Beyond the beach: New Jersey day trips

Staff Writer

 Visitors to Frenchtown can take a break from shopping to sit alongside the Delaware River. Visitors to Frenchtown can take a break from shopping to sit alongside the Delaware River. A s droves of tourists continue their summer pilgrimages to the Shore, full-time residents may seek their own outdoor escapes, if only for a day.

Fortunately for them, New Jersey has much more to offer than sun, sea and sand. A host of destinations beckon crowds of their own from near and far, providing even the most seasoned Jersey folks with novel things to see and do.

“There is no shortage of destinations that are inland,” said Phyllis Oppenheimer, tourism representative for the state Division of Travel and Tourism. “New Jersey really is America in miniature; it’s very diversified. Once someone visits one of New Jersey’s … hidden gems, they just fall in love with it.”

Known as the antiques capital of New Jersey, Lambertville offers a taste of days gone by in more ways than one. Founded in 1705, the town is rife with Victorian homes and historic buildings that enhance its backdrop, the Delaware River.

 A trail at Allaire State Park in Wall Township is well-traveled on a recent afternoon. A trail at Allaire State Park in Wall Township is well-traveled on a recent afternoon. Antique emporiums are punctuated by a mix of other shops and several restaurant options, including Lambertville Station, an eatery housed in an old train depot.

After exploring Lambertville’s charms, visitors can take a stroll over the New Hope-Lambertville Bridge to check out the shops, restaurants and local color New Hope has to offer.

The journey to Lambertville is half the fun, with scenic river views along the way, as well as the Golden Nugget Flea Market on Route 29. Also, while Washington Crossing State Park in Titusville has a Christmas tradition of reenacting the Delaware River crossing of Gen. George Washington and his troops in 1776, fairer weather allows for exploring the park’s outdoor wonders and historical features.

 PHOTO BY DAVID W. STEELE “Standing Figure” from Leonda Finke’s “Women in the Sun” stands in front of “The Nine Muses” by Carlos Dorrien at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton. PHOTO BY DAVID W. STEELE “Standing Figure” from Leonda Finke’s “Women in the Sun” stands in front of “The Nine Muses” by Carlos Dorrien at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton. For those who want a little more adventure, the Delaware Water Gap promises plenty. With opportunities for navigating the mostly calm river in a canoe, kayak, raft or tube, the recreational area invites visitors to plunge right in. Delaware River Tubing in Frenchtown offers all river-travel modalities, along with a barbecue lunch from the Famous River Hot Dog Man along the way.

Hiking trails abound, and a visitor center on the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border is staffed by people who can map out a course to suit any fitness level.

Those looking to take it easy can find numerous places to kick back and watch the river roll past. Turtle Beach, on Old Mine Road, consists of a grassy bank with picnic tables and restrooms. Buttermilk Falls is a popular spot for active and passive visitors, as one can park adjacent to the 90-foot cascade — one of the tallest in the state — to see its splendor. People who want to explore can traverse the steep staircase and pick up a path that eventually spills into the Appalachian Trail.

All that river air works up an appetite, and there’s no need to settle for roadside fast food on the way home. The Walpack Inn, tucked away in the countryside of Wallpack Center, offers hearty fare in a historical setting. With the motto, “We Feed the Deer and the People Too,” the restaurant boasts an expansive view of a meadow where deer return as often as patrons for good eats. Diners can take home a box of mix to make the inn’s brown bread, which is said to be addictive.

Frenchtown is home to more than just watercraft rentals. The old-timey small town that sits alongside the Delaware River on the Pennsylvania border is dotted with artsy, somewhat high-end shops that draw a decidedly dog-friendly crowd.

From Bridge Street, one can amble up a short path along the river to browse Two Buttons, 62 Trenton Ave., a veritable museum of endless items from Southeast Asia and beyond. Owned by “Eat, Pray, Love” scribe Elizabeth Gilbert and her husband, Jose Nunes, the warehouse of wonders is made for wandering, and knowledgeable salespeople will often pour customers a glass of wine or offer up free popcorn. The author herself, who lives in town, often shows up at the shop.

Among other options, sustenance can be found at the National Hotel, where one can eat on the porch if Fido’s in tow, and where craft cocktails and unexpected, locally sourced dishes feed all, from vegans to carnivores.

History comes to life at Allaire Village in Farmingdale, with interpreters presenting an interactive experience of life in 1836.

For a nominal fee, visitors can stroll through the nonprofit “living-history” museum, visiting sites that include a blacksmith shop and a church, along with the general store and bakery. Demonstrations are given in the buildings, and special events are held throughout the year.

Also within Allaire State Park is the Pine Creek Railroad. The oldest continuously operated steam preservation railroad in the country, the locomotive is the centerpiece of the New Jersey Museum of Transportation, and visitors can hop aboard for $4 apiece, or free for kids age 3 and younger. The 15- minute ride spans the park’s expanses.

Visitors can while away the rest of the day with a picnic or Frisbee.

Lovers of art and the outdoors can find the two intertwined at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton. Located on the former New Jersey State Fairgrounds, the 42-acre destination boasts an ever-changing collection of sculptures of all types amid its landscape, along with indoor exhibits. Peacocks roam among visitors, and a waterfall and pond add to the scenic value.

Several cafés serve up casual bites, while Rat’s Restaurant brings country French cuisine into a setting designed to evoke Claude Monet’s home at Giverny.

Historic Smithville and the Village Greene in Smithville could be said to epitomize “quaint,” with cobblestone paths that wind past a lake and about 40 shops that sell everything from incense and candles to Christmas items and punk memorabilia. Ducks, geese and roosters meander the grounds, which are also home to a carousel and paddleboats, along with snack shacks, cafés, two restaurants and two lodging options.

Along with the many farms that give the Garden State its moniker, New Jersey is home to more than 40 vineyards. And while Cape May’s Victorian splendor and beachside fun are enough of a draw, those seeking to steer away from Shore hordes can hop on the Cape May Wine Trail to sample a handful of vintages resulting from the region’s unique climate.

Starting in the northern part of New Jersey’s southernmost tip, the trail begins at Natali Vineyards and continues to Jessie Creek Winery — which is also home to a bed & breakfast — both in Cape May Court House.

It’s about a 10-minute drive to Hawk Haven Vineyards in Rio Grande, which hosts “Saturdays on the Crushpad” throughout the summer and fall, with wine, crepes and live music 11 a.m.-7 p.m.

From there, it’s on to Cape May Winery & Vineyard, where one can lounge by an outdoor fire pit if the ocean breeze kicks up.

The trail ends at Willow Creek Winery in Cape May, which may be for the best, as the 7-year-old vineyard offers not only wine, but also sangria, frozen wine slushies and wine cocktails.