A part of both the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern regions of the US, New Jersey is the fifth smallest state by land area, but the most densely populated with an estimated 9.3 million residents living within 8,722.58 square miles (as of 2023). A neighbor to New York, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, the state is most famous for its beaches, boardwalks, wilderness, and entertainment.
Featuring extensive coasts on the Atlantic Ocean, various bays, and riverbanks, the state is a popular summer destination. Nicknamed “The Garden State”, New Jersey was once known for its vast farmlands. Now filled in, the land has a mix of natural environments and urban areas. A few of the most famous cities in the state include Jersey City, Atlantic City, Trenton, and Hoboken.
Often overlooked as a destination, New Jersey is a fun, exciting, and beautiful place to visit. Whether planning to discover the big cities, historical sites, or wide open spaces, there is always something worth seeing in this Mid-Atlantic state.
Livin’ La Vida New Jersey
Visit New Jersey’s Top Towns and Cities
History of “The Garden State”
About 180 million years (Jurassic Period) before New Jersey was inhabited by Native Americans and colonists, the land actually bordered North Africa. During this time, the Pangea supercontinent was colliding as well as splitting apart, which in turn formed the Appalachian Mountains in the United States. A chain of the Appalachians runs through the Northeastern region of New Jersey.
The first people known to have lived in the area were Native American tribes around 10,000 years ago. For thousands of years, they lived uncontacted until the early 17th century when European settlers came to the area. The Dutch built the first permanent settlement called New Netherland, which had territory spreading throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.
After New Netherland, the area became known as New Sweden after the Swedes arrived during the mid-17th century. In 1664 after the Europeans surrendered at Fort Amsterdam, the settlement fell under English Rule and it was called the Province of New Jersey.
Eventually, the province became one of the original 13 British colonies in the United States. During the American Revolution, the state was known as the “Crossroads of the Revolution” after numerous important battles were fought on the land.
In December 1787, New Jersey would become the 3rd US state. Since then, the state’s economy grew because of industrialization, research, iron mining, and shipbuilding. More and more people have been drawn to live in the state, pushing its population to 9,288,994 people as of 2020. In the present day, the economy thrives off of transportation, financial services, life sciences, logistics, and tourism.
Capital City of Trenton
Since 1790, Trenton has been the capital city of New Jersey. With a population of 90,871 people as of 2020, the capital is fairly small when compared to other urban areas in the state. It’s currently the 10th most populous city in the state.
Much less crowded than Newark and Jersey City, Trenton has a mix of exciting and laid-back attractions. Culture and history are very much alive in the streets, so visitors will have plenty of hidden gems to explore.
Situated along the bank of the Delaware River, the city is connected by bridges to Morrisville, Pennsylvania. Some of the most famous bridges are the Lower Trenton Bridge and Calhoun Street Bridge. Neighborhoods in the city are organized by cardinal directions. Major neighborhood areas include Downtown Trenton, North Trenton, South Trenton, West Trenton, Western Trenton, and East Trenton.
Tied to both the past and present, many of the top attractions in the capital are related to the state’s history, art, and culture. The New Jersey Statehouse allows guided tours or you can visit the William Trent House Museum.
For Revolutionary history, the Old Barracks Museum is an interesting place as it is the last remaining barrack of the British Military. At the Ground for Sculpture and Artworks, visitors can learn more about the city’s local culture.
Additional attractions in Trenton include the Sun National Bank Center, Arm & Hammer Park, Trenton Downtown Association, New Jersey State Museum, Waterfront Park, South Riverwalk Park, and Cadwalader Park. Easily accessible from both New York City and Philadelphia, the city is the perfect destination for a quick weekend trip.
Newark, the Largest City in New Jersey
Supporting a population of 311,549 as of 2020, Newark is the largest city in the state. It is also the second largest city in the New York metropolitan area. Originally founded in 1666 by Puritans, this is one of the oldest cities in the United States. Newark sits at the mouth of the Passaic River and is an important port for both New Jersey and New York.
The city is divided into 5 political wards called North, South, West, East, and Central. Throughout Newark, there is a mix of urban and suburban areas. One of the main attractions in the city is Branch Brook Park in the North Ward. Featuring more than 5,000 cherry blossom trees, the park is also the oldest county park in the US.
Visitors who want to learn more about the Garden State and the city of Newark should head to the Newark Museum or Thomas Edison National Historical Park. Other popular things to do include the Military Park, Riverfront Park, Ironbound Neighborhood, City Without Walls, the Priory, and the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
Jersey City, “Wall Street West”
Another city that is part of the New York metropolitan area is Jersey City. Home to 292,499 residents as of 2020, it’s the second-largest city in the state. Bounded by the rivers and bays, it’s another important transportation hub and port for New Jersey and New York. Dating back to the early 1600s, the city has been redeveloped as a financial, banking, and residential center.
Sitting across from New York City’s Manhattan Island, Jersey City is connected to the Big Apple by subways, ferries, and bridges. Although many people travel from Jersey City to NYC, visitors should consider sticking around to explore the area.
Plenty is offered from tourist attractions to public parks, shops, restaurants, and bars. For those that want to see NYC from a different angle and explore a new place, you can’t miss Jersey City.
Highlights in the area include a few attractions that are shared by New York. These are the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration and the Statue of Liberty National Monument. Within city limits, common destinations are the Liberty Science Center, Liberty State Park, J. Owen Grundy Park, Katyń Memorial, Lincoln Park, Paulus Hook, Grove Square, and the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad Powerhouse.
Hoboken, “The Mile Square City”
Just to the north of Jersey City is Hoboken, which has 60,419 residents as of the 2020 census. Known as the “Mile Square City”, the actual area is closer to 2 miles when including both water and land. Beginning as a settlement and then a resort, Hoboken became a residential neighborhood by the early 19th century.
A part of the Hudson Waterfront, the city is well-known for its views of Manhattan, museums, markets, restaurants, and food. Some of the top sights include the Barsky Gallery, Hoboken Historical Museum, Pier A Park, and the Waterfront Walkway.
Another reason why visitors head to Hoboken is Frank Sinatra who was born in the city. Sinatra Walking Tours are the best way to learn more about the famous singer and his hometown.
Atlantic City, “America’s Playground”
Known as “America’s Playground”, “Las Vegas of the East” or simply as “A.C.”, Atlantic City is most famous for its boardwalk, casinos, and beaches. Supporting 38,497 residents in 2020, it’s estimated that more than 27 million tourists travel to the city each year. People may also recognize the city streets and destinations as being inspirations for the board game, Monopoly (affiliate link).
Although the city has long attracted adult visitors, it’s becoming more kid-friendly too. The most popular attraction by far is the Atlantic City Boardwalk, which has spectacular oceanside views, boutiques, taffy shops, and restaurants. In total, the Boardwalk is 4.8 miles long and it allows visitors to enjoy both the beach and urban scenes.
Other areas worth visiting are the Absecon Lighthouse, Steel Pier, Atlantic City Aquarium, Caesars Atlantic City, Lucy the Elephant, Storybook Land, Playground Pier, and the Ocean Casino Resort. Having long been a resort destination, the city only gets busier with each year.
Ocean City, Once Called “Peck’s Beach”
Not to be confused with Maryland’s city of the same name, New Jersey’s Ocean City is the best destination for families. A well-known family-oriented resort, the city is located right on the seaside of the Atlantic Ocean.
As of 2020, there were 11,229 permanent residents living within city limits. Famous for not allowing alcoholic beverages, Ocean City focuses more on being fun for young travelers. Highlights in the area are the boardwalk, downtown district, and miles of beaches.
Cape May, An Old Resort Destination
One of the oldest resort destinations in the US for vacations is Cape May. With 95,263 people living in Cape May County as of 2020, only a few thousand residents permanently live in the resort city. However, the population can swell to over 50,000 people on hot summer days.
Cape May is most famous for its gorgeous Victorian architecture that lines the streets, waterfront, and beaches. It’s well-reputed as one of New Jersey’s top beach towns to live and play.
Attractions in Cape May include the Cape May Bird Observatory, Cap May County Park and Zoo, the Historic District, Lighthouse, Cape May Point State Park, and Promenade. Visitors who want to learn more about the city or get more recommendations should head to the Cape May Welcome Center.
Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park
Protecting the Paterson Waterfall and the Passaic River, this national historical park is much more than a recreational area. Preserved on site are historic mills, buildings, raceways, and stories. Connected to Alexander Hamilton, visitors can learn more about how various industries thrived within the area.
Some of the most popular productions included textiles like cotton, railroad locomotives, machinery, jute, weaving, and dyeing.
Visitors to the park can take a self-guided tour, a guided tour, or join an educational program. There are also special events hosted by partners of the park. Throughout most of the year, the historical park is open from sunrise to sunset with only a few seasonal exceptions and holiday closures.
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
Shared by New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area offers plenty of natural beauty for those that want to escape the big cities. Just inland from the coast, many visitors come from major urban areas like Jersey City. New Jersey’s section of the recreation area includes the Worthington State Forest and a short 72.2-mile-long portion of the Appalachian Trail.
Popular activities that are permitted in the area include hiking, swimming, cycling, fishing, camping, horseback riding, rock climbing, and cross-country skiing during the winter months. Visitors exploring the park will find various waterfalls, historic sites, and rural landscapes.
Six Flags Great Adventure
The best thrills and amusement can be found at the Six Flags Great Adventure & Safari Park in Jackson, NJ. Featuring an amusement park, safari, and water park called Hurricane Harbor, visitors from all over the state and Mid-Atlantic head to this park for a day of fun, rides, and games.
Having evolved through various eras since its opening in 1974, staple activities include Main Street, Fantasy Forest, Adventure Alley, Movietown, Metropolis, Lakefront, Frontier Adventures, and the Boardwalk. Two of the busiest events are the Fright Fest for Halloween and Holiday in the Park for Christmas.
“New Jersey & You … Perfect Together”
Whether you’re searching for glitzy cities, seaside resorts, beautiful beaches, or historic landmarks, New Jersey has it all. Sometimes at the receiving end of a bad reputation, this state is actually an amazing place to live and visit. Travelers of all ages will find something worth exploring and when it comes to your bucket list, New Jersey should be near the top of yours.