New York might have the Big Apple, but that’s okay, because New Jersey has the Orange—West Orange, that is—a cosmopolitan suburb that’s home to a surprising number of family-friendly  attractions that are worth a day trip.

Located in the heart of Essex County, you can reach this happening town in under an hour from points in northern and central Jersey. 

And, thankfully, it’s not one of those places that takes an hour to get to for only an hour’s worth of activities. There are many destinations to explore, some on what’s known as the South Mountain Reservation (so they’re a stone’s throw away from each other).

Turtle Back Zoo 
This great zoo just got better with the addition of its sea lion exhibit. Other popular stops include the Walk-Through Aviary, with 500 free-flying parakeets that kids can feed; Prairie Dog Hill, where children can see prairie dogs and move like them in underground tunnels (then pop up and wave to you); a playground that encourages tots to imitate animals; and the Treetop Adventure, a zip-line aerial obstacle course that’s been closed since Sandy but at press time was scheduled to reopen by Labor Day weekend, with an added course for little ones. Start your West Orange journey here, because animals are most active in the morning. After, hop over to…

Essex County Mini Golf Safari 
This 19-hole golf course features an African theme with a life-sized gorilla, hippopotamus, and other African creature replicas. If your family finishes it and is still rarin’ to go, head to…

Richard J. Codey Arena
The ice-skating rinks here offer skate rentals and public sessions on weekends. Call for hours. 

Ready to Leave the Reservation? 

Thomas Edison National Historical Park 
See the actual laboratory and residence where Edison worked and lived. The park underwent a massive renovation in 2009, and visitors can now see two extra floors, an additional machine shop, and a phonograph exhibit. Other cool options for kids include viewing short films at the birthplace of motion picture cameras, taking the family audio tour, and earning a Junior Ranger Badge. Go on National Public Lands Day (9/28)—admission will be free!

Ready to Relax? How about dinner and a movie?

AMC Dine-in Theatres Essex Green 9
Sit in living room-like chairs, peruse the menu, and press a button to summon a server to take your order. Then eat dinner while you watch a movie. 

Now enjoy a quiet ride home while your kids sleep soundly in the car. 

Renée Sagiv Riebling, a freelance writer from Central Jersey, is always on the lookout for new family adventures.