The Garden State has had a bit of an identity crisis recently, which boiled over in 2006 when New Jersey officials began a search for a new state slogan; nobody seemed to know what to say. Too bad Hoboken-born Frank Sinatra wasn't around, as surely Ol' Blue Eyes could have crooned a song suitable for the richly historical, gorgeously pastoral third state in the Union. Some grumbled that it was because New Jersey has a bit of an inferiority complex, and getting past the miles of factories and industrial smoke stacks in cities like Elizabeth and Newark clouds one's view of what is beautiful about the state. What some may have forgotten, though, was those smoke-stack laden cities speak to the vital role the state played during the Industrial Revolution, and still does today. Ever hear of a guy named Thomas Alva Edison? Hundreds of his inventions were made in his factories West Orange and Menlo Park, the latter of which now houses a museum dedicated to Edison's amazing inventions of modern convenience at 37 Christie St. in Edison (tel. 732/549-3299; www.menloparkmuseum.com). This, of course, is just one example of how history comes to life here. Revolutionary War buffs know New Jersey as a vital spot in the struggle for independence of the original 13 colonies from Mother England. In fact, four of the biggest battles of that bloody struggle -- the two Battles of Trenton, the Battle of Monmouth, and the Battle of Princeton (Washington's successful surprise attack on the Brits) -- were all fought on the land that would become New Jersey, which was so named for the British island of Jersey in the English Channel. Today, you can stop into spots like Morristown National Historic Park (tel. 908/766-8215; www.nps.gov/morr), the headquarters of General George himself, where you can hike among 27 miles of trails or visit the park's great museum, which is undergoing renovation.
Industry and war aside, the fact remains that the official nickname of New Jersey is the Garden State, and with good reason. You are likelier to find more farm stands, fields full of cranberries, pumpkins, and corn, and corrals of champion horses in New Jersey than in any other state. There's also fantastic parkland; great rafting and fishing on the Delaware River; quaint historic towns like Lambertville, Frenchtown, and Milford, where you can meander the charming streets full of great boutiques, stellar eateries, and storybook scenery; and great live music venues, like the PNC Arts Center and the Continental Airlines Arena, where you might even catch local hero Bruce Springsteen strumming and singing about the state he still calls home to this day. In fact, his old stomping ground Asbury Park (www.cityofasburypark.com) is now the site of an exciting renaissance, in which old crumpled homes and businesses are being restored to their former glory, making the city a hot destination for the culturally curious. And, of course, don't forget the Jersey Shore, full of some of the East Coast's most beautiful beaches and the birthplace of that sticky pastel treat, saltwater taffy. In the end, maybe the reason local officials couldn't figure out a new slogan had less to do with an inferiority complex, and more to do with the fact that it's hard to boil it all down to one all-encompassing phrase that fits on a license plate.