Retro Road Trips to Take Through New Jersey

Vintage landmarks, retro diners and classic Americana have us feeling nostalgic.

"Retro Roadmap" author Beth “Mod Betty” Lennon

Retro Roadmap author Beth “Mod Betty” Lennon says people need to get out and explore more. “Overcome the inertia of the internet and go create some memories instead of regrets,” she says. Photo: Courtesy of Retro Roadmap

How many of us wish we could time travel back to a less stressful, more playful era? Well, here’s your chance. Mod Betty (born Beth Lennon), a day-tripper with decidedly old-fashioned tastes, has written five books detailing vintage venues she enthusiastically recommends to those who revel in all things retro. Two of her Retro Roadmap books aim the spotlight solely on New Jersey, where she spent hundreds of hours tooling along Garden State roads in search of funky destinations.

She found plenty. “Without these charming vintage landmarks, which unfortunately keep disappearing, the United States would be one boring, beige box store after another from town to town, coast to coast,” she says.

With those recommendations in mind, here are three road-trip itineraries guaranteed to deliver nostalgic fun. Now rev up that engine and enjoy!


The exterior of the Summit Diner

The classic Summit Diner, built in 1938. Photo: Courtesy of Retro Roadmap

Nothing says New Jersey like breakfast at a diner. We are the diner capital of the world, after all! Start your day at a classic spot, like the Dumont Crystal Diner, built in the 1920s and thought to be Jersey’s oldest. Other options include the Roadside Diner in Wall Township (1932), the Summit Diner (1938), and the Bendix Diner in Hasbrouck Heights (1947). Want to breakfast like the Boss? Bruce Springsteen is known to visit Roberto’s Freehold Grill (formerly Tony’s) on occasion.

[RELATED: Meet the Couple on an Epic Mission to Try Every Single Jersey Diner]

The family-owned Wild West City amusement park in Stanhope

The family-owned Wild West City amusement park in Stanhope. Photo: Courtesy of Retro Roadmap

Then buck up for an adventure at Wild West City, a family-owned Western-heritage theme park in Stanhope founded in 1957. Or, if you’re not in a rootin’ tootin’ mood, shop in downtown Closter, where a visit to Ward’s 5 & 10, open since 1960, is a must. If you’re closer to charming Lambertville, you’d be remiss to miss Finkle’s Hardware, more than a century old.

Dinner and a show are on tap for your evening. Dinner choices include Kinchley’s Tavern in Ramsey, which has been there since 1937 (you can’t miss the giant Clydesdale horse statue out front), or Chick & Nello’s Homestead Inn in Trenton. Finally, take in a show at one of our state’s historic theaters, like State Theatre New Jersey in New Brunswick or Brook Arts Center in Bound Brook.


The 18-foot Nitro Girl statue in Blackwood

The 18-foot Nitro Girl statue in Blackwood. Photo: Courtesy of Retro Roadmap

Visit McMillan’s Bakery, in Haddon Township since 1939, for a take-along breakfast. If you have kids with you, it’s off to Storybook Land, a family-owned amusement park featuring fairy-tale characters and buildings, built in Egg Harbor Township in 1955.

[RELATED: A Nostalgic Ride Through New Jersey’s Family-Owned Amusement Parks]

Weber’s Drive-In in Pennsauken

Weber’s Drive-In in Pennsauken. Photo: Courtesy of Retro Roadmap

With or without children in tow, feed your sweet tooth at Damask’s Candies, in Swedesboro since 1906, or Aunt Charlotte’s Candies, founded in 1920 in Merchantville. Next, head to lunch at Weber’s Drive-In, built in 1954 in Pennsauken, just a few miles from Aunt Charlotte’s. This seasonal spot, with its homemade root beer and spinning lollipop sign, is one of the last old-fashioned drive-in eateries still standing.

Be sure to make a pit stop to check out a roadside attraction unlike any other you’ll see in this area: the 18-foot Nitro Girl fiberglass statue that makes her home at Werbany Tire Town in Blackwood.

The Landis Theater in Vineland

The Landis Theater in Vineland, which has been in operation since 1937. Photo: Courtesy of Retro Roadmap

End your day with a play at one of South Jersey’s vintage theaters, all listed on the National Register of Historic Places: the Levoy (1908) in Millville, the Broadway (1926) in Pitman, or the Landis (1937) in Vineland. Before stepping inside, be wowed by their lit-up marquees. Or watch a double feature at Vineland’s Delsea Drive-In, the Garden State’s only remaining drive-in theater (open weekends only, seasonally through early September). It was built in 1949. The concession stand offers a range of dinner foods.

May 2024 cover of New Jersey Monthly magazine

Buy our May 2024 issue here. Cover illustration: Mary Kate McDevitt

Another choice for your evening entertainment is a concert at Collingswood’s Scottish Rite Auditorium. Be sure to look up at the unique ceiling.


Start your adventure with breakfast at the Forked River Diner, or order a to-go lunch for later.

Head south to Margate for an interior tour of Lucy the Elephant. The six-story-high pachyderm was constructed in 1881 of tin-covered wood (nearly a million boards) as a tourist attraction. A National Historic Landmark, Lucy is the oldest surviving roadside attraction in America.

Then it’s off to the Harbor Square Theater in Stone Harbor for a movie. The four-screen theater projects current and classic films—and is a classic itself, built in 1947. Don’t scarf down too much popcorn, as your next stop is dinner at Atlantic City’s Knife and Fork Inn, a 1912 restaurant where political boss Enoch “Nucky” Johnson (the inspiration for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire) downed many a meal during Prohibition. Later guests included Frank Sinatra. While in AC, don’t forget to take a walk on the city’s Boardwalk, the country’s oldest.

Postcards and key from Wildwood Crest’s Caribbean Motel, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Wildwood Crest’s Caribbean Motel is on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo: Courtesy of Retro Roadmap

Want to make your road trip a weekend getaway? Check into Wildwood Crest’s 1957 Caribbean Motel. After breakfast the next morning at Larkin’s Restaurant, check out the Doo Wop Experience Museum—one of NJM’s favorite museums in the state!—which features vintage signs and memorabilia in the the Doo-Wop architectural style Wildwood is famous for.

Then head to the Ocean City boardwalk, constructed in 1880, where you can choose your steed on the 1926 carousel at Gillian’s Wonderland Amusement Pier. Take home goodies from Shriver’s Candies, established in 1898. What could be sweeter?

For more information on Mod Betty and her books, visit

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Barbara Leap, turning 74 while writing this article, realized she’s retro herself. 

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