Best of New Jersey for Kids and Families: Morris County

Best of New Jersey Morris County

Our friends over at NYC Mommy Poppins have a fantastic monthly feature where a different NYC neighborhood is highlighted each month. Here on this side of the Hudson we wanted to get in on the action too, Jersey-style, of course. So starting this month, Mommy Poppins New Jersey will be running our own monthly version entitled “The Best of New Jersey for Kids and Families”, which will be divided up by county. First up, Morris County, where I have spent the last 15 years (nine as a mom) exploring and enjoying all that this great area has to offer. So much good stuff here that it was hard to narrow it down to only the Top 25 of Morris County.

Arts and Culture – There's no need to always hop that train or bus into NYC to bring culture to your kiddos. Lucky for us in Morris County, there are some great local venues right in our neighborhoods.

  1. Mayo Performing Arts Center 
    In Morristown, a wonderful local theater called Mayo Performing Arts Center hosts over 200 performances per year, many of  which are reasonably priced kid-friendly shows. We've seen such fun artists as Dan Zanes, Ralph's World, Dirty Sock Fun Time Band and have been able to experience the Sleeping Beauty Ballet, NJ Tap Ensemble and a variety of  other dance shows, as well as the famous Pinkalicious musicial. This family-friendly venue is easy to access from major North Jersey highways and has convenient parking, which is a huge a plus for families with kids!
  2. Washington's Headquarters 
    This is one of the twelve National Parks located in New Jersey and we've found this Morristown historical gem to be both a fun and educational experience for kids. At the Washington's Headquarters Museum, there's a movie that plays on a constant loop about the long cold winter during the revolutionary war. It will have your children appreciating their freedom (and their warm beds for sure!)  Also, the tour of the Ford Mansion is very enjoyable for school- aged kids and up (read: not the most toddler friendly. Or at least for my toddler who was having a tantrum because we had to stay WITH the group and not wander around the house on our own).
  3. Jockey Hollow 
    Make sure you allow extra time to drive down to Jockey Hollow, a great follow-up to Washington's Headquarters.  See the encampment and other things about life during the Revolutionary War.  It's also an amazing place to hike with the family as well, with trails for all levels.
  4. Morris Museum   
    A Mommy Poppins favorite! If you have kids, you've got to check out this fantastic museum in Morristown that will not only provide art, culture and history, but offers some amazing family events throughout the year, too! Last year they ran a Winter festival, Chocolate Fest, Space Weekend, Mineral Weekend, Native American Weekend and a Fall Festival. (Ok, I will admit, they really had me at Chocolate Fest! Yum!) In addition, the museum houses the Bickford Theater where you can find children's shows, especially over the school breaks (THANK YOU!!!) as well as a variety of music and other adult performances.
  5. Community Children's Museum 
    Located in Dover, this small museum boasts an extensive collection of hands-on exhibits for children, which will keep them engaged and happy for quite some time. My three kids all love going to this museum and especially love touching everything in their fantastic electricity exhibit, probably since they've been told to stay away from all things electric since they started crawling! Not only is this a bargain at $5 per person, but they offer family and additional events throughout the year to enhance the museum experience.
  6. George G. Frelinghysen Arboretum 
    It's not the NY Botanical Gardens, but this arboretum located in Morris Township has an impressive collection of trees and shrubs, as well as an Education Center, which offers a variety of classes and courses for children. Our family's favorite event here is the Gingerbread Wonderland, where over 200 edible creations are on display,  and begins December 3.  If you can, make sure to arrive early in the day as the lines are very long for this hugely popular event.
  7. Whippany Railway Museum
    This museum is located on the grounds of an early 1900s railroad yard and your young train enthusiast can get up close with actual locomotives, original memorabilia and other railway articles. This is where all the train ride magic happens here in Morris County; with the Santa Claus Special (starts December 4th!), Easter Bunny Express, Excursion Rides, and Pumpkin Festival departing from this museum.

Playgrounds and Parks -- They abound here in this expansive county, so it was quite the challenge to mention only a handful. These are our family's favorites, and all great for different reasons.

  1. The Tourne County Park 
    You will love taking the kids to Boonton Township to Tourne Park. Hike to the top of the mountain (there's also a paved path as well) to see the fantastic view (and wear them out for an early bedtime too, BONUS!). This park boasts one of the best sledding spots in the winter, so it's a popular spot after a nice snowfall.  In the nicer weather, the shaded playground is a great location for afternoon playtime and then you can follow it up with that awesome hike!
  2. Imagination Station at Horseshoe Lake Recreation Complex 
    This beautiful new playground in Roxbury opened in 2010 and has been providing a boatload of fun for kids ever since. If this awesome playground isn't enough to keep your kiddos engaged for hours, there's also a nice paved trail for bike/scooter riding (or stroller pushing), hiking trails, as well as basketball courts for the bigger kids.
  3. Montville Community Playground 
    This is the best playground by far for families that have kids of varying ages. There are so many structures for each age group your children will never want to leave (well, until they get hungry). However, it's fenced in because of the size of the park and sometimes it can be a bear to keep track of all your kids. Thankfully my kids are slide enthusiasts, so I am always able to find them around one of the many giant slides that this park offers.
  4. Loantaka Brook Reservation
    We've highlighted this park before as one of the great places in NJ to picnic with your family. Not only does this Morristown park provide a lovely shaded spot to dine, but there's a great playground for the kids to play (right next to the picnic tables – SCORE!). If you're lucky, you may also see horses on their trail rides here. We also love riding our bikes, walking or scootering on the miles of paved (and fairly flat) and shaded trails.
  5. Pyramid Mountain 
    If you want to do some SERIOUS hiking in Morris County, head on over to Pyramid Mountain in Montville Township  You can even marvel and take some fun pictures at Tripod Rock, a 160-ton boulder balanced atop three smaller rocks, created in the ice age.

Must-visit Shops & Good Eats

  1. Must-visit Downtowns
    You can take a ride on the NJ Transits Midtown direct to see all the bustling downtowns that are located in Morris County: Morristown, DenvilleMorris Plains, Madison , Chatham, Chester, Boonton  and Dover. You can also just hop in your car to explore their local shops and restaurants and make a day of supporting local small businesses.
  2. Denville Dairy
    The long lines (and wait) in the summer for this incredibly delicious homemade ice cream are definitely worth it! However, now that it's a bit colder, obtaining this counties' best hard ice cream is thankfully much easier. Newly remodeled from the flooding from Hurricane Irene, this popular Denville icon hasn't lost any of its charm, great service and pure ice cream awesomeness. If you aren't in the immediate area, this spot is certainly worth the drive!
  3. Farmers Markets 
    Morris County is blessed with ten local farmers markets that run from spring to fall.  Although the season is over, all of these are worth visiting once winter checks out of town. Check them out in: Parsippany, Morristown, Denville, Morris Plains, Chatham, Madison, Boonton, Riverdale, East Hanover and Netcong
  4. Trader Joes
    This store is not native to Morris County, of course, but what kid doesn't LOVE accompanying their parents on a trip to Trader Joe's. The store in Florham Park which recently moved to their new larger space on Columbia Turnpike is as kid-friendly as it gets. Free samples, friendly employees, stickers galore, a scavenger hunt to find Louie the Lobster (which buys me time to actually SHOP), and a treat from the treasure box once Louie is spotted all make this loads of fun on a Saturday morning (or anytime really).
  5. Docs Kitchen
    Highlighted as a Mommy Poppins favorite restaurant for outside dining, this popular Denville establishment is a great spot for breakfast or lunch anytime of the year. Their menu is basic diner food with a twist – like homemade bread, giant amazing omelets, specialty pancakes--it's all good! Go early for lunch as they close at 3pm.
  6. Century 21
    For a great bargain on designer kid's clothing, check out Century 21 in downtown Morristown by the green. With three levels of shopping goodness, you'll be sure to find something for your kids, or even yourself. I'm very thankful that this is one of the few stores my kids will let me shop at for more than two minutes before whining to go home!

Activities and Places to Play

  1. Kidnetic 
    This Montville indoor playground was highlighted by Mommy Poppins this fall for being a great location for Parent's Night out events  thoughout the year. In addition, it is a wonderful place to take the kids to burn off energy for those cabin fever times this winter. Their 3 level indoor structure and play area will keep your kids happy for a long time (and mom and dad too with their free wifi!) They have open play sessions throughout the week, Daddy & Me playtime on Sunday mornings and monthly Family Fun night events too.
  2. Jump on in 
    Besides being a great birthday party location for the kiddos, this bounce center in Boonton has 90 minute open bounce sessions throughout the month for kids of all ages to play (and parents to sit back and take much needed little break). 
  3. Mennen ice skating
    Located in Morris Township, this local ice skating rink specializes in ice skating lessons, as well as offers open ice skating time slots throughout the week and weekends. Word of advice - Beware of birthday parties as that gaggle of giggling girls can be quite deadly when they accidentally knock you down. Yep, I'm speaking from experience here!
  4. Florham Park Roller Rink 
    Rollerskating (or blading) hasn't changed much since the days of my junior high school skate night (well, except for the fact that I'm not skating to Michael Jackson's PYT anymore). My kids really cannot get enough though and thankfully this local rink in Florham park offers reasonably priced open skate times so they can get their skate on fairly regularly.
  5. Glassworks 
    Another popular Morris County birthday party location, Glassworks in Morristown also has classes and walk in open studio hours for you and your kids to create beautiful pieces from fragments of glass. Definitely for school aged kids and up, since young kids and shards of glass don't really mix well.
  6. Brushes and Bisque 
    Another newly remodeled space in downtown Denville, Brushes and Bisque is a paint your own pottery and clay studio that offers classes, birthday parties and of course open paint sessions for your child to make their own artistic creation. We love making plates or bowls during the holiday season to give as gives or use for ourselves.
  7. Michael's
    This craft store chain continues to impress with a ton of classes, as well as free activities for the kids. Their new location in Parsippany is one of my kids' favorite stores and their weekly allowance is usually spent on their inexpensive crafting goodies.