Top Five: My Favorite Counties in New Jersey
New Jersey is comprised of 21 counties, all with their own character, characters, scenery, and things to do. Each has a distinct flavor that separates it from its 20 brethren. But among this icosikaihenagon (apparently the word for a 21-sided polygon) of counties in the Armpit of America, some stand out from the pack much more than others. That being said, here are my five favorites.
5. Salem County: Tucked away in the dark southwestern corner of New Jersey, Salem County is mostly farmland and swamps and home to the lowest population of all the 21 counties. It is also the location of Cowtown, New Jersey’s one and only rodeo. In fact, that’s the only thing I’ve been to in this county (in the days before I had this blog – otherwise I would have certainly written about something so unusual and un-Jersey-esque). But aside from Cowtown, I don’t know much about Salem County. And that’s precisely why it made the list – it really is a mystery to me. And for being something so enigmatic in a relatively tiny state with a lot of people, Salem County truly stands out.
4. Hudson County: Though Hudson County is the smallest of the 21, it is the most densely populated county in the most densely populated state. Sure, this means traffic can be a bitch, but you have to take the good with the bad, as the theme song for “The Facts of Life” taught us. Between Jersey City and Hoboken alone, it seems most of my family and friends now live in this tiniest of counties. And with things like Zeppelin Hall, Barcade, Liberty State Park, the best views of Manhattan and much more, it’s easy to see how Hudson County ranks as one of my favorites.
3. Sussex County: Sitting atop New Jersey like a golden crown is Sussex County. What I love about it is how it feels totally a part of New Jersey, while at the time totally apart from it. Sure, it has the mountains and small towns and genuinely nice people that you’d expect from upstate New York and Pennsylvania, and for some reason those people have Southern accents, but it still has the decidedly New Jersey-ish aura (or odor?) about it. You might call that an oxymoron, but hey, New Jersey is full of them.
2. Mercer County: I know, this wouldn’t be everyone’s choice, but I have a special kinship with this county. Having worked in it for two and a half years and my wife having lived there for four, Mercer County was a like a second home county for me. From the grandeur of Princeton University to my favorite place to hike (Baldpate Mountain) to some of the best farmstands and dairies in the state, Mercer is a perfect blend of the best of what the state has to offer. Just try to stay away from Trenton…
1. Monmouth County: As if there were any doubt about my favorite county in New Jersey. I’m not just placing Monmouth County as number one because I spent the vast majority of my life there; I really think it represents everything one can love about the Armpit of America. It has plenty of the fertile farmland that gives New Jersey the nickname of the Garden State (and the best corn!). It has the top stretch of the Jersey Shore, providing a quieter, more peaceful beach experience than what you find in the crazier beach towns in Ocean, Atlantic, or Cape May counties. An unending supply of choices for nightlife – between the restaurants and bars of Red Bank, Belmar and Freehold alone you can never get bored or run out of cuisines to try. And there’s never a shortage of celebrities either, with people like Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Debbie Harry, Queen Latifah, Geraldo Rivera, Jon Stewart, and many more all living in Monmouth County. Where else in New Jersey can you get the whole package like that?
So that’s the list of my top five counties in New Jersey! Agree? Think I’m an idiot for my selections? Let me know!
And let’s just wrap things up with this recently discovered gem I found in my old bedroom in my old hometown in Monmouth County. I believe I made this masterpiece while in 4th grade, about 23 years ago!