As one of the most densely populated states in the USA, New Jersey might not be the first place that springs to mind when thinking of quintessential small-town America. Yet despite popular perception, the Garden State is brimming with charming communities just waiting to be explored. From coastal Cape May – the USA’s oldest seaside resort – to the Norman Rockwell-esque town of Clinton, here is Culture Trip’s guide to New Jersey’s most beautiful towns.
America’s oldest seaside resort, Cape May, is a haven of Victorian charm, family-friendly fun and cultural goings-on. The town’s picture-perfect streets and shoreline are populated with original Victorian architecture in the form of brightly colored houses known as painted ladies. Thanks to Cape May’s dedicated preservation of its extensive history, the whole town was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976. Alongside its eclectic dining scene and boutique stores, Cape May is also home to a lively cultural scene and boasts two theater companies and a number of annual festivals, including the famous Cape May Music Festival, which is over 30 years old. All you need to do is step out the front door of this five-person home, cross the road and you’re at the beach. Not only is the location the most sought after in town, the building itself is a beautiful baronet mansion built in 1870.
Nestled on the banks of the Delaware River on the border of Pennsylvania is the lovely town of Lambertville. First settled in the early 18th century, Lambertville’s beautifully preserved Victorian houses and federal-style townhouses are now home to delightful antique stores, earning the town the nickname of ‘Antiques Capital of New Jersey,’ and cute cafes. Lambertville’s many art galleries and annual arts and crafts festival, ShadFest, have made the town a haven for the arty, creative set. Foodies will love Lambertville too. Alongside eclectic restaurants, Lambertville also hosts an annual food fair and restaurant week in cooperation with the neighboring Pennsylvanian town of New Hope. This well-furnished two-bed house is right in the middle of Lambertville, keeping you close to everything including outdoor activities, galleries and restaurants – or public transport if you’re heading further afield. Plus you get to enjoy a gorgeous brick patio secret garden, which is the perfect spot to enjoy a relaxing evening off.
Despite the massive urban sprawl of Philadelphia just a few miles east, pretty Collingswood has managed to retain its small-town charm. In fact, it is listed among the Classic Towns of Greater Philadelphia, a local initiative celebrating unique communities with interesting histories and a high quality of life. Collingswood’s pretty downtown is home to fashion boutiques, first-rate restaurants and Second Saturday, a monthly, year-round event dedicated to art and music. The town also hosts the Collingswood Farmers’ Market, featuring the best produce from across the Garden State from May through Thanksgiving. As a quaint town near a bustling city, Collingswood offers the best of both worlds, and there’s nowhere better to take full advantage of that than in this six-person lakefront stay. Sat directly on Newton Lake Park, you can hike, bike, fish, kayak and much more from your doorstep, while Philly remains just four miles away.
Not to be confused with the Pennsylvania town of the same name immortalized in a Billy Joel song, New Jersey’s Allentown is a historic village first settled in the 17th century. Nestled around a millpond, the picturesque village is home to many historic buildings; in fact, its designated Historic District houses 220 homes constructed before 1860. While Allentown night be small, there’s still plenty to do. Check out The Old Mill where you’ll find specialty craft shops, a restaurant and an art gallery. This two-bed studio flat looks modern and stylish on the inside but it’s actually situated on a farm just outside of Allentown. The hosts welcome guests to spend time with the goats and chickens, while you may even end up taking home some delicious home-grown vegetables, for a little taste of country life.
While the Jersey Shore might be more associated with the gaudy excesses of Atlantic City, some towns, such as historic Spring Lake , offer an altogether more refined seaside getaway. Hailed as the ‘Jewel of the Jersey Shore,’ Spring Lake rose to prominence in the late 19th century when wealthy New Yorkers and Philadelphians flocked to spend their summers there, and many of its historic inns still stand today. Downtown Spring Lake boasts boutique shopping and eclectic eateries serving everything from casual grub to fine dining fare. Perhaps best of all, its scenic, uncrowded boardwalk is just a pleasant amble away. Large groups on a beach retreat should look at this beautiful 12 person house. With spacious bedrooms, lovely living areas and a great kitchen, plus a huge backyard, this home is perfect for a big family; and best of all, it’s just four blocks from the beach.
Picture-perfect Clinton is like a scene straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Nestled on the banks of the Raritan River, the historic mill town’s Victorian charm and gorgeous Downtown District have made it a favorite New Jersey destination for many years. Its most famous landmark is the Red Mill, a wool-processing mill dating back to 1810 and now home to a museum village and over 40,000 historic artefacts. Yet Clinton isn’t just a haven for history buffs; there are plenty of locally owned restaurants, cute boutiques and the contemporary art gallery, the Hunterdon Art Museum. Feel a little grand with this impressive six-bed Victorian house in the heart of Clinton. The old-fashioned interiors will transport you back in time, but once you step out the door you’re just two minutes from Downtown Clinton.
Another of New Jersey’s picturesque Delaware River towns, Frenchtown as it is today developed from the late 18th century when French-speaking Swiss fugitive Paul Henri Mallet-Prevost bought the land on which the town stands, hence the name Frenchtown. Today, Frenchtown is a noted New Jersey cultural destination with a small, quaint downtown district home to specialty shops, art galleries and several annual festivals including RiverFest and Bastille Day. For outdoorsy folk, the tow path running alongside the Delaware River is a great starting point for exploring the pretty river town. Couples can enjoy a romantic getaway in this two-bed private cottage. With a delightful English-countryside feel, you can get cosy in front of the fireplace, spend some quality time on the patio garden or sink in and relax with a Jacuzzi for two.
Nestled among the gently rolling farmland of New Jersey’s Middlesex County, Cranbury’s roots date back to the late 17th century; the township is one of the state’s oldest settlements. It was during the 18th century that Cranbury started to expand, and several inns built during this time still stand, including the Cranbury Inn built in 1780. This feature established the township as an important rest stop between New York City and Philadelphia. Today, its extensive history is beautifully preserved – almost all of the village is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, while the Brainerd Lake and Village Park are the setting for summer concerts. It’s rare to find such a large studio flat so close to the action, but in this one-bed apartment on Main Street you can enjoy a game of table tennis on the shared patio garden. Shops, restaurants and public transport into the city are all within walking distance.
Dubbed the Garden State’s Greenwich Village, Red Bank is a cosmopolitan riverside town brimming with art galleries, upscale boutiques and gourmet dining. Located on the Navesink River, Red Bank is known throughout the state as a premier arts destination. There’s plenty for culture vultures to feast on, including live rock music at the Count Basie Center for the Arts, and plays at the Two River Theater. Take a walk down bohemian Broad Street for shopping and sightseeing magnificent historic buildings, and look out for its lively cultural events including the town’s annual food and music extravaganza, the Red Bank Guinness Oyster Festival. Up to six people can stay in this welcoming riverside home. It has a comfortable, homely feel inside but the star attraction of this stay is easily the incredible sunset views over the Navesink River, which can be enjoyed from the window or the private decking.
Boasting pretty, brick-lined streets and many historic buildings, including the Cooper Gristmill (a flour mill built on the Black River in 1826), Chester is quintessential hometown USA epitomized. Though its history is richly preserved, the picturesque town is by no means backward-looking. In recent years, Chester has earned a reputation as a quaint shopping destination, and is home to over 80 stores selling everything from antiques and art, to jewelry and gourmet chocolates. Visit in May or September and you’ll find the Chester Craft Show, voted one of America’s best craft shows by Sunshine Artist Magazine. For an authentic town like Chester you need an authentic hometown America house, so check out this four bed on the edge of town. With grand interior designs and a large garden equipped with fireplace, grill, plenty of seating and an outdoor Sonos sound system, you’ll instantly feel at home in this fantastic 2-acre (0.81-ha) home.