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. 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
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 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.
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, turkey meatloaf, 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 Rabble Rise Doughnuts. 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 as one of our best gardens in NJ.
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 Happy Hippo Toys, or sugar up with gummies, chocolates, and jelly beans at The Candy Buffet. Stop for a bite at The British Chip Shop, where you can feast on battered fish, chips, and other favorites from across the pond. After, hunt for dinosaur bones at Pennypacker Park, a national historic landmark 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 want more to do, visit Haddon Lake, Camden Adventure Aquarium, or Battleship New Jersey, all nearby.
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 & Grille, 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, staying at Congress Hall is a perfect kid-friendly stop.
Locals often refer to this Union County location with a Main Street USA feel as Bestfield—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. Looking to satisfy your sweet tooth? Cinnaholic Bakery has massive cinnamon buns with toppings and edible cookie dough (yum). Boxwood Coffee is also a must for great local coffee and snacks and steps away from Yestercades, a vintage arcade spot where kids can learn to master Pac Man. Finally, let some energy out at Mindowaskin Park with its recently renovated playground, and don’t miss the little duck pond close by.
Modern architecture and historic buildings intertwine, offering many things to do in downtown Somerville, one of the best downtowns in NJ and Somerset County. Challenge your kids to Frogger at Yestercades with arcade video games, let your kiddos run and climb at the KidStreet Playground, or get wet at Michael Lepp Park. When it’s time to refuel, head down Division Street to stop at the Village Brewing Company for locally sourced classic American cuisine like mini chicken burgers, Baja fish tacos, and craft brews. Afterward, 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, pet alpacas at Bluebird Farm Alpacas, bike at Duke Farms (one of our favorites), or Johnson Park nearby for more kid-friendly fun.
What do 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 are 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. Afterward, head to Washington Street, the heart of downtown Hoboken, where you’ll find 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).
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, and 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.
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 Glaze. Budding musicians will want to see the legendary Stone Pony, the Paramount Theater, the Convention Hall, and the Lakehouse Music Academy. When the temps turn hot, littles can get wet at the Asbury Splash Park, float away on the Asbury Park Pedal Boats, or get competitive with a round of mini-golf.
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, showing kids the ways of Ms. PacMan 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 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 the Jon Bon Jovi Foundation), where you can volunteer, donate, and eat, and Juanito’s for authentic Mexican dishes.
Nestled between farms and charming homes, Hopewell gives all small-town vibes but still feels like an escape for a day trip. Kids will want to make a pit stop at The Bear and the Books bookstore, with a sweet corner for reading the latest picture books, and check out Twine for toys and gifts. Adults can search for antiques or visit Dandelion Wishes for handcrafted goods. Up for some art projects? Swing by Art Sparks an art studio with classes, camps, workshops, and events where children can explore a wide variety of art media. If you are hungry, the whole family will feel at home at Aunt Chubby’s Luncheonette, with a buttermilk pancake breakfast served at the counter. For a coffee break, Boro Bean is a great spot to fuel up, and it’s kid-friendly with music night events, too. Beyond the downtown is the Hopewell Quarry, a protected open space with a public swimming hole, and Hopewell Borough Gazebo Park has trails, a playground, and concerts while Sourland Mountain Preserve and St. Michael’s Farm Preserve are ideal hiking spots.
What do you think is one of the best downtowns in NJ?
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