Forget the New Jersey stereotypes. Central Jersey is a paradise of farms, nature, parks, and history—and just an hour from New York City. It’s the perfect destination for daytrips, weekend getaways, and more.
One of Central Jersey’s best kept secrets is the D&R Canal State Park, a skinny 70-mile-long park that follows the historic Delaware & Raritan Canal and forms a “V” that straddles the entire four county region. The lazy canal offers walking, kayaking, and canoeing while passing by a dozen charming villages such as Frenchtown, Stockton, Lambertville, Kingston, Griggstown, and Millstone.
Upon arriving in New Jersey in 1781, a French officer fighting for American independence described the area as “a land of milk and honey.”
The state earned the “Garden State” nickname thanks to farms famous for Jersey tomatoes, sweetcorn, peaches, blueberries, and more. Proximity to New York made the region a breadbasket to the nation’s booming metropolis during the 1700s and 1800s. Indeed, for one hundred years the D&R Canal transported Jersey fresh produce to market in New Brunswick, Newark, and New York City. Today, you can use the D&R as a pathway to Central Jersey farms, craft beverage makers, history, and recreation.
Farms and Vineyards
Small family farms dominate Central Jersey agriculture today. Terhune Orchards is the biggest draw for visitors seeking to pick their own fruits and vegetables, sip farm-made wines, while enjoying live music and children’s activities. Griggstown Farm offers its famous poultry in a beautiful on-farm store, while nearby Snyders Farm has fresh-picked sweetcorn in the summer and pick your own pumpkins in the fall.
Fans of organic farming will enjoy cheesemakers Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse, Cherry Grove Farm, and Dogwood Farms.
Winery lovers will enjoy visits to Hopewell Valley Vineyards, Old York Cellars, and Unionville Vineyards. All these special places offer indoor and outdoor seating. Check their websites for live entertainment options and schedules. Central Jersey wineries are regularly winning awards for the quality of wines produced by Garden State soils and climate.
Craft Beverages Makers
The Central Jersey region also is enjoying an explosion of craft beverage makers, including Jersey Cyclone Brewing in Somerset, Lone Eagle Brewing in Flemington, and Flounder Brewing, recently relocated in a gorgeous, historic Dutch Barn in Hillsborough. This fall, Flounder will be joined by Bellemarra Distillery at Carriage Farm.
Sourland Spirits in Hopewell takes advantage of the high-quality aquifers of the Sourland Mountain region, one of the largest contiguous forests in New Jersey. The distillery is located on a farm where you can also enjoy a farm-to-table dinner at Brick Farm Tavern, next door. They’ll mix you a fancy cocktail, or sell you a bottle of high-quality gin, whiskey, vodka, or rum.
Some of the earliest farm-to-table restaurateurs got their start in Central Jersey, inspired by the high-quality local meat, poultry, and fresh produce available nearby. In addition to Brick Farm Tavern, you’ll also find Brick Farm Market in Hopewell. In the Princeton area, you’ll love Eno Terra, Jammin’ Crepes, Mediterra, and Teresa’s Caffe. You’ll be amazed at the difference fresh, local food makes to your restaurant experience.
Terhune Orchards is a “can’t miss” visit for kids, but in addition be sure to check out Hidden Spring Lavender in Skillman for its cute alpacas (and fragrant products for mom and dad), while Gorgeous Goat Creamery in Stockton encourages visits with adult and baby goats (as well as goat milk soaps and cheeses). Howell Living History Farm gives families a chance to see farm animals and farming practices of more than a century ago.
Trails for Walking and Biking
The pandemic sparked a new appreciation for the value of outdoor activities in Central Jersey. In addition to the 70 miles of the D&R Canal towpath, some of the best places to walk or bike include the manicured parklands of Duke Farms; the mountain biking trails of Six Mile Run; the educational trails of The Watershed and Fairview Farms; and 44 miles of hiking trails managed by D&R Greenway Land Trust.
Central Jersey offers a lot of great entertainment, including the AA Yankees affiliated Somerset Patriots, top-flight theaters in New Brunswick and Princeton, and museums throughout the region. Nightlife is available in the college towns of New Brunswick and Princeton, of course, but also in Somerville, which is emerging as a foodie destination.
Visiting Central Jersey
The easiest way to visit is by car, a drive that is rarely more than 60 or 90 minutes from New York City. If you’d like to come via public transit, take New Jersey Transit out of New York Penn Station, and make your destination one of these stations:
- New Brunswick, where you can walk to city restaurants, hotels, and arts organizations, or take a short rideshare to a nearby farm or historic site
- Princeton Junction followed by the “Dinky” train to the university town, where you’ll find the highest concentration of farm-to-table restaurants. Try rideshares and bikeshares to get you around the larger area.
- The Raritan Valley Line can bring you to Bridgewater for the Somerset Patriots, to Somerville for a downtown experience, or to Raritan for access to Duke Farms.
If you still need convincing, watch this music video celebration of the farms and natural places of Central Jersey, created last year to replace a canceled music festival. It will inspire you to appreciate the beauty and bounty of the Garden State!