I’ve lived in New Jersey now for about 4 years now. Like most hardcore New Yorkers, it’s been a slow process to get me to let go of this idea that I have to venture into the city for good food, entertainment, or activities.
I still get teased by friends for becoming “Bridge and Tunnel”, and I get it. There was a time I wouldn’t even date a boy if there was a bridge or tunnel between us. But what did I know?
I definitely didn’t know that there was so much I would love about living in New Jersey. I didn’t really expect it to get me excited enough to write a post about it, for sure. I can’t imagine that I will convince my New York friends to take the 30-minute train ride into my little village of Maplewood, NJ – recently name New Jersey’s Best Downtown, but, as I often still do for New York, I wanted to highlight the things that people who live here love that others wouldn’t know about. Maybe, if you get lost on the train and end up here, or if you find yourself wanting to explore something different, this will serve as an inspiration and guide of what not to miss.
The nature. So much nature.
I am a hiker. I love going on long hikes, short hikes, easy hikes, challenging hikes. Point is, a good weekend often involves getting out and hiking, or walking, depending on the mood.
A quick search revealed that there are over 50 state parks, state forests, recreation areas, and other protected natural areas in New Jersey. We’ve loved searching for waterfalls only minutes from our house, exploring natural swamp lands, and venturing out a bit more to explore some of the 1.1 million acres of the Pinelands. We share the Appalachian trails with NY and other neighboring states and are planning a few camping and hiking trips to check it out.
The thing is, for all the fun I used to make about New Jersey smelling, and to tell the truth that first highway view you get upon entering the state from New York isn’t too convincing, there are so many places that have left me in complete awe with how beautiful they are.
The beaches and boardwalks
Ok, to be honest, the closest beach from me is about an hour away, so it’s not like I’m there daily. But that is nothing when I think about the hours upon hours I have spent trying to get to coastal Long Island from the city.
The world only knows New Jersey beaches from what they saw in the infamous MTV show, The Jersey Shore (what’s funny is that more than half the cast was actually from New York’s Staten Island). Seaside Heights, where the show was filmed is a real place and yes, it is known for its party scene, but venture a bit away from there and you will come across another part of the Jersey Shore, Cape May, a complete contrast from the stereotype of what most believe the Jersey Shore to be.
Our favorite boardwalk is at Wildwood, NJ, home to Morey’s Pier and a fun beach scene that we’ve found ourselves returning to every year.
The Jersey Shore covers 141 miles of oceanfront, so trust me when I say, there’s a lot more to it than you think.
I am not kidding when I tell you there is a pretty great food scene here in New Jersey. I haven’t even begun to explore it all, but the list is long.
The 100 Steps supper club in Cranford is a favorite of ours. We’re still trying to back to Cranford for brunch at their partnering A Toute Heure, but always end up missing out before it gets filled up.
Ramen noodles at Ani Ramen in Montclair is heaven. Small space which requires a bit of a wait, but never anything compared to when trying to dine at other popular ramen places in the city. They are working on opening another restaurant in Jersey City – though I am begging them to come to my foodie hood too!
My own neighborhood has places that I can easily just walk to, yes, that’s right – walk to. Coda Kitchen and Bar, Arturo’s Osteria and Pizzaria, which always has lines out the door, and Lorena’s for fine dining. All of these, except for Coda, are BYOB which there is a lot of here in Jersey and which I LOVE.
We are huge fans of McCloone’s Boathouse in West Orange and on a nice day we like to go for brunch and a walk around the adjacent reservoir.
The arts scene
One of the reasons we fell in love with where we live now is the creative scene here. Sure, you have the hedge fund guys, bankers, lawyers, doctors. But what attracted us were the writers, photographers, painters, illustrators, actors, and musicians.
I can type in a search for a Meet Up in my neighborhood and come across a ton of like-minded creatives willing to connect and share. Coming from a city and borough (Brooklyn) where artistic freedom and creation was the backbone of communities long since erased, being surrounded by artists in a refreshing and inspiring.
My area alone has produced a number of actors and musicians including Zach Braff, Elizabeth Shue, and Lauryn Hill, just to name a few. We have the celebrated Paper Mill Playhouse and the South Orange Performing Arts Center.
These are things that I didn’t really think I would have access to “in the burbs” and yet, I am always in awe of the incredible amount of creatives I meet.
There are always tons of farmers markets around for those times when we can’t make the drive to the farm, but there’s nothing like having that access to fresh produce when we want it.
From summer to winter, visiting the local farms has become a favorite family pass time. Especially when there is hot chocolate involved!
I still get to enjoy the best of both worlds. New York City will always have a special place in my heart. It’s where I was born. It’s where my family immigrated into and where they created the opportunities that led to this life I enjoy now. I still love coming in and checking out the scene, what’s new, what’s happening, what’s worth your time and money. But it’s nice to be able to get on that train and escape it all to a place a bit more mellow, less loud, and not as fast, where I can grow my garden and I have more than 900 square feet to spread my wings in.
I plan on continuing to cover areas of interest in New York, but I also expect to blog more about New Jersey as I learn about what else this state, my new hometown, has to offer.