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New Jersey’s East Coast Cool

You probably think you know New Jersey.

After all, it’s more or less the gatekeeper of the Big Apple. But if you’ve only passed through on the way to New York, you’re missing out. Sure, Jersey City is a must-stop thanks in part to its handy proximity to the Statue of Liberty, but this is a state additionally distinguished by its 130 miles of captivating coastline.

Seaside towns like Cape May and Ocean City serve up sand, surf and sun galore, while Atlantic City boasts legendary gaming in addition to its beautiful beaches. Further inland, Princeton offers the chance to walk the hallowed halls of one of the world’s most esteemed universities.

Jersey City

Sitting across the Hudson from New York, Jersey City offers visitors so many blockbuster attractions they won’t ever feel the need to cross the river. The 1,212-acre Liberty State Park provides jaw-dropping views of the Manhattan skyline from lovely Liberty Walk, a two-mile promenade that groups will appreciate having time to wander. Leaders may even want to schedule a full day at the park; other sites there include the 300,000-square-foot Liberty Science Center.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Peggy Kelly, director of tourism marketing for Hudson County Cultural and Heritage Affairs, Tourism Development. “It has the largest planetarium in the Western Hemisphere and a continually growing museum. They also have themed After Dark events, where it’s like a big party throughout the whole museum. That would be a great event for groups to attend.”

The park also notably features ferry service. “Many tourists think that they have to approach the Statue of Liberty from the New York side, but you don’t,” Kelly said. “The Liberty State Park ferry drops you off at Ellis Island. You look around, and then you get back on the ferry. They take you over to the statue, and it’s a nice morning or afternoon.”

Before heading out of Jersey City, Kelly recommends groups take a tour of Mana Contemporary, a massive, beautifully realized arts center featuring visual and performing arts exhibitions and events. And the recently established Newark Avenue Pedestrian Plaza, bustling with independent shops, eateries and a concert stage, would be an ideal place to drop groups off for time on their own.

Ocean City

A classic Jersey Shore destination located on a barrier island in Cape May County, “America’s Greatest Family Resort” is best known for its eight miles of pristine, lifeguard-protected beaches and a delightful 2.5-mile-long boardwalk. Restaurant and boutiques, great for browsing, line the traditional wooden walkway, along with two amusement parks for visitors who enjoy adrenaline-fueled pleasures.

Still, Ocean City “isn’t just the beach and boardwalk,” according to Michele Gillian, executive director of Ocean City’s Chamber of Commerce. Group travelers can get out on the water aboard Pirate Voyages’ Sea Dragon, a custom-built, buccaneer-themed vessel. And Beachy Tiki offers private charters on its 40-foot tiki boat. “Both of these companies provide opportunities to experience the beautiful back bays of Ocean City that I think a lot of people haven’t seen,” Gillian said.

According to Gillian, Ocean City’s rookery, located on a salt marsh island below the Route 52 causeway, is becoming increasingly popular with travelers who routinely spot herons, egrets, ibis and more there.

“We have hundreds of people now who come to watch the birds from the bridge,” she said. “You can see the whole cycle from when the eggs are laid, to when the babies leave the nest. It’s wonderful!”

Other options in Ocean City include a guided beach walk at the northern end of the island, which should be arranged through the city. Groups learn about the ecology of the area, with topics including beach replenishment and ocean stewardship. And the folks at the Ocean City Historical Museum, a treasure that traces nearly 150 years of the community’s history, can accommodate groups with an introductory chat or guided tour.

Cape May

With some 600 lovingly restored Victorian structures, and beaches dappled with “Cape May diamonds,” the village of Cape May may be one of New Jersey’s prettiest places. And it’s extremely group-friendly, offering customizable step-on tours, trolley tours and walking tours led by Cape May MAC. The tours typically visit not only the city’s historic district but also sights like the Cape May Lighthouse. Located in Cape May Point State Park, it dates to 1859 and is open to the public.

The park is a great place to spy on feathered friends, according to Diane Wieland, director of the Cape May County Department of Tourism, who noted that the area is “known as one of the top three birding hotspots in North America.”

“The other thing is the annual monarch migration,” she said. “The trees and plants become filled with butterflies. It’s spectacular! If groups want to see something they’ll never see anywhere else, that’s in late September and early October.”

For travelers looking for low-key relaxation, the area provides a wealth of opportunities. Beachcombing for “Cape May diamonds,” bits of quartz that have migrated from Pennsylvania down the Delaware River to the Cape May shoreline, is a favorite activity. Groups can also take wildlife cruises with Cape May Whale Watcher, too, and private charters are available.

Leaders should leave time for a visit to the Harriet Tubman Museum, which explores the abolitionist’s time in Cape May.

“In 1850 and possibly 1851, Harriet Tubman worked here in the tourism industry,” Wieland said. “There are reports she worked in Congress Hall in the laundry room, and in restaurants. She was raising money to help free her family on the eastern shore, so it’s a really unique story.”

Atlantic City

The undisputed king of casino gaming east of the Mississippi, Atlantic City dishes out everything from slots, poker rooms and keno to baccarat pits, race books and specialty table games in luxurious casino resorts that also feature fine dining and live entertainment. But groups will discover there’s more to enjoy in A.C. once they leave the comfy confines of their lodging. Boardwalk Hall makes a fine introduction to the city, according to Heather Colache, tourism account director for Visit Atlantic City.

“We have the largest musical instrument in the world, a pipe organ called the Midmer-Losh, and it’s located in historic Boardwalk Hall,” Colache said. “They do free tours of it and free 20-minute concerts. I think there are 50,000 pipes in the walls — some are as big as a redwood tree trunk, and some are the size of a pencil. We have people come from all over the world just to see it.”

Boardwalk Hall is also home to the Atlantic City Historical Museum, filled with fascinating A.C.-related ephemera, from Miss America gowns to a life-sized Mr. Peanut. And for groups with art lovers, Noyes Arts Garage offers guided gallery tours, hands-on workshops, and sit-down or boxed lunches.

After groups have worked up a thirst, Colache suggests a stop at The Seed: A Living Beer Project, an organic brewery and distillery.

“They do tours and tastings,” she said, “and the owners are very involved, so anytime you book a group into there, they’ll take the time to talk to everybody. They don’t serve food, but we could arrange to have food trucks come.”


Thanks to its celebrated Ivy League neighbor and a dramatic history that predates the nation’s founding, Princeton gives visitors an opportunity to explore more world-class attractions than many communities several times its size. Groups might want to start out with a visit led by Princeton Tour Company to some of the city’s most engaging sites, including spots frequented by such luminaries as Albert Einstein, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Robert Oppenheimer.

“Princeton Tour Company gives such an entertaining tour,” said Hal English, president and CEO of the Princeton-Mercer Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They offer different themes, so you can choose a university tour, or historic sites or even a night-time ghost tour. And they love groups!”

Visitors can immerse themselves in more history at Morven Museum and Garden. Built in the 1750s by Richard Stockton, who would go on to sign the Declaration of Independence, Morven also once served as the New Jersey Governor’s Mansion. Boxed lunches and docent-led tours are available. Meanwhile, Revolutionary War buffs won’t want to miss Princeton Battlefield State Park, site of General George Washington’s first victory against the British Regulars on the field.

Reenactments of the fierce January 3, 1777, clash take place annually, with other special events scheduled on occasions like Memorial Day and July 4th, though look for programming to ramp up as the U.S. Semiquincentennial creeps closer. Leaders also might want to schedule a 2.5-hour Revolutionary Princeton tour for their groups, which includes area sites themed around the battle.