NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Generations of punch lines notwithstanding, northern New Jersey is more than just shopping malls, refineries and turnpike traffic — though you can certainly find those without looking too hard.
The truth is that the counties that lie within 15 miles of downtown Manhattan are home to a richly diverse population and contain something for everyone, from high art to ignominious history and everything in between. Of particular interest to visitors for next month's Super Bowl, many attractions are within walking distance of public transportation and are, thankfully, indoors.
LIBERTY SCIENCE CENTER/ELLIS ISLAND/SEPT. 11 MEMORIAL
The Liberty Science Center's (http://lsc.org) 88-foot IMAX movie screen, considered the largest in the country, will dwarf any puny 50-inch flat screen your buddies will be watching at home in their man caves. You won't be able to watch the game on it, but who needs football when you can watch penguins, dinosaurs and great white sharks in such detail that you can critique their dental work? The science center, along the Hudson River in Jersey City, also features loads of exhibits on inventions, health and the environment, with many interactive components. There's also a pristine view of the Statue of Liberty.
For the Super Bowl, Liberty Science Center is presenting "Gridiron Glory," an exhibit featuring memorabilia such as the Vince Lombardi trophy and a 1917 game ball used by Jim Thorpe, as well as interactive displays and appearances by former New York Giants and New York Jets players.
Nearby in Liberty State Park are ferries to Ellis Island (http://www.nps.gov/elis/index.htm), the gateway to America for millions of immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some areas of the complex are closed or restricted due to continuing rehabilitation from Superstorm Sandy, but main areas such as the baggage room and Great Hall are open. Liberty State Park also features "Empty Sky," a striking memorial to victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks composed of 30-foot-high towers stretching 208 feet, 10 inches long, the width of the original trade center towers.
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer takes it in stride when people joke that she is the second-most important person in the city of 50,000 across the Hudson River from Manhattan. After all, who could compete with the addictive confections of "Cake Boss" Buddy Valastro? His bakery, Carlo's, sits across the street from city hall at 95 Washington St. (hint: it's the one with the line stretching around the block).
Another favorite son grew up a half-mile away and went on to become a pretty fair singer. The house at 415 Monroe St. where Frank Sinatra was born is gone, but the spot is marked by a bronze plaque on the sidewalk and a brick arch. (Try humming "Summer Wind" to take your mind off the biting cold.)
Ol' Blue Eyes probably never performed at Maxwell's (11th and Washington streets) but many other big names did, including REM, Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Blue Oyster Cult and Red Hot Chili Peppers, and part of Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" video was shot there. Maxwell's closed as a music venue earlier this year but remains open as a restaurant.
Blink and you'll miss the plaque standing in a traffic island catty-corner from Maxwell's. It marks the spot where, according to some, the first baseball game was played in the 1840s at Hoboken's Elysian Fields.