Road trips rock! And we've got 30 ideas for NJ summer day trips that minimize the drive time and maximize the fun time. Whether it's gathering fresh fruit at a pick-your-own farm, swimming at a lake, hitting the Jersey Shore's beaches and boardwalks, or visiting an amusement park, get ready to hit the road to one of these favorite summer destinations.
Need more inspiration? Check out our Summer Fun Guide for NJ Kids for even more ideas for family fun.
And, if it's too hot or rainy to head outside, look to our indoor guide and rainy-day suggestions to keep the good times rolling.
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Cape May boasts beautiful beaches and a walkable, postcard-pretty town. Photo by mbtrama via Flickr
1. Whether you're looking for fun at the beach, great food, biking, fishing, historic tours, whale and dolphin watching, or fun at the boardwalk, beautiful Cape May has something for everyone. Park the car and rent a surrey to get around for the day. After dark, take a ghost tour or see a free family movie on the beach.
2. Cattus Island County Park in Toms River sits on 530 acres and boasts miles of nature trails, boardwalks through the wetlands, crabbing, hiking, nature walks, picnicking, and more. The Butterfly Garden will bloom in late summer with many plants that draw butterflies, while the newly renovated Cooper Environmental Center has exhibits about the park and the Barnegat Bay.
RELATED: Best Jersey Shore Beaches for Families: Sandy Hook to Cape May
Go gothic at Grounds for Sculpture. Photo by Shinya Suzuki via Flickr.
3. Children (and adults) of all ages will get a kick out of Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, a 42-acre sculpture garden. Grab lunch at one of the cafes on site and meander through the lush gardens and trails filled with permanent and rotating pieces of art. The sculpture garden regularly hosts educational events, gallery walks by exhibiting artists, and special artist evenings. Some local libraries offer free tickets as part of their Museum Pass program.
Hit the water at the Runaway Rapids Water Park in Keansburg. Photo courtesy of the park
4. At Keansburg Amusement Park, young kids will have a blast with tons of kiddie rides, games, and arcades, while older kids will enjoy the Fast Trax Go-Karts. Admission is free; pay by the ride with tickets. The water park area, Runaway Rapids Water Park, has more than 18 slides, splash zones, a kiddie lagoon, a toddler play area, a crazy lazy river, and more (separate admission fee). Check the website for values and combo deals. Or make it a beach day at Keansburg's admission-free beach.
5. Hike, swim, fish, or camp—your family can do it all at Cheesequake State Park in Manalapan. There's a large assortment of things to do at this state park, but a great summertime feature is Hooks Creek Lake, where kids can splash and swim when lifeguards are on duty. Playgrounds, concession stands, restrooms, and changing areas are available next to the lake. Check out NJ's other great swimming lakes, too.
6. Bring the kids to learn about wolves and watch them in their natural habitat at the Lakota Wolf Preserve in Columbia. Take a 90-minute Wolf Watch tour at 10:30am or 4pm (every day except Mondays); reservations are required on weekdays. There's lots of shade, so it’s the perfect activity for hot summer days. While there, check out Camp Taylor’s facilities, including the swimming lake, hiking trails, boat rentals, mini-golf, and more.
RELATED: Great Day Trips to NJ State Forests
Jenkinson's Boardwalk has lots of rides geared toward little kids. Photo courtesy of Laurie Rein
7. Summertime in NJ hardly seems complete without a trip to the Jersey shore, and Point Pleasant is the perfect spot for families. Pack the day with time on Jenkinson’s Beach, Jenkinson's Boardwalk, and Jenkinson’s Aquarium—all in the same location. The boardwalk has food, games, and rides, with wristband specials on Tuesdays (noon–6pm) and Fridays (5–11pm). Check out the Adventure Lookout Rope Course (a junior course for kids is also available), play a round of mini-golf, or visit the funhouse. Other area beaches include Martell’s, Risden’s, Maryland Avenue, and Bradshaw’s.
8. Nature lovers and those in search of a more mellow Jersey Shore experience won't want to miss Island Beach State Park. Located at the end of Route 35 just past Seaside Park, IBSP is a preserved barrier island that offers both bay and ocean beaches. A cute little eatery right on the beach features burgers, fish & chips, sandwiches, tacos, and more; there's often live entertainment, too! Take a walk on the short, kid-friendly trails, and keep your eyes peeled for snowy owls, foxes, osprey, and other wildlife.
9. Spend some time at your local park, or if you're looking for someplace new to explore, check out our list of destination-worthy playgrounds. From cool play spaces featuring awesome jungle gyms you won't find anywhere else, to playgrounds with water features, zip lines, a carousel, and even a zoo, these stellar playscapes allow kids to slide, swing, splash, climb, and imagine the day away.
RELATED: 15 Awesome NJ Water Parks for the Kids
Ride the mini train at Historic Smithville village. Photo by Eli Christman via Flickr
10. If you're looking for old-fashioned family fun, head down to the charming village of Historic Smithville, just north of Atlantic City. 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.
11. The Statue of Liberty makes for a fantastic day trip for school-age kids, especially with the recent opening of the Statue of Liberty Museum, a 26,000-square-foot exhibition space exploring Lady Liberty's history. If you want to also climb the 377 steps from the main lobby to the crown, you'll need to get tickets ahead of time. (Note that there's a minimum height requirement for climbers.) A visit to Ellis Island—a quick ferry ride from Liberty State Park—is also a great idea for the kids. Book a reserve ticket to just enjoy the grounds at Ellis Island if you're traveling with little ones.
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Princeton's Terhune Orchards is a pretty spot for peach picking. Photo courtesy of the orchard.
12. Summertime is the perfect time for pick-your-own strawberries (June), cherries (June), blueberries (July), and peaches (August). Terhune Orchards in Princeton has pick-your-own crops, various festivals, and a farm store filled with delicious fresh fruits and vegetables. 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.
13. Tomahawk Lake Water Park in Sparta sits on 200 acres of lakefront and offers many 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. The water park features a 400-foot body slide, racing slide, a 500-foot tube ride, boats, and water coasters, with a separate area for younger kiddos. Admission includes parking, beach and swimming facilities. Purchase separate wristbands for unlimited water slides.
14. Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange is one of the state's top zoos, offering a variety of animal exhibits and children's programming. In the summer, cooling misting stations help visitors beat the heat. Zoo rides include a carousel, ponies, a train ride, and play area, in addition to the giraffes, sea turtles and penguins that call the zoo home. While you're there, take advantage of everything the South Mountain Reservation has to offer, including the Treetop Adventure Course, paddle boats, mini-golf, and playground. Check our roundup of NJ's best zoos and aquariums for even more options.
15. Waterworks Family Aquatic Complex in West Windsor 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. Non-members can enjoy the pool for a daily fee.
16. Take a hike at Duke Farms in Hillsborough. There are 18 miles of trails to choose from, plus a great farm-to-table cafe and educational center that offers a sustainability scavenger hunt among other kid-friendly programming.
17. Just in time for summer 2019, Sesame Place is debuting a brand-new addition to the Lancaster, PA theme park. Sesame Street Neighborhood features new interactive attractions including Hooper’s Store, the 123 Stoop, Abby Cadabby’s Garden, and Big Bird’s Nest, as well as new photo opportunities with Mr. Snuffleupagus, Cookie Monster, and his sidekick Gonger. There's also a new live show, "Our Street Is Sesame Street," featuring Elmo, Abby Cadabby, and Big Bird; with several showtimes daily.
18. Asbury Park is an up-and-coming hotspot for NJ families. There's a beach, shops, boardwalk, splash park, and great places to eat—everything you need to keep your gang happy on a summer outing. Be sure to check out Asbury Lanes—this bowling alley-turned-music venue, which first opened in 1962, was rebuilt in 2018 with state-of-the-art bowling technology and an expanded performance space.
19. A few exits south of Asbury is Seaside Heights, home to Casino Pier and Breakwater Beach. This combo amusement park is packed with games, rides, arcades, food stands, and water park attractions. Add to the list several new family-friendly attractions for 2019, including Flying Elephants, Crazy Cabs, and Mermaid Parade rides perfect for little ones.
20. The Poconos Mountains are a great nearby destination for a day trip or short family vacation. There's horseback riding, hiking, camping, shopping, kayaking, and more, or you can rides the waves at Camelbeach Mountain Waterpark's awesome wave pool.
21. Storybook Land in Egg Harbor is a great little amusement park for young children, with (you guessed it) a storybook theme. Try the Beanstalk Bounce or ride a Happy Dragon. Whatever attractions you choose, this amusement park is bound to be a hit with any little one.
22. Long Branch is an ideal day-trip destination for New Jersey families. Like other beach towns, this one offers oceanfront parks and playgrounds, kid-friendly entertainment, bands on the beach and plenty of eateries. Dine and shop along the boardwalk at Pier Village where you'll find Coney Waffle, home to some seriously outrageous milkshake creations, and a new carousel. Don't miss the annual Fourth of July Oceanfest, one of the state's largest fireworks and Independence Day events.
23. Combine your family's cravings for thrill rides, water rides, arcade games, and fun in the sun with a visit to Wildwood—which is actually comprised of three towns: North Wildwood, Wildwood, and Wildwood Crest. Morey's Piers and Water Parks is the focal point of fun and includes three main entertainment areas with more than 100 rides. This summer, Morey's welcomes Runaway Tram, which is patterned after the old-time Wildwood Sightseer Tramcar, which made its debut almost 70 years ago.
24. Take playing in the sand to a whole new level at Diggerland. Visitors to this construction-themed amusement park in West Berlin can climb aboard real work equipment and military trucks to check them out and even give them a try. Hop on a backhoe, big digger, demolition truck, or excavator. Be warned, there's little shade here so the park can get hot as well as crowded on a summer day. Diggerland also stays open for weekends and school holidays, Labor Day through November.
25. Looking for a day trip that won't leave you craving an extra day to recover? Head to the Camden Children's Garden on this side of the Delaware River from Philadelphia. The outdoor play space has three areas: dinosaurs, plants, and insects. Kids can learn a little about nature and play a lot with places to run, hide and slide. Need some shade on a hot day? Head next door to Adventure Aquarium. Highlights include hippo feeding time, Penguin Park, and a rope bridge that beckons brave visitors to walk over a shark tank.
26. Bergen County's Van Saun Park is the golden ticket to a day-long visit filled with fun. The huge playground features climbing structures for big kids, small slides for toddlers, plus lots of balance beams, swing sets, and rock walls galore. Even more, the entire play area is ADA-accessible so all kids can play. Not to mention, it’s next door to a spectacular splash pad, old-fashioned carousel, soccer field, and miniature train ride. Need more? How about a zoo, home to lions, reptiles, and farm friends? There really is something for everyone here.
27. Built in 1905, Kip’s Castle Park in Verona is a hidden treasure. This 9,000 square-foot mansion replicates a medieval Norman castle and provides spectacular views of the New York City skyline. Castle grounds are open to the public from dawn to dusk. The first floor of the castle is open to the public for self-guided tours Tuesday through Friday from noon to 3pm from May 1 – October 31. During the summer, the park hosts Movies Under the Stars on Friday nights. Arrive early for pre-movie entertainment; concessions are available for sale.
28. Who needs the Jersey Shore when you have Randolph Park Beach? Locals know to skip the traffic and head to this lakeside municipal beach for swimming, paddle boats, picnicking, and water sprays for the kids. You'll also find a refreshment stand, changing facilities, swimming lessons, and more. The park offers both resident and non-resident monthly and daily passes, but weekend entry is limited to members and residents.
29. The charming Land of Make Believe is the perfect day trip for families that have younger kids, with a great selection of classic kiddie rides and attractions. Beyond the Carousel, Jumping Frogs, Ferris Wheel and Tilt-A-Whirl, the Scream Machine 360 provides hair-raising thrills for bigger kids and adults. Don’t forget the swimsuits so the kids can cool off at the Pirate's Cove water park area, which is included with the price of admission.
30. It just wouldn't be summer in NJ without a trip to Six Flags. As New Jersey's largest theme park, Six Flags is known for heart-dropping roller coasters like Nitro and Kingda Ka (the world's tallest coaster)—but there are also plenty of attractions geared toward the smaller set and those who enjoy tamer thrills. You can also see zebras, giraffes, and other cool creatures on the Safari Off-Road Adventure. Six Flag's Hurricane Harbor water park welcomes a new attraction this summer – Calypso Springs is a 100,000-gallon, beach-entry-style activity pool, where parents and kids of all ages can swim and play together.
This article first published in 2014 and is updated annually.