5 most outlandish NJ museums worth the drive

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 1/25/18

As a travel, entertainment and food writer, there’s nothing I love more than getting out and checking out new and exciting places in the hidden and misunderstood gem that is New Jersey.

However, I have a confession to make: None of those “new and exciting places” ever involve your typical museum. I can admit that I lack the patience, understanding and appreciation that is needed to visit a typical art or history museum and walk through its hallways, learning from a docent about each piece’s significance as I count down the minutes until lunch.

Through my travels, though, I have learned that there are many museums that do not fit this description, and instead, these dynamic and one-of-a-kind museums have me telling my like-minded friends, “You just have to see this.”

If you’re like me and want a museum experience without the museum bore — and you’re ready to escape the drab of winter with something new to do — then check out these New Jersey museums that are certainly worth the journey.

Photo by Jenna Intersimone

Northlandz of Flemington

Northlandz, Flemington’s own “wonder of the world,” has been a labor of love of owner Bruce Williams Zaccagnino for the past 50 years as he has created the world’s largest model train museum filled with 100 trains, 500,000 trees and 1,200 structures that he built with his bare hands.

Don’t expect to just see trains here. The museum is filled with miniature scenes of carnivals, villages, cities and even the Himalayas, Rocky Mountains and Hoover Dam, as well as a doll collection holding more than 200 historic dolls, an 1890s replica steam train and a 2,000-pipe organ.

If you go: 495 Route 202, Flemington; 908-782-4022, northlandz.com, admission $9.75 to $13.75

Photo by Jenna Intersimone

Grounds for Sculpture of Hamilton

Grounds for Sculpture, an outdoor contemporary art “gallery” that is home to more than 250 sculptures on 42 acres, doesn’t have much in common with a typical art gallery. The open-space gallery is filled with sculptures set among gardens, trees, bodies of water and floral arrangements that create “rooms” for them to shine.

Lacking the stuffiness that many other art museums and galleries possess, Grounds for Sculpture aims to make art accessible for the average person and allows visitors to make their own conclusions — the same way they can choose their own path throughout the space and find unexpected and hidden pieces throughout the rotating exhibits.

If you go: 80 Sculptors Way, Hamilton Township; 609-586-0616, groundsforsculpture.org, $16 to $18 for adults and $10 for kids

Gannett File Photo

Silverball Museum in Asbury Park

At the Silverball Museum, the “exhibits” are certainly not just for looking at. The 200 historic games including pinball, skeeball, air hockey and classic video and arcade games are ready to play for adults and kids.

With games including Knockout (1950), Flipper Cowboy (1962), Pleasure Isle (1965), Jumping Jack (1973) and many others, visitors can enjoy games from their childhood as well as boardwalk eats.

If you go: 1000 Ocean Ave, Asbury Park; silverballmuseum.com/asbury-park, 732-774-4994, $10 for an hour pass or $25 for an all-day pass

Gannett File Photo

Greek’s Playland in Monroe

Greek’s Playland, the vision of the Spiro Drake, known as “The Greek,” is literally a playland — filled with whimsical displays such as a 20-foot-tall dinosaur replica, an M60 tank and a Cobra helicopter, a huge clown, 50 bird feeders and a tire park. The Playland has become an 87-acre fantasy of stone, statues, landscapes and surrealism.

Greek’s Playland is also a haven for the disabled. The park offers free admission and parties for the handicapped and disadvantaged and has brought in 100,000 disabled children and adults for days of fun with food and amusements — at no cost.

If you go: 608 Spotswood Englishtown Road, Monroe; 732-521-2232, thestonemuseum.com, free admission

Gannett File Photo

Field Station: Dinosaurs in Leonia

Jurassic Park may only exist on the big screen, but Field Station: Dinosaurs comes pretty close. With over 30 life-sized, realistic dinosaurs that were engineered by some of the world’s leading roboticists and the imagination of artists, the age of dinosaurs comes to life.

Plus, workshops, games, activities and 40 live shows connect the story of the dinosaurs to our world today, giving new relevance to their lives and power to the tale of their extinction.

If you go: 40 Fort Lee Road, Leonia; 855-999-9010, fieldstationdinosaurs.com, $16.50 to $18.50 for a day pass

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