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New Jersey, a state waiting to be discovered

Thursday, June 12, 2014


It is no surprise that the Garden State –so named because of its abundant foliage– should have attracted 82.5 million visitors in 2012 alone. The Big Apple’s neighbor has everything, from luxury casinos in Atlantic City to the historic grandeur of Princeton, not to mention the cultural riches of Jersey City, Long Beach Island’s coastline, Hoboken’s musical heritage, and Elizabeth with its bargains.

You can start your tour in Liberty State Park, in Jersey City. A mere 15-minute drive from the airport, this 1,212-acre park offers the best views across the river to Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Statue of Liberty. At the eastern end of the park is Central Railroad Terminal, where you can take a ferry to Ellis Island, the historic customs post through which millions of immigrants entered the United States between 1892 and 1954, making Jersey City one of the most multicultural cities in the country. Italians, Koreans, Germans, Indians, Irish, Filipinos and Cubans are but some of the nationalities that helped shape the city. In the Journal Square area you will find Little India and Little Manila, two Asian settlements where you can sample exotic cuisine and visit cultural and religious centers.

Although if it’s a purely American experience you’re looking for, visit White Mana on Tonnele Avenue, a classic restaurant that first opened its doors during the World’s Fair back in 1939 and which was the forerunner of New Jersey’s iconic 24-hour diners. After tasting a few ‘sliders’ –small steamed hamburgers–, explore the city’s artistic side in the Powerhouse Arts District, an area full of galleries and culture centers that also boasts the highest concentration of artists in the country.

But if your passion is shopping, you should head for Elizabeth, 10 minutes from Newark.

With around 200 stores, more than 20 options in the food court, 20 movie theaters, attractive promotions and more than 16 million visitors every year, The Outlet Collection Jersey Gardens is the largest mall in the State.

A few kilometers to the north lies the tiny city of Hoboken, birthplace of Frank Sinatra. It will be recalled that Hoboken and its iconic boardwalk along the Hudson River were devastated by Superstorm Sandy. 50% of this tiny area, no more than 400 meters long, was under water. But just like the rest of New Jersey, it has recovered. The boardwalk, together with Sinatra Drive and River Street, are once again open to the public and are the perfect spot for a postcard-like photo with Manhattan in the background. In the warm months, you can go kayaking free of charge at Hoboken Cove Boathouse and watch movies in the open air in Sinatra Park. If you want to feel something of the vibrant, carefree atmosphere, you should head for Willow Street, where most of Hoboken’s restaurants, boutiques and bars are located.

And rock fans shouldn’t miss Maxwell’s, on Washington Avenue, where giants like Bruce Springsteen and Nirvana played in the early days of their careers.

If you have time, don’t hesitate to go down to Atlantic City, the gambling and resorts capital of the US east coast. It’s the most popular destination in the State (it welcomes 30 million visitors a year), and boasts dozens of casinos, restaurants, golf courses and luxury hotels.

Indeed, such is the magnificence of Atlantic City that it inspired the Monopoly board game. And to relive New Jersey’s great past, head for the south of the State and Battlefield State Park, in Princeton, where one of the most important battles in the American Revolution was fought. In 1777, George Washington, who barely 12 years later would become the first President of the United States, surprised and defeated a contingent of British forces at a crucial moment in the independence campaign.

A walking tour will take you through the gardens and corridors of historic Princeton University, founded in 1754 and responsible for more than thirty Nobel Prize laureates.

If you want to see something of student life and eat Ivy League style, Nassau Street, the small city’s main street, has an eclectic mix of restaurants, bars and stores.

If you visit New Jersey in the warm months and are a beach lover, go to Long Beach Island, which is 29 kilometers in length but a mere 800 meters wide. Shining out in the north is the brightly-painted, redand-white Barnegat Light, closed in 1944 but reopened in 2009. Viking Village, the area around the base of the lighthouse, has stores specializing in fish and opportunities to hire boats. But the beaches all over the island, which are surrounded by places to eat and shop, are what really draw people there.

Luxury and prices rise as you head north along the coastline, while the southern tip is more affordable. Beach Haven and Surf City are the most popular destinations, especially for families.

This journey through the State of New Jersey will make you change your mind about the widely-held view that landing in Newark means visiting only New York. Enjoy the Garden State!