From Kites to Crawfish, and All That Jazz, New Jersey Festivals Celebrate the Sights and Sounds of Spring

Trenton, NJ— Whether it is the pink and white cherry blossoms in the nation’s oldest county park, the cool sounds of jazz at the Shore, or a trip to New Orleans in your own backyard, there are plenty of reasons to get out and explore New Jersey this spring – many at little or no cost. Spring is in the air across New Jersey and traditional signs of the season are upon us. The blossoms and blooms are right on schedule, and you can almost hear the music and taste the culinary delights from upcoming festivals. The New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism encourages travelers to start planning a weekend getaway to experience some of the highlights of the season throughout the state, where there is a celebration in virtually any direction!

One of the preeminent annual events in northern New Jersey is the Cherry Blossom Festival in Newark’s Branch Brook Park. This year, from April 12 – 19, the city will be celebrating the magnificent blooming of thousands of Japanese Cherry Blossom trees in the 23-acre park. Holding the distinction of the first county park in the United States opened to the public, Branch Brook Park was designed by the famed landscape architecture firm of Olmsted Brothers, a successor to Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of Central Park in New York City. Newark’s park adopted its colorful hue in 1927, when Caroline Bamburger Fuld donated 2,000 cherry blossom trees in memory of her late husband, and it is now listed on both the State and National Register of Historic Places.

Along the banks of the Delaware River in downtown Lambertville, visitors turn out in droves for the state’s Annual Shad Festival, which has evolved over the decades from a local art show into a nationally recognized, award-winning event. Each year the festival is timed to take place when shad move up river from the ocean to spawn. For 2009, on April 25 and 26 visitors will enjoy steamboat rides on the Delaware, carriage rides and guided walking tours of historic Lambertville, incredible food and family entertainment, the region’s arts and crafts and, of course, the ever popular shad. Local fishermen will show attendees the traditional seine technique of fishing by using large nets, which was originally taught to early settlers by the Native Americans in the area to catch the shad, or river herring.

About half way up the Atlantic coast of the Jersey Shore is Seaside Heights, which is home to the Seaside Music Festival. This free four-day festival from May 14 – 17 brings together music performances, special events, a car show, and visitors who just want to start summer a little early. This unofficial kickoff to summer will rock the Jersey Shore destination with 15 stages, more than 170 performers, Saturday-night fireworks on the boardwalk, surfing and wakeboard clinics, a volleyball tournament, and boardwalk rides and amusements will be open for business.

At the state’s southern tip, the 24th Annual Wildwoods International Kite Festival will kick- off with the Unlocking of the Ocean Ceremony on the beach near the Wildwoods Convention Center on Friday, May 22 and run through May 25. During that time, the sky will be filled with kites of all colors, shapes and sizes – from giant sea creatures to the traditional diamond shaped, and vibrant giant kites that are visible for miles. Nite-kite shows with illuminated kites of all kinds, and the East Coast Stunt Kite Championships featuring the best sport kite pilots in the United States are also slated. Visitors will have the opportunity to meet guest kite makers, have free kite-flying lessons, listen to musical performances, and possibly best of all, enjoy the classic beach and boardwalk that Wildwood is known for.

If a taste of New Orleans less than an hour from New York City in the hills of New Jersey piques your interest, than plan a trip to Augusta for the 20th Annual Crawfish Festival from May 29 – 31. What started as a small crawfish boil for 70 people homesick for the Southern staple in 1989, has turned into an annual pilgrimage for thousands. The festival features the classic sounds of Louisiana, from Cajun, Zydeco and Delta Blues, to New Orleans R&B, Brass, Gospel and Jazz on four impressive stages. While the music draws many visitors to the festival, it is the food that keeps them coming back. The menus of the weekend include fresh boiled Louisiana crawfish, Shrimp Creole, Alligator Sausage, Catfish Po-boys, Jambalaya, Red Beans & Rice, Raw Oysters, Southern Fried Chicken and numerous other Southern dishes.

For more details on the state’s varied festivals or tips on planning a weekend getaway to the Garden State, log on to the State’s Tourism website