Welcome to year one, moms and dads! You’re officially “in it”—and even though you’ll have quite a few occasions where you’ll want time to fly by (e.g., those first few nights your infant sleeps in his/her crib for the first time), remember, this year will be over in a flash. So, on top of all the daily snuggle fests and snapshots of motor milestones, do your best to make the most of these first 12 months with fun activities and family outings.
We’ve rounded up some of the best things to do with your infant, whether it’s a day trip to the park or a visit to one of Jersey’s best themed eateries to practice eating those solids.
Read on for 12 things to do in New Jersey before your baby turns 1 (plus one to grow on)!
For new parents, the cabin fever starts well before your little one has his or her first actual fever. That’s why an adventure outdoors is almost always on the have-to-have it list once your newborn gets cleared to be out in public. New Jersey is home to some of the most beautiful parks and playgrounds, and the pathways are pristine—the perfect places to break in those new wheels. As soon as fall rolls in, Mother Nature shows her best side, and the foliage is a great sight for your little color-craving cubs. Infants can see red and green best in their first six months, so hikes taken in the company of towering trees with vibrant red and green leaves are total eye candy!
I lucked out, because during my son’s first year of life, my grandma worked at our local library. We could knock two things off our to-do list: spending time with GG and getting our read on, by paying her a visit during her lunch break. Though most storytimes are suggested for children 2+, there’s certainly nothing wrong with encouraging a D.E.A.R. (drop everything and read) habit early on. Your baby will be super excited to hear his or her favorite stories read aloud by someone who isn’t mommy or daddy (I’m pretty sure my son has been over my Pout-Pout Fish voice for months), and you’ll love the change of scenery.
Littles love the light wall at Liberty Science Center. Photo by Michelle Vames
First Museum Visit
One of my favorite places to visit as a Jersey kid was Imagine That!!! And now that it’s newly renovated, I cannot wait to take my baby boy back there. If he’s anything like his mama, he’ll be cozying up to the play cash register in no time. There are tons of baby-friendly children’s museums in NJ to check out, and your little one doesn’t need to be a connoisseur of art and culture or have an appreciation for the finer things in life to have a blast there. From interactive exhibits to soft, padded tot spots where soon-to-be toddlers and crawlers can come to play, the sensory stimulants are in no short supply. And with babies, anything ‘lit’ is totally legit! Bring your budding engineers and future scientist sidekicks to the Liberty Science Center, and let them tinker with the life-sized Lite Bright. You won’t be sorry!!
While it’s still hard to come by “Crybaby” matinee showings for teeny ones in New Jersey, a drive-in movie is certainly an option! As the state’s only operating drive-in theater, the Delsea gets its fair share of family clientele during the spring, summer, and early fall months. The theater almost always has a PG or G-rated feature in rotation, and despite the movie starting later at night (when the sun goes down), it still beats bringing your babe to a crowded cinema. Just arrive early to find a good parking spot, have dinner as a family, and once the film begins, let your baby watch until they fall fast asleep. The speaker volume might have to be turned down, but that’s a small price to pay for a wonderful night out as a squad! (And no one will be bothered by a mid-movie diaper change.) You can also check out NJ's many summer movies under the stars for another low-key (and free!) option.
First Beach Trip
Babies love the beach, and the Jersey Shore has everything to make your bathing beauties wiggle and giggle. Bring all your sun and sand essentials, an umbrella, beach towels, snacks, and swim diapers, and stake out a spot at any one of NJ’s free beaches, or spend time walking the boardwalks at places like Point Pleasant Beach, Asbury Park, or Wildwood. My son hates the sun (thanks to his similarly porcelain-skinned mama), so we held off on the beach until this summer. Otherwise, we would have lotioned him up at 6 months, per our doctor’s recommendation, and hit the shore. Just remember to keep your water babies well hydrated, buoyant (life vests are a must!), and in the shade for the majority of the day.
First Splish Splash
The beach is great, but going down the shore isn’t the only option in NJ. There are several independent spray parks in the state, and a sprinkling of others attached to larger local playgrounds—so babies have the option to play in and out of the water, if they so wish. And if you do have a little guppy who is eager to try out his/her fins, there are plenty of swim schools in NJ. They’re all mommy/daddy-and-me format, too, so baby never has to feel like a fish out of water.
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First PYO Experience
If you’ve got a Garden State baby, then a pick-your-own outing just HAS to be on your bucket list for the first year. Before you go, call ahead or check the farm’s Facebook page to make sure crops are still plentiful and what, specifically, is available on any given day. From blueberries to strawberries, fresh blooms to peaches, your little sweetie will eat all of it up! Just bring some napkins and wet wipes, as things are bound to get a little messy when juicy fruits are involved!
Van Saun Park is home to the Bergen County Zoo, where admission is free for kids under 3.
First Animal Encounter
Chances are, 75 percent of the books you’re reading to your baby right now involve a barn, zoo, farm, or a forest and all of their furry and feathered inhabitants. Well, during your peanut’s basically has his/her pick of petting zoos, farms, and aquariums to see ‘anima’ (as my son calls them) IRL. Places like Brookhollow’s Barnyard ask guests to use play shovels to feed the farm family—so whether your little chickadee is a more independent waddler or still likes to be carried by mama or dada, it’s a super-safe and controlled experience either way. And for any parents who haven’t yet been to the Turtle Back Zoo, there are just as many opportunities for your babe to bond with animals from the sidelines: stroller-bound boos can still be entertained by all the wildlife around them, while more adventurous tikes can try out the touch tank or watch their older sibs feed giraffes and/or goats.
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A giant T-rex is no match for a little tyke at Field Station: Dinosaurs.
First Day with Dinosaurs
My son is a reptile fiend already. He has six turtle stuffed animals and loves anything dinosaur-related. So, when we took him to Field Station Dinosaurs in Leonia last summer, we all expected we’d have a roaring good time—and we did! Babies 1 and under are free, so that’s reason number one to go. And once you’re inside the prehistoric compound, your little ones can roam free just like the dinosaurs did or sit back in their strollers and watch a mini theater show involving costumed carnivores.
First Play Space
Introducing your baby to other babies and helping him/her get along well with peers is a big part of year one for parents. And there are plenty of ways for you and your mini to make new friends. Since my son was born, I’ve connected with quite a few new mamas on the Peanut app and scheduled meetups for us all to get together, share stories, and socialize the kids. In New Jersey, there is a plethora of indoor play spaces to congregate.
First Holiday Fun
No matter what month your baby is born, it's never too early to start family traditions. Cider donuts and watered-down apple cider are certainly the way to start any pumpkin patch outing, followed by pumpkin carving and playing with the slimy pumpkin guts. And once their first Halloween comes around, figuring out their costume probably rivals the anxiety you experienced trying to narrow down their newborn going-home outfit. Winter opportunities are nearly endless what with meeting Santa, shopping for decorations, and, of course, all the holiday light shows. Springtime fun includes visits with the Easter Bunny (including train rides), and Fourth of July brings countless carnivals, fairs, feasts, fests and firework displays.
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There’s just something about a fresh new haircut that makes us feel all shiny and new - ready to take on the world. Now, we can’t say that the under-1 crowd feels us on that, but parents of those with lush locks can agree that seeing their babes getting snipped and shaped is absolutely adorable. An unmistakable add to the baby book, for sure! I’ve been to three kid-friendly salons in New Jersey in the last year alone, and each one of them has done wonders with my baby’s enviable blonde surfer hair. What I love about these children’s haircut haunts are all the sweet vehicles that my boy can sit in while he gets cut, and the special packages available to celebrate the very first haircut appointment. I couldn’t wait to show off my little guy’s certificate and commemorative lock of baby hair at his first birthday bash!
First Birthday Party
Never thought you’d make it here, right?! Well, congratulations!! Your first year as parents is done, and your tiny human is now one! Whether you want to throw a small party at home or go all-out with a fete your friends and fam will never forget, you’ll make an amazing first impression either way! We’ve rounded up a great group of first birthday spots, so start imagining that first birthday photoshoot right now—if it doesn’t involve cake, in any iteration, you’re doing it wrong. Kidding, of course—whatever you’ve been dreaming of, mama, you’re the visionary!
Unless noted, photos by author