5 Things that will Surprise You About New Jersey

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surprise you about new jersey

Remember when I promised shiny posts about life in New Jersey? Yeah, I remember too, haha.

Erm. Sorry for the lateness? My hiatus totally destroyed my creativity, but now I’m back and focused and ready to share information about the Garden State. Yay!

As you all know, I’m not a full time traveler nor am I nomadic. I have a teaching job and apartment. There’s nothing wrong with either of these arrangements. I mean, going from place to place sounds so cool. However my living situation means I’m not traveling 24/7. It’s usually a few months in between trips for me.

After I moved, I decided why not share local tips and tricks about New Jersey? It keeps this blog fresh and exciting! At least I think so, haha.

So New Jersey. What’s the first thing that springs to your mind? Wait, I don’t want to know yet. My home state is often the butt of jokes. The Armpit of America. The Jersey Shore. Blah, blah, blah. I’m sure you’re already familiar with most of the stereotypes. Our roads do suck, though.

Here are five things that will surprise you about New Jersey! Or, at least, maybe encourage you to think about the state in a different way. We’re travelers. We have open minds, right?

surprise you about new jersey
No parking for you.

1. New Jersey really and truly is that crowded.

We’re the most densely populated state in the USA. Our current population teeters close to 9 million. To make matters worse, we’re a small state, only about 8,729 square miles (or 22,610 km squared for all my non-American friends). And to make it even more crowded? Some parts of the state, such as the Pine Barrens, are sparsely populated making the denser urban areas even more congested than you’d imagine.

In the media, people from New Jersey are depicted as angry, loud, and impatient. But I blame the sheer volume of people packed in such a small space. Sometimes it’s tough sitting in traffic for close to an hour even though you’re only driving about thirteen miles.

If you’re coming to New Jersey to see the shore or even to use it as an easy “jumping point” into Manhattan, pack your patience for the roads and trains. Now that my daily commute includes Highway 287 (ugh), I’ve had to take several deep breaths and think soothing thoughts whenever I’m sitting behind the wheel.

Oh, and please use the right lane at all times if you’re going to drive at the speed limit or below. The left lane will freak you out. Not kidding.

surprise you about new jersey

2. The Jersey Shore is diverse and delicious.

Okay, pretend that crappy MTV show never existed (and why people still refer to it is beyond me, come on, 2009 is over). The Jersey Shore is a lot more than Seaside Heights. Not that I’m knocking Seaside Heights, of course. I’ve heard fun things about the town.

Admittedly, I don’t know the shore towns in North Jersey very well, but I’ve visited Avalon and Stone Harbor in Cape May County for years and years and years. Along the southern coastal region, each town has its own distinct vibe and flair. Do you like nightlife and gambling? Check out Atlantic City. Do you want a town that’s completely family friendly? Check out Ocean City with its famous boardwalk and complete lack of bars (it’s a dry town). Are you a fan of old Victorian mansions? Go to Cape May at the very bottom of the state.

And don’t even get me started on the fresh seafood, fudge, ice cream, pizzerias, and farmer’s markets. Mmmm, divine.

surprise you about new jersey
New Brunswick

3. It’s more than a gateway to New York City and Philly.

New Jersey isn’t just where you drive through to reach New York and Philadelphia. I’ve heard people joke about visiting New Jersey once … when they cut through Newark International to take the train to Manhattan. Uh, thanks?

Come on, guys. Every state has its gems! And New Jersey’s are a bit hidden under the shadows of two of the most famous cities in the United States. There’s also way more to discover than just the Jersey Shore.

For example, check out adorable Princeton with its quaint downtown and world class university. New Brunswick, home to Rutgers, and a diverse food, music, and theater scene. Lambertville, a mere hop across the river from New Hope, an artsy town that’s delightful in fall. And don’t even get me started on Jersey City and Hoboken.

New Jersey provides so many opportunities to break away from the beaten path. Take advantage!

surprise you about new jersey

4. We’re the Garden State for a reason.

New Jersey is known for its produce – especially in the summer and fall months – and this fact surprises a lot of people. The entire state isn’t covered in cement, I promise. Agriculture is a tremendous industry in New Jersey. I believe it’s the 3rd largest. Farmland is abundant particularly in northwestern counteis, as well as the southern half of the state, and local laws protect a lot of these farms.

New Jersey’s produce, like corn, peaches, strawberries, tomatoes, etc., are famous. We’re even home to the Blueberry Capital of the World. Honestly, this is one aspect I love about my state, because it encourages me to support local farms and eat healthy food. I just wish the season for fresh produce lasted longer. Alas.

Come in the summer and go to a farmer’s market.

surprise you about new jersey

5. The North/South Divide is Real.

I’ve lived in South Jersey, twenty minutes outside Philadelphia, for the majority of my life, but I moved back to North Jersey in August. Well, more like northern Central Jersey if you’re gonna get technical about it, but anyway.

For a small state, the North and South divide is very clear, and the rivalry can get pretty nasty. Honestly, New York and Philadelphia are partly to blame for this. For example, sports teams. North Jersey is all about the Jets or Giants, while South Jersey bleeds for the Eagles. Even our dialect differs. If I say I want to buy a “hoagie” or some “water ice” or “ice cream with chocolate jimmies” in North Jersey, people laugh at me or look at me like I have five heads.

Additionally, this divide has some darker political and economical elements, too, which I won’t go into much detail about here. Just know this state is VERY culturally distinct.

surprise you about new jersey
Mmm, what photo quality.

Did I surprise you about New Jersey? Have you ever visited the Garden State? What preconceived ideas did you have prior to reading this post? What would surprise me about your home state? Share in the comments. 

16 thoughts on “5 Things that will Surprise You About New Jersey

  1. Julie says:

    The North/South divide is totally a real thing. I didn’t quite believe that in such a small place there could be such rivalry, but there it is and it’s serious. I agree that it’s mostly thanks to sports teams and Philly/NYC, but it’s worth doing a drive the full length just to see it for yourself!

  2. Megan Indoe says:

    I have only been to Hoboken because my friend used to live there and commute to NYC for work. I really liked it actually but never got around to exploring more of New Jersey. It’s too bad Jersey Shore tv show gave such a terrible reputation to the area itself, this is the first time I have anyone talk about in a long time so it’s interesting to hear a local’s perspective!

  3. RaW | Ramble and Wander says:

    Coming from half-way across the globe, I’ve only known about Princeton when it comes to NJ. What surprised me though when reading this, was finding out that Newark is in NJ and not New York. I’ve always thought that it is in NY considering that it’s one of the major gateway airports for the the latter.

    • Rachel Elizabeth says:

      Ramble and Wander —

      I totally understand the confusion! Sometimes agents refer to it as “Newark New York” during boarding. Newark technically falls into the New York metro area, which makes it even more confusing. And the names sound alike too. Thanks for commenting!

  4. Tracey Tullis says:

    I used to think New Jersey a was dirty, industrial city. Consider my perspective changed! Thanks Rachel:) Many of the things you wrote about Jersey make me want to visit but the food; locally grown goodness and seemingly gourmet delicacies stand out the most. Fresh seafood and delicious farmers market fare make summer sound like the best time to visit, ya?

    • Rachel Elizabeth says:

      Tracey Tullis —

      The food is amaaaaaaazing! Summer is a great time to visit (and eat! produce is in full swing especially by August), but the weather can be super humid. You can get some relief at the shore. Glad I changed your perspective!

  5. Heather says:

    You certainly did surprise me about New Jersey. I’ve never been and admittedly had a stereotype based on that MTV show that I won’t mention.
    Thanks for highlighting all there is to see and do. The coastline is beautiful and the cuisine looks like it would be worth the trip alone.
    Thanks for adding New Jersey to my travel radar.

  6. Lydia@LifeUntraveled says:

    You did surprise me! I live in Montreal so New Jersey isn’t too far away but yet I’ve never been (I’ve only been once to New York). You’re so lucky to live in the city and to be so close to the beach – I think that’s definitely a positive aspect of New Jersey! Were you kidding when you said Ocean City is a dry town? If it is then what’s the reason?

  7. Annie says:

    This whole thing makes me so happy. I am from NJ originally and I feel like I’ve spent my entire life defending my state. Every summer I miss the tomatoes, corns and peaches. They don’t taste as good from other places, true story 🙂

  8. Megan Jerrard says:

    I learnt a couple of new things from this! I had no idea that New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the USA – everyone says to use it as a gateway to Manhattan so I just assumed it would be pretty chill in comparison. And thanks for pointing out that there’s an actual scene to explore here as opposed to just using it for a gateway to everywhere else. Funny that Jersey doesn’t get more attention as a tourist mecca in it’s own right!

  9. Rashaad says:

    A couple of things:

    1) I actually like Seaside Heights a lot. Although the food on the boardwalk is a ripoff, I like the youthful vibe and energy of the place. I feel like – probably because I have to cross a bridge to get there – I’m kinda cut off from my normal 9-to-5 world when I’m at Seaside Heights. Actually, I did a report on responsible tourism issues in Seaside Heights and my professor think I did a good job on my paper.

    Have you visited Seaside Park? It’s next to Seaside Heights and it has a totally relaxed vibe.

    2) About sports, a few years ago, the New York Times published a story on its website that documented where certain baseball teams – according to Facebook likes – were most popular. As expected, the Yankees were most popular in North Jersey and the Phillies were most popular in South Jersey. Trenton seems to form the border between Philly sports fans and New York sports fans.

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