A local mom’s guide to summer in Princeton

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Princeton, New Jersey gets its rep as an elite academic powerhouse, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s all ivy and no fun. My family absolutely loves living in Princeton (coming up on 5 years this August!) – it’s like our own smaller, quainter version of New York City. We love taking advantage of all the incredible things to do outside throughout the warmer months, including a hidden gem of a park that comes pre-loaded with toy trucks and our favorite (unofficial) splash pad. When we can’t stand the heat, we head to our favorite indoor activities that are guaranteed to have AC. Princeton is a perfect family destination and my family has done all the homework for you – now all you have to do is come enjoy it together!

Here are my favorite kid-friendly activities for summer in Princeton

Princeton, Princeton NJ, Marquand Park, family activities in Princeton

Digger, dozer, dumper at Marquand Park

Marquand Park

Marquand Park on Lovers Lane is a can’t miss experience for the kiddos in the heart of Princeton. Excavate holes and get down and dirty in the giant man-made sand pit with your pick of toy trucks – heaps of vehicles are donated by local families throughout the year, resulting in the best stocked “construction site” in town. Of course, we also love the park’s swing set and playground, and having a picnic under the giant shady ginkgo trees. #NJMOM tip: arrive at the park before 10:30AM, because the parking lot is small and fills up fast.

Princeton NJ, Princeton, Fountain of Freedom, Princeton University

Cool off at the Fountain of Freedom on the Princeton University campus

Fountain of Freedom

Dip your toes in the Fountain of Freedom (located at Scudder Plaza on Washington Road) on the Princeton University campus. It’s not an official splash pad, but families love taking to this vast wading pool with its crown jewel – a 23-foot-high cast bronze sculpture spitting out 700 gallons of recirculated water each minute. Don’t forget to bring your fave water toys for the kids, but remind them not to squirt innocent bystanders who are relaxing by the fountain.

Our favorite flavor is the Sweet Cream at The Bent Spoon

The Bent Spoon

Devour an ice cream cone at our fave sweet spot in town, The Bent Spoon. Usually this Princeton staple has about 20-25 inventive flavors made with organic ingredients on rotation. Seasonal flavors like Blueberry Lemon and Chocolate Habanero will really hit the sweet spot. Two scoops will run you about $5.25, but you can ask to “split” your scoops with a friend or between your kids. You’ll also want to get a loyalty punchcard, because I guarantee you’ll be back. #NJMOM tip: The Bent Spoon has a cash only policy, but you can use the on-site ATM. Take your cone to-go and head across to the Palm Square green to kick up your feet.

Take a breath of fresh air at Prospect Garden

Prospect Garden

Smell the roses (or hydrangeas and tulips) at Prospect Garden at Princeton University’s Prospect House. This “small” Italian style garden with over 8,000 planted flowers is a lush hidden gem right in the heart of campus. Not many people know about this secret garden, making it a perfect place for a quiet stroll with your sweet babe – and be sure to take advantage of those gorgeous backdrops for a mommy and me photo opp.

Princeton, Princeton NJ, Mary Moss playground

Splash zone at Mary Moss Playgound, via Mercer County

Mary Moss Playground

Spray-ground! Every parent’s favorite two-syllable word for summer. Easy peasy entertainment for the kids, while you chill out under the pavilion. Head to newly revitalized Mary Moss Playground in Princeton (at the intersection of John Street and Lytle Street). It’s a small pocket park that heralds good ol’ fashioned unstructured play with its new renovations including a spray ground, new playground equipment, and a book nook. #NJMOM tip: street parking is limited in the area, but overflow parking can be found at the Community Park Tennis Court lot (bottom of John Street) and the lot on Franklin Avenue, off of Witherspoon just north of Lytle. 

Toy heaven at JaZams

JaZams

Stop into JaZams for some indoor fun. It’s hands-down our fave independent toy store in Princeton, offering the best collection of unique kids’ toys and books. Most people don’t know that you can actually play at JaZams, too! It’s a win-win for the business and for moms looking for a fun pit stop to kill time with the kids. It’s great for rainy or extra hot summer days. There’s lots to play with in-store, including scooters your kiddos can ride around on, a fun musical marble table, and more. But, fair warning, be prepared to walk away with a new purchase.

Princeton’s best independent bookstore, Labyrinth Books

Labyrinth Books

Keep up with that summer reading at Labyrinth Books, Princeton’s independent bookstore right on Nassau Street downtown. Browse the sidewalk carts for deeply discounted kids’ books, or hop inside to browse the selection and escape the summer heat.

We love to grab a cold pressed juice to go from Tico’s.

Tico’s

Refresh with a fresh cold pressed Waterberry (watermelon and strawberry) juice from Tico’s, our fam fave all-natural juice joint in town. Or, if summertime lemonade is more your thing, head to Mamoun’s down the street for a mint lemonade and a side of their amazing baba ganouj.

Go for free storytime at Community Park Pool, then cool off in the water

Community Park Pool

Cool off at Community Park Pool every other Thursday from July 25 to August 22 when The Red Umbrella hosts a free children’s story time at 4:30pm. Children can choose a new or gently used book to take home, followed by arts and crafts and watermelon to cool off. You can sneak over to the pool with your kiddos afterwards for a dip!

Go get your greens (and more) at Princeton Farmers Market

Princeton Farmers Market

Wander around the Princeton Farmers Market in Hinds Plaza every Thursday from 10AM to 3PM, then head into Princeton Public Library for a playdate or storytime. The Princeton Farmers Market hosts lots of local farms to load up on your weekly stockpile of greens and fruits, but be sure to stop by Sweets by Lovey for the best chocolate chip cookies and Longview Flowers for a pretty pick-me-up bouquet.

Summer nights are always better with music at Princeton Shopping Center

Princeton Shopping Center

Grab a delicious wood-fired pie from Nomad Pizza Company and then head out to the lawn at Princeton Shopping Center every Thursday from 6-8PM for the free Summer Courtyard Concert Series. Bring a blanket or lawn chair and soak up the sounds of live jazz, blues, and more – my kids can’t wait to jam with the Princeton School of Rock on August 15!

Play with the baby goats or the resident farm dogs at Terhune Orchards

Terhune Orchards

Head to Terhune Orchards for U-pick seasonal produce (blueberries in July are always a crowd pleaser in my fam) and stay for pedal tractor bike riding and baby goats which you can feed for just 25 cents for a handful of corn feed so bring your coin purse! There’s no admission to the farm, except on farm festival weekends (check out the calendar). And if you’re looking for a weekday activity, head to Terhune on Tuesdays for the Read and Pick kids program. Kids can snack on a free apple from the farm store, where you can also pick up fresh greens and apple cider donuts for the week.

Pretend grocery shopping in the pretend town at Princeton Playspace

Princeton Playspace

Let your creative play and imagination run wild at Princeton Playspace. I tend to save this activity in my back pocket for rainy days, but really, my kids would love to come here every day! If you plan an outing here, be sure to time your visit to take advantage of the playspace’s fabulous “extras”, such as weekly storytime yoga, crafts and snack, and other themed activities happening almost daily – most are included with your open play day pass admission. When my kids were little, I really appreciated the baby and toddler designated area! You can also pack a lunch for the kids to eat in the café area. Read more about the NJMOMpreneur behind Princeton Playspace here. #NJMOM tip: the drop-in play pass is good for the whole day. You can take your little ones home for a nap and then come back to the playspace after they are recharged.

Psst! We love to see you exploring new spots with your littles. Don’t forget to hashtag #NJMOM and tag @njmom and your cuties could be featured in our next photo round-up.


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About Author

Mom to three boys under age six, Jamie is a creative spirit who prefers wildflowers to roses, and is a self-proclaimed Chinese food snob (because nothing is as good as Mom and Dad’s). When she and her husband are not throwing darts on a map to pick their next family destination (hence how they’ve landed in Russia, Iceland and Malta), she enjoys wandering around at home on Princeton’s ivy-covered campus. She’s obsessed with things that have a good story and is a sucker for good packaging (read: hoarder for pretty candles).

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