Atlantic City, NJ Credit: AUDREY SCRIPP

In our chaotic and uncertain post-Covid world, people are increasingly choosing to spend their money on experiences rather than material things. Experiences allow us to create memories and connections, and bring us more joy, than say, the latest iPhone. As humans, we often habituate so much to our surroundings that we fail to see them with the fresh set of eyes of someone like a tourist in your hometown, someone who came prepared with a to-do list of attractions that you probably haven’t visited. That’s why this week The Escape Home is featuring a quintessentially American, undeniably overlooked and at times divisive destination: That’s right, we’re talking about New Jersey. 

The American Dream is in East Rutherford, New Jersey

American Dream is a massive retail and entertainment complex with fun for the whole family.

The aptly named American Dream offers the ultimate one-stop-shop experience with everything from indoor surfing to Saks. Leisure, luxury and extravagance are epitomized in this 3-million-square-foot entertainment and retail complex in East Rutherford. There’s even a year-round ski resort and Nickelodeon Universe, the largest indoor theme park in the Western Hemisphere. Between the Legoland Discovery Center, an always-81-degrees indoor water park and the Sea Life Aquarium, parents with younger children will find no shortage of ways to keep them occupied. Lacking the perfect ensemble for any of the above? American Dream is a shopping haven, rivaling Fifth Avenue with its array of upscale retailers such as Gucci, Hermès, and Louis Vuitton, alongside trendy Gen-Z favorites and athleisure brands.

Visit Grounds for Sculpture

Grounds For Sculpture is where art and nature collide. Credit: Vince Migliore

This sprawling 42-acre sculpture garden, museum and arboretum in Hamilton, New Jersey, is the perfect place to embrace the newly warm spring weather. Established by artist J. Seward Johnson in 1992, Grounds for Sculpture showcases nearly 300 contemporary sculptures set amid perfectly manicured gardens, ponds and pathways, while temporary exhibitions fill the six galleries. “Slow Motion,” which debuts in May and runs through August, reimagines the material possibilities of public memory, featuring work from artists who utilize unconventional materials and processes for sculpture. The space also offers a variety of performances, lectures and workshops. Visits can — and should — be completed with a stop at Rat’s, an on-premise restaurant known for its rustic French cuisine. 

Head to the shore

Beach scene Long Branch, New
Families enjoy sun and sand at the beach in Long Branch, New Jersey. Photo by Carol M Highsmith is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

No New Jersey list would be complete without a mention of its roughly 130 miles of Atlantic coast, which, similar to American Dream above, truly offers something for everyone. Explore Seaside, where you can quite literally rent the house where the shore’s namesake reality show was filmed. Head to Atlantic City for a taste of Las Vegas glitz and glamor. Enjoy the upscale charm of Avalon, with its immaculate beaches, or head to Cape May, known for its iconic Victorian architecture. We also recommend a stop at agritourism destination Jersey Shore Alpacas, which offers donation-based feeding tours and a store featuring woolen products. 

Visit a deserted village

Visit the Feltville Historical District. Credit: SeichanGant

In the early 1700s, a man named Peter Willcocks built a sawmill along the Blue Brook in Berkeley Heights, which was then frontier country. A little over a century later, the land was purchased by David Felt, who harnessed the brook’s power to run a printing factory. He established a village to support the operation, naming it Feltville. At its peak it had more than 150 residents, but after Felt retired in 1860, the town fell into disrepair, and following a series of failed business ventures it was abandoned, leaving behind a ghost town (which yes, is rumored to be haunted). Visitors can take a self-guided walking tour and explore the preserved structures, including a general store and church.

Hike! 

shallow focus on blond haired woman in white long sleeve shirt carrying a baby on her back
There are trials for novice, moderate, and expert hikers. Photo by Josh Willink on Pexels.com

For such a small state, New Jersey offers big opportunities to get outdoors and into nature. 

Passaic Falls, at 77 feet high and 260 feet wide, is the second largest waterfall by volume east of the Mississippi River. The falls are located in Paterson Great Falls National Park in Paterson which was one of the first planned industrial cities in the U.S., founded by Alexander Hamilton. Over in Kinnelon in the Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic Area you can hike a 3.6-mile loop and visit the famed Tripod Rock, a multi-ton balancing boulder, also known as a glacial erratic. Or, scale the popular Mount Tammany in Hardwick Township for hard-earned views of the Delaware Water Gap and Mount Minsi across the way. Your options are endless.

This article was sponsored by visitNJ.org.

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