Spring Getaways: Day Trips

The warm weather is upon us. It’s time to get out and enjoy all that New Jersey has to offer, from craft fairs, to music festivals, to sheep shearing, and yes, even a rodeo.

Vines bask in the sun at Plagido’s WInery in Hammonton.
Courtesy of Mari Small.

Battleship New Jersey
The Battleship New Jersey, America’s most decorated battleship, sits majestically on the Delaware River waterfront in Camden with the Philadelphia skyline as a backdrop. The restored 45,000-ton, 887-foot-long New Jersey was built at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in 1942 and immediately sent to the Pacific for World War II. It served again in Korea, Vietnam, during the 1983 Lebanese Civil War, and the Persian Gulf War before being mothballed, restored, and then brought to Camden as a museum in 2001.

Though most visitors come for shorter docent-guided and self-guided tours, the ship’s most unique experience is overnight encampment. Jack Willard, vice president of marketing, says the overnight is a perfect family or group getaway—from father-son or mother-daughter outings to groups as big as 400.

The overnight starts just before dinnertime with a 4-D flight simulator experience—a virtual catapult in a World War II prop plane, flying over Iwo Jima, engaging in a firefight with the enemy, and coming back safely to the battleship’s deck. Then visitors go to their bunks and have dinner in the crew’s mess before taking a guided tour. In the morning, there is chow in the mess again before a colors ceremony and photos on deck.

“Most museums you are looking at the artifacts,” says Willard. “With the New Jersey, you are going on the artifacts.” Admission is $18.50 for adults; children 6-11, veterans, and seniors pay $14; children under 6 and active military personnel are free. An overnight is $50.95 per person, including meals.

With the Adventure Aquarium, the Walt Whitman House, and Campbell’s Field, home of the minor-league Camden Riversharks, within walking distance, the Battleship New Jersey is a good jumping-off point to see historic and modern Camden. For spring and summer visits, food vendors line the riverfront. Another treat is the Pub, a 60-year-old, 500-seat eatery about two miles from the river on Admiral Wilson Boulevard. (62 Battleship Place, Camden; open daily from May 1 through September 6, 9:30 am-5 pm; 856-966-1652, battleshipnewjersey.org)

Collingswood May Fair
May 29, Collingswood

Summer kicks off early in South Jersey with this family-friendly event. There will be more than 150 artists and crafters, five music stages, an antique and classic auto show, a Harley Davidson motorcycle display, and a KidZone with ponies, carnival games, and rides.

The eighteen-block fair is set up along Haddon Avenue, Collings-wood’s main thoroughfare. So if music and games and vendors and rides are not enough for you and your family, you can check out the local shops, like Charm (a women’s boutique), Robert Jay’s Unforgettables (antique and used book shop named Best of New Jersey in 2009), and All Fired Up (paint your own pottery).

Food options line the avenue, or just follow the signs around town for the Collingswood Farmers’ Market, which was named America’s Favorite Farmers’ Market last year by the American Farmland Trust. Pick up fresh Jersey produce for your own locally grown feast. (Haddon Avenue, Collingswood; 10 am-5 pm; rain date May 30, noon-5 pm;

Cowtown Rodeo, Pilesgrove

A rodeo in New Jersey? It almost sounds like the setup for another boorish wisecrack about the Garden State. But for the folks who run Cowtown Rodeo in Salem County, this is no joke.

Founded in 1929 by Howard Harris Sr. and his son, Howard “Stoney” Harris Jr., Cowtown is the longest-running weekly rodeo in the United States, attracting cowboys from as far away as Wyoming and Texas.

Every Saturday night, rain or shine, from May 29 through September 25, the lights come up on the 4,000-seat outdoor arena at 7:30, and spectators are treated to nearly three hours of purebred, western rodeo entertainment. The evening features all seven events sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, including bareback bronco riding, calf roping, steer wrestling, bull riding, team roping, and girls’ barrel racing. A rodeo clown performs between events, and cowboy hats (real, not costume) are ubiquitious.

Before the festivities, visitors can take the entire day to tour bucolic Salem County and soak up its quaint backcountry vibe. Also, be sure to check out the Cowtown Flea Market , which is open 8 am-4 pm on Tuesdays and Saturdays, offering everything from handbags to freshly butchered meats. If you don’t have a cowboy hat, this is your chance to pick one up before the show.

The family-friendly atmosphere is lively with hoots and hollers, impressive belt buckles, bolo ties, and boots. Lots of boots. Food and refreshments include warm peanuts, hot dogs, burgers, and soda. Adults pay $15 for the show; it’s $10 for children ages 2 through 12, and children under 2 are admitted free; parking is free. (780 U.S. 40, Pilesgrove; 856-769-3200; cowtownrodeo.com)

Everything Jersey City Festival
May 22, Jersey City

As the Motown trio Martha and the Vandellas sang, “the time is right for dancin’ in the streets.” You can do just that and much more at the third annual Everything Jersey City Festival. The free event, presented in the Heights section of Jersey City by the nonprofit Central Avenue Special Improvement District (CASID), will feature ten blocks of family entertainment, hundreds of area vendors, global cuisine from popular local eateries such as Charrito’s Restaurant and Mama Leona Pizzeria, arts and crafts, salsa music, and more.

Last year, nearly 15,000 people enjoyed the lively cultural performances and kids activities, including face painting, a petting zoo, magicians, and inflatable rides. There also will be enticing sales at Central Avenue shops, with some stores offering up to 60 percent discounts on selected merchandise. And don’t miss the performance by Jersey City singer-songwriter Edward Solomon and his new age/pop band Go Falcon. We’re sure there’ll be “swingin’, swayin’, and records playin’” for all to enjoy. (11 am–6 pm; 201-656-1366; jcheights.com)

Grounds For Sculpture, Hamilton
Even if you’re ambivalent about contemporary art, the 35-acre arboretum, Zagat-rated restaurant, and variety of workshops and events at Grounds For Sculpture are grounds enough for a springtime visit. There are more than 250 sculptures in the evolving outdoor permanent collection as well as rotating indoor seasonal exhibitions, workshops on topics such as ceramics, stone-carving, photography, and yoga for adults and children, plus lectures, concerts, and tours—even touch tours for the blind.

In May, the blooming cherry and apple orchards create a shock of pink around the museum buildings, and peacocks caught in the midst of mating season show off their tail feathers. May is also chock-full of activities. On May 15 at 1 pm, learn about the history behind certain sculptures and artists on an intimate Curator’s Walk ($10 for members, $15 for non-members). On May 16 at 3 pm, listen to a women’s poetry reading, free with admission. Bring the whole family on May 22 at 1 pm for the Bubble Wrap Magic Family Workshop, free with admission. And in honor of Memorial Day, May 31, the park, which is normally closed on Mondays, will host a barbeque.

This year also marks the tenth anniversary of Grounds For Sculpture as a nonprofit organization. To celebrate, on the 10th of every month, admission is free and 10 percent discounts are granted at the gift shop. On other days, admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors (65+), and $8 for students (6-17); children 5 and under are free.

While outside food isn’t allowed, you can pre-order a picnic at Peacock Café and eat it on the grounds, or make a reservation for a more elaborate dining experience at Rat’s Restaurant, which overlooks the sculpture park and a Monet-inspired lily pond, and features a new springtime menu and lower prices. (18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton; open year-round, Tuesday-Sunday, 10 am-6 pm; 609-586-0616; groundsforsculpture.org)

Historic Smithville and the Village Greene

Grab the kiddies for an old-fashioned road trip to Historic Smithville and the Village Greene, off Route 9 in Atlantic County. What was historically just a stagecoach stop has been transformed into a charming 20-acre village surrounding Lake Menoe, with more than 60 shops and seven restaurants. You won’t find any chain stores here, as most shops are locally owned. Browse Irish gifts at Ireland & Old Lace, make your own jewelry at Bumble Beeds, check out natural handmade goods at the Little Egg Harbor Soap Company, pick something out for your furry friend at Paw Dazzle, try the signature blueberry wine at the Tomasello Winery, or get an authentic hot shave at the Barber Shoppe. You’ll find good eats everywhere from the tasty Costello’s Pizza to the more refined cuisine of the Smithville Inn. Kids will also love the paddle boats, carousel, antique arcade, and train rides around the beautifully landscaped Village Greene.

Enjoy the annual Children’s Festival on May 1 (noon-4 pm), a free event featuring animals from the Cape May Zoo, including birds, porcupines, and snakes. “Kids really love seeing animals right there in front of them, and because it’s out on the Greene, they are not confined,” says Tracy Walsh, who runs the Colonial Inn, Smithville’s B&B. This year, the Atlantic City Aquarium joins the festival with a touch tank and the Noyes Museum of Art offers creative activities for kids.

The popular Mayfest on May 15 and 16 (10 am-5 pm) features more than 100 juried crafters, along with an international food court with treats like funnel cake and fried apples, and live music. Last year, more than 2,200 people attended the weekend, so it tends to get congested. Don’t worry, though, in addition to its own ample lot, Smithville offers a shuttle service, with parking donations to benefit Gilda’s Club South Jersey, a cancer support community. (615 East Moss Mill Road, Smithville; Monday-Friday, 10 am–6 pm; Saturday, 10 am–7 pm; Sunday, 11 am–6 pm; 609-748-8999; smithvillenj.com).

Hooked on the Hudson
May 1, Palisades Interstate Park, Fort Lee

If you’ve ever wanted to try fishing but didn’t want to look like a novice, the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association will teach you the basics at their 25th annual event. Don’t have any fishing equipment? No problem. They’ll loan you the gear, already rigged and ready to roll. It’s all free, bait included.

The festival includes expert teachers and guides, who will talk about where to fish on and around the Hudson. The East Jersey Chapter of Trout Unlimited, a group that works on conservation and education, will be there, too, offering free fly-casting and fly-tying seminars throughout the day. There’s even a fishing contest, which event coordinator Sergio Radossi says is primarily for kids; it runs from 8 am-2 pm. There’s a kids casting contest from 1 pm-2 pm, with awards for all the contests at 2:30 pm. It all takes place at the Ross Dock, on the Hudson Riverfront just north of the George Washington Bridge.

May is a great time to visit Palisades Park even if you don’t see a rod and reel in your future. The New Jersey portion of the park is about 12 miles long with 2,500 acres along the Hudson River shorefront and 30 miles of hiking trails.

Palisades Park is also home to Fort Lee Historical Park, situated on a bluff that the Continental Army used for its batteries on the Hudson. Today you’ll find recreations of colonial life, including gun batteries, firing steps, and eighteenth-century houses. It’s a perfect spot for the history buff, or anyone who wants knockout views of the George Washington Bridge and the Manhattan skyline. The park entrance fee is approximately $4 per car. (Ross Dock, Palisades Interstate Park; 201 768-1360; hrfanj.org)

Mother’s Day Festival
May 9, Alba Vineyard, Milford
Nobody deserves a nice glass of wine more than mom. Throw in the hills of Warren County, live music, crafters, and activities that keep the kids busy, and it’s a recipe for a perfect Mother’s Day celebration.

Tastings of Alba Vineyard’s award-winning varietals will be offered throughout the day, along with tunes by the VooDUDES, who perform a mix of jazz, rock, and zydeco. Country Picnic of Bedminster will sell fresh-cooked food, but visitors are welcome to bring a meal—along with a blanket, lawn chair, and beach umbrella, but no pets, canopies, or outside alcohol—to picnic among the vines. Face painting, sand art, and a moonbounce will keep the little ones busy, as will hot-air-balloon rides (weather permitting) and horse-drawn carriage trips through the vineyard. Alba’s glorious Musconetcong Valley acreage is open for strolls, and its historical 1805 stone barn, which houses the tasting room, is a cool place to escape the sun.

General admission is $10 for adults, $5 for those 12 to 20, and free for children under 12. Wine tastings (including an etched wine glass) are an additional $10 per person. Proceeds will benefit the American Red Cross of Central New Jersey.

A trip to Alba easily coincides with a visit to the Delaware River, just two miles to the west, and Villa Milagro Vineyard is less than a mile south. A suggested road trip that features those and four other New Jersey vineyards, from Belvidere to Pennington, is mapped at newjerseywines.com.
Some food, some fun, and some charity. What better way to celebrate mom? (269 Route 627, Milford; noon-5 pm; 908-995-7800; albavineyard.com)

Peters Valley Craft Center

At one time, this was a tiny village known as Bevans, tucked away in the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area. Today it retains that small-town feel, but for the last 40 years, Peters Valley Craft Center has been a nonprofit dedicated to arts and crafts, with its buildings converted to studios for blacksmithing, ceramics, weaving, woodworking, photography, and more.

Check it all out at the free Spring Open House and Bevans Day on May 2, from noon-5 pm. Visitors can join in craft demonstrations (including special hands-on art activities for children), view memorabilia and early images of the hamlet and its residents, take a free shuttle bus up to the Thunder Mountain Studios, eat freshly prepared food, and listen to live music from New Jersey singer-songwriter Brian Colburn (noon-1 pm), Garden State folk-rock collaborators Chasing June (1:30-2:30 pm), and Bill Wright and Jeff Gaynor of Bill Wright’s Guitar Studio in Sparta (3–4 pm).

The works of more than 300 artists are available at the Peters Valley Store, open from 10 am-6 pm, Thursdays through Tuesdays. The Sally D. Francisco Gallery upstairs features rotating exhibitions. From May through September, Peters Valley offers two- to five-day craft workshops—taught by top artisans in a variety of fields—with dorm space available on site. And every Sunday during the workshop season, the center hosts an informal fundraising auction, with art provided by the instructors and assistants, and proceeds dedicated to studio improvements.

The lush forests, open fields, and mountainous surroundings are a great getaway in themselves, and a trip to Peters Valley Craft Center can be accompanied by a hike at the Delaware Water Gap, a visit to High Point State Park, or a picnic at Stokes State Forest. The Walpack Inn is a short drive away on Route 615 in Columbia, with a rustic atmosphere, hearty food, and beautiful views. (19 Kuhn Road, Layton; 973-948-5200; petersvalley.org)

Raritan River Music Festival
May 1-29

The towns of Stockton, Stewartsville, Clinton, and Stanton, in western New Jersey, have plenty in common, including historic pride, tranquility, and picturesque streets worth meandering. But what unites them in May is music: For its 21st annual edition, the Raritan River Music Fest will set up shop in each of the towns for one night.

Stockton, just four miles from the day-tripper’s hotspot of Lambertville, is up first.

“Embracing the Wind,” to be held May 1 at the nearly 300-year-old Prallsville Mills, will host the New York-based American Modern Ensemble. The group, which focuses on the music of living American composers, will premiere works for flute, harp, and strings.

Next comes Stewartsville, near the rolling hills and woodlands of Phillipsburg: on May 8, the festival presents “Romanza,” with acclaimed violinist Tim Fain and the Newman & Oltman guitar duo. (Mike Newman and his wife, Laura Oltman, of Carpentersville, pictured here, are the founding directors of the RRMF.)

Clinton, beloved for its charming downtown and leafy streets, will host a night of tango May 15, but don’t put on your dancing shoes. “Historia del Tango” is all about the music and its masters. Tango luminaries will perform, including Daniel Binelli, the Argentinian composer and bandoneon player.

The festival’s final stop is Stanton, a dot of a town not far from Clinton. On May 29, its Reformed Church will host “My Spirit Sang All Day,” a program that attracts visitors from all over the country. The concert, by the early-music chamber choir Fuma Sacra, will showcase English madrigals, French chansons, and more.

All shows start at 7:30 pm, and Newman recommends securing tickets early. “Most concerts sell out each year,” he says, “because people love hearing these musicians, who’d normally play at Lincoln Center, in these tiny little places. They get to hear this music the way it was meant to be heard.” (908-213-1100; raritanrivermusic.org)

Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary

Historic Bernardsville, with its grand mansions and rustic, shop-dotted downtown, has a way of striking visitors as a sleepy enclave. But from a naturalist’s perspective, it’s bursting at its 13-square-mile seams. Especially in May. Especially this May.

On May 1 and 2, New Jersey Audubon is celebrating the grand opening of the Hoffman Center for Conservation and Environmental Education—a 5,000-square-foot addition—at the Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary. The free family event, in the heart of a 276-acre nature preserve, promises much more than communing with a few squawking bluejays and nut-harvesting squirrels.

“It’s a celebration, kind of an open house, that feeds on some of the newer initiatives in the works right now, like no child left indoors and nature deficit disorder,” says Mike Anderson, who is in his twentieth year at the sanctuary. “The premise is that if you’re not outside, you don’t understand we’re not just looking at trees. We’re supporting a diverse community of wildlife that’s all interrelated.”

To that end, families who venture to the sanctuary can expect to encounter 70 bird species, some of them exotic. “May is probably the most exciting time of year here, because the leaves aren’t fully out, and birds that wintered in Central and South America”—neotropical warblers among them—“are passing though. So it’s easy to see them,” says Anderson.

Presentations will include storytelling; indoor talks by dragonfly, bird, and plant experts; and radio telemetry classes (that’s how a biologist remotely measure the area an animal uses).

Though songbirds should provide a rousing soundtrack for all, the sanctuary is also planning music, courtesy of the Morris County Folk Project. (11 Hardscrabble Road, Bernardsville; 10 am-4 pm; 908-766-5787; njaudubon.org)

Tuckerton Seaport Irish Festival
May 8-9, Tuckertown

Tucked behind high reeds along the tranquil Tuckerton Creek sits Tuckerton Seaport, a historic maritime village that celebrates the Garden State’s rich waterman legacy on the Barnegat Bay. The charming port is home to several maritime exhibits, historic ships and buildings, and demonstrations from decoy carvers, boat builders, basket weavers, and baymen entertainers. Visitors can stroll the village’s quarter-mile nature trail, walk along the boardwalk, or tour authentic sneakboxes, garveys, cruising yachts, and party boats.

In addition to these year-round attractions, the Seaport features several springtime events, including its annual Irish Festival from 10 am-5 pm on May 8-9. Visitors will enjoy live Irish folk bands, Irish pipers, traditional step dancers, and Celtic crafts. Traditional Irish-American foods like corned beef and cabbage will be served, and adults can also enjoy an outdoor beer garden that will include three varieties of Irish brew. At 10 am on Sunday, a traditional Irish mass will be celebrated on the grounds. Adult admission is $10 (but moms are free on Mother’s Day), and children 12 and under are free.

On May 16, the Seaport will kick off its fourth annual Bluegrass & Barbeque Festival. From 11 am-5 pm, visitors can enjoy live bluegrass music from bands such as Home Cookin’, Up & Running, Blue Roots, and Louie Setzer and the Appalacian Mountain Boys. Fresh barbeque will be on the grill, and attractions include crafters and vendors, as well as boat rides and maritime demonstrations. Children can play the Seaport’s historic miniature golf course. This year’s festival will also feature a craft show presented by the Jersey Shore Folklife Center, highlighting glass art, boatbuilding, caning, quilting, blacksmithing, and more. Adult admission is $8; children between 6 and 12 get in for $3; children under 5 are free. Bring a lawn chair and relax. (120 West Main Street, Tuckerton; 609-296-8868; tuckertonseaport.org)

Valley Shepherd Creamery Shearing Festival
May 8, Long Valley

How many sheep can a person shear in a day? Last festival, Don Nehooda and his wife Lois clipped almost 100 with the help of Valley Shepherd staff. The team is coming back May 8 to try again.

Creamery owner Eran Wajswol says he has 550 sheep to shave: “Our dairy ewes must be sheared off, or they don’t fit on the milking robot platform.” He anticipates the team will shear off two to three tons of wool during the festival. There will be a craft table where children can create something out of wool and a woman will make dolls with woolly hair.

Wajswol is inviting heritage craftspeople like blacksmiths, broom makers, and woodcarvers to display their skills. There also will be entertainers and food vendors with treats like a pig roast, hamburgers, and hot dogs. Valley Shepherd will offer its gelato (made hourly from fresh milk) and farmstead cheese.

The festival is scheduled from 10 am-5 pm, with shearing nonstop until 4 pm. Ticket sales are limited to 2,000, so that attendees can fit comfortably in the barn. Tickets are $10 per adult, $6 per child 10 and under, with free admission for infants. There will be free parking with shuttle bus service from Long Valley Middle School. (50 Fairmount Road, Long Valley; 908-876-3200; valleyshepherd.com)

Wildwood Kite Festival
May 25-28, Wildwood

The sky over Wildwood will flutter with colorful creatures of all shapes and sizes Memorial Day Weekend as the seaside resort hosts its 25th international kite extravaganza, as well as the East Coast Stunt Kite Championships.

The festival draws competitors from as far as Costa Rica, Chile, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Japan. For non-competitors, kite flying is free—just bring your own kite and register. For spectators, there are a variety of free exhibits and workshops.

Kick off the four-day festival at 6 pm Friday at the Welcome Social, with a $7 poolside buffet at the Oceanic Motel (offering discounted rates for festival-goers). From 9-11 pm, the sky over the beach will light up during the glittering Nite Kite Show.

Saturday and Sunday’s events start at 9 am, including choreographed kite performances, and stunt and fighter kite competitions. All day in the convention center, make your own kite or learn how to fly one. Back on the beach, at 11 am, get showered with sweets from confection-laden kites during the Candy Drop. At 11:30 am and noon, kids and adults can strap on parachute-style kites and try to race against the wind resistance in the Running of the Bols. At 2 pm, watch as winged-creature kites parade above during the Butterfly Migration.

Food, kite, and craft vendors will line the beach. On Saturday, check out the inaugural Curley Fry Festival at Morey’s Piers, replete with eating contests and face-painting. Saturday at 7 pm and 8 pm, the convention center will host two kite auctions, silent and vocal. Finally, the World Indoor Kite Competition begins Monday at 9 am. (On the beach at Rio Grande Avenue; 609-729-9000; skyfestivals.com)

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