The 10 Best Downtowns in NJ: Family-Friendly And Fun

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Finding the best downtowns in NJ is a little like coming across a hidden secret—many are full of history, great food, and culture, and making a trip to one feels like a mini-escape. And with plenty of kid-friendly things to do on the streets of these unique and vibrant downtowns, exploring one with the whole family is a must. Take a step back into Revolutionary War history in Morristown, find Jersey music roots in Asbury Park, or stroll along the Hudson River in city-slick Hoboken. Ready to hit the pavement with your crew? Scroll down for where to go and what to do in these best downtowns in NJ. (featured photo credit: @meaghanbmurphy featured on @bestfieldnj)

These are some of the best downtowns in New Jersey for family fun

morristown nj downtown

“The Green” in downtown Morristown comes alive in the spring. Photo Credit: @kerisharpe featured by @morristown.nj 

Learn about the history of downtown Morristown

George Washington knew there was something special about Morristown when he decided to make it his headquarters during the American Revolution. Now, over 300 years later, this Morris County gem continues to impress. Before you head to “The Green” (a parkland area smack in the center of town steeped in Revolutionary History), step back in time to learn about George Washington and the Continental Army at Washington’s Headquarters at the Ford Mansion and Museum. Hamilton fans will want to make a stop at the nearby Schuyler-Hamilton House on Olyphant Place where Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler, his wife, courted. After you circle the Green, park in downtown Morristown. Test your arcade skills at the Game Vault, where kids and adults play vintage video games in a former bank. When it’s time for a bite, continue down South Street to grab a coffee and fresh-from-the-oven pastry from Lokl Cafe, or head across the street for all-day pancakes and burgers at The Committed Pig. A few more notable stops close to downtown are the Frelinghuysen Arboretum and the Morris Museum.

montclair new jersey

Church Street Plaza in downtown Montclair is a must-see. Photo Credit: Snapshots For The Soul featured by @montclair.newjersey

Explore the unique spots of downtown Montclair

This university town boasts culture with a unique mix of eateries and boutiques, and its eclectic, urban vibe makes it a fun spot for kids and adults. Before you head into town, stop at the Montclair Art Museum, known for its fantastic contemporary art exhibits and creative family activities. There are various things to do in downtown Montclair on Church Street, where kids will like Doin’ Dishes. a ceramics studio to paint plates, cups, and other pottery. Down the street is the popular Raymonds, which serves upscale comfort favorites like baked mac and cheese and turkey meatloaf along with fish tacos and honey glazed salmon. Continue to East Side Mags, a go-to spot for vintage comic books and collectibles, and don’t miss Just Kidding Around, where littles will be awed by the fantastic toy selection. For a treat, try the Thai-inspired ice cream at Absolute Zero Ice Cream, or if lattes and homemade doughnuts sound more your style, visit the Montclair Bread Company. And if you’re looking for pretty parks, Montclair doesn’t disappoint. Take a walk in Edgemont Memorial Park, breathe in the fragrant flowers at the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens, or stop by the formal gardens at the Van Vleck House & Gardens, featured in our NJMOM Best Gardens and Nature Centers Guide.

haddonfield new jersey

Downtown Haddonfield is a welcoming town in Camden County. Photo Credit: @haddonfieldviews 

Hunt for dinos in downtown Haddonfield

Kings Highway is one of the oldest roads in New Jersey and home to this Camden County village with historic architecture and a neighborly feel. Relive your childhood with your kids at the Ram Arcade Museum, shop for games, trains, books, and more at the Happy Hippo, or sugar up with a bunch of gummies, chocolates, and jelly beans at The Candy Buffet. Stop for a bite to eat at The British Chip Shop, where you can feast on battered fish and chips and other favorites from across the pond. After, hunt for dinosaur bones at Pennypacker Park. This national historic landmark is where the world’s first complete dinosaur skeleton — “Haddy” the Hadrosaurus—was discovered in 1858. Or take a free tour and history lesson at the 200-year-old facility at the Indian King Tavern Museum. If you are looking for more to do, visit Haddon Lake, the Camden Children’s Garden, Camden Adventure Aquarium, or Battleship New Jersey are all nearby, and NJMOM attractions we love.

cape may New Jersey

Washington Street Mall is a great place to wander in downtown Cape May. Photo Credit: @washingtonstreetmall

Get nostalgic in downtown Cape May

Drive off Exit 0 on the Garden State Parkway, and you’ll be transported to Cape May, a dreamy seaside village dotted with Victorian architecture, cozy inns, and lots of coastal views. The first stop on your list should be the Washington Street Mall, a pedestrian-friendly area teeming with shops and restaurants. Grab a bite to eat at Fins Bar & Grill, find some treats to bring home at the Cape May Peanut Butter Company, and keep your kids happy with a gourmet ice cream sandwich from Peace Pie. Stroll the sidewalks to the candy-colored gingerbread houses that make downtown Cape May on the list as a National Historic Landmark. Of course, kids will want to spend time on the sand, but there’s also the Cape May County Park & Zoo, the Cape May Lighthouse, and the Nature Center of Cape May. Or experience whale and dolphin watching with the Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center. If this is more than a day trip, a stay at Congress Hall is a perfect kid-friendly stop.

westfield new jersey

Downtown Westfield is bright, bold, and a favorite stop for families. Photo Credit: @meaghanbmurphy featured on @bestfieldnj

Shop, Sugar-up, and Selfie in downtown Westfield

This Union County location with a Main Street USA feel is often referred to as Bestfield by locals—and it’s easy to see why with tree-lined sidewalks, unique shops mixed with brand-name ones, and a generally convivial atmosphere. Check out Baron’s Drug Store, an old-fashioned pharmacy for fun trinkets and toys. And of course, you’ll need photos for the ‘gram, so a stop at the Selfie Station (the first and only selfie museum in NJ) will give you the backgrounds and ring lighting to get snap-happy. Looking to satisfy your sweet tooth? Kilwin’s is a big hit for fudge, candy, and ice cream, or visit Cinnaholic, which has massive cinnamon buns with toppings and edible cookie dough (yum). Boxwood Coffee is also a must for great local coffee and to-go snacks. Finally, let some energy out at Mindowaskin Park with its recently renovated playground, and don’t miss the little duck pond close by.

somerville New Jersey

Downtown Somerville has the perfect balance of modern and vintage. Photo Credit: @drnorton featured by @somerville.nj

Take in the modern and historic sites of downtown Somerville

Modern architecture and historic buildings intertwine, offering many things to do in downtown Somerville, one of the best downtowns in NJ and Somerset County. Step back in time at Yestercades with arcade video games, let your kiddos run and climb at the KidStreet Playground, or get wet at the Michael Lepp Park. When it’s time to refuel, head down Division Street to stop at 30 Burgers, with 30 different burger choices that aren’t all beef. After, stroll along the pedestrian area, and sink your teeth into homemade goodies like cupcakes, cake, and more from the Blue Sheep Bake Shop. And if Fido is waiting for you at home, stop by the Hungry Hound dog bakery for a treat to bring back. Beyond the downtown, you can shop through the Farmer’s Market, visit the Bluebird Farm Alpacas, Duke Farms (featured in our NJ Best Gardens and Nature Centers Guide), Raptor Trust, or Johnson Park nearby for more kid-friendly fun.

hoboken new jersey

Hoboken is a Hudson County hotspot. Photo Credit: @jerseyphotographer

Get active in downtown Hoboken

What does the birthplace of Frank Sinatra, local art exhibits, and Cake Boss have in common? If you said Hoboken, then you know this Hudson County hotspot is a must for a day trip. First, stop by the Hoboken Historical Museum and the Fire Department Museum, both hits with local families. Get outdoors and explore Pier A Park, Castle Point Lookout and skatepark, Elysian Park, and the famous Hudson River Waterfront Walkway. Or visit the Hoboken Cove Community Boathouse to get out on the water and try kayaking, paddleboarding, and outrigger canoeing. After, head to Washington Street, the heart of downtown Hoboken, where you’ll find Big Fun Toys and outdoor seating at Elysian Cafe and Grimaldi’s with menu options to satisfy kids and grown-ups. For dessert, the Baking Mama is a family-owned small-batch bake shop in town that’s a must for handcrafted macarons, and don’t miss the popular Carlo’s Bakery made famous through the television show Cake Boss (it’s easy to spot with a line out the front).

Best Downtowns in NJ, downtown Princeton

Downtown Princeton is a perfect mix of history, unique architecture, and style. 

Namedrop in downtown Princeton

This town not only includes the homes and hangouts of Albert Einstein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and 80’s icon Brooke Shields but it’s also been the backdrop for movies such as “A Beautiful Mind,” “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” and more. Enjoy the architecture of the fourth oldest university in the United States, grab breakfast for dinner at PJ’s Pancake House, or sneak in a sweet treat at the Bent Spoon. Continue to explore things to do in downtown Princeton at Palmer Square with a stop at the historical Nassau Inn, a visit to the Princeton Record Exchange for old and new music, and JaZAMs for a fantastic selection of toys. If your kids are into history, this is full of noteworthy sites like Trinity Church, Princeton Battle Monument, Princeton Battlefield State Park, or Morven Museum and Garden. Let some energy out before heading home with a stop at Marquand Park, Terhune Orchards, or visit our favorite Grounds for Sculpture.

Take an evening summer stroll through the downtown of Asbury Park, NJ.

Live like a rockstar in downtown Asbury Park

Ever since Bruce Springsteen put Asbury Park on everyone’s radar, music lovers have made pilgrimages to his old stomping grounds, but this seaside city is not just for fans. With eclectic restaurants and lots of shore history, families get a good mix of culture and the coast—test your arcade skills at the Silverball Retro Arcade, experiment with glassblowing at Hot Sand, sample vegan treats at the Cookman Creamery, and make sure to bring home donuts from Purple Haze. Budding musicians will want to see the legendary Stone Pony, the Paramount Theater, Convention Hall, and Lakehouse Music Academy. Looking for a place to let your littles loose? Get wet at the Asbury Splash Park, float away on the Asbury Park Pedal Boats, or get competitive with a round of mini-golf.

red bank New Jersey downtown

Red Bank’s ‘Broadwalk’ pedestrian plaza is a fun, family-friendly part of downtown. Photo Credit: @redbankpulse

Take in the art and culture of downtown Red Bank

Locals are partial to this Monmouth County town built on the banks of the Navesink River, which brings together art, culture, local boutiques, and excellent restaurants. Head to Broad Street for things to do, like pottery painting at  A Time to Kiln, playing vintage arcade games at Yestercades, and visiting the cult movie favorite, Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash store. Steps away from downtown Red Bank is the historic Count Basie Theater, where legendary performers have been on stage here since 1926, including Tony Bennet, Bruce Springsteen, and Ringo Starr. If you don’t catch a performance, a stop by to learn about the history of the theater and jazz legend Count Basie (a former Red Bank resident) is a must. For food, check out the Good Karma Vegan Cafe, the JBJ Soul Kitchen (run by Jon Bon Jovi Foundation), where you can volunteer, donate, and eat, and Juanito’s for authentic Mexican dishes.

What do you think is one of the best downtowns in NJ?

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About Author

Melanie Bodner has always had a love for writing, but now she has a new love…being a mom. Before having her kids, Melanie was no stranger to writing or working with children. She wrote for a local newspaper as a reporter and taught English and Dance in a public school. Now Melanie enjoys spending time with her kids, doing yoga, writing and decorating her home. Check out her Instagram @burlapbythebeach.

4 Comments

  1. Elizabeth clarkson on

    How about Pitman New Jersey it is historic, retro and it also has a certified historic district called “the grove“ but that’s OK I understand you guys probably broke out in hives and had to be given steroids just putting Haddonfield in Cape May on your list because God for bid you ever includes South Jersey when you write about the 10 best anything in New Jersey it’s all your precious New York North jersey towns

  2. Historic downtown Jersey City!!! Restaurants galore, unique shops, close proximity and transportation to NYC, beautiful Van Vorst and Hamilton Parks.. the light rail… the mall, the art galleries… the murals!!!

    • Don’t forget Liberty Science Center, liberty State Park, The old train terminal at the park and the ferry to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

  3. Downtown Toms River hello???????!!!!!!!!!. It is the third largest city in NJ and has shops and restaurants all along Washington Street leading to rustic downtown Toms River on The Barnegat Bay!.

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