The skinny coastal state of NEW JERSEY has been at the heart of US history since the Revolution, when a battle was fought at Princeton, and George Washington spent two bleak winters at Morristown. As the Civil War came, the state’s commitment to an industrial future ensured that, despite its border location along the Mason–Dixon Line, it fought with the Union.

That commitment to industry has doomed New Jersey in modern times; most travellers only see “the Garden State”, so called for the rich market garden territory at the state’s heart, from the stupendously ugly New Jersey Turnpike toll road, which is always heavy with truck traffic. Even the songs of Bruce Springsteen, Asbury Park’s golden boy, paint his home state as a gritty urban wasteland of empty lots, grey highways, lost dreams and blue-collar heartache. The majority of the refineries and factories actually hug only a mere fifteen-mile-wide swath along the turnpike, but bleak cities like Newark, home to the major airport, and Trenton, the forgettable capital, reinforce the dour image. But there is more to New Jersey than factories and pollution. Alongside its revolutionary history, the northwest corner near the Delaware Water Gap is traced with picturesque lakes, streams and woodlands, while in the south, the town of Princeton adds architectural elegance to the interior with the grand buildings of its Ivy League university.

Best of all, the Atlantic shore, which suffered some of the worst damage during Hurricane Sandy offers a 130-mile stretch of almost uninterrupted resorts – some rowdy, some run-down, some undeveloped and peaceful. The beaches, if occasionally crowded, are safe and clean: sandy, broad and lined by characteristic wooden boardwalks, some of them charge admission during the summer, in an attempt to maintain their condition. The rowdy, sleazy glitz of Atlantic City is perhaps the shore’s best-known attraction, though there are also quieter resorts like Spring Lake and Victorian Cape May.

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