According to Niche magazine, New Jersey was ranked the number one state to raise a family in America. While Niche assessed factors such as crime and safety, education, and access to grocery stores and daycare facilities in a given state to formulate the list, it is also extremely important to consider the recreational facilities and activities available to one’s family when thinking about where to plant your roots. Luckily, NJ takes the cake in all categories! Jersey might be famous for its beautiful shoreline — a popular family-favorite destination in the southern part of the state — but there are plenty of things to do up north that are equally as entertaining.
For the Creative Kiddo and/or Kid-at-Heart: Imagine That!!!
Imagine That!!! in Florham Park is a children’s museum specializing in pre-school aged children’s education. It can be described as a tactile learning facility where its exhibits are specifically designed to stimulate imaginations through touch and play. At a sprawling 16,000 square feet with over 50 exhibits, Imagine That!!! is the perfect destination for you and your young children, be it for a birthday party, field trip, or just plain 'ole quality time.
Hours: Monday through Sunday; 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission: Fees start at $6.99 for adults and $15.99 for children.
For the Animal Loving Clan: Turtle Back Zoo
Having opened in 1963 with just 140 animals total, Turtle Back Zoo was named after the famous rock formation, Turtle Back Rock, located just east of the zoo (and yes, it resembles a tortoise shell). By 1973 the zoo's population had grown to 850 animals, and in 2006 it was granted accreditation by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.
While the animals are surely the main attraction, living in more natural habitats rather than cages, Turtle Back is not your average zoo. Holiday Lights dazzle in the winter, while Zoo Camp would make any kid's summer memorable. Our personal favorite "extra": Family Fun Night, which offers zoo-goers the chance to visit after hours and enjoy dinner at the Zoo Cafe. Talks and workshops are also on offer throughout the year, such as "Bat Walk and Talks", "Wild and Domesticated Beekeeping" and "Reptile and Amphibian Walk and Talks" just to name a few. Check the events calendar for up-to-date adventure opportunities. Oh, and don't forget to ride the Endangered Species Carousel ($2)!
Hours: Monday through Sunday; 10 am to 3:30 pm. Admission: Children from 2-12 can get into the park for $12, while adult tickets cost $15. Children under 23 months can enjoy the zoo for free.
For the 'Coaster Crew: Bowcraft Amusement Park
This Scotch Plains favorite boasts kiddy, family, and thrill rides—especially convenient for the family with kids of varying ages. We love the classics: the Swinger, Bumper Cars, and the Scrambler. Not into rides? Hit up the arcade or the Midway—Bowcraft's version of the Jersey Shore boardwalk. Water Race, anyone? You could walk away with a 3-foot-tall stuffed teddy bear: just what your home needs! Additionally, Bowcraft hosts seasonal attractions such as an Easter egg hunt in the park.
Hours: Check the calendar before heading out. Admission: Most rides are four tickets per person with prices ranging from 20 tickets for $23.50, 40 tickets for $42, or 100 tickets for $95.
For the Thrillseekers: Mountain Creek
In keeping with the adventure theme, Mountain Creek offers family-friendly skiing as well as snowboarding, snow tubing, mountain biking, a water pike, hiking, and for worn out parents: two luxury day spas. Mountain Creek first opened its doors in 1965 as a ski resort and in 1971, merged with neighboring Vernon Valley and Great George resorts. In 2010, Mountain Creek was purchased by the adjacent Crystal Springs Resort. Now, the Creek encompasses 167 ski-able acres on four different mountain peaks (Vernon Peak, Granite Peak, South Peak, Bear Peak). To test your family's true sense of adventure, try night skiing or snow tubing.
Hours: Each mountain operates under different hours and in general is open for the winter season only. Check the hours section of the website for details. Admission: Adults can purchase Mountain Creek tickets for as low as $30 depending on what activity you want to do. Children under the age of 6 can enter for free with the purchase of an adult ticket. For more ticket information, see the rates section of the website.
For the Aqua Adventurers: Tomahawk Lake
Another water park sure to create memories to treasure for years to come is Tomahawk Lake located in Sparta. Just a few of the lake's many features include an 18-hole miniature golf course, a beer garden with live music on the weekends, a softball field, horseshoe, volleyball, and picnic areas, a 20-acre lake with swan, duck, paddle and bumper boats. The park also boasts a 400-foot body slide and New Jersey’s largest white sand beach!
Hours: Check the website for this season's hours. Admission: Cash only. Adults pay $12 on weekdays and $14 on weekends while children are $11 on weekdays and $12 on weekends.
For The Tourists-in-Your-Own-State: Liberty State Park
Sure, we're all well aware that the Statue of Liberty resides in Jersey City. Yes, in NEW JERSEY, not New York. How many folks who live in North Jersey actually take the opportunity to visit her, though? She seems to be reserved for tourists visiting NYC, and field trips. “Reserve” tickets to Ellis Island grant access to the Statue of Liberty, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum as well as an audio guide, while “Crown Reserve” tickets get you additional access to the crown within the Statue of Liberty and the Liberty Pedestal and museum.
Weather permitting, Liberty State Park is also an optimal hiking and biking locale, and offers kayaking and Segway tours in addition to its nature and fitness trails. The family that exercises together stays together.
Hours: Open daily from 6 am to 10 pm. Admission: “Reserve” tickets from Liberty State Park start at $9 for children and $18.50 for adults.
For the Nerdy Bunch: Liberty Science Center
Also located within Liberty State Park is the famed field trip of your childhood memories: Liberty Science Center—great for birthday parties and day trips alike! The museum offers IMAX movies like America Wild: National Parks Adventure and ROBOTS as well as Real 3D shows like Antarctica 3D: On the Edge and Tiny Giants 3D. Some of the most popular permanent exhibits at the LSC include the Nikola Tesla Lightning Show and the Touch Tunnel (make your way through an 80-foot tunnel in complete darkness).
Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 9 am to 4 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission: Tickets for children start at $18.75.
For the Theater Buffs: Paper Mill Playhouse
Need a mellow, perhaps rainy day activity? Catch some theater at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn. "Pump Boys and Dinettes" and "West Side Story" are currently on the roster, but there is a separate category of shows specifically geared toward children: "Charlotte’s Web" and "Seussical." The Playhouse notably features autism-friendly programming as well—currently highlighting Henry and Mudge. If you’re looking for somewhere to eat before or after the show, try the highly recommended Carriage House Restaurant.
Hours: Box office open 10 am to 6 pm Monday through Friday; 10 am to 4 pm on Saturday; 12 pm to 4 pm on Sunday. Admission: Tickets - $28 and up, depending on choice of seat.