A Dozen Must-Do Holiday and Christmas Experiences for NJ Kids

Visit Santa on the North Pole Express. Photo courtesy of Black River & Western Railroad
12 Holiday and Christmas Experiences for NJ Kids and Families

This year, 2018, has the earliest possible date for Thanksgiving: November 22. What we lost in turkey prep time, we'll make up for in a lovely, elongated holiday season on the road to Christmas and New Year's. In between your Christmas shopping and holiday to-dos, we've assembled our annual list of activities kids will love—and won't cost an arm and a leg. From holiday light shows to breakfast with Santa to Christmas trains, we’ve compiled 12 great memory-making activities for this month.

Check out our full calendar of events and our holiday guide for even more options.

Drive through a display of more than two million lights at Skylands Stadium. Photo courtesy of Skylands

Skylands – Augusta
Friday, November 16 – Sunday, December 30, 2018
Drive through this mile-long light show featuring several light displays set to holiday music. More than two million lights will be shining for your viewing pleasure. New this year are outdoor village activities like photos with Santa, hot chocolate, s'mores, carnival games, and more (for additional fees). Admission to the light show is $20 per carload. 

Holiday-Themed Train Ride – Flemington, Various locations
Friday, November 16 – Sunday, December 30, 2018
All aboard! Whether you're headed to see Santa or want to pick out the perfect Christmas tree, take a nostalgic tragic ride through the Garden State, cuddled up with the ones you love. The magic of Christmas comes alive in a special way on a holiday train, and one popular option departs from Flemington on the Black River & Western Railroad. The North Pole Express (120 minutes) takes passengers on a journey for a visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus and includes complimentary cookies, hot chocolate, and a digital photo on Santa's sleighHalf of the train will visit with Santa and Mrs Claus en route to the North Pole, and the other half of the train will visit with them on the return trip. (No long lines for a visit!) Bonus: the station is in the Liberty Village Outlets, so if you’re still shopping for holiday gifts and outfits, you can kill two birds with one stone on this trip! Reservations required. Fans of the Polar Express, buy tickets early for this great themed ride that leaves from Whippany.

Turtle Back Zoo Holiday Lights Spectacular – West Orange 
Select dates from Friday, November 16 – Monday, December 31, 2018 (closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day)
NJ families have another reason to love Turtle Back Zoo: a free evening holiday light show. More than 50 animal-shaped displays will illuminate the zoo, with several animal exhibits remaining open. Bring non-perishable foods, new/gently used winter coats, and unwrapped toys for donation. If it’s chilly and you want to enjoy holiday lights from the warmth of your car, pack up the kids and a thermos of hot chocolate and drive by some of these amazing light displays. FREE  

Smithville Light Show – Smithville
Thursday, November 22, 2018 – Sunday, January 6, 2019 (From dark to 8:30pm, Thursdays–Sundays)
Every weekend, Historic Smithville Village treats families to holiday activities, many of which are free. You can take a train ride around the beautifully decorated village and watch Christmas trees constructed from more than 50,000 lights float on Lake Meone as holiday music plays in the background. This show can be seen from either side of the village as well as the bridge. 

RELATED: Best Nutcrackers and Holiday Shows for New Jersey Kids

Johnson’s Corner Farm holiday festivities include the Light Show on the Lake. Photo courtesy of the farm

Johnson’s Corner Farm – Medford 
Friday, November 23 – Sunday, December 23, 2018
Pick-your-own season may be over, but there are still a bunch of great reasons to plan an outing to the farm. Johnson's Corner Farm has several holiday activities geared toward families. First, there are musical light show hay rides nightly beginning at 5 p.m. Each hay wagon is outfitted with a canopy of lights that dance to the sounds of Christmas tunes. The farm also hosts a light show on its lake every evening starting at 5 p.m. Families can purchase tickets to enjoy cookie decorating or s’mores roasted over an open pit, and you can catch Santa for an awesome photo op as he sits atop an antique red tractor with visiting children. It’s a perfect Christmas keepsake, and there is no charge to visit Santa. Don’t forget your camera! The farm has a large selection of fresh Christmas trees to choose from, too.

Christmas Underwater at Adventure Aquarium – Camden
Friday, November 23 – Sunday, December 30, 2018
Watch Scuba Santa swim with sharks, stingrays, and sea turtles in Adventure Aquarium's Ocean Realm; see the world's tallest underwater Christmas tree; have milk and cookies with Santa; and much more!

RELATED: Where To Have Breakfast with Santa in New Jersey

Go for a spin on the ice at Bergen County’s Winter Wonderland at Van Saun Park. Photo courtesy of the organizers

Bergen County’s Winter Wonderland at Van Saun Park – Paramus 
Friday, November 23, 2018 – Tuesday, January 1, 2019
Throughout December, Van Saun Park transforms into a Winter Wonderland. For the price of one general admission ticket ($16, including skate rentals), visitors can enjoy open-air ice skating, fun activities, the Bergen Express Train Ride around the zoo, Santa visits, admission to the zoo, unlimited carousel rides, and more. There's also a synthetic skating rink for kids, which is great for beginners because it has more friction than regular ice. Kids 3 and under are free. 

The Winter Walk in Taylor Park – Millburn
Saturday, November 24, 2018 –  Thursday, January 24, 2019
Take a magical evening stroll through Taylor Park, which will be decked out with twinkling lights and a wonderland of handmade snowflakes. The footbridge will be glowing with a canopy of lights, and bring your camera to take photos with an eight-foot polar bear statue.

Breakfast with Santa, Camden Children’s Garden – Camden 
Saturdays, December 8-22, 2018
You can find breakfasts with Santa everywhere, from farms to the YMCA to Applebee’s. But if you’re looking for a day trip/Santa visit combo event, check out what’s planned at the Camden Children’s Garden. For $26 per person (or $20/person for members), enjoy a catered lunch with Santa and craft. Tickets includes admission to the garden, a ride on the Garden Carousel, and a ride on the Arrow River Train. Reservations must be made in advance. 

RELATED: Polar Express and Christmas Trains for New Jersey Kids

Decorate a gingerbread house at Liberty Hall Museum's annual holiday event. Photo by Ben Gancsos/courtesy of the museum

Liberty Hall Museum Gingerbread House Workshop – Union
Saturdays, December 8-15, 2018
Making a gingerbread house is super fun, but... they collapse, they’re sticky, and more candy ends up on the floor than stuck on the house. Don’t go it alone this year. Take your candy- and craft-loving crew to the gingerbread house workshop at The Liberty Hall Museum in Union. Kids can make their own gingerbread house with the candy and icing that are provided. Sessions are at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Reservations A

New Jersey Ballet’s The Nutcracker – Morristown 
Select dates, Friday, December 14 – Thursday, December 27, 2018; Various locations
Who doesn’t love watching Clara’s adventures in the Land of the Sweets this time of year? There are several productions of The Nutcracker in New Jersey, from traditional stagings to a hip-hop version. One especially good production is that of the New Jersey Ballet, which boasts gorgeous costumes and exciting special effects. Children will be able to identify with the cast of amateur and semi-professional student dancers, and kids and parents alike will be wowed by seasoned professionals from the NJ Ballet. Accompanied by a live orchestra, the ballet is performed in four venues throughout the state, including the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown.

Sea of Lights – Point Pleasant 
Fridays and Saturdays, December 14-28, plus Wednesday and Thursday, December 26-27, 2018
We love Jenkinson’s Boardwalk for unforgettable summer fun, but don’t miss what’s happening at the aquarium in December. Jenkinson’s Sea of Lights boasts beautiful indoor light displays as well as crafts, holiday treats, pictures with Santa & friends (character appearances), games,  and more. The arcade and sweet shop will be open for even more fun. Runs from 6-9pm.

Updated for 2018.

Liberty Hall Museum
1003 Morris Ave.
07083 Union , NJ 40° 40' 46.0056" N, 74° 13' 41.7072" W
New Jersey
Turtle Back Zoo
560 Northfield Avenue
07052 West Orange , NJ 40° 46' 9.5196" N, 74° 16' 51.4632" W
New Jersey
Van Saun County Park
216 Forest Ave.
07652 Paramus , NJ 40° 55' 51.9204" N, 74° 3' 4.5972" W
New Jersey
Mayo Performing Arts Center
100 South St.
07960 Morristown , NJ 40° 47' 39.3756" N, 74° 28' 40.656" W
New Jersey
Black River Railroad - Flemington Station
60 Stangl Road
08822 Flemington , NJ 40° 30' 9.6084" N, 74° 51' 45.846" W
New Jersey
RVCC Planetarium
118 Lamington Rd.
08876 Branchburg , NJ 40° 37' 1.0128" N, 74° 41' 42.2376" W
New Jersey
Camden Children's Garden
3 Riverside Dr.
08103 Camden , NJ 39° 56' 39.6888" N, 75° 7' 49.854" W
New Jersey
Johnson's Corner Farm
133 Church Rd.
08055 Medford , NJ 39° 55' 12.36" N, 74° 51' 2.88" W
New Jersey
Historic Smithville
615 E Moss Mill Rd.
08205 Smithville , NJ 39° 29' 43.656" N, 74° 27' 40.1436" W
New Jersey
Jenkinson's Boardwalk
300 Ocean Ave Pt.
08742 Pleasant Beach , NJ 40° 5' 41.2044" N, 74° 2' 11.4936" W
New Jersey
Ocean City First Night
825 Boardwalk & Moorlyn Terrace
08226 Ocean City , NJ 39° 16' 37.4124" N, 74° 34' 20.0388" W
New Jersey
Taylor Park
100 Main Street
07041 Millburn , NJ 40° 43' 18.5124" N, 74° 18' 20.2824" W
New Jersey