Best Beaches, Boardwalks and Lakes

Kip Dawkins

Jenkinson’s Boardwalk, Point Pleasant Beach
Morey’s Piers, Wildwood
Ocean City Boardwalk, Ocean City
Lake Hopatcong
Round Valley Reservoir, Clinton Twp.

Best National Park: Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park

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Paterson
This natural beauty was once the power source for a local mill. Go on the daily history tour and check out the park’s Junior Ranger program. Visit after rain to see the 77-foot-high falls rushing at full force.

Prettiest Garden: Grounds for Sculpture

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Hamilton Twp.
Explore 42 acres of eclectic sculptures and breathtaking gardens. Go for happy hour, wellness walks, clambakes or moonlight tours. Highlights include the lily pond, Rat’s Restaurant and free-roaming peacocks. You’ll feel like you stepped into a Monet painting.

Favorite Museum: Liberty Science Center

Liberty Science Center

Jersey City
This Hudson County staple always has something new. Exhibitions run the gamut from microbes to honeybees to the Hubble telescope. Don’t leave without visiting the Jennifer Chalsty Planetarium, the biggest in the western hemisphere.

Most Fun Aquarium: Adventure Aquarium

Christy Schultz

Camden
Get up close to more than 15,000 aquatic species at this treasure on the Camden waterfront. Here, you’ll find the only great hammerhead shark on exhibit in the country, a Little Blue Penguin facility and a shark bridge, aka the world’s longest V-shaped rope suspension bridge.

Best Zoos

Janette Mochnacz

Turtle Back Zoo, West Orange
Cape May County Park & Zoo, Cape May Court House
Bergen County Zoological Park at Van Saun County Park, Paramus
Popcorn Park Zoo, Forked River
Cohanzick Zoo and Splash Park, Bridgeton

Favorite Outdoor Spot: South Mountain Reservation

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Maplewood/Millburn/West Orange
Bring the kids for an afternoon of hiking, fishing and picnicking, plus exploring the Wildflower Sculpture Park. Our readers love the South Mountain Fairy Trail, a path of tiny detailed houses complete with acorn chairs, moss beds and tree bark roofs.

EDITOR’S PICK: Favorite Independent Shop, The Farmhouse Store

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Westfield
This place is packed with charm from furniture made from reclaimed wood to unique wall hangings by local artisans, hand-crafted jewelry and vintage-inspired giftware. The Farmhouse Store is a treat to visit (The Outlet, too)—and even if you’re just window shopping, you’ll leave with plenty of inspo for your next reno project.

Favorite Amusement Parks

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Six Flags Great Adventure, Jackson Twp.
Sahara Sam’s Oasis, West Berlin
Storybook Land, Egg Harbor Twp.
The Land of Make Believe, Hope
Diggerland, West Berlin

EDITOR’S PICK: Most Fun Escape Room, Escapology

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Garwood
Enjoy being locked in a room for an hour with just your wits and sleuthing savvy to get you out (for anyone with anxiety about small spaces, you’re technically not locked in and can open the door anytime). Seven escape scenarios to choose from ranking in varied levels of difficulty make this a perfect group activity especially if you’re looking for a way to escape the heat of summer.

EDITOR’S PICK: Best Stocked Thrift Shop, Top O’ The Barn

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Califon
Top O’ The Barn has been in the thrift business for more than 35 years and never disappoints with its two-floor array of treasures, including clothing, books, toys and housewares. Half-off sales happen often, which means there are plenty of bargains to snap up.

EDITOR’S PICK: Fave Place to Go on a Rainy Day, iPlay America

iPlay America

Freehold
With plenty of rides, ropes courses, arcade games, laser tag, an indoor boardwalk and events that attract sell-out crowds, iPlay is pretty much kiddie heaven. We love The Freedom Rider, which offers all the thrills of a traditional roller coaster with an added twist: The cars spin around up to 360 degrees. There are also two ropes courses, so kids will feel challenged no matter their age. The TopGolf Swing Suite and a 4-D Theater are also big hits. Make sure to check out the events calendar before you go since iPlay is a hot spot for concerts and meet-and-greets with sports icons, famous YouTubers and more.

EDITOR’S PICK: Cutest Children’s Bookstore, The Curious Reader

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Glen Rock
Located on Rock Road in the heart of downtown Glen Rock, this darling shop boasts an impressive selection of books and a staff that is friendly and great at making recommendations that’ll be a hit with your kids. The reading room in the back of the store organizes books by reading level so you can easily choose the right reads for your kids. And it’s open on Sundays, despite Bergen County’s blue law.

EDITOR’S PICK: Best Rock or Ninja Warrior Gym, High Exposure

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This vibrantly colored gym takes your typical rock walls to the next level. They’ve got rock walls, bouldering, but also have added a giant Nerf arena for the kids to really work off some steam. Plus, it has all the Ninja Warrior fave obstacles, like the salmon ladder, a rock wall and warped walls.

Pick a category below to see more winners:
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Head here to see the winners from our 2018 Ultimate NJ Bucket List.