When people think of New Jersey, they think of the mountains to the north, the big cities in the middle, and the boardwalks on the shore. But what about southern New Jersey? If you’ve visited the northern or shore areas of the state, you’ll be surprised to find out just how different the southern section is. It’s almost like an entirely different state!
If you’re seeking a little adventure, lots of history, amazing local eateries, and some spooky haunts, then south Jersey is your travel destination. When you do visit the bottom of the garden state, make sure you don’t leave without doing these eight things.
1. Visit Historic Batsto Village
Batsto Village will make history lovers swoon. Founded in 1766, most of the once-prosperous glass-making town is still standing. An old grocer, outfitted with antique products (not for sale) sits near the enormous mansion. Tours are given at specified times each day, and while the visit is free there is a small fee for mansion tours.
There is a fully operational smithy, worker’s cabins, and an old sawmill that sits on a large river. Stop for a moment before crossing the old bridge to take in the breathtaking views of the lake, and be sure to visit the preservation museum to learn about the natural flora and fauna of the infamous Pine Barrens.
2. Eat at Ducktown Taverns
Situated on a corner in downtown Atlantic City you’ll see a giant green sign featuring a duck smoking a cigar. Below that sign is one of the best eateries in all of southern New Jersey. Despite being one of the only bars open 24/7 in AC, Ducktown promotes a very family-friendly atmosphere during the daytime. In fact, you’ll see most of the ACPD if you stick around long enough–it’s their favorite place to eat.
The menu is out of this world, and the service is terrific. The wait staff makes you feel right at home. If you’re feeling adventurous make sure you order the XXXMan Burger. It’s topped with cayenne peppers, jalapenos, hot sauce, and Swiss cheese. Or if you’re looking for something a little less intense, the seafood pizza is a local favorite.
3. Shop at Historic Smithville Village
If you want an authentic local experience during your visit, shopping at Historic Smithville is a must. Set up just like a quaint village of yesteryear “The Shoppes” feature dozens of small, locally-owned businesses. Taste some delicious local honey at The Honey Pot. Experience authentic international culture at A Taste of Italy and Out of Ireland.
Besides the shops, there is also an adorable train ride for children, plus a merry-go-round and old-fashioned arcade. You can even take brightly-colored paddle boats out on the river for affordable half-hour stints.
4. Pick Blueberries in Hammonton
Hammonton is the blueberry capital of the world, and the vast fields spreading out in every direction doesn’t have anyone wondering why. There are numerous opportunities to pick your own blueberries. Check out some of the local downtown bakeries for a number of sweet blueberry treats–made with local produce!
You could pack this adventure in with your visit to Batsto. The historic village is a short twenty-minute drive from Hammonton’s downtown.
5. Sunflowers in Petersburg
A short drive from Ocean City (“America’s Greatest Family Resort”) you’ll find one of many teeny-tiny towns that make up Upper Township, New Jersey. If you manage your visit during the summer or early fall, you have to stop and grab some sunflowers.
A farmer off the side of Old Tuckahoe Road in Petersburg grows an enormous field of giant sunflowers each year. For $5 you can take pictures with the field and the old truck sitting beside it. For only fifty cents you can grab yourself one of the most beautiful sunflowers you’ve ever seen.
6. Canoe Down The Tuckahoe River
If you’re already in little-known Upper Township, make it a day trip so you can canoe down the Tuckahoe River. The dark waters make up one of the only ‘black water’ rivers in the United States but don’t let the ominous sound deter you. The views along the 27+ miles are well worth the physical exertion.
Take your canoe under the old train bridge and past tiny floating islands that are only visible when the water is at it’s lowest. Travel through the Tuckahoe Preserve and alongside vast marsh inlets. Just make sure you bring bug spray because the mosquitos, gnats, and biting flies tend to be bad in summer.
7. Visit The First Zoo in NJ
Situated in Bridgeton is the Cohanzick Zoo. It’s the oldest zoo in the state, and it’s entirely free to visit. It isn’t particularly large, but even if the animals don’t make the trip worth it for you, the beautiful layout will. A stunning lake with gorgeous native flora takes center stage along unique decorations.
The animals you can expect to see during your visit include surprisingly friendly peacocks, an emu, tigers, and monkeys. Ducks run freely about the zoo and large pot belly pigs lounge in their pens.
8. Visit The Jersey Devil’s Birth Place
Southern New Jersey is rich in folklore and superstition, among which tales of the Jersey Devil dominate. No visit to southern Jersey would be complete without a visit to the birthplace of this epic legend. You could incorporate this into your trip to Smithville, as the two are less than twenty minutes apart.
The Jersey Devil is said to be the youngest child of the Leeds family. In a moment of desperation, Mother Leeds cried out that she hoped her thirteenth child would be a devil. The legend says that the child was, indeed, born a devil and remains to haunt the Pine Barrens to this day.
The road you’ll want to find is Jimmy Leeds, located in Leeds Point, New Jersey. The road itself is something to see. Maybe it’s the legend or the general reputation of the Pine Barrens (yes, this again) but the winding road is quite eerie.
These eight items will make your visit to southern New Jersey authentic, exciting, and one-of-a-kind. With a little something for everyone, there’s no reason not to go!