There is so much more to New Jersey than the Jersey Shore, despite what MTV might lead you to believe. This small state can be lost in New York’s shadow, but has some true gems that are just waiting to be discovered. Rich in history dating back before the Revolutionary War, there are several historic towns along the interior with beautifully preserved downtown areas. For those still hoping for a beach getaway, why not head out to some charming small towns like Cape May or Ocean Grove and enjoy the waves without the crowds.
Check out our list of the 15 best small towns to visit in New Jersey:
1. Cape May, New Jersey
A lovely seaside resort destination, Cape May is located at the southern tip of Cape May Peninsula where the Delaware River meets the Atlantic Ocean. A small, sleepy town during the year, Cape May comes to life in the summer months. Grab your swimsuit and a suitcase, and head over for some beach relaxation at the country’s recognized ‘oldest seaside resort’.
Cape May’s beaches are temptingly gorgeous and perfect for a lazy afternoon of suntanning. Check out Higbee Beach or Poverty beach, before taking a breach from the sun and explore some of the historic sights – the town is listed as a National Historic District and has over 600 historic, preserved Victorian buildings. Stop by for Cape May’s Food and Wine festival or go look for Cape May diamonds (quartz brought to shore on Sunset Beach).
2. Lambertville, New Jersey
While not a beach retreat, Lambertville has plenty to offer any visitors. Grab some coffee and enjoy the view of the Delaware River that runs alongside this historic town, founded in 1705. A veritable mecca for artists and craftsman, there are plenty of shopping and antiquing opportunities tucked away along the quaint historic streets of Lambertville.
Called the “Antiquing Capital of New Jersey”, take your wallet and head down to the Golden Nuggets Antique Market, open 3 days a week, or stop in at the shops on Main and Union streets. If you’re searching for that perfect piece of art for your renovated home, the Gallery of Fine Art might have something for you. Top off the whole trip with a relaxing stay at Lambertville Station, a restored train depot that is now an ideally located and popular waterside restaurant and inn.
3. Chester, New Jersey
Tucked away up north in Morris County, Chester is the epitome of unique small town charm. Plan a trip and check out the shops, small business and parks, or for any of the community organized events: weekly farmers markets, craft fairs, free concerts and a community garden. Despite its small population, the town is lively and perfect for antique/art lovers or outdoors enthusiasts alike.
If you like hiking, be sure to check up on the Chester Hiking Series, a town effort to encourage people to explore lesser known hiking trails around the town. Both Willowwood Arboretum with its beautiful gardens spring through fall or Kay Environmental Center with its butterfly garden are worth visits to reacquaint yourself with nature. Whether you’re shopping at the antique mall or picking your own apples at Riamede Farms, enjoy the disconnect from modern life and relax.
4. Collingswood, New Jersey
Collingswood, originally founded by Quakers, is a quirky town in Camden County, New Jersey. Because Quakers do not believe in the consumption of spirits, until very recently, Collingswood was a “dry town” – no alcohol was sold, even though patrons were allowed to bring their own beer or wine to restaurants. In the last few years, the town has approved a few microbreweries, and a tasting room at Devil’s Creek Brewery opened earlier in 2016.
Collingswood reminds us all of the past with more than just their alcohol laws: the town itself has preserved many historic buildings, including the Stokes-Lee Mansion that dates back to 1707! The poet, Walt Whitman, also has a tomb here in the local cemetery. However, in sharp contrast to these two parts of the town, it also sponsors a community green program and sponsors a bike share program, a greenhouse and a composting program. Ride a bike through town, visit some of the stores off Haddon Avenue, and kick back at Knight Park. In summer, concerts and movies are often put on here. Why not spend a few days here and enjoy the healthy, green lifestyle that Collingswood has to offer.
5. Allentown, New Jersey
A borough in Monmouth County and 30 miles from the Jersey Shore, Allentown is a prime vacation destination for those seeking to unwind and relax. Whether you are interested in the historic sights, shopping and eating at the variety of options Allentown can offer, or explore the surrounding nature, you won’t be disappointed. Check out Allentown’s Old Mill, one of the longest running mills before its closure in the 1960s and listed on the National Historic Register or walk along the lake – the autumn colors are simply gorgeous.
Explore Country Road 539 South to see some beautiful farms and wineries. Why not stop in and sample some local products? You can always head back into town if you get hungry – enjoy a meal at La Rouge 23 or have a coffee at the BerryRich Bakery & Cafe. For those active people with a sweet tooth, Bruno’s Bicycles is a curious mix of a bike repair shop and candy store, or buy something special at Wilhelmina’s Handmade gift shop.
6. Haddonfield, New Jersey
Formerly occupied by the Lenape Native Americans, who left shortly after the europeans arrived; their traces of arrows and pottery have been found along the Cooper River. Aside from being a point of interest for historians, Haddonfield is also a paleontology site: in 1858, an almost fully completed dinosaur skeleton was found in the town limits and can still be viewed at Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences.
For those interested in American history, visit the Indian King Tavern, where the New Jersey Legislature met in secret from the British forces and declared New Jersey to be an independent state in 1777. While you cannot toast in their honor because of the dry town policies (Haddonfield also has Quaker roots), it’s still a must-see. Walk down the tree-lined Main Street and explore any of the over 200 stores and coffee shops Haddonfield has to offer. Take a yoga class at the Yoga Center and enjoy the peace and quiet.
7. Spring Lake, New Jersey
Spring Lake, named after a spring-fed lake in the area, is actually located right on the beach. Come out here for a beach vacation and to catch up on your Vitamin D. Keep an eye out if you go in the water, though. Spring Lake is located along the 80 mile stretch of shoreline from the Jersey Shore Shark attacks of the early 1900s. We’re happy to recommend the beach now, as it’s almost been 100 years since these occurrences and is mentioned here since rumor has it that these attacks were what inspiring “Jaws”.
If you’re not a swimmer, take a walk along the boardwalk and dunes before heading back into town and stay a few nights at the historic Johnson House Inn. Go on a shopping spree along Third Avenue, and have a delicious meal at any of the restaurants there. For those chocolate lovers, Third Avenue Chocolate Shoppe awaits you with open arms. Why not escape to the beach for some fresh air and good food. The ocean breeze does everyone some good!
8. Clinton, New Jersey
Located along the Southern Branch of the Raritan River, Clinton is a picturesque destination just waiting to be photographed. Bring your camera and go visit a popular attraction: the two old historic mills sitting across from each other on the Raritan River. The Red Mill, originally a wool mill, was constructed in 1810. Across from it is the Stone Mill, a former gristmill that is now the Hunterdon Museum of Contemporary Craft and Design. Take the afternoon and get some pictures and visit the museum.
The town itself is lovely and has been used as the backdrop in some Hollywood films such as In and Out, One True Thing (starring Meryl Streep) and My Giant. Brush up on your movie knowledge and rewatch these films if you have the chance! Walk across the old iron bridge and check out the nearby waterfalls. Once you’ve had some time to explore the downtown shops, you should get in touch with your artistic side and take an art class or two at the Hunterdon Museum.
9. Frenchtown, New Jersey
Frenchtown, located on the Delaware River, became the gateway to Pennsylvania after the construction of the large wooden bridge with 5 piers in 1841 that still stands today and connects the town to Pennsylvania. Walk along the paths and canals, or bring your bike and explore even further. A lively destination, check out their 3 big festivals: the Wine and Art weekend in May, Bastille Weekend in honor of French roots in July, and RiverFest in September.
Make this a spa relaxation weekend and stay at the Widow McCrea House, a charming Victorian house located in Riverside Village. Treat yourself to a spa day and book treatments at Euphoria Studio, a popular salon, spa and boutique. If you find yourself with some time to spare, have a cup of coffee at Early Bird and bring a good book, or enjoy dinner and drinks at the National Hotel Restaurant and Bar. Whatever you end up choosing, we’re sure you’ll enjoy your time off in Frenchtown.
10. Branchville, New Jersey
At the northern part of New Jersey, Branchville was founded by settlers from Connecticut in the 18th century. Originally prosperous due to their mills and a dam, the town later had used this dam to obtain their own water-powered electricity. A quiet town ideal for disconnecting, check out Kymer’s Camping Resort or Harmony Ridge Farm and Campgrounds and get away from modern society for awhile.
You can also explore the town and visit the local shops, or go to Lafayette Clay Works if you’re feeling artsy. Stop in for some Italian food at Mezza Luna or stock up on snacks at Hainesville General Store before heading over to Stokes State Forest. Bring your walking shoes and take a hike, and decompress a bit.
11. Cranbury, New Jersey
Especially recommended for Revolutionary War Buffs, Cranbury is located in Middlesex County in eastern New Jersey. Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette used a home here as headquarters during the Revolutionary War, and George Washington even spent some time there with them in 1778, where he planned for the Battle of Monmouth.
If that isn’t enough of an enticement, Cranbury’s entire downtown area is designated as a Historic District in the National Register of Historic Places, and celebrated its tricentennial in 2010! After you have explored downtown Cranbury and tried the ice cream at Gil and Bert’s, spend some time at the Cranbury Museum. If you’re a wildlife enthusiast, the Plainsboro Preserve is nearby awaiting your visit.
12. Red Bank, New Jersey
Red Bank was originally a part of Shrewsbury Towne until it was sold to Joseph French in 1736, and gets its name because it is located on “the red bank” of the Navesink River. The town expanded when the river was dredged and turned into a port from which steamboats commuted to Manhattan.
Nowadays, Red Bank has undergone special improvements projects to renovate the Main street area and increase pedestrian walkways. Walk through the historic downtown and enjoy the shops. Participate in the Food and Wine Walk along the riverfront or kayak or paddleboat out on the Navesink River. If you’re in the mood for a show, check out the Two River Theatre before you head back home!
13. Ocean Grove, New Jersey
An unincorporated community in Neptune Township, Ocean Grove offers a low-key, relaxed beach vacation without the overflow of tourists and crowds of some other more well-known beach towns. The beaches are quiet and beautiful, and the town is a short two block walk from the boardwalk. Take a walk or go for a run along the beach and catch the sunrise if you’re an early bird.
Stay a few days at the Bathe Ave House and treat yourself to a shopping spree downtown. Relax at night over some cocktails at the Moonstruck Restaurant and Cocktail lounge after a long day in the sun. If you’re seeking a luxury style vacation, book yourself some treatments at the Angels of the Grove and slow down for a few days to enjoy Ocean Grove.
14. Flemington, New Jersey
Originally a farming community settled by the German and English after the Lenape Native Americans left the area, Flemington is located in Hunterdon County. Due to its long history, over 65% of Flemington was incorporated in the National Register of Historic Places by 1960. A charming rural town, it also played an interesting role in more recent history when a jury found Bruno Hauptmann guilty of the murder of the famous Charles’ Lindbergh baby boy in 1935.
Take a trip to Flemington and see the old County Courthouse where the Lindbergh case was heard before checking out the Union Hotel, an old stagecoach stop that was open from the 18th century to 2008. You also can’t miss Fleming Castle, the first home build in Flemington and now a historical museum. After sampling the sweets at the Fudge Shoppe, walk it off on the Deer Path or Readington River Buffalo Farm. Enjoy the laid back vibe and relax!
15. Stone Harbor, New Jersey
A borough of Cape May County, Stone Harbor is a haven for beach goers and sailors. A resort community, Stone Harbor was once described by the New York Times as a place of “gleaming McMansions and elegant shops”. Come here for a luxury weekend getaway!
Shop at the Well Dressed Olive, spend the day at the Seven Mile Beach or go sailing on the bay. Have a cup of tea at The Tea Shoppe before buying something sparkling at the Jewelry Studio. Treat yourself to a waterside hotel and stay at the Reeds. Everyone needs to treat themselves sometimes and Stone Harbor is the perfect place to do so. Enjoy your time off!