Long overshadowed by New York as a tourism destination, New Jersey’s reputation has been elevated in recent years thanks to a spate of buzzy developments. Yes, the beaches and the history have always been worth a visit, but discerning travellers are now discovering hipster enclaves, a maturing art scene and great culinary experiences up and down the coast. This state makes for the perfect autumn road trip.
Start with one of New Jersey’s most-popular dishes: a breakfast sandwich made with Taylor ham—a smoked pork product with a similar consistency to spam. Summit Diner in Summit, 45 minutes west of New York City, is a red-booth classic famous for its Slider, a roll stuffed with Taylor ham, egg and cheese.
Drive to Jersey City to visit Mana Contemporary, an admission-free creative centre housed in a collection of former warehouses in the Journal Square district. There are several world-class galleries on offer, including Gary Lichtenstein Editions, featuring a gallery dedicated to the artist’s famed screen-printed images, plus a workspace and studio area.
Explore downtown Jersey City to find street art by the likes of Pixel Pancho and Shepard Fairey. Then, dine at Razza to experience one of owner and chef Dan Richer’s perfectly crisped pizzas. Try the Bosco, which is loaded with two types of cheese, tomato sauce and cremini mushrooms.
Drive an hour north to the border with New York state to take on the Stairway to Heaven. This relatively challenging 11-kilometre hike meanders across suspension bridges and through dairy farms and forests before climbing up to Pinwheel Vista, where breathtaking views of New Jersey’s rolling hills await.
Head back south to learn more about the state’s rapidly growing wine scene at Unionville Vineyards. This picturesque vineyard has been making wine for about 25 years, and is known for its French grapes—the award-winning Pheasant Hill Chardonnay is lightly creamy and deliciously fruity.
Travel east towards the Jersey Shore to Asbury Park, a seaside city with an exciting dining scene. Tuck into a seafood dinner at The Bonney Read, where Gordon Ramsay alum James Avery prepares classic dishes (mussels with linguine and lobster rolls) in a chowder house-style restaurant.
Start with breakfast at Asbury Park’s Cafe Volan, a surfer-owned spot that serves the shore’s best cup of coffee. Take it to-go and amble along the boardwalk, poke around the shops and play with the vintage pinball machines at the Silverball Museum.
Explore more of the Jersey Shore with a stop at Long Beach Island, about an hour from Asbury Park. Stroll along the beach and stop into Shore Good Donuts to sample one of its addictive creations—try the lemon drop. An hour further down to the coast, Cape May is a beach town known for its colourful 19th-century architecture; the Victorian cottages that line Gurney Street are worth an Instagram post.
Back in Asbury Park, head to Porta, a popular restaurant among locals and visitors. Sit at one of the communal tables to ravage its pizza-centric Italian menu, which includes vegan and vegetarian options. Beyond pizza, try the grilled fish, punched up with a squeeze of lemon and salt. End your night at the recently reopened Asbury Lanes, where you can bowl or catch a live show.
Top Hotels in New Jersey
When this design-forward property opened in 2016, it was Asbury Park’s first new hotel in 50 years. It didn’t take long for its modern coastal interiors and elevated amenities—heated pool and a breezy rooftop cinema included—to make it the coolest booking in the state.
Located on the southern tip of the state, this boutique hotel wows with its incredible ocean views, epic sunsets and countless thoughtful touches, including fireplaces in most rooms and complimentary daily yoga. Food options range from fine dining to classic pub fare.
[This story appears in the October 2018 issue of WestJet Magazine.]