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New Jersey is beautiful

© 2008 by Bonnie McKenna
All Rights Reserved

It is not an oxymoron to say New Jersey is beautiful. Sadly, when you think of New Jersey, all that comes to mind is heavy industry, train yards and a big airport. But, just a short distance from the airport is a land of green rolling hills, forested areas and the famous Jersey shore. The state is beautiful and believe-it-or-not, it is a great place for a family vacation. Recently, on a trip to New Jersey, I discovered this hidden gem of a family vacation area. With gas prices sky high and the cost airline tickets going higher taking a road trip vacation is almost a thing of the past. If you still want to travel out of the state and want to find an area to stay for a week or so that has variety of attractions for adults and kids and is not too expensive, the search can be daunting. Look no further, New Jersey is the place to go.

Trying to decide what to do first is the biggest challenge. With a handful of brochures, I got from the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism I drove south, ‘down the shore' as they say in New Jersey, to the shores along Monmouth and Ocean counties to begin my vacation. I found that there are numerous places to stay; from the sleek modern boutique hotels, to high-end B and Bs, to house rentals. Strangely, and delightfully so, there are no familiar chain hotels with flashing neon signs to be found. There is something to fit every family need and pocket book. After finding a convenient place to stay, I looked over all my brochures and decided to choose a variety of activities. I chose to take in the boardwalks, famous old lighthouses, history, farms, and a zoo. New Jersey is famous for its boardwalks. Boardwalks are synonymous with Atlantic City, but I was headed to the family-fun boardwalks of Jenkinson's at Point Pleasant Beach then to Casino Pier at Seaside Heights.
Both boardwalks are owned by the same family; they are dedicated to safe, clean family fun. I found it strange to pay a nominal fee for entry on to the boardwalks and beaches. The money is used for the upkeep of the beaches and the salary of the life guards. Jenkinson’s boardwalk is a colorful array of arcades, restaurants, midway rides, and an aquarium. Point Pleasant Beach, just below the boardwalk, is known for some of the finest fishing on the east coast. The Casino Pier, features arcade games, a classic amusement pier, roof-top miniature golf and a newly renovated water park with all kinds of exciting water attractions. Another special feature of Casino Pier is the antique carousel. The carousel is 98 years old, a museum piece to be sure. There are 58 animals, most of them are horses, but the carousel is classified as a menagerie since it has two camels, a lion, a tiger and a donkey. The music is provided by an old Wurlitzer military pipe band-organ with a booming bass drum and clanging brass cymbals; nostalgia for sure. New Jersey has 11 lighthouses and 2 lenses. The three light houses I visited were Sandy Hook, Twin Lights and Barnegat Lighthouse. Each lighthouse is very different and worth visiting. The Sandy Hook Lighthouse was built in 1764 to guide ships toward the entrance to New York Harbor. The area around Sandy Hook is known as Fort Hancock. The fort, closed in 1974, is now a tourist attraction that gives visitors a glimpse into life on an Army post. The Twin Lights of Navesink was built in 1828.
The Twin Lights was the first lighthouse to use the Fresnel lens. The Fresnel lens is much thinner than convex lenses, thus passing more light and allowing lighthouses to be visible over much longer distances. The south tower received a lens of the ‘first-order’ and the north tower a lens of the ‘second-order.’ The lenses are classified into seven sizes called orders. These lenses are still state-of-the-art today and remain in use. Barnegat Lighthouse was considered one of the most important ‘change of course’ points along the eastern seacoast for vessel sailing to New York from Europe. The lens of the Barnegat light is of the ‘first-order.’ The lens is on display in the Barnegat Lighthouse Museum. The beehive-shaped Fresnel lens is six feet in diameter, ten feet high and is formed with more than 1,000 separate glass prisms and twenty four bulls-eye lenses mounted in a brass frame. Do not miss this quaint area of the shore.
For a look into what life was like on a farm in the 1890s, I visited Longstreet Farm. The staff at the farm dress in period clothing to give visitors a real sense of the period. Longstreet is a working farm, the plowing, planting, harvesting, cleaning, and cooking all use methods and customs of the 19th century. Visitors are invited to give a hand milking the cows, grinding corn for the animals, and cooking on a wood stove. The activities for children are free. Anrated as a museum, by appointment only.

I am an animal lover. A fascinating and unusual place to visit is the Popcorn Park Zoo. ‘No job is too big, too small or too risky,’ represents the commitment that the Popcorn Park Zoo has for the care of animals big and small. The zoo was established in 1977 as a refuge other historical place of interest is the very unusual and interesting Georgian-style Covenhoven house, in Freehold, New Jersey.
I went to look at the interior architecture and interior treatments of the upstairs bedroom. The walls were painted in a rare, for the time, Romanesque/Greek motif; the original paint remains vibrant today. But, the house claims it fame as the command post of the British General Clinton before the battle of Monmouth in June 1778. Today it is opefor abused, abane past the zoo was home to an elephant saved from euthanasia in New Mexico. The Popcorn zoo also has a program to permanently care for dogs and cats that have been abandoned or aredoned, exploited, injured, handicapped and elderly exotic wildlife from circuses and zoos, farms and pets. In the early days of the zoo, popcorn was given to the visitors to feed the animals; eventually, the name popcorn became synonymous with the zoo. Today, the zoo has palette of exotic birds, tigers, lions, cougars, camels, goats, cats, numerous chickens and turkeys. In th not adoptable.
As I was driving along the beautiful New Jersey turnpike I saw a sign for Asbury Park; I immediately thought of The Boss – Bruce Springsteen. I decided to find out what was happening today in Asbury Park. A lot is happening. The Stone Pony is still going strong featuring entertainers dreaming of making it big someday. The really big news is the total rehabilitation of the Asbury boardwalk. The redevelopment project includes retail, entertainment, restaurants and condominiums all keeping with the theme of this historic area. Your stay in New Jersey can also be a gastronomic extravaganza. On the boardwalks you can find all the traditional ‘shore' fare of hotdogs, hamburgers and fried seafood. However, it is the many elegant restaurants that will capture your taste buds. Many of the restaurants offer sample plates of their signature dishes. I found this a perfect way to really get a feel for what that particular restaurant offered; I was never disappointed. With a new appreciation of New Jersey, it was difficult to drive north back through the train yards moving the commerce of our nation and the airport sending people all over the world and me home to Texas. For information on all New Jersey has to offer, go to www.visitnj.org.