jersey-based golf architect Robert Trent Jones Sr., Hominy Hill is blessed with challenging greens and approaches for a memorable round any time of year. (92 Mercer Rd; 732-462-9222;
Runners-Up: Blue Heron Pines, Egg Harbor City; Ballyowen, Hamburg

Hiking Trail
Monmouth County’s Hartshorne Woods Park has camping, cross-country skiing and fishing, but with more than 19 miles of trails, the hilly, forested 787-acre park is perhaps most treasured by its foot soldiers, from casual walkers to hardy hikers. Formerly a coastal defense site, the park is among the highest elevations along the Atlantic Coast, with unparalleled views overlooking the Navesink River. (Entrances in Locust and Highlands; 732-842-4000;
Runners-Up: South Mountain Reservation, Essex County; Ramapo Valley County Reservation, Mahwah; Cattus Island County Park, Toms River

Historic Site
Allaire State Park in Farmingdale offers hiking, biking and camping. But unique to Allaire is the trip back in time that a visit to the preserved 19th-century iron bog village its borders provides. Known as the Howell Works Company in the 1830s, the town and its buildings were restored in the 1950s through a partnership with the state. Allaire Village Inc., a nonprofit corporation, sponsors more than 40 programs and events annually, including living history events, antique and craft shows, flea markets and a wine festival. (4265 Atlantic Ave; 732-919-3500;
Runners-Up: Fort Hancock (Sandy Hook National Gateway Park), Sandy Hook; Thomas Edison National Historic Park, West Orange; Barnegat Lighthouse, Long Beach Island

Independent Movie House
The ShowRoom in Asbury Park has only one screen and 50 seats, but thanks to owners Mike Sodano and Nancy Sabino, it has become in just two years the favorite of NJM readers. A big part of that is the programming, all of it selected by the owners—improv comedy, author signings, a variety of events and, of course, lots of cool indie flicks. (708 Cookman Ave; 732-502-0472;
Runners-Up: Bradley Beach Cinema; Bradley Beach; Rialto Theatre, Westfield; The Broadway Theatre of Pitman, Pitman

Kids’ Destination

With hundreds of hands-on experiences available in the 300,000-square-foot facility, it makes sense that Liberty Science Center in Jersey City is the state’s premier kids’ destination. The center prides itself on its high level of interactivity and fun. According to Mary Meluso, associate director of communications, popular exhibits include the newly reopened, pitch-black Touch Tunnel simulating blindness; a skyscaper exhibit featuring an 18-foot-high walk on an I-Beam and artifacts from the World Trade Center; and the largest IMAX dome theater in the nation. (222 Jersey City Blvd; 201-200-1000;
RUNNERS-UP: Hot Sand Glass Studio, Asbury Park; Jenkinson’s Boardwalk, Point Pleasant Beach

Live Music Venue
Asbury Park’s Stone Pony is more than a Jersey landmark. Having been the starting point for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi, among other worthies, it has earned an international reputation since opening in 1974. Two years ago, the Pony expanded to the width of a city block to better host audiences and draw the best talent, from new to established artists, in many genres. (913 Ocean Ave; 732-502-0600;
Runners-Up: Wellmont Theatre, Montclair; Count Basie Theatre, Red Bank; Susquehanna Bank Center, Camden

Live Theater/Arts Venue

The Count Basie Theatre has been a Red Bank source of pride since it originally opened as the Carlton Theatre in 1926, but in the past 10 years, the arts venue has made major changes. “Number one was to make the theater itself an active user of its own venue,” says CEO Numa Saisselin. The theater now produces 12 performances a year itself and has undergone $12 million in structural restorations. “In every sense it has been a community endeavor,” says Saisselin. (99 Monmouth St; 732-224-8778;
Runners-Up: Two River Theater Company, Red Bank; Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn; Surflight Theatre, Beach Haven

Miniature Golf
Next time you’re strolling down Jenkinson’s Boardwalk in Point Pleasant, take a detour at Castaway Cove, the three-story extravaganza that combines miniature golf with adventure. Castaway Cove is the rare mini-golf course with a story line—that of a shipwrecked family who use what they find on the island, along with the remnants of their ship, to build not one but two challenging and entertaining 18-hole mini-golf courses. (300 Ocean Ave; Point Pleasant Beach; 732-295-3835) Runners-Up: Essex County Mini Golf Safari, West Orange; Asbury Eighteen, Asbury Park; Monster Mini Golf

The Newark Museum, founded in 1909, has built its sterling reputation on following an independent and insightful course and creatively engaging the community. With permanent galleries including African, Asian, American, Classical and Contemporary art, there are many treasures to marvel at. Visitors can also explore “House and Home” and decorative arts galleries located in the museum’s Ballantine House, a national historic landmark since 1985, or check out programs or lectures offered at the museum’s Billy Johnson Auditorium, which reopens in mid-April after undergoing renovations. (49 Washington St; 973-596-6550;
Runners-Up: Liberty Science Center, Jersey City; Montclair Art Museum, Montclair; Paranormal Museum, Asbury Park; Museum of NJ Maritime History, Beach Haven

Natural Wonder
From Sandy Hook to Cape May, the Jersey Shore—the marvel of nature rather than the freak of reality TV—is the state’s greatest getaway. Its 130-miles of sights, sounds and aromas constantly trigger the memories even as the Shore forges new ones, generation after generation. “While there are many wonderful things to see and do in New Jersey,” writes reader Barbara Steele of Toms River, “like it or not, we are defined by this little state’s big shoreline.” What’s not to like?
Runners-Up: The Great Falls, Paterson; Delaware Water Gap

Public Garden/Arboretum
The 127 acres of the Frelinghuysen Arboretum in Morristown, left to Morris County by Matilda Frelinghuysen in 1969, are an oasis and education center that Jerseyans treasure. Lesley Parness, superintendent of horticultural education at the Morris County Park Commission, puts it well. “Guests visit for many reasons,” she says. “For plant information and design ideas, for solace and respite, for recreational and social pleasures. People return to our gardens not only because they are beautiful but because that beauty changes, evolves through the seasons.” (53 East Hanover Ave; 973-326-7600;
Runners-Up: Grounds For Sculpture, Hamilton; Deep Cut County Park, Middletown; Leaming’s Run, North Cape May Court House

Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange exceeded 500,000 visitors last year for the first time in its 47-year history. Tropical Currents Aquarium, which opened in 2010, featuring six tanks with fish from all over the world, deserves some of the credit. Still to come: Big Cat Country, an exhibit of species such as jaguars and snow leopards. (“It’s nice, clean, pure family entertainment,” says director Dr. Jeremy Goodman.) Also, a rope course and zip line. Cranford reader Ginette Bracke writes, “This isn’t your parents’ Turtle Back Zoo!” (560 Northfield Ave; 973-731-5800;
Runners-Up: Cape May County Zoo, Cape May Court House; Van Saun Park Zoo, Paramus; Popcorn Park Zoo, Forked River

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