NEWARK, N.J. -- 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 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, 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.
Yes, natural beauty exists even amid the rust and grime of northern New Jersey's once-thriving industrial areas. In the case of Paterson's Great Falls, it is beauty with a purpose: the majestic, 77-foot waterfall in the heart of the working-class city generated power to a network of mills and factories that fueled the Industrial Revolution, from textiles to the Rogers Locomotive Works and the location where the first Colt .45 revolvers were manufactured.
The Great Falls, which are second in water volume only to Niagara Falls east of the Mississippi, were designated a national park in 2011. Nearby is Hinchliffe Stadium, a national landmark and once-grand Art Deco stadium that in its heyday was filled to capacity for Negro League baseball games featuring future Hall of Famers Larry Doby and Monte Irvin and teams like the New York Black Yankees, the New York Cubans and Newark Eagles.
Mayhem, real and imaginary
"The Sopranos" ended its six-season run in 2007, but the locations that gave the HBO series its gritty backdrop still fascinate, judging by the two dozen people taking a tour recently past the former site of Satriale's Pork Store in Kearny, the fictional clubhouse of Tony and the gang.
Satriale's is now a parking lot, but you can stand on the sidewalk at Kearny Avenue and Dukes Street where Paulie, Silvio and the rest sipped espresso and pondered life's riddles. Other popular locations include Satin Dolls (230 Route 17, Lodi), the real-life Bada Bing strip joint; the Soprano house (14 Aspen Drive, North Caldwell) and Holsten's (1063 Broad St., Bloomfield), the diner where the last scene of the final episode was shot.
If actual bloodshed is your thing, there's the monument that commemorates the famous 1804 duel between Vice President Aaron Burr and former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. Along the Palisades in Weehawken (Hamilton Avenue and Boulevard East), a bust of Hamilton stands next to a boulder where he allegedly rested his head as he lay mortally wounded.
Three blocks from Newark's Prudential Center, site of Super Bowl Media day, a sidewalk plaque in front of 12 East Park St. marks the spot where Arthur Flegenheimer, better known as the Prohibition-era gangster Dutch Schultz, was gunned down in 1935 by rival mobsters.
The 104-year-old Newark Museum (49 Washington St., Newark) is home to 80 galleries of world-class art and artifacts with a particular emphasis on Asian and African art. During Super Bowl week it will have on display the original Lombardi Trophy that was handcrafted in Tiffany's Newark in 1967. It's part of an exhibition celebrating Newark's place as the former hub of the country's precious metals industry.
The Montclair Art Museum (3 South Mountain Ave., Montclair), celebrating its centennial this year, specializes in American and Native American artworks from the 18th century to the present.
For a change of pace, the Yogi Berra Museum at Montclair State University offers a collection from the Hall of Fame catcher's career during the New York Yankees' heyday in the 1940s and '50s, and also provides sports-based educational programs for kids.