Family Fun and Learning in New Jersey
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New Jersey’s right to call itself the Garden State becomes clearer once visitors leave the monotonous Turnpike or “Vegas Lite” in Atlantic City. Ecosystems range from rivers and mountains in the north and west to the Pine Barrens and coastal plains of south Jersey. Steeped in Colonial history and critical to the industrial development of a young United States, it is full of surprising discoveries for young and old! Here are our top picks for fun - and learning - in the Garden State:
1) The Paper Mill Playhouse – Millburn’s well-known off-off-Broadway theater has children’s theater classes, theater performances for kids on many Saturdays and a family-friendly Nutcracker ballet during the Christmas season.
2) The Wetlands Institute – Explore coastal ecosystems at this Stone Harbor educational facility. There's an observation tower for a panoramic view of the Jersey Shore, trails through the saltwater marshland, live marsh animals and a touch tank. The September Wings ‘n Water Festival celebrates the coast with music, artwork, demonstrations and children’s activities.
3) Liberty Science Center – Three themed floors (Invention, Health and Environment) make the sciences come alive in Jersey City, with innovative demonstrations on everything from water filtration to lasers. An IMAX Dome theater and a Digital 3D theater keep visitors enthralled with a rotating schedule of unique multimedia programs; the latest topics are Mars, hurricanes, mummies and the sun in 3D.
4) Cotsen Children’s Library – Something for young ones at Princeton University? Yes, the Cotsen is a real hidden gem on campus; it’s a unique, well-designed children’s library that is actually part of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. The public “Bookscape” area has little nooks and whimsical reading areas (you enter through a topiary garden) and the rear section features gallery programs and readings year-round, for all ages.
5) Morristown National Historical Park – George Washington and the Continental Army used this area twice as a winter encampment, keeping tabs on British activity in nearby New York City. The harsh winter of 1779-1780 was particularly grueling for the 10,000 hungry, ragged soldiers who suffered at Jockey Hollow Camp; their story is told through exhibits, reconstructed cabins and a parade ground. The 27 miles of park trails are fun for hikers and cross-country skiers.
6) Cape May – This pretty movie-set town at the southern tip of the Garden State steps back in time with beautiful gingerbread Victorian buildings. Streets are easy to navigate by bicycles or surreys, and kids like the hands-on exploration at the Nature Center of Cape May or searching the beach for the quartz pieces known as “Cape May diamonds.” Some of the Victorian lodgings do accept children, so check on CapeMay.com for child-friendly places to stay.
7) Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center – If it’s about glass, it’s here at Wheaton, where New Jersey glassworks got its start thanks to the local silica sand and plenty of wood for the furnaces. Watch glass artists and glassblowers at work in the Glass Studio and Craft Studio, admire the stunning items in the Museum of American Glass and wander the Down Jersey Folklife Center for a close-up view of the arts and culture of the state’s eight southern counties.
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