Make the most of every minute with our complete guide to all the best day-trip beaches, amusement parks, water parks and more around the state and beyond. Here are our very top picks for how to spend your summer.
221 Ocean Ave., North Long Branch
This quiet stretch of sand is a go-to destination for North Jersey sun-seekers who don’t want to spend a whole Saturday stuck in traffic on the Parkway. Just off exit 105 in Long Branch, the beaches are pristine (as are the bathrooms), and there are big beautiful dunes that make up part of an ecological preserve. There’s more to do than play in the sand here, too—this oceanfront park encompasses 38 acres including an activity center, a boating launch, fishing (for registered fishermen 16 and older), a playground, sand volleyball and a snack bar. Weekday admission is $8 for guests 18 and up; kids 17 and younger are free. Admission is $8 per person for ages 13 and up on weekends. Guarded swimming hours are from 10 am to 5 pm daily.
South Hartshorne Dr., Highlands
There are plenty of pretty sandy spots on this 7-mile beach, which is actually a thin peninsula—permitting beautiful views of the ocean, the bay and the Manhattan skyline in the distance. Well-kept biking paths, fishing, birding and lighthouse tours are also big draws—so are the free programs run by park rangers throughout the summer like Crustacean of the Day and Night Hiking (see the schedule at nps.gov/gate). Just be mindful while walking around that Gunnison (aka Beach G) is NJ’s only clothing-optional beach, so you may want to prep the kids or avoid that end of the park altogether. Parking is $15 and admission is free. Open 5 am to 10 pm daily.
Ocean Ave., Asbury Park
This small but lovely beach sits next to one of Jersey’s hippest boardwalks, newly revitalized with great restaurants and a unique blend of historic and modern architecture. Sunbathe in the front yard of the legendary Stone Pony, where Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi found fame, and maybe even catch some tunes spilling out through the door as you indulge in a post-boogie-board ice cream. The water can be a little rough here, which makes it great for surfing (but less great for little kid swimming). If a late-afternoon shower threatens to ruin your perfect day, head indoors to the Silverball Museum for some arcade fun. Admission is $5 per person 12 and up ($7 on the weekends).
Shore Villa Rd., Seaside Park
This 10-mile-long barrier island offers swimming at multiple sandy beaches, as well as biking and hiking on four separate trails that wind through sand and trees. Come here for a lazy day at the beach, but also to experience Island Beach’s amazing native wildlife, including foxes and ospreys. From the southern tip of the barrier island, you can see Barnegat Lighthouse (pictured up close above), on Long Beach Island right across the inlet. Admission is $6 for NJ residents during the week and $10 on weekends and holidays. Parking is free.
Along First Ave., Sea Girt
Just a short drive off Parkway exit 98 is lovely Sea Girt beach, known for its quiet, family-friendly vibe and beautiful stretch of clean shoreline. When you’re ready for a beach break, take a stroll on the boardwalk or check out Scarborough Fair, Fratello’s or one of the other local restaurants (there’s no eating permitted on the sand). Admission is $10 per person and you can usually snag street (or meter) parking.
1 Six Flags Blvd., Jackson
New this year at Great Adventure is El Diablo, a wild looping coaster that spins you in an enormous circle. Add that to Kingda Ka —currently the tallest, fastest coaster in the North America and last summer’s launch, Zumanjaro Drop of Doom, with the tallest free fall in the world—and you’ve got enough adrenaline to last you into fall. Big thrill rides too much for your clan? Try the Looney Tunes-themed preschoolers area. Day passes are $68 for adults, $43 for children under 54” and free for kids under 2.
354 Great Meadows Rd., Hope
This family-owned park in Hope is still the best around for the preschool and young elementary set, with classic rides and activities like the hayride, petting zoo and a new Ferris wheel. Bigger kids will love the waterpark, including Pirate’s Escape (a plunge ride where the floor drops out from underneath you), and the Sidewinder (a giant U-shaped slide where you feel like you’re free falling). Admission is $25 for adults, $27 for kids 2-18 (free for kids under 2) and covers the water park and all the rides. (Payment is cash or Discover only).
4000 Dorney Park Rd.
Dorney Park’s new ride for 2015 is the Cedar Creek Flyers, an Eagle-themed adventure where kids sit in swing-like seats with rudders and “fly.” Dinosaurs Alive! is perfect for your Jurassic-obsessed kid (there’s a separate fee of $5) and Camp Snoopy is great for smaller riders who want to test their grit on milder rides. Wildwater Kingdom comes with admission and features a host of racing water slides, a big wave pool and a not-so-lazy-river. The best part of Dorney Park is still the eight rollercoasters on the property with varying levels of thrill—from the mild Woodstock Express for little ones to the wicked Hydra. Admission is $54 for adults, $44 for children under 48”and free for kids
100 Pinedge Dr., West Berlin
This construction-themed amusement park is the first of its kind in the United States, and gives kids (and adults) who love trucks a chance to live out their dreams by driving tractors and excavators. We loved the Spin Dizzy, where you ride in a tractor “scoop,” and the SkyShuttle, which lifts riders five stories in the air. Best yet, kids get to sit behind the wheel and navigate some actual construction vehicles on a variety of off-road obstacle courses. Admission is $34.95 per person (children under 36” are free).
3501 Boardwalk, Wildwood
There are three separate piers along the big boardwalk to explore, with amusement rides and even a water park, all within view of the gorgeous beach. New this summer is the revitalized KONG —a legendary Wildwood landmark from the ‘70s back after a facelift, complete with rideable planes. Also new is the “It” ride—a twisting pirate ship that spins its passengers in multiple directions at once.
Tubing & Kayaking
1121 State Route 12, Frenchtown
Hopping in a tube and floating down the Delaware is just about the most relaxing way to spend the day. There’s no paddling or work involved—just sit in an inflatable tube and let the river currents do the rest of the work. (You can rent straps to tether yourself to kids’ tubes.) The float trips are self-guided and take about 3-4 hours from start to finish. Buses pick you up and drop you off at the designated in and out spots, and along the way, you’ll get to stop for a BBQ lunch with the famous “River Hot Dog Man” (a voucher is included in your ticket). If tubing isn’t your style, you can also try rafts, canoes or kayaks. Waterproof shoes are required. Costs start at $28 per rider.
288 North Stagecoach Rd., Weatherly, PA
No need to wait until the kids are big to try whitewater rafting—anyone age 5 and up can participate in the little-kid-friendly float trips. These day trips include stops for swimming, light rapids and a full breakfast buffet. There’s also a new zipline ride, and a two-day “pedals and paddles” package, where you can raft one day and go biking the next. More intense whitewater trips are available for kids 9 and up. Trips start at $37 per person.
Near the intersection of Frank Sinatra Dr. and Maxwell Pl. on the Hoboken Waterfront
Have you ever seen people happily paddling away in kayaks on the Hudson River? Guess what—it’s free! Hoboken Cove is a volunteer-run boathouse that offers first-come, first-served free kayaks. Kids as young as 2 can get involved. They just need to wear a lifejacket and to ride with an adult. Out on the river, you’ll be treated to unbeatable, unobstructed views of the Manhattan skyline.
Every Friday night this season, this impressive show lights up the sky over beach- and boardwalk-goers. The open space makes for great views all around.
Fireworks, Point Pleasant Beach
Check out the fireworks along Point Pleasant Beach every Thursday night in July and August. Grab a spot on the sand or settle in at Jenks restaurant on the pier to relax and watch the show.
Yogi Berra Stadium, Little Falls
Nestled in the campus of Montclair State, this sweet minor league stadium is perfect for families looking to combine a love of baseball and fireworks. Fireworks take place after every Saturday night home game.
Be dazzled by glittery fireworks all summer through September —for the best vantage point, hop on a rollercoaster or another fun ride while they’re exploding in the air!
PHOTO COURTESY GANNETT, NJ
First St. and Frank Sinatra Dr., Hoboken
Take in a movie while gazing out at the Manhattan skyline. Pier A Park in Hoboken offers kid movies like Big Hero 6, Frozen and Cinderella on Wednesday evenings beginning at 9 pm in July and 8:15 pm in August. Be sure to get there at least 45 minutes early to secure your spot.
La Grande Ave. Fanwood
Spend Tuesday nights all summer long on a beach blanket in La Grande Park watching kid-friendly movies that begin at dusk. Highlights include, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Maleficent and Big Hero 6.
Liberty Corner Rd. Basking Ridge
Drop by Dunham Park in Basking Ridge every Wednesday in July at 8:30 pm to catch movies like Back to the Future and Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.
50 Woodland Ave. Morristown
Free Movie Friday starts June 24 and goes all summer: The film line-up includes kid-friendly films like Dolphin Tale 2, Guardians of the Galaxy and Muppets Most Wanted at 8:45 pm. Show up a little earlier (around 7:30 pm) to take part in fun and games with the summer staff and request songs to the pre-show band, Summit Soundz.
301 Resort Dr., Tannersville, PA
No matter the weather, Camelback has a water park option for every forecast. Aquatopia, which opened in April, is the biggest indoor water park in the Northeast, and features some amazing new rides, like the Venus SlydeTrap (an enclosed dark raft ride with big drops) and the Bombora FlowRider (a high-intensity surf simulator). Its also got the Paradise Plunge and SkyDive Plummet, two wild rides where the floor falls out from beneath you. The outdoor Camelbeach Mountain Water Park features a Vortex Ride—a bowl slide where you spin around a watery hole without a raft and plummet into the pool below. Both parks are packed with racing slides, wave pools and splashing areas guaranteed to exhaust the kids (in the best way). There’s a new lodge attached to Aquatopia if you want to extend your trip, and there’s also a Sky Ride (which makes use of the ski-lift chairs), an adventure course in the woods, ziplines and an awesome mountain “coaster.” Tickets for Camelbeach are $40 for adults and $30 for children under 48”. Limited day passes for Aquatopia are available starting at $30.
200 Route 94, Vernon
Looking for a truly thrilling water park for your ‘tweens and teens? This legendary spot, which reopened as Action Park last summer, is the place to be. Check out the giant cliff jump, where you swing Tarzan-style 23 feet in the air into a big pool, and the Zero-G trap-door slide that’s the World’s Tallest Double Looping Slide. The Bombs Away body ride culminates in an 18-foot free fall at the end and the Colorado River raft ride is just like real white water rafting. There are also little kid rides and a lazy river, (if you need to wind down from all the excitement), an alpine mountain coaster, the soaring eagle chair ride and mini golf nearby for a separate fee. Adult tickets are $42, kids under 48” are $30 and children under 3 are free.
100 Sesame Rd., Langhorne, PA
Though you probably think of Sesame Place as an amusement park first (we love the Grover Coaster!) one of the best features here is the ever-expanding water park. It’s the perfect first water park for the under 5-set, and there’s enough bigger slides (like the Bert & Ernie Slip and Slide)to keep older siblings happy, too. Plus, there’s no cuter water play area around than The Count’s Splash Castle, filled with bubbler jets, tipping buckets, water wheels and more. Our favorite here is the big Sky Splash Raft Ride, which has a huge 8-foot rubber duckie on top and room for the whole family in each car as it takes you (gently) down six stories. Tickets for anyone 2 and up are $65, but there are better deals if you purchase online in advance.
250 Kalahari Blvd., Pocono Manor, PA
Opening this summer, Kalahari is the newest addition to what’s quickly becoming the new water park capital of the world in the Poconos. This African-themed park will cover over 100,000 square feet with a retractable roof that means the fun continues rain or shine. There’s the Anaconda water roller coaster (filled with flumes, tunnels and geysers), the Wild Wildebeest (a raft ride that takes riders through caverns and waterfalls) and the Rippling Rhino (which is a really long tube slide). Check out the long lazy river or the huge outdoor pool and bring little kids as young as 4 months old into the splash and play area. Limited day passes will be for sale.
275 Beachway Ave., Keansburg
This beachside water park is fun whether you’re spending a week or just an afternoon at the shore. The Toddler’s Reef play area featuring a cute Frog Slide is perfect for swimmers who aren’t quite ready to make the leap to the bigger thrills, like the Nestea Plunge rope swing. When the temps start to cool down in the evening, transition to the heated Lost Lagoon pool or the mini spa pool. Want more fun? There’s the adjacent amusement park and of course the ocean right nearby for more great water perks. Two-hour tickets for the water park start at $25.95 and toddlers under 42” are $12.95.
1 Six Flags Blvd., Route 537, Jackson
Right next to Great Adventure, this park delivers all the big-time excitement you’d expect from Six Flags. Check out King Cobra, where you slide out of a snake’s body and up into his mouth (complete with scary fangs) and Jurahnimo Falls, a 76-foot steep drop body slide that takes you from 0 to 40 mph in a heartbeat. There are family raft rides like the Big Bambu, the Blue Lagoon wave pool and the shallow water Discovery Bay play area, too. This place gets busy in the summer, so if you can, head down on a weekday for shorter lines. Tickets are $43 for adults and $33 for kids under 48”.
188 State Route 10, East Hanover
This arcade and indoor amusement park has expanded its outdoor adventures this summer with four new water slides, including two fast tubes, a 580-foot long Lazy River, a pool with a cascading waterfall and a 5-story tower with water-dumping fun. All this is in addition to its new 5-foot-deep pool, a wild water playground (think lots of squirting fountain action), plus hoses and water blasters.
Asbury Park Splash Park
915 Ocean Ave., Asbury Park
This splash park opened a few years ago, and features a cute garden theme with oversized hoses, sprinklers and watering cans. It’s not huge, but it’s right next to the beach and the boardwalk. Daily passes are $9 for kids and $5 for adults.
100 Town Square Pl., Jersey City
Check out the beautiful views of NYC in the background at this Jersey City waterpark and playground. There’s even a little beach with sand (complete with Adirondack chairs and umbrellas) that overlooks the Hudson River and a summertime carousel nearby.
Dorbrook Recreation Area
209 County Route 537, Colt’s Neck
This huge park features hoses squirting from the ground, spigots dumping water from above and a host of water tables ensuring no one leaves dry.
Snyder Avenue Park
240 Snyder Ave., Berkeley Heights
Nestled inside a playground, this small sprayground with a football theme includes a giant goal post that shoots out water (donated by the New York Jets).
Lyndhurst Spray Park
367 Valley Brook Ave., Lyndhurst
This park is in a nice fenced-in area (that costs $1 a person to enter) and features a cute rainbow “tunnel” and a snake-shaped fountain that rains water down from above.