If you’re from New Jersey, you know our beautiful state is filled with charming small towns known for great food, shopping, nature trails, shorelines and much more. Travel & Leisure recently gave props to 12 of the best small towns in the state. “The Garden State is teeming with charming locales, many of which tend to fly under the radar,” the website says. We agree. Here are Travel & Leisure‘s picks for the 12 best small towns in NJ:
What’s this borough in Ocean County best known for? It’s either its beautiful shoreline, small population or the menu (and view!) at Charlie’s of Bay Head. The Vintage Automobile Museum of New Jersey and the New Jersey Museum of Boating make for great day trips. Mark your calendar for next year, because Bay Head’s annual Art in the Park every June is a big draw.
Cranbury is the quintessential small town. Many overlook it because Princeton is its neighbor, but walking along Main Street makes you feel as if you’ve been transported to a different time (The Cranbury Inn dates back to 1780). The Cranbury Museum is a great place to learn about the local history. Throughout the year, there are craft shows, farmers’ markets and a Fourth of July celebration that could rival any big town.
The Borough of Flemington uses “loveflemington” as its website address for good reason: this small town has a calendar packed with events all year long. If you’re not too spooked, join a ghost walk tour this fall. Northlandz is home to the world’s largest miniature railroad and the Flemington Castle Museum dates back to 1756. There are car shows every week through Labor Day. Music is important to this area, as the Central Jersey Jazz Fest stops by on Sept. 9.
Lambertville is NJ’s answer to PA’s neighboring New Hope. It’s a beautiful town with lots of shops and eateries to walk through on a beautiful day. Plus, you can walk across the bridge that connects the two for added fun. The Lambertville Station Restaurant and Inn is a popular dinner spot and hotel, and it will host a Fall Fest on Oct. 8 and 9. Howell Living History Farm holds programs throughout the year, such as maple sugaring, sawmilling, potato planting and wheat harvesting, including both on-site and virtual programs for kids.
A great mark of a great small town is its farmers’ markets, craft shows and street fairs and Millburn has it all! The Paper Mill Playhouse hosts live shows and performances and attracts theater fans from all over the state. In the downtown area, you’ll find more than 180 shops and restaurants, including the famed Millburn Deli.
Montclair, often called the sixth borough of NYC, has a bustling downtown filled with restaurants and shops we love. The Wellmont Theater has an impressive lineup of shows and concerts and Montclair is also known for being home to the uber sophisticated boutique hotel, The George, owned by makeup and business entrepreneur and Montclair resident Bobbi Brown. Be careful if you walk past Just Kidding Around — your kids will want to spend all day (and all your money) in the toy store. Wander through thousands of flowers at Van Vleck Home & Gardens. Come in late October for the Montclair Film Festival.
Red Bank has a great mix of family-friendly places, top-tier restaurants and fun nightlife spots, making it perfect for daytime street fairs or a night out. There are beautiful views of the Navesink River (you can spot a house owned by Jon Bon Jovi) or walk along the waterfront at Riverside Gardens Park. Relive your childhood by taking the kids to Yestercades, a retro-inspired arcade; Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, a comic book store owned by filmmaker and Red Bank resident Kevin Smith; or Jack’s Record Shoppe. During the day, stop at the Cheese Cave. At night, take in a show at the Count Basie Center for the Arts. Make a dinner reservation at Buona Sera, one of the best Italian restaurants in the area.
Ridgewood has lots of cute shops, such as Pazzazed and its NJ-inspired treasures, or Bookends, one of the state’s best indie bookstores. Style lovers won’t want to miss a visit to Envy, a boutique owned by the Real Housewives of New Jersey’s Melissa Gorga, Apricot Lane, Suite 201 or Fox’s. The Bergen County village is known for its eclectic mix of restaurants and eateries. Stella Artisan is a favorite Italian spot and it’s just down the road from Felina, consistently ranked one of the best restaurants in NJ. Just this week, a new rooftop bar opened above Felina. The village is also known for hosting free outdoor concerts and movies all summer. Don’t miss the Fall Craft Street Fair on Sept. 18 or Oktoberfest on Oct. 8 and 9. Visit the Ridgewood Historical Society & Schoolhouse Museum to learn what life was like for early residents of Bergen County.
Spring Lake is nicknamed “The Jewel of the Jersey Shore” for a good reason: its beaches are clean, quiet and in stark contrast to the hustle-and-bustle of nearby Belmar. Spend the day relaxing on the beach listening to the sound of ocean waves, or head to the boardwalk area or Third Avenue for some shopping. Hoffman’s Ice Cream & Yogurt is a favorite place to cool down with some sweet treats.
The Tenafly Nature Center is a beautiful place to bring the kids and spend the afternoon. Greenbrook Falls boasts a gorgeous waterfall, with views of the NYC skyline on one side, and the Palisades cliffs on the other. Mochinut is home to a new craze, mochi donuts, topped with soft serve to make an even more irresistible treat. Huyler Park, located in the heart of downtown, is a great place to listen to live music in the summer.
West Cape May
Not to be overshadowed by its sister city, Cape May, West Cape May has its own beautiful beaches. You can marvel at the beautiful Victorian architecture. Enjoy a day lounging at the Willow Creek Winery & Farm. Plus, where else on the East Coast – or maybe anywhere – can you go to a Lima Bean Festival?
Mystery. The Addams Family. Bovella’s. OK, so one of these things is not like the other, but they still all define the attraction of Westfield and why so many are drawn to this charming town with a bustling downtown. AddamsFest is a yearly event dedicated to Charles Addams, the cartoonist who created The Addams Family. Bovella’s Pastry Shoppe is well known for, well, everything. We’d recommend stopping there after eating at Ferraro’s, though you may not have room after dining at this Italian staple.