Best of NJ 2014: Attractions and Recreation

New Jersey is not short on fun activities. Take a look at the exceptional attractions and recreation around the state!

Harry's Army Navy in Robbinsville is an emporium of camping gear, work boots, apparel and more.

Film Festival
The Montclair Film Festival enters its fourth year with a new executive director, Tom Hall, who replaces founding directors Thom Powers and Raphaela Neihausen, the cinephile power couple who put MFF on the map by attracting top filmmakers and support from high-profile celebrities such as local guy Stephen Colbert. How will the fast-rising fest fare under Sarasota Film Festival veteran Hall? We’ll find out this spring.

REGIONAL WINNERS: The New Jersey Film Festival, New Brunswick; The Garden State Film Festival, Atlantic City

Historic Site
Jockey Hollow, part of Morristown National Historical Park, features 1,500 acres of forest, farmland and trails once occupied by the Continental Army during the winter of 1779-1780. Think Valley Forge was tough? The winter George Washington and company spent at Jockey Hollow was the worst in recorded U.S. history, with 20 major snowfalls and a record low of minus-16 degrees. “Some people like Jockey Hollow because it’s a green island surrounded by increasing development, but others like it for its history,” says historian and park ranger Eric Olsen, who can be spotted wearing period dress at the restored 1752 Wick House. (600 Tempe Wick; 973-539-2016)

REGIONAL WINNERS: Allaire State Park, Wall; Barnegat Lighthouse State Park, Barnegat Light

Kids’ Destination
Deborah Bodnar, director of Imagine That! in Florham Park, played with a coffee pot on the kitchen floor as a kid. That makes her appreciate this museum’s offerings all the more. “Kids can play on a real fire truck or watch themselves be news anchors on TV or be a nurse or a vet,” she says. They can also keep it simple: “We have a great glitter and glue area.” (4 Vreeland Road; 973-966-8000)

REGIONAL WINNERS: iPlay America, Freehold; Jenkinson’s Boardwalk, Point Pleasant Beach

Montclair Art Museum has occupied the same impressive Greco-Roman-inspired building since it opened 100 years ago. The museum is dedicated to American and Native American art. One gallery features the paintings of the 19th-century artist George Inness, a longtime Montclair resident. Coming in February: The exhibit “Come As You Are: Art of the 1990s.” An ode to the Nirvana teen anthem, it collects 60 works created in America between the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11. The museum has free hours the first Thursday and Friday of every month. (3 South Mountain Avenue; 973-746-5555)

REGIONAL WINNERS: New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Holmdel; New Jersey Maritime Museum, Beach Haven

Music Venue
Since opening in 1997, New Jersey Performing Arts Center has helped transform its Newark surroundings by offering a steady lineup of big-name performers, as well as free outdoor concerts and the prestigious Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. “We try really hard to bring diverse programming and serve lots of different audiences,” says President and CEO John Schreiber. Upcoming bookings include Gladys Knight (January 23) and Aretha Franklin (March 14). (1 Center Street; 888-466-5722)

REGIONAL WINNERS: PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel; Susquehanna Bank Center, Camden

Theater Venue
The 1,200 seat Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn delivers Broadway-level theater productions at far-off-Broadway prices. “The only difference between our theater and Broadway is our location,” says Mark S. Hoebee, Paper Mill’s producing artistic director. Original productions of Honeymoon in Vegas, the revival of Les Misérables and the Disney-produced Newsies! all moved to Broadway after opening at Paper Mill. The 2015 season conjures fairy tales and folklore with spring productions of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (March 4-April 5) and Ever After (May 21-June 21). (22 Brookside Drive; 973-376-4343)

REGIONAL WINNERS: Count Basie Theatre, Red Bank; Cape May Stage, Cape May East Lynne Theatre Company, Cape May

The Turtle Back Zoo has been entertaining families since 1963 with its menagerie of wolves, bison, penguins and other wild creatures. The West Orange facility was originally intended to showcase animals indigenous to New Jersey, but now boasts more than 275 species representing every continent except Antarctica. And though that sounds like a lot, the zoo is notably compact. Even little children can walk its 20-acre footprint without needing to hop a ride on a turtle’s back. And if they do want a lift, the zoo offers a train ride and a carousel. (560 Northfield Avenue; 973-731-5800)

REGIONAL WINNERS: Adventure Aquarium, Camden

Bicycle Shop
Bernie’s Bicycle Center in Hamilton “has bikes for everyone—kids to elders, casual to serious riders,” says manager Eli Rivera. Customers of the 50-year-old shop praise the service and the selection. The inventory of more than 600 two-wheelers includes road, mountain, hybrid, comfort, BMX, tandem, cruiser, electric and foldable bikes. Owner Tim Cannon and staff are all experienced riders who support local charity rides. Bernie’s newest offering: stand-up paddleboards. (111 Route 33; 609-586-5126)

REGIONAL WINNERS: Jay’s Cycle Center, Westfield; Walter’s Bicycles, Ship Bottom

Bowling Alley
What started in 1949 as a bowling alley in Lawrenceville has morphed into Colonial Bowling & Entertainment, which the Sheft family, owners since 1963, terms “the epitome of a modern-age family entertainment center.” The 38,000-square-foot complex features 24 lanes—replete with couches, lane-side food-and-beverage service, black lighting and Jumbotrons—plus multilevel laser tag, an 80-game arcade and a bar and grill. The Shefts take pride in offering “a kid-friendly atmosphere with more adult-oriented nightlife.” (2420 Brunswick Avenue/U.S. 1; 609-882-7700)

REGIONAL WINNERS: Plaza Lanes, Madison; Ocean Lanes, Lakewood

Fishing Hole
Lake Musconetcong was created in the mid-1800s to bolster Lake Hopatcong as a water source for the Morris Canal—New Jersey’s industrial highway of the 1800s. The Musconetcong River flows through the shallow lake, which tends to get choked with weeds. On the plus side, the state stocks Musconetcong every spring with brown, rainbow and brook trout. In spring and summer, anglers pull those beauties, plus largemouth bass, catfish, perch and pickerel, from the lake, which covers 329 acres of Morris and Sussex counties. In winter, fishermen cut holes in the ice, and Musconetcong yields up hungry perch and pickerel.

REGIONAL WINNERS: Brainard Lake, Cranbury; Cape May Point, Cape May

Golf Course
Mercer Oaks in West Windsor, part of the Mercer County Parks system, gives golfers a rare kind of twofer—not only a choice of two 18-hole, championship-length courses at one address, but two very different kinds of golf terrain. The West Course, opened in 1991, is classic tree-lined parkland. The East Course, opened in 2003, is links style, with waving stands of wild grasses and no trees. The West gets more play, but both are challenging yet fair. Add fine practice facilities, a restaurant and pro shop, and you have one of Jersey’s better county-run facilities. (725 Village Road West; 609-936-1383)

REGIONAL WINNERS: Galloping Hill Golf Course, Kenilworth; Atlantic City Country Club, Northfield

Hiking Trail
Nature lovers, birders, history buffs and families all can enjoy the varied, relatively flat hiking trails in Mercer Meadows, a 1,600-plus acre patch of Mercer County. The park features miles of connected trails in five distinct areas running through bucolic meadows, fields and woodland within Hopewell, Lawrenceville and Pennington. Some skirt lakes or ancient forest; all are well marked, fully accessible, free and open sunrise to sunset every day.

REGIONAL WINNERS: Mount Tammany at Delaware Water Gap, Knowlton; East Creek Trail, Belleplain State Forest

Scenic, two-mile long Mercer Lake inside Mercer County Park in West Windsor is a mecca for boating and fishing that’s surrounded by picnic and cookout areas, biking and hiking trails and a barrier-free playground. The marina rents rowboats, pedal boats and kayaks and offers a small-craft launch site. A training center for the U.S. Rowing Team and the Princeton National Rowing Association, the lake hosts races and regattas. (Mercer County Park: 334 South Post Road; Mercer County Marina: 609-448-4004)

REGIONAL WINNERS: Lake Hopatcong; Atsion Lake, Shamong

Outdoor Gear
World War II veteran Harry Mehr began selling military surplus from a truck in 1949. Fifteen years later, he opened Harry’s Army Navy in Robbinsville. These days, Harry’s son Rick runs the greatly expanded emporium. Harry’s still carries surplus clothing and camping gear, but also offers work boots and apparel and brand-name winter outerwear, including lines for women and children. Last year, Mehr enlarged the fishing department in response to the needs of fisherfolk (both fresh- and saltwater) who lost gear due to Hurricane Sandy. At holiday time, customers flock to the novelty department, where old-timey games and oddities run $2 to $12. (691 Route 130; 609-585-5450)

REGIONAL WINNERS: Ramsey Outdoor, Succasunna; Jersey Paddler, Brick

Surf Shop
Ever since renowned surfboard shaper Dan Heritage opened his first Sea Isle City shop in 1962, Heritage Surf & Sport has been a go-to place for surf and skate apparel and equipment—as well as tips on where to find the best waves. “We pride ourselves on having both a personable and knowledgeable staff,” says co-owner Tracy Hennessy. Paddle over for a wide selection of Uggs and accessories like the new GoPro 4 video camera. Open year-round with locations in Sea Isle, Ocean City and Margate.

REGIONAL WINNERS: Lightly Salted, Asbury Park

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