Are the kids bored with the same park every day? We've got plenty of summer day trip ideas you can take the family on without even leaving the state! Pick fresh fruit and let the kids pet some barnyard animals; check out a national monument; visit NJ's own Victorian seaside town; head to a giant lake water park; or visit the beach, boardwalk, and aquarium all in one day.
So just hop in the car and head out to enjoy one of these 13 fun New Jersey day trips for this summer. Need more inspiration? Peruse our NJ Family Day Trip and Getaway Guide for even more ideas.
Cape May boasts pretty beaches and a walkable town that seems drawn straight out of a fairy tale. Photo by mbtrama via Flickr.
Cape May, NJ
If you are looking for fun at the beach, good food, biking, fishing, tours, whale watching, the boardwalk and much more—go for a day trip to beautiful Cape May! "Possessing one of the country's largest collections of 19th century framed buildings," Cape May offers both history and "small town" beach fun. Check out the calendar of events—there are activities happening daily. Hit hte beach, set up a tour for the family to go whale and dolphin watching, or renting a surrey for the day. You can park your car and use the surrey to get around for the entire day. If you are in town after dark, take one of the infamous ghost walking tours or see a free family movie on the beach. If theme parks are more your family's speed, check out Morey's Piers and Beachfront Waterpark in nearby Wildwood. At the end of the day, settle in for a delicious dinner at one of Cape May's fantastic restaurants. There's something for everyone in Cape May!
Cattus Island County Park, Toms River
A popular destination for many local school field trips, Cattus Island is waiting for your family to explore. Sitting on 530-acres, this park boasts miles of nature trails, boardwalks through the wetlands, crabbing, hiking, nature walks, picnicking, and more. The Butterfly Garden is open and in bloom this August with many unusual plants. The Cooper Environmental Center is closed due to storm damage, but they hope to reopen soon. (732) 270-6960
RELATED: Best Jersey Shore Beaches for Families: Sandy Hook to Cape May
Go gothic at Grounds for Sculpture. Photo by Shinya Suzuki via Flickr.
Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton
Treat the family to a journey through bigger-than-life works of art at this 42-acre sculpture garden. The lush gardens and trails are filled with permanent and rotating pieces of art, some of which are hidden away, plus a lake, gazebo and six indoor galleries. Keep an eye out the car window on the ride up; the roads leading up to the grounds are lined with giant sculptures. Popular works on site include Depression Breadline (good photo op), Family Secret, and my kids personal favorite, a swinging bench. Check out the calendar for the garden's events, including the monthly Tots on Tour. Grab lunch or snacks at the indoor cafes or outdoor Gazebo on site. Admission varies by age, and discounts are offered for online orders. Also, some local libraries offer free tickets as part of their Museum Pass program. (609) 586-0616
Hit the water (literally) at the Keansburg Amusement Park and Runaway Rapids Water Park. Photo courtesy of the park.
Keansburg Amusement Park, Keansburg
Take the family for a day of fun with an abundance of kiddie rides, games, and arcades at this manageable amusement park. Plus, check out Runaway Rapids Water Park, which offers more than 18 slides, splash zones, a kiddie lagoon, a toddler play area, a crazy lazy river, and more. Older kids and parents will enjoy the Fast Trax Go-Karts. Check out its Value Deals for BoGo tickets. Or make it a beach day at Keansburg's admission-free beach. (732) 495-1400
Lakota Wolf Preserve, Columbia
This New Jersey gem is a sanctuary that allows you to learn about various types of wolves and watch them in their natural habitat. There are many trees and lots of shade, so it’s the perfect activity for hot summer days. You can even camp right on the preserve! You can go just to watch the wolves, but for the perfect day trip, we suggest the Wolf Watch, which begins at 10:30am and 4pm, and a day at Camp Taylor campground. You can arrive as early as 9am and depart as late as 6pm. Plus, you will have access to Camp Taylor’s facilities all day, including the swimming lake, hiking trails, boat rentals, mini golf, and more. Don’t forget to bring your picnic lunch. The Wolf Watch is 90 minutes long and there are morning and afternoon watches available. (877) 733-9653
RELATED: Great Day Trips to NJ State Forests
The amusement rides at Jenkinson's Boardwalk are hard to beat for little kids. Photo courtesy of the author.
Point Pleasant Beach and Jenkinson’s Boardwalk and Aquarium, Point Pleasant Beach
If you are feeling ambitious (and possibly antsy) this is the day trip for you! Pack in a day at the beach, boardwalk, and aquarium in Point Pleasant, NJ. There are several major beaches that make up the area. Jenkinson’s is probably the most famous of the bunch (and the biggest). Not only are there beaches to explore, the boardwalk area is host to many other activities like Jenkinson’s Aquarium and the Amusement Rides, which offers wristband day every Tuesday from noon – 6pm and wristband evening every Friday from 5pm – 11pm where you can ride all the rides for $20/person. If you're feeling daring, check out the new Adventure Lookout Rope Course on the boardwalk. Grab a beach badge, and rent beach chairs and umbrellas right on the boardwalk. Arrive early to grab on-street parking, or find a spot in one of the several lots around downtown. Other area beaches include Martell’s, Risden’s, Maryland Avenue and Bradshaw’s.
Sandy Hook National Seashore, Sandy Hook
Sandy Hook is a seven-mile stretch of beach and a national park all in one! Spend the day fishing, swimming, bird-watching or simply lying out in the warm sun–all while in view of the Manhattan skyline. A word of caution, space is limited and when Sandy Hook's parking lots reach capacity for the day (which it often does on weekends in the summer), the gates are closed. Get there early and always call ahead. While visiting Sandy Hook, grab some seafood in Atlantic Highlands. There are some fantastic restaurants there! (732) 872-5970
RELATED: 15 Awesome NJ Water Parks for the Kids
Ride the mini train at the Historic Smithville village. Photo by Eli Christman via Flickr.
Historic Smithville, Galloway
If you're looking for old-fashioned, family fun, head down to the charming village of Smithville, just north of Atlantic City, for the perfect summer day trip. The 40-plus shops and boutiques include a candy shop, a toy store, an antique arcade, and even a year-round Christmas shop. If your little ones love rides, climb aboard the adorable train and carousel for a small fee at the village green. Plus, take in all the scenery along Lake Meone by renting paddle boats. There's no shortage of treats in Smithville. Dining options range from the traditional Smithville Inn to breakfast and desserts and Smithville Bakery. (609) 648-8999
Statue of Liberty National Monument, Jersey City
Dedicated on October 28, 1886, this national monument is visited by thousands. The Statue of Liberty makes for a fantastic day trip for school-age kids, but you'll need to get tickets ahead of time to climb to the crown. Reserve your time here. Remember that the climb to the crown is strenuous; there are 377 steps from the main lobby to the crown and there is no elevator access from the top of the pedestal. A visit to Ellis Island, which opened up new artwork and other exhibits last year, is also a great idea for the kids. Book a standard ticket to just enjoy the grounds and the museum at Ellis Island if traveling with little kids. They'll enjoy the ferry ride from Liberty State Park!
Princeton's Terhune Orchards are a pretty spot for peach picking. Photo courtesy of the orchard.
Terhune Orchards, Princeton
Terhune is a family-favorite in my house. We go out there several times a year for activities like apple picking, pumpkin picking, various festivals, and of course strawberry picking! Find peaches here in late summer. Whatever time of year, take advantage of their garden state bounty. The farm store is filled with delicious fresh fruits and vegetables. Plus, blackberries and blueberries are in season to pick-your-own. There is also a winery featuring wine made with farm-fresh ingredients and a barnyard full of animals for the kids. If you're there on a Tuesday, the kids can participate in the Read & Pick program, held twice a month. (609) 924-2310
Tomahawk Lake Water Park, Sparta
This park sits on 200-acres of lakefront with many other family activities including an 18-hole mini golf course, beer garden, and more. Picnicking is a great option with more than 800 tables along “New Jersey’s largest white sand beach featuring an incredible 20-acre lake.” The water park features a 400-foot body slide, racing slide, a 500-foot tube ride, boats, and water coasters. They also offer an area for younger kids called “Papoose Land” with water slides and kiddie canoes. Admission includes parking, beach and swimming facilities, Papoose Land, use of picnic area, Kiddie Water World and Cherokee Corner. This park is cash only, but there is an ATM available on-site. (973) 398-7777
Turtle Back Zoo, West Orange
The Turtle Back Zoo is one of the state's top zoos with a variety of animal exhibits and children's programming. Check out current exhibits like the new African Adventure with giraffes, the Sea Lion Exhibit, the Penguin Coast Exhibit, wolves, big cats, the reptile house, touch tank, and many more. Take advantage of one of the cooling misting stations, which they provide for the animals and guests to beat the heat, during the summer. Plus, there are zoo rides including a carousel, ponies, a train ride, and play area. The just opened Zoo Café offers snacks and a full lunch menu. The zoo recommends arriving in the morning when animals are the most active. Check out the events calendar to learn about fun activities for the whole family, including summer movies. While you're there, take advantage of everything South Mountain Reservation has to offer, including Treetop Adventure Course, the paddle boats, mini golf, and playground. (973) 731-5801
Waterworks Family Aquatic Complex, West Windsor
This water park is a great place for a day trip and fun for the whole family! It features a 9,000-square-foot pool, a lap pool, and more. Kids will love the 1,700-square foot wading pool with sprinklers, two-story water slide, and play area. There are changing and shower facilities, plus a full-service concession stand. If you are a non-resident, you can join the pool for a yearly fee. Day passes are also available. (609) 799-0150
Top image: Seward Johnson's The Awakening at Grounds for Sculpture. Photo by Joanne Sosangelis via Flickr.
This article first published in 2014 but has since been updated.