Truman the pit bull loves the view from Navesink Twin Lights.

Truman the pit bull loves the view from Navesink Twin Lights.

Don’t wait for your friends to visit to play local tourist.  Thirty minutes or less from our area, there are many original and inspiring things to see and do.

A lot of the destinations are no-charge and take three hours or less to get the full experience.  Here are three ideas:

Deep Cut Gardens

Every few weeks this park in Middletown, originally a Genovese Family retreat (yes, that Genovese Family), is something completely new to see and be inspired by, thanks to evolving blooms and greens.  Whether you love to garden or just love to be amazed by Mother Nature, the 54 acres of rolling manicured gardens are a living catalog of native, rare and cultivated plants.

The free-to-visit park also features a rose parterre, shade garden, display greenhouse and Bonsai collection.  A staff of horticulturalists is on hand to share tips and answer your personal gardening questions.  Artists are welcomed to paint by appointment.  Dogs are not welcome.  VisitNJ.org.

Historic Village at Allaire

Before Steve Jobs there was James P. Allaire, an industrialist, entrepreneur and inventor.  At his Howell Iron Works (now the Historic Village), the ore for America’s steam ship engines was mined and shipped to Jersey City by train.  At one point in the 19th Century, thanks to the Iron Works, Allaire controlled the complete supply chain for the manufacturing of steam ship engines.

Today, the Historic Village at Allaire is a living history museum – everything is true to the 19th Century, from the historic interpreter’s costumes to the games children are playing.  Visitors can tour Allaire’s mansion as well as see what is created in the active blacksmithing and carpenter buildings.

“Because the village tour is driven by people and activities, there is something for everyone to connect with,” said a village spokeswoman.  “Industry and everyday activities of the 19th Century are brought to life by our dedicated volunteers.  Visitors are not just looking at what a blacksmith made, they are watching blacksmiths make tools and other period-specific things.”

After touring the village, take a ride on the vintage diesel Pine Creek Railroad, managed by the New Jersey Museum of Transportation.  Check the museum’s calendar for their famous Haunted Train Ride, Easter Bunny and Santa Rides.

Entrance to the historic village is always free. Weekends, the state charges a $5 parking fee.  Non-holiday train ride tickets are $4.  Dogs are welcome.  AllaireVillage.org.

Navesink Twin Lights

In 1828, a lighthouse was built on the Highlands site to help guide mariners through the waters into New York’s south harbor.  The current, impressive dual lighthouse structure built in 1862 is home to many historic “firsts’ including the first primary seacoast light to use electricity (producing 25 million candlepower) and first place the Pledge of Allegiance was read in 1893.

If that doesn’t, errr… float your boat, the view from one of the highest points on the Atlantic seaboard (246 above sea level) is something seriously spectacular.  On a clear day you can see 22 miles out to the horizon.  On any day, it is likely you will see Coney Island, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and Empire State Building.

Entrance to the lighthouse in the Highlands is by optional donation.  Dogs are welcome.  TwinLightsLighthouse.com.