New Jersey is full of quaint towns from the north to the south, from the Atlantic Ocean to the mountains and lakes. Here are some of the best-known and least-known quaint towns in New Jersey. From New York City, most are within one to two hours by car. From Philadelphia, they are between one to three hours. Culture, outdoors, boutique shops, and cafes, you can find all of that on this list.
1. Enjoy Culture And Food In Montclair
Located less than 20 miles from New York City, and under 45 minutes by train, Montclair is the quintessentially quaint New Jersey town. There is a very walkable downtown area with shops and restaurants. A little further afield, you’ll find the Montclair Art Museum. At Montclair State University take in a dance or musical performance at Alexander Kasser Theater. You’ll see world-class dance, musical theater, or a symphony for a fraction of the price that you would pay in New York City. Montclair has a great and eclectic restaurant scene. For great Ethiopian food, go to Mesob (BYOB).
2. Experience The History Of Princeton
Located midway between New York City and Philadelphia, Princeton dates back to the early 1700s when Quakers settled along the Stony Brook River. In 1975, the city was listed in the National Register of Historic Places for its Gothic and Tudor Revival style architecture. It is also home to one of the top universities in the world, Princeton University.
The small town is walkable and accessible. Stroll through the shops in Palmer Square and search for home goods, books, clothes, and gifts. Stop for ice cream at The Bent Spoon or have lunch at one of the fabulous restaurants around the square. Looking for culture? Catch a play at McCarter Theatre Center or visit the Princeton University Art Museum or Morven Museum and Garden. Check out some of the pop-up festivals playing on the Green.
3. Take In The Arts And Culture Of New Brunswick
The third college town on our list is the home of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Settled in the mid-1600s, New Brunswick has as long a colonial history as Williamsburg in Virginia. You can pick up a map of the historical sites in town. There are over 50 places to eat and drink in the downtown area. For culture lovers, stop by the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center, the Zimmerli Art Museum, the State Theatre, or the George Street Playhouse. New Brunswick is easily accessible by train.
4. Shop For Antiques In Lafayette
If you love antiques, visit the cute little township of Lafayette just north of Sparta along US Route 15. The 1840s gristmill has been converted into an antique center brimming with over 55 vendors. Stop in at the Millside Cafe for an ice cream break or a light lunch. The Chocolate Goat Gift Shoppe is a not-to-be-missed specialty chocolate shop where you can also purchase baby, bath, and body soaps. Fancy some high tea? Head across the road to Lorraine’s Cake Shoppe. You can also order a wedding cake or simply pick up some macarons or cupcakes for dessert. Just down the road, you’ll find The Shoppes at Lafayette with a farmers market on Sundays and outlet stores.
5. See Small-Town History In Newton
Newton is a small town with a surprising amount of history. We live part-time in Newton. The town square dates to 1762 and was used for political meetings and other events. The Newton Fire Museum, the Newton Theatre, and the Spring Street Art Center are all worth a visit. You won’t need more than a couple of hours to see everything in Newton. A trip to the town is easily combined with Lafayette or a hike at one of the many local state parks.
6. Visit The Old Cooper Gristmill In Chester
The nearby Hacklebarney State Park with its waterfalls is a good place for a hike and then a visit to Chester. You can tour the historic Cooper Gristmill, an old flour mill built in the 1800s. Go cider tasting or stop for apple pie at Hacklebarney Farm Cider Mill. You’ll find antiques, vintage jewelry, and home decor at some of the craft shops. Stop in for some candy and baked goods at the Black River Candy Shoppe. If you visit in September, you’ll catch an excellent craft fair, one of the best in the country.
7. Hear Musical History At Asbury Park
The Jersey Shore has many quaint towns. Our favorite is Asbury Park for its beautiful beach, musical history, street art, and boardwalk. There are many restored Victorian houses on the drive to the beach.
Check out The Stone Pony, a famous rock ‘n’ roll venue where Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny, and Steve Van Zandt have graced the stage. You’ll find some interesting street art as you stroll the boardwalk. And, of course, the beach is beautiful. There are wheelchair ramps for entry to the beach and the boardwalk is accessible. As far as food, you can get traditional beach food -- burgers, fries, funnel cake -- or try one of the restaurants on the boardwalk.
In the summer months, parking can be hard to find in Asbury Park. Best to get there early and leave the car in one of the lots if you don’t want to be worried about extending your time on the meter.
8. Head South To Cape May
Head to the southernmost tip of Jersey and you’ll end up in Cape May. Gorgeous beaches and a wonderful historic district (listed in the National Register of Historic Places) will keep you occupied. Cape May was named by Dutch captain Cornelius Jacobsen Mey in 1620. Check out Perry or Jackson Street to see the “Painted Ladies,” the brightly colored and beautifully restored old Victorian homes. Once in Cape May, the town is very walkable or bikeable. Washington Street Mall is a short walk from the beach for shopping, saltwater taffy, fudge, and anything else that you desire.
It is best to drive to Cape May and then leave the car parked. Parking and traffic can be a problem, especially in high season.
9. Enjoy Laid-Back Spring Lake
Spring Lake gets its name from the underground springs that feed the lake. It has a lovely beach with a two-mile-long boardwalk. It is much calmer than Asbury Park or Cape May. There are over 60 boutique shops in this affluent community. Go to Wreck Pond to see some herons or egrets. For a change of pace, stop by the small, beautiful St. Catharine’s Church. If you have a sweet tooth, the Third Avenue Chocolate Shoppe has homemade sweets and ice cream. Hoffman’s Ice Cream is also a very popular place. Many of the restaurants in Spring Lake are very pricey. Parking by the beach is free.
10. Walk The Nature Trail In Closter
Closter has the advantage of being both quaint and near the Palisades Interstate Parkway. The Palisades is one of the most beautiful drives overlooking the Hudson River toward New York City. The downtown area is cute with a 5 and 10 store. One unique feature of Closter is the nature center in the middle of town. There is also a walking trail along the Tenakill Brook. If you are interested in architecture, you can see one of the only Lustron homes (a steel house made after World War II) in New Jersey. For a splurge, try The Hill restaurant run by New Jersey native and Michelin-starred chef Ben Pollinger.
Driving to Closter from New York City takes about an hour. It’s also accessible via bus from the Port Authority Terminal in New York.
11. Enjoy The Arts In Red Bank
For a quaint town with a strong art scene, Red Bank is the place to go. You’ll find art galleries and boutique shops. Want to make some art? Visit A Time to Kiln to do pottery or glass fusion. For music lovers, there is the Count Basie Theatre (he was born in Red Bank). If you like theater, take in a play at the Two River Theater. In the fall, there is the Red Bank Guinness Oyster Festival. Red Bank is a good place for families. Just a short drive away is Little Silver, a quaint town on the Shrewsbury River.
All of these towns can be visited year-round. Some of the beach towns are much quieter in the winter and some of the restaurants are closed.
There are fees to access most beaches in New Jersey.
Montclair, Princeton, New Brunswick, Asbury Park, Cape May, Spring Lake, and Red Bank are all accessible by train (New Jersey Transit). Closter and Newton are accessible by bus from the Port Authority Bus Terminal in NYC.
Trains do not run to Montclair on the weekends. There are buses that run from the Port Authority. In conjunction with dance and music performances at Montclair State University, there is a special bus that runs from New York City on the weekends.
These are only a few of the quaint towns in New Jersey. Enjoy exploring the Garden State.