Get more bang for your buck with fun attractions and stunning views, all a stone’s throw from NYC
New Jersey is the perfect fit for Irish holidaymakers on a budget — it’s not only within touching distance of New York but is also a terrific state in itself, with lots of great features to explore.
Both Newark and Jersey City are just a 15-minute train ride away from the Big Apple, but hotel options are much cheaper than Manhattan. Newark Airport is served by several airlines flying in from Ireland — we flew in with Aer Lingus on a flight which took just under six hours.
When one thinks of New Jersey in popular culture, a few things spring to mind: the state is the springboard home of Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi; The Sopranos was set and filmed around Newark, while Boardwalk Empire centred on Atlantic City; and reality show Jersey Shore made stars of its varied characters.
Atlantic City is a target for not just local holidaymakers but foreign tourists too, with casinos and entertainment hotspots peppering its attractive boardwalk.
But having been once before to the ‘Las Vegas of the East’, one attraction on the local tourism website jumped out as a must-do given its uniqueness — a trip to the Lakota Wolf Preserve.
The animal sanctuary is owned and run by Jim Stein and Becky Mace, who have raised all the animals at the preserve.
Jim tells us that 25 years ago he met a man from Colorado who kept wolves, and so began an interest in it. He now rents 10 acres in Warren County, about an hour from Jersey City (you can either hire a car or get an Uber, which costs about €90 each way).
There are 14 wolves on the site, including packs of Arctic, Timber and British Columbian, fed on roadkill from a nearby population of deer.
You are not allowed to pet the wolves but you can get up close to them, and it was the treat of a lifetime when Becky got them all to howl in unison for us.
The couple also keep bobcats, lynxes and foxes in nearby enclosures, which make for great photo opportunities. General admission starts at $15 (the euro is about €1.08 to $1), but you do have to make reservations for guided tours.
A fun and tasty activity is a visit to All Points West Distillery in Newark, run by knowledgeable owner Gil Spaier, where you can find out how historic techniques are used to distil not just whiskey but also vodka and gin in its funky building (you can buy a souvenir bottle of hooch).
After lunch in the Adega Grill in ‘Little Portugal’, it’s a quick Uber ride to the giant American Dream shopping, entertainment and dining emporium in East Rutherford.
This sprawling mall of three million-plus square feet has to be seen to be believed. It features 450 retail outlets, ranging from upmarket brands such as Tiffany & Co and Dolce & Gabbana, as well as high street ones like Primark and Zara.
It also has 100 eateries, with the cherry on the cake being its indoor entertainment attractions including a huge water park, ski slope, miniature golf course and ice rink. A large Ferris wheel on its roof boasts wonderful views.
It’s then time to check into the DoubleTree by Hilton on Washington Blvd in Jersey City. This modern hotel boasts spacious suites, with interlocking doors to allow travel companions the option of getting some space.
The breakfast downstairs is also mouthwatering, featuring a range of options including pancakes, fruit, and favourites such as bacon, sausages and eggs.
The nearby Liberty State Park is definitely worth a trip too. There are amazing views of the Manhattan skyline across the Hudson River, and you can get a ferry with Statue Cruises across to Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty.
Near the end of the evening, we were hosted by the affable Don Vogt at 902 Brewing Co, where samples of delicious lagers, stouts and IPA are brewed onsite.
The night was rounded off when we nipped into The Grape Vine Tavern, reputedly Jersey City’s oldest hostelry, having got its first licence in 1934 after prohibition ended.
It is run by 92-year-old Mayo man Tom Mullaghy and his daughter Eileen, and a major plus is pints there are an unbeatable $4 — you’ll find American prices are quite steep elsewhere, with pints ranging from $8 to $12. All bartenders and waiters also expect tips, usually around 15pc.
The next day included a trip to the lively seaside town of Hoboken, with lunch in the Elysian Cafe (some great fish and chips).
Hoboken is situated in Hudson County, and there’s a lovely riverside walk which boasts majestic views of the Manhattan skyline from Pier C. The town was once home to Frank Sinatra, and there’s a statue of the singer next to Blue Eyes Restaurant, where gaggles of geese saunter down nearby roads.
The evening was rounded off with another tasting tour, this time at Departed Soles Brewing Company, where its manager Brant Schweinsberg doled out an array of great craft beers.
Our final day saw a trip to Asbury Park, nearly 90 minutes away by train, where we based ourselves in the boutique Asbury Hotel. This jewel of a seaside town has been a major tourist draw for vacationers, but for Springsteen fans, it’s the setting for album Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ.
The Boss lives in the nearby town of Colts Neck, and locals talk reverentially about occasionally bumping into him.
One must-see venue in the town is The Stone Pony club, where a who’s who of American rock luminaries, ranging from Bruce to Courtney Love, have played, as well as our own Fontaines DC.
A sightseeing walk along the quaint boardwalk is also well worth it, taking in the Paramount Theatre and other historic buildings.
Famed rock photographer Danny Clinch also owns a gallery in the town, with a whole host of subjects among his portraits, even our own Glen Hansard, who played there just a few nights before our visit.
There are several fine bars and restaurants in the town, including the Irish-owned Johnny Mac House of Spirits, The Robinson Ale House and Kim Marie’s.
So if you’re hungry for some fantastic attractions, tasty drinks and food, and bargain bases a hop, skip and jump from New York, New Jersey has it all.
NEW JERSEY, USA See visitnj.org ■ Eugene flew to Newark, New Jersey with Aer Lingus. See aerlingus.com. ■ Hotels included the DoubleTree by Hilton in Jersey City. See hiltonhotels.com. ■ Take a trip to Lakota Wolf Preserve (lakotawolf.com); 902 Brewing Company (902brewing.com); and visit The Stone Pony (stoneponyonline.com) in Asbury Park.
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