New Jersey families, you have spoken! We asked you all to weigh in on New Jersey's Besties—the best family businesses and resources in categories that range from best restaurants, parties, activities, and more. With all the great family fun experiences and resources in New Jersey, it was hard to choose just 23, but you were up to the task! Each winner was selected from a competitive crop of 10 nominees in each category.
A special thank you to the Bestie Sponsors, and congratulations to the four lucky voters who were picked at random to enjoy some amazing prizes!
We've grouped the winners into three winning categories: Parenting Resources, Enrichment Programs, and Family Fun.
Without further ado, here is your guide to the best of family-friendly New Jersey, the 2017 New Jersey Besties!
Best Parenting Resources Winners | Best Enrichment Programs Winners
Best Family Fun
Best Farm for Family Fun: Alstede Farms — Chester
You can easily spend an entire day at this family farm, which offers everything from pick-your-own produce to feeding barnyard animals. Warm-weather fun includes strawberry, blueberry, and peach festival weekends where kids can pick their own fruit, enjoy sweet treats, and participate in lots of fun activities, including pony rides, wagon rides, and a bounce house. Fall brings apples and pumpkins, and Santa even pops by during the holiday season for photos and hot cider.
Infinity Climber at the Liberty Science Center. Photo by Mommy Poppins.
Best Museum for Kids: Liberty Science Center — Jersey City
Located adjacent to Liberty State Park, this interactive science center and learning museum boasts four floors of exhibits and experiences for all ages. Just a few include: a kids' lab where budding scientists can conduct experiments, the multi-level Infinity Climber play space, and I Explore, where 2–5-year-olds can send balls whooshing through pneumatic tubes, build and test race cars, play with a giant light wall, and scoop and pour rice to their hearts' content. Kids can even work on a pretend farm—milking cows, feeding pigs—at the Down on the Farm exhibit through Labor Day. See a movie or laser show in LSC's IMAX and 3D theaters, catch an interactive demonstration on topics ranging from rocket science to surgery, or take a MakerLab class in 3D printing. LSC hosts birthday parties and overnight camp-ins, too, and its Cafe Skylines serves kid-friendly fare. It's virtually impossible to cover everything in just one day, so visit often to check out all this museum has to offer.
Best New Business or Family Spot: Magic Sky — Morganville
A newcomer in the crowded field of indoor play spaces, this 4,500-square-foot has already set itself apart from the rest. Tots can don fire gear and hop aboard a play fire truck with working lights and sounds to explore. The always-popular mini supermarket area allows little ones to cruise the aisles with their carts and check-out at pretend-money stuffed cash registers. There’s also a construction-themed sandbox, tree house climbing structure, and a space exhibit where little astronauts can experience what it's like jumping on the moon. You’ll love the free Wi-Fi, modern lounge area and all-inclusive birthday parties that include food, drinks, cupcakes, and favors so all you have to do it show up!
Best Place to See a Family Show: Paper Mill Playhouse — Millburn
Known for its top-notch, Broadway-worthy adult productions, this regional theater also offers a series of wonderful shows just for kids. On stage now is the family-favorite Mary Poppins musical, with performances through June 25. Recent children’s shows have included Seussical, Biscuit, and Pete the Cat. Autism-friendly performances provide a comfortable, judgment-free space welcoming families with children with sensory or developmental disabilities. The on-site F.M. Kirby Carriage House Restaurant even offers a three-course price fixe children’s menu for a pre- or post-show meal.
New Jersey Circus Center. Photo courtesy of the venue.
Best Place to Throw a Party: New Jersey Circus Center — Morganville
Want to wow your birthday kid and their party guests, too? Look no further than this circus training center which specializes in fun and unique parties your kid and their friends will be talking about for years to come. From flipping and flying to juggling and tumbling, birthday parties here under the big top give kids a firsthand look at what it takes to be a little daredevil, clown, or acrobat in the circus. All you have to provide is the food and cake—they do the rest. Party package add-ons include gift bags, performances from the staff, and face painting.
Best Romping Spot: Funtime Junction — Fairfield
Kids begging for something new to do? Check out Funtime Junction. This large indoor play palace includes a soft, two-story playground, a Sesame Street–themed bounce house, arcade games, Laser Tag, and even a helicopter ride. Closed on Mondays, walk-ins are welcome every other day of the week. Pizza, drinks, and snacks are available for purchase. Socks are required, and adults are always free.
Best Theme Park: Six Flags Great Adventure & Safari — Jackson
Thrill seekers come in all sizes, and this amusement park offers tons of great fun for little ones to tweens, teens and adults. From high-flying coasters with menacing loops and twists to kid-friendly rides that spin and twirl a lot closer to the ground, there's no shortage of excitement at this 510-acre theme park. New this year is Justice League: Battle for the Metropolis where you can hop aboard a six-person car and join your favorite superheroes—Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Green Lantern, The Flash, Supergirl, and Cyborg—for an interactive battle to save Metropolis from the evils of Lex Luther and The Joker. Don't miss the animal safari and Hurricane Harbor water park, too.
Best Place for Animal Encounters: Essex County Turtle Back Zoo — West Orange
Celebrating 54 years in operation, Turtle Back Zoo is dedicated to wildlife education and conservation. No matter what the season, it’s a great place to visit with lots of activities happening every day. There’s a stingray touch tank, sea lion pool, seasonal butterfly tent, and reptile center. Black bears, jaguars, wolves, penguins, and a host of farm animals call the zoo home, but not to be missed are the newest members of the zoo family, Turtle Back’s giraffes who arrived last spring and the soon-to-be unveiled lions. Take the zoo train for a scenic ride through the reservation or hop on the carousel for more fun. You can easily turn your trip to zoo into a full day adventure at the South Mountain Reservation. Its South Mountain Complex neighbors include the Treetop Adventure Course with rope bridges, zip lines, and other aerial obstacles, the Richard J. Codey Area for indoor ice skating, a mini golf course, and more.
Favorite Place for Family Dining (tie): Brownstone Diner & Pancake Factory — Jersey City
You can find an average pancake just about anywhere, but for the best pancakes in NJ, look no further than this family-owned and operated diner and its 31 pancake flavors. From Nut ‘n’ Honey (almonds, walnuts, pecans and a drizzle of honey) to the Honky Tonk (peanut butter chips with fresh bananas), the Bournias family has been stacking the thickest, fluffiest and freshest pancakes for more than 40 years. While offerings also including some of the family’s Greek recipes such as made-in-house moussaka, pancakes are never never too far from the menu. Check out their unique pancake wraps, featuring savory fillings wrapped inside of an oversized pancake. It’s like a pancake burrito! Bring your appetite and also your patience, as lines are long, but the pancakes are definitely worth the wait.
Star Tavern thin-crust pizza. Photo courtesy of the pizzeria.
Favorite Place for Family Dining (tie): Star Tavern World Famous Pizzeria — Orange
Forget Chicago and skip the trip to NYC. You’ll find the best thin-crust pizza right here in NJ at this family-friendly bar. Long lines are the norm, especially Friday nights and on the weekends, but while you wait, enjoy the sights and smells emanating from the semi-open kitchen where you can see the army of cooks hand-rolling and topping steel pan after steel pan of pizza pies that are then slid into the waiting hot oven. Old-school arcade games and sports on flat-screen TVs will also help you pass the time until your old-school wooden booth or table is ready. Beyond pizza, there are also wings, salads, pasta, and sandwiches. Follow Star Tavern's social media for upcoming Fydalapie dates, when their popular cheese pies are only $5 a pop for dine-in customers.
Best Parenting Resources Winners | Best Enrichment Program Winners