Spring Getaways: Day Trips

From biking to birding to a day at the spa, may May make you merry.

Atco Raceway
Fire-breathing dragsters approach 200 mph on the quarter-mile strip at Atco Dragway, where family-friendly features include a video arcade for the littlest race fans.
Photo by Dave Milcarek.

Atco Dragway
Nostalgic buzz? Mind-bending roar? You’ll get your fill of both at Atco Dragway, a family-friendly facility 16 miles southeast of Camden. The track opened in 1960 during the heyday of drag racing, when radio stations endlessly blared, “Sunday! Sunday! At Atco Drag-A-Way!” Even today, the modern stands fill up for the races on Sunday afternoons—as well as Saturdays and Tuesday and Friday nights.

The fans come to watch souped-up, fire-breathing dragsters, long and low and, in some cases, capable of approaching 200 miles per hour from a standing start on the quarter-mile strip. There are also special races with categories for almost everything on wheels, from compacts to pick-ups. Kids get into the act, too, in junior dragster competitions on Saturday mornings.

Several hours of ear-splitting runs will set a spectator back only $10 on Tuesdays and Fridays and $15 on the weekends. If you want to spin your own wheels on the strip, it costs $15 to $35, depending on the car. There’s a video-game arcade or the little ones and concession food for all. For more nostalgia, stop at Sally Starr Pizza for sandwiches, pasta, frozen custard and, of course, pizza. Located two miles west of the raceway on Jackson Road, the little eatery is named for the recently deceased Philadelphia kiddie-show host of the 1950s and ’60s. 1000 Jackson Road; 856-768-2167; atcoraceway.com

Atlock Farm

This upscale nursery has all kinds of unique plants and flowers, including an extraordinary array of desert succulents and well-trained topiaries, but it’s the selection of tomato plants that makes a visit special this time of year. You’ll find 20 varieties of French and Mexican heirloom tomato plants and another 50 or so American heirlooms for purchase.

Buy some, grow your bounty and return in September to enter your best in Atlock’s annual Tomato Tastemonium—an all-day extravaganza with free tastings and contests for biggest, smallest, funniest, most conjoined and other distinctions. Atlock Farm owner Ken Selody, a former Martha Stewart contributing editor, is highly regarded in gardening circles, and his expertise pervades the operation. Wander the greenhouses, explore the seven-acre farm, and visit the gift shop filled with unique pots and urns. You’ll go home inspired. 545 Weston Canal Road; 732-356-3373; atlockfarm.com

Duke Farms

The former estate of heiress Doris Duke reopened to the public last spring after an ambitious four-year renovation project that transformed the property into a center for environmental education and recreation. This season Duke adds a bicycle program providing free two-wheelers for day-trippers to tour the 2,740-acre estate. Anyone over 18 can sign out a bike at the orientation center in the historic Farm Barn (adults can sign for kids). The center provides a lock (and helmet if needed) and off you go. You can even print out a customized trail map tailored to your special interests, such as birdwatching. There are 18 miles of gently rolling blacktop, gravel, wood-chip and grassy trails, 12 miles of which are suitable for biking.

Naturally, you can bring your own bike or just lace up a pair of walking shoes. You’ll see lakes, waterfalls, historic buildings, overgrown ruins, statuary, lush vegetation, fields of wildflowers and plenty of wildlife.
Geocaching is another popular activity; using GPS devices, geocachers search for hidden objects or landmarks on the grounds. Among other activities, the estate, owned and supported by the Duke Farms Foundation, offers education programs, birdwatching, tree walks and orchid classes (the tropical orchid house features some 1,500 varieties). New this season, a cafe in the Farm Barn offers light meals, healthful snacks and free Wi-Fi. If you can’t make it to the estate, go to dukefarms.org to check out the eagle cam and watch mom and pop eagle as they await at least two newcomers to their nest this spring. Open every day except Wednesday. 1112 Duke Parkway West; 908-722-3700; dukefarms.org

Grounds for Sculpture

Give mom grounds to love you even more by treating her to any one of a number of special events being held this Mother’s Day weekend at Grounds For Sculpture, a 42-acre park in Hamilton featuring over 270 contemporary sculptures cleverly tucked into the park’s beautiful landscaping. Events include a dragonfly jewelry workshop using the ancient art of Chinese knot making, an elegant Mother’s Day tea with live music at the Peacock Cafe, and a 40th-anniversary tribute to Joni Mitchell’s iconic album Blue on May 11, as well as a Mother’s Day Brunch, picnicking opportunities and popular Poetry in the Park event on May 12. Other special events this spring include unique, docent-led moonlight tours coinciding with the full moons of May 21 and June 25 preceded by dinner at the park’s famed Rat’s Restaurant, as well as Wellness Walks at 9:30 am on May 2, 16 and 30 and June 13 and 27. The walks are designed for multitaskers who want to get into shape while enjoying extraordinary art. 18 Fairgrounds Road; 609-586-0616; groundsforsculpture.org

Spring Arts & Music Festival

Washington Street belongs to pedestrians from 11 am to 6 pm on May 5 (between Observer Highway and 7th Street) as Hoboken greets spring. The street will be lined with stands featuring local food vendors, artisans, photographers and painters. There also will be three stages for live music and other performances. Children’s activities will be arrayed on 3rd street, where little festival attendees can play games, get their faces painted and grab souvenirs like balloon animals and yummy treats.

Singer/songwriter Mike Doughty tops the music bill, which also includes the Hoboken-based Karyn Kuhl Band, Bern & the Brights and children’s entertainer Ron “Polka Dot” Albanese. Festival admission is free. hobokennj.org

Reflections Spa

Located on the bottom floor of the rustic Grand Cascades Lodge at Crystal Springs Resort, the dark and sleek Reflections Spa, with illuminated red stone walls, black stone floors and quartz crystals hanging from the ceiling, appears more like an enchanted mine. The theme is evident in the menu of services, which includes gemstone therapy massage, a white-diamond facial and a tri-crystal body scrub, among other treatments. A plethora of vintage-inspired services include the pinot noir signature body scrub and the champagne, caviar and truffles facial. Couples’ packages make it easy to spend the day. Do dip into the adjacent indoor pool and enjoy tropical plants, waterfalls and a hot tub. Spanning more than 4,000 acres, the resort has seven golf courses and two additional hotels. 3 Wild Turkey Way; 973-827-5996 ext. 4; crystalgolfresort.com/spas

Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary

Is New Jersey for the birds? Decide for yourself at this 276-acre nature preserve—home to more than 60 species of nesting birds. Start your visit by picking up free maps and wildlife checklists at the New Jersey Audubon’s Hoffman Center for Conservation and Environmental Education. In April and May, the second-floor art gallery will showcase the work of Bernardsville photographer Joseph F. Pescatore, who uses a process called digiscoping to zoom in on birds perched high in trees. Bring your binoculars to the top-floor observation deck, where naturalists can assist with bird identification.

Three hiking trails traverse the sanctuary. The River Trail is a 0.3-mile easy-to-moderate trek along the Passaic River where hikers may spot river and floodplain species like rainbow trout and two-lined salamander. The 0.7-mile Field Loop is home to Eastern bluebirds, white-tailed deer and other species. The Dogwood Trail, a 1.3-mile path through the Highlands, is most impressive in springtime, when its namesake tree blossoms and red-bellied woodpeckers and scarlet tanagers twitter and swoop.

The sanctuary is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 am to 5 pm; Sundays, noon to 5 pm. Every Saturday in May, a New Jersey Audubon staffer or associate naturalist will lead a free guided walk at 8 am. On Thursdays in May at 9:30 am, bring your junior naturalist (ages 2 to 4) to the center for a nature-based program featuring a story, mini-hike, outdoor activity and craft.
11 Hardscrabble Road; 908-766-5787;

Spring Lake Five Mile Run
Spring Lake

If you haven’t already registered for New Jersey’s largest road race, you’ve missed your chance. All 10,000 slots for the May 25 event sold out in less than a day in early February. But you still can join the fun. Each year, volunteers line the course, offering water and encouragement to the runners and walkers. You can also join the huge block party along Ocean Avenue after the run. Subs from Jersey Mike’s, energy bars and other free goodies are plentiful. 732-449-3544; springlake5.org

By Susan Bloom, Joanna Buffum, Ashley J. Cerasaro, Lauren Payne, Ken Schlager, Amanda Staab and Robert Strauss

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