While you may have never heard of Paterson, New Jersey, the city holds a distinction that’s quite remarkable — it has the second-highest density of any city in the United States with a population over 100,000, falling only behind New York City.
Its story stretches back pretty far, and has some notable dots along the timeline of America’s history. The land was once home to a Native American tribe, though the Dutch would go on to claim the region, as would the British. The Paterson Falls area would later play a humongous role in the separation of the infant United States from Britain, economically, as Alexander Hamilton (yes, that Hamilton) would spearhead an organization to harness the fall’s energy to support manufacturing, thus allowing the earliest Americans to no longer rely on the British for industry. In fact, some say that the city of Paterson was largely responsible for the American industrial revolution.
Later on, Paterson would become a hub for immigrants from many lands, making it a spot great for not only historical significance, but also ethnic diversity.
So, what can you expect when planning a visit to Paterson? Here are the best things to do in Paterson:
1. Paterson Great Falls National Historic Park
Of course, you can’t go to Paterson without visiting Paterson Great Falls National Historic Park.
Visitors can enjoy self-guided tours, and be sure to capture plenty of pictures of the falls.
You can download a free walking tour app, or even dial in to a cell phone tour.
2. Upper Raceway Park
Nearby to the falls is the Paterson Raceway, now part of Upper Raceway Park.
When Alexander Hamilton was working on the falls project, he brought along with him none other than George Washington for a visit.
The two started to get a little daydream-y about the area’s possibilities, and after Hamilton founded the Society for Establishing Usefull Manufactures, the same architect who designed Washington, D.C., also designed a “raceway,” which diverted water away from the falls, and to the very first mill built on the site.
In 1828, the raceway was expanded, and it went on to serve the community throughout the rest of the 1800s.
Now, the raceway looks a little abandoned, but totally cool, making it perfect for the “abandoned Americana” adventurer.
3. Allied Textile Printers
These manufacturing structures are another great spot for those who like a little industrial history.
These are now some of the oldest building stock within Paterson’s historic district, as they were constructed in 1836. At first, a nail factory stood on the land, but then, the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company tore the nail factory down, and built the four-story brownstone structure that you see today.
What was created here? Colt revolvers were manufactured for a while, and the first silk processing in the city started here, which would turn out to be a huge deal for the city, as silk became one of its major exports.
4. Lambert Castle
This castle was built during the booming height of the silk industry in Paterson, when a wealthy manufacturer and his wife moved into the area.
The castle was partially built because that same manufacturer had an impoverished childhood, growing up in England, where he would frequently pass the castles of the very wealthy.
When he could afford it, then, he built his own.
It cost about $500,000 to build, during a time when average wages were about $1 a day.
Many famous people stopped by for a visit, over the castle’s lifetime, including President McKinley.
Unfortunately, during the manufacturer’s old age, his empire began to crumble, and after his death, the castle was sold to the city.
Now, it lies in the hands of the Passaic County Historical Society, and you can easily visit it on most afternoons.
Plus, there’s a great view of the New York City skyline from the grounds!
5. The Paterson Museum
Created in the early 1900s, the Paterson Museum began with a small collection of natural history artifacts, which, while starting in a library, eventually moved on to the carriage house of a former mayor.
The collection has obviously grown quite a bit, and now the museum resides at the restored Thomas Rogers Locomotive and Machine Shop, which dates back to 1873. You’ll find a great number of interesting documents, artifacts and other items, all commemorating this city’s fascinating industrial history.
6. William Paterson University
While in town, take a look at the William Paterson University calendar, and see if you can’t catch an educational event while you’re there.
The university hosts a number of interesting conferences, theatrical performances, concerts, exhibits, lectures, athletic events and more throughout the year, which are open to the public.
Whether you prefer jazz, comedic plays or talks from world-renowned thinkers, you’ll find a little bit of everything available.
7. Saddle River County Park
If you’ve had your fill of the falls and want to get out and about somewhere else in Paterson, maybe try out Saddle River County Park.
There are almost 600 acres of land, with multiple ponds, playgrounds, picnic areas, tennis courts and even a roller hockey rink.
There’s a walking and cycling trail that’s nearly 7 miles long, and it takes you over five different bridges, for a varied view of the area.
The notable features of the park includes Easton Tower, which is a 20-foot rotary mill and very good for photos, and the “Hill,” a notoriously steep trail.
Fishing is available at some of the ponds.
8. Ice Vault Arena
This iceskating arena offers two rinks open all year round.
You can enjoy public skating sessions, figure skating, open hockey and more.
In addition, it can seat more than 600 spectators, and hosts an elevated restaurant above the ice, with 190 feet of glass overlooking the skaters below.
9. Westfield Garden State Plaza
Get in a little extra shopping time during your visit to Paterson, with a trip to Westfield Garden State Plaza, which is located only five miles from the Paterson city center.
This two-story shopping complex has all of your favorites, of course, but it also has a luxury collection you won’t want to miss.
These top-notch providers include brands like Burberry, Gucci, Drybar, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co. and Versace.
10. Fabian 8 Cinema
If your trip ends up being a little rainy and you can’t quite make it to all the outdoor features that Paterson has to offer, take a trip to the Fabian 8 Cinema to catch one of the latest movies in one of their premier theaters.
11. Paul’s Bar and Bowling
If you’d like to stay active, but still stay indoors, go to Paul’s Bar and Bowling, where you can get in a few rounds of not only bowling, but also pool, darts and horse shoes.
The kitchen is open until the wee hours of the morning, and the joint is a little hole in the wall — exactly what you’d expect to see when you’re driving around a small, older New Jersey town.
It’s a taste of nostalgia, where you’re sure to find lots of locals!
12. Bonfire Mofongo House
Looking for not only a great dinner, but also a great time? Head to Bonfire Mofongo House, where they’re serving up Caribbean cuisine, intermingled with a fusion of all kinds of other flavors from everywhere from Africa to East India to China.
Some of their most popular menu item ingredients include plantains, cassava, coconut and fish.
The specialty is, of course, the mofongo, a dish hearkening back to the West African Fufu.
Alongside the delicious food, you’ll find plenty of great cocktails as well, like the Caribbean Devil and the Tropical Breeze.
Step inside, and you won’t even know you’re still in New Jersey!
13. Hinchcliffe Stadium
This historic stadium was built in 1932, and has a dramatic little spot over the Great Falls.
It actually is one of the very few surviving stadiums in the country that hosted Negro league baseball during the Jim Crow years.
It’s currently a National Historic Landmark, and is being restored, making it yet another place in Paterson where you can get a taste of abandoned Americana.
14. Danforth Memorial Library
The Danforth Memorial Library, now the Paterson Free Public Library’s main branch, at 250 Broadway, was built in 1905 and is significant for several reasons.
First, it was designed by architect Henry Bacon, who also designed the Lincoln Memorial.
Now, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Additionally, the library is home to a collection of American and European art from the 1800s, which was bequeathed to the library by several important philanthropists.
15. Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
Also a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is a historic Roman Catholic Church built in the late 1800s.
It was critical for the area of Paterson at the time, as the local Catholic population was exploding, thanks to primarily a large number of Irish immigrants that were flocking to the city and the industrial opportunities it offered.
So many Irish families congregated in one spot of the city, that it soon became known as the Dublin section of Paterson.
A local Irish priest worked with the Society of Establishing Useful Manufactures (the same one founded in part by Hamilton) to gain the land for the church, and then it began construction, with the aim being to build a structure that would have no other equal in the entire state.
About $200,000, nearly half of what was spent on the Lambert Castle discussed above, was spent to build the church.
16. Passaic County Court House
For those with a love of architecture, they’ll want to be sure to swing by the Passaic County Court House.
The old structures and annex were built around the turn of the century, by architects Samuel Burrage Reed and Fred Wesley Wentworth, and they boast Classical Revival and Dutch Baroque Revival styles.
The courthouse did receive a little restoration in 2014, but the complex is now entirely open.
17. Paterson City Hall
Another architectural landmark in Paterson is the City Hall, which was built in 1896 and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Designed by a New York firm, it’s modeled after the French Hotel de Ville in Lyon, which just so happens to be the capital of the European silk industry (or at least it was at the time). Catch the parallels the designer was trying to make? The hall boasts three statues honoring important men who have impacted the city.
These include two past mayors, and then a former VP of the United States, Garret Hobart.
18. Center City Mall
If you’re already walking around downtown, don’t miss the Center City Mall! There are 320,000 square feet of retail and entertainment over three stories, plus if you’re driving a rental car, you’ll have plenty of parking within the 600-spot garage.
There’s a movie theatre, and anchor stores include The Children’s Place, Modell’s Sporting Goods and Marshalls.
Plus, the mall is home to one of the most celebrated restaurants in Paterson, Hamilton & Ward Steakhouse.
19. Little Lima
Have a taste for all things South American? Don’t miss Paterson’s Peruvian enclave, known as Little Lima.
This just so happens to be one of the largest Peruvian American populations in the United States.
While Little Lima is very close to the Mexican, Dominican, Italian and Puerto Rican neighborhoods in Paterson (didn’t we tell you this was an ethnically diverse city?), it’s distinct all in its own right.
You’ll find authentic Peruvian shopping, bakeries and restaurants here, and they even host their own Great Peruvian Festival and Peruvian Parade in the summer months.
20. Garret Mountain Reservation
If you’re stopping by the Lambert Castle, you’re situated to also visit Garrett Mountain Reservation.
This is the major recreational area for the entire county, not just Paterson, and you’ll find huge fields, lots of running trails, sports fields, fishing and even places perfect for horse riding.
Birdwatchers also love the reservation, as it is a stopover point for migration song birds, and throughout the rest of the year, you can spot more than 150 species without doing really any difficult work.
21. Dey Mansion
Just a short jaunt away from Paterson is Dey Mansion, also known as Bloomsbury Manor.
This home is worth the easy drive, as it played a huge role in the Revolutionary War! It was built in the 1770s and was the headquarters for Washington on more than one occasion.
The spacious home was originally built on 600 acres.
Now, the mansion was restored in 2016, but the original wood frames and floors are still there.
Also, the original kitchen burnt down at some point, but a 1930s rendition accurately portrays a summer kitchen for a colonial family of some means.
Other buildings on the property include a forge, spring house and a courtyard.
22. Cianci Park
This park is notable for one primary reason — it pays homage to one of Paterson’s most notable residents, Lou Costello.
Costello was born in the city in 1906, and would later become part of famous comedy duo Abbott and Costello.
The life-size statue is bronze and sits on a little grassy square, great for a quick photo op while you explore the rest of the city.
23. Al-Basha Restaurant
Paterson has a huge Arabic population, which is guessed to be somewhat similar in size to that of Dearborn, Michigan.
Al-Basha Restaurant is a result of this influential population in the city, and has been called “one of the best Middle Eastern restaurants in the western hemisphere.” The decor features real Arabic artwork and lamps, and the recipes have been passed down from generation to generation.
The specialty? The Al-Basha Platter, which gives you a little sampling of all the menu greats.
24. Hamilton & Ward Steakhouse
We said it was one of the greats, and we meant it.
You’ll want to be sure you stop by this steakhouse for their fantastic Kobe beef and dry-aged steaks.
They have seafood as well, and you should be advised that you’ll want to come with your wallet open.
The menu isn’t exactly cheap, but you get what you pay for — and the quality is well worth it.
25. Griselda’s Restaurant
If you happen to find yourself in Little Lima during your stay, eat at Griselda’s Restaurant, for the most authentic Peruvian fare.
Brush up on your Spanish before you go, though! The menu and staff usually aren’t English-friendly.
However, this family-run restaurant sees plenty of tourists along with their locals, and you’ll find tons of awesome Peruvian favorites.
Try the alfajores, paella and, of course, a pisco sour.
Grab some cash from an ATM first, as credit cards aren’t accepted at this little down-home taste of Latin America.