The global health crisis has canceled 2020 summer vacations for thousands of New Jerseyans, making now the perfect time to be a tourist in your own backyard. Hop in a car with your family or companion and discover the farms, historic sites, and pathways that make Central Jersey one of the great agritourism and heritage tourism destinations in the nation.
The folks at Discover Central New Jersey have curated a handy online map with lots of suggestions for places to visit. You can build a terrific daytrip every week this summer. Bookmark our website and return regularly for staycation inspiration.
Here are some of our favorite ideas:
The D&R Canal State Park: Central Jersey’s Best Kept Secret
We’re surprised how many locals haven’t heard about the D&R Canal State Park, or if vaguely aware, they don’t realize it is 70 miles long and the second-most visited New Jersey State Park.
The canal and park form a “V” shape to define the Central Jersey region. A western “feeder” canal wing stretches from Frenchtown south along the Delaware River to Trenton, while an eastern “main” canal travels from Trenton to New Brunswick. For nearly the entire length, there is a well-maintained crushed stone “towpath” that is ideal for walkers and bicyclists.
There may be hundreds of locations to enter the park, and nearly every stretch gives you water views and access to abundant wildlife, such as turtles, deer, great blue herons, woodpeckers, and songbirds. You could spend the entire summer walking every mile and stopping off to visit the cute canal villages such as Frenchtown, Stockton, Lambertville, Kingston, Rocky Hill, and East Millstone. Canoe and Kayak rentals are available during the health crisis at Princeton and Griggstown.
Take the pathway less taken with D&R Greenway
D&R Greenway Land Trust has preserved 21,000 acres of farmlands and forest throughout Central Jersey, most of which offer well-maintained yet lightly traveled trails.
One of the most popular is St. Michaels Farm Preserve, over 400 acres of farm fields and pathways on the site of a former orphanage in Hopewell. The Greenway Meadows in Princeton offers wildflower fields and a poetry trail that are particularly beautiful in midsummer. Both St. Michaels and Greenway Meadows offer innovative audio tours that can be enjoyed on-site via phone app or from home on your computer.
Nothing beats the view of the Delaware River at Goat Hill in Lambertville, at the end of an easy family hike. If you want to explore Central Jersey’s largest forest, the Sourlands, D&R Greenway trailheads in Hopewell are located along roads less traveled. Find more preserves at DRGreenway.org.
Discover the Bounty and Beauty of Our Farms
Rather quietly, the Garden State continues to earn its nickname year after year. In fact, the pandemic has brought a resurgence to on-farm markets. Be sure to check out our comprehensive listing.
Depending on the season, families can enjoy “U-pick” experiences of blueberries, strawberries, flowers, apples, pears, and pumpkins at farms like Snyder’s, Terhune, and Von Thun. Check farm websites to see if they are offering any socially-distanced entertainment on the day of your visit.
Duke Farms, on the former Duke Estate in Hillsborough, combines agriculture education with parklands walking and bike rentals that have earned the nickname “New Jersey’s Central Park.” On weekends they also host a farmer’s market, and most days you can visit nearby Norz-Hill Farm for open-air shopping.
Wherever your staycation day-trip may take you, consider bringing a cooler with ice packs to store fresh farm products you find, and make a point of choosing an on-farm market as your last stop of the day. You can find local meat, poultry, baked goods, vegetables of all kinds, and just-picked fruit. On weekends, Hidden Spring Lavender in Skillman offers a wide range of lavender products as well as friendly alpacas for the kids to enjoy.
Another way to enjoy Central Jersey’s bounty is through one of our farm-to-table restaurants. With indoor dining still closed, many offer outdoor dining, take-out, or both—such as Eno Terra and Mediterra in the Princeton area, and Brick Farm Market and Tavern in Hopewell.
Craft Beverage and Wine Makers with Outdoor Tastings and Dining
A changing regulatory environment has fostered an explosion of craft beer making and distilling, to go along with a decades-old tradition of New Jersey winemaking. The reopening of outdoor dining has led to alfresco wine tastings amid the vines Hopewell Valley Vineyards, Old York Cellars, and Unionville Vineyards—but make sure to check websites to confirm hours and whether reservations are required or recommended.
Sourland Mountain Spirits, New Jersey’s Farm Distillery, offers outdoor cocktails overlooking farm fields. Ironbound Hard Cider and Farm offered a gorgeous outdoor “Cider Garden” dining area long before the pandemic and has expanded the farming of vegetables on site.
Craft breweries are setting up outdoor tastings and dining, including Harvest Moon in New Brunswick and Triumph Brewing in Princeton. Reservations recommended. Foodies may also enjoy the growing outdoor dining and craft beverage scene in downtown Somerville.
Scenic Drives You Won’t Forget
The “Sunday Drive” is making a comeback in 2020. Once a staple of the mid Twentieth Century when family cars were something of a novelty, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it the return of the family drive any day of the week.
Central Jersey offers some remarkably scenic roadways. The Millstone Valley National Scenic Byway and the Delaware River National Scenic Byway are the only two nationally-designated byways in New Jersey, and both will take you through quaint villages along the D&R Canal as well as their namesake rivers. They’ll also take you near some terrific on-farm markets like Griggstown and Bobolink.
Although not a designated “byway,” Country Road 579 between Trenton and Bloomsbury is one of the prettiest drives in New Jersey, taking you through quaint villages such as Sergeantsville, Quakertown, and Pittstown, with nice side trips to Hopewell, Lambertville, Frenchtown, Milford, and Clinton, and farms nearby such as Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse and Ironbound. And Red Barn Milk Company along the route in Ringoes makes the ideal stop for farm-to-table burgers and ice cream.
A Rich History You Can Enjoy Outdoors
Wherever you go on a Central Jersey day trip, you’ll be surrounded by a rich history that can be appreciated safely outdoors without stepping foot into a museum. Visit the park where Washington crossed the Delaware or where the battles of Trenton and Princeton were fought. Walk the campus of Princeton University, where the Continental Congress was first held at Nassau Hall. Stroll the grounds of Rockingham, Washington’s last Headquarters at the end of the Revolutionary War.
Visit the Red Mill in Clinton to learn our early industrial history, simply by walking the grounds and getting your own selfie in front of the most photographed historic site in New Jersey. Likewise at Prallsville Mills in Stockton, where you can also learn about the engineering marvel that is the D&R Canal.
Too often, we save local tourist sites for the entertainment of out-of-town visitors. Decades from now, when you tell your grandchildren about the disruptive events of 2020, wouldn’t it be great if you could also tell them about the special Central Jersey places you discovered for yourself during that same historic summer?
We’d love to hear about your daytrips this summer. Drop us a line and tell us what you discovered in Central Jersey.