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30 of the Sweetest Small Towns in New Jersey Worthy of a Hallmark Movie

Just across the Hudson, one of the most petite states squeezes in a whole lot of charm.

Headshot of Rose Marie WalanoBy Rose Marie Walano
preview for 20 of the Most Charming Beach Towns Across America

New Jersey, also known as "The Garden State," is known for a great many things: beautiful beaches, distinctive culture, The Sopranos, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, Bruce Springsteen...shall we go on?

To those in the know, though, it's known for its seemingly endless supply of sweet small towns. All of the towns (and quaint cities) on this list have something special: think a bustling boardwalk, a Broadway-caliber theater, or an ice cream shop so beloved, it's lasted almost 200 years. Then there's one with blocks upon blocks of Victorian gingerbread homes, while another is a prime spot for antiquing. Not to mention, so many have dreamy main streets—the kind usually reserved for Hallmark movies.

Somehow, New Jersey has managed to pack all of that into its comparably pocket size. We know, you're shocked! Unless, of course, you're from New Jersey. As for everyone else, we'll guide you all the way through, from the northern border (home to the stars of Real Housewives of New Jersey, if you're a fan) to the state's southern tip (a.k.a. "Exit Zero")—and all the cities, farms, and beaches in between.



westfield new jersey
Rose Marie Walano

For those who love their small towns with a touch of spookiness, this central New Jersey town was once home to Charles Addams, the creator of The Addams Family. Each October, the town hosts "Addams Fest," with both sweet (painted windows downtown) and spooky (haunted car rides during Halloween weekend) elements. As for the rest of the year, the main street, Broad Street, is filled with adorable shops to keep you both busy and well-fed. (On the opposite side of the historic train station, we also recommend Victoria's Cake, a bakery run by a French family who whips up the most delicious French and American treats.)




pyne building, built by moses taylor pyne, one of princeton university's benefactors, to look like it belongs in an english town of tudor period, princeton, nj, usa
Barry Winiker//Getty Images

Princeton is, of course, home to the famed Ivy (a must-see if stopping by, as the historic campus is a beaut). But classes aren't the only thing on tap in the college town. You've got libraries, museums, churches, theaters, European-style architecture (as you can see), and a historic cemetery where Aaron Burr is buried. There's also nature and outdoor activities galore, like rowing, hiking, and archery.




cranford new jersey
Rose Marie Walano

Next door to Westfield is Cranford, a small, central New Jersey town with Star's Hollow vibes. (Any Gilmore Girls fans out there?) The town square is home to so many tasty restaurants—Ambeli Greek Taverna and Oasis, a Moroccan restaurant, being two of our favorites—plus cafés, small shops, and a vintage movie theater, which often hosts mini film festivals.


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madison new jersey
Rose Marie Walano

All of Madison's downtown area—which includes bookstores, an ice cream shop, and, yes, Jersey Shore fans, The Snooki Shop—is adorable. But our favorite place to visit is the Sunday Motor Club, a Los Angeles-esque café, complete with striped-umbrella'd outdoor seating. Both the drinks and the snacks are scrumptious, but the true highlights are the vintage cars, which show up and show off every Sunday.



Cape May

traditional houses in cape may new jersey usa
benedek//Getty Images

Cape May, the beautiful beach town at the very southern tip of New Jersey, is famous for being one of America's very first resort towns. And it may also be home to the loveliest sunset in New Jersey, at Sunset Beach. Its biggest hotel—the luxe, lemon-hued, historic Congress Hall—was established all the way back in 1816, but it's certainly not your only option. There are dozens of gingerbread Victorian homes that have been converted into quaint B&Bs, complete with sprawling front porches and afternoon tea time.




morristown new jersey
Rose Marie Walano

One of the two places George Washington established winter encampments during the Revolutionary War, Morristown is filled with American history. And its town square, Morristown Green (or just "The Green" to locals), perfectly reflects that. The two-and-a-half-acre park, which dates back to the 18th century, has served many roles through the years, including military base and training ground. Now, it's a place to relax between stops in and out of the square's many shops and restaurants (including Chef David Burke's restaurant called 1776, a nod to the Revolution).


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applegate farm ice cream
Rose Marie Walano

Montclair's main street, Church Street, is filled to the brim with chic shops, gourmet restaurants (two favorites: Faubourg and Kai Yang), and more than one theater (one of which is home to the town's annual film festival). But if you're hunting for quaint, it's all about their nearly-200-year-old ice cream outpost: Applegate Farm. The ice cream itself—all homemade—is truly divine.




chatham new jersey
Rose Marie Walano

Here's another northern New Jersey town that makes you feel like you've stepped into a Norman Rockwell painting. Its lantern-lined Main Street is charming, to say the least, but its dining options are thoroughly modern. Our favorite of the bunch is Namkeen, a hot chicken and waffles spot with a Pakistani twist. (If you love heat, the Tikkaville Sandwich is a must.) Bonus: If you're a serious shopper, Chatham is right around the corner from the ultra-luxe Mall at Short Hills.




melissa gorga opens her new store "envy by melissa gorga"
Manny Carabel//Getty Images

Frequently touted as having one of the best downtowns in New Jersey, Ridgewood is a sight for sore eyes—especially for those that love a small-town ambience. Both sides of its train station are surrounded by cafés, shops (including Real Housewives of New Jersey star Melissa Gorga's boutique, Envy) and restaurants (our favorite is Italian restaurant S.Egidio). Fun fact: It's also where Anne Hathaway (a NJ native) and Jessica Chastain filmed their upcoming adaptation of the French psychological thriller Mother's Instinct.


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new jersey coronavirus
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In yet another small town that offers the best of multiple worlds, you have the delightful downtown, stocked with both small, independent shops and bigger franchises, like Serena & Lily. If you're hunting for nature, there's that too, via the Watching Reservation—complete with hiking trails, riding trails, and waterfalls—just a five-minute drive away.



Spring Lake

twilight view of a spring lake inn
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If there's one word to describe the plush town of Spring Lake, it's this: dreamy. With its Victorian mansions (one of which is owned by best-selling mystery author Mary Higgins Clark), tree-lined streets, and a beach that's so quiet, it feels private, it's earned its nickname: "the Irish Riviera." Unsurprisingly, you won't find any hot dog stands on its boardwalk—the longest, uninterrupted, non-commercial one in the state. But if you're looking for serenity, there's no better boardwalk.




red mill 3 at clinton, new jersey
Toshihiro (Bill) Shoji//Getty Images

Clinton has many charms, but perhaps its most famous is The Red Mill Museum Village. The Red Mill itself dates back to 1810, when it was used for wool processing. But today, it's a museum and one of multiple sites of historical significance within the village.


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Stone Harbor

luxury beach house
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Known for its soft beaches and sailing, its stunning homes aren't too shabby either. Fun fact, Swifties: One of those homes used to house Ms. Taylor Swift's family in the summers. (Perhaps one of those summers inspired "Snow on the Beach"?)




carlo's bake shop hoboken new jersey
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Behold a tiny town (not even two square miles) with a big history: John Jacob Aster built a summer house here, while Napoleon III chose it as his home while in exile. But perhaps its most noted resident is the incomparable Frank Sinatra, who was born here in 1915. If you'd like to pour one out for "Ol' Blue Eyes," you have to visit Leo's Grandevous at 200 Grand Street, one of Frank's favorites. You'll find his memorabilia lining the walls inside, and outside, a mural that was commissioned in 2020 in his honor. And yes, the famous Carlo's Bakery, featured on Cake Boss, lives here.



Asbury Park

asbury park boardwalk
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Asbury Park offers not one, but two, fabulous hotspots for activity: its downtown (filled with restaurants, breweries, music shops, and vintage stores) and its boardwalk, which lines the Asbury Park Beach. The latter is unique in that it was built in 1871—and that turn-of-the-century vibe is still very much present, especially in the Asbury Park Convention Hall & Paramount Theatre, preserved since the 1920s.


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fall trees road
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If fruit picking is your activity of choice, Alstede Farms in Chester is the place to go. Depending on the time of year, you can pick strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, peaches, peppers, tomatoes, apples, and pumpkins. Not to mention the rows upon rows of flowers—and the leaf peeping in the fall. (Bonus for Manhattanites: It's only an hour outside the city.)




colorful store facades in frenchtown
aimintang//Getty Images

If you love water activities, Frenchtown's an excellent place to visit, as it's situated right along the Delaware River. It's also a lovely place to shop, particularly in its historic downtown. The 18th-century architecture houses restaurants, boutiques, and B&Bs (our pick: Widow McCrea House Bed & Breakfast, an 1878 Italianate Victorian inn that looks especially charming at Christmas).



Ocean City

ocean city, new jersey
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Ocean City is a "dry" beach town, meaning it hasn't allowed the selling of alcoholic beverages within its limits since its founding in 1879. For many, that's a huge part of its appeal, as it keeps the vibe very family-friendly. Families also love Ocean City's claim to fame: salt water taffy. And for that, there's only one place to go: Shriver's, a classic candy shop and the oldest establishment on the boardwalk (125 years old and counting).


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colonial stone home on a farm
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Come for the Victorian-era buildings (now lovely restaurants and inns) and the Delaware River, and stay for camping (within Bulls Island Recreation Area, a.k.a. the only spot on the canal where you can camp). Stockton is also a five-minute drive to Lambertville and New Hope, making it a prime base for antique hunters.



Jersey City

view of manhattan, new york city
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It is a truth universally acknowledged: The best view of Manhattan is outside of Manhattan. New Yorkers will point you to Brooklyn for that view, but Jersey City makes a pretty good case for itself too. For a little more greenery, turn inland, towards the historic downtown's Van Vorst Park, complete with a fountain, gazebo, and beautiful brownstones on all four sides.


Headshot of Rose Marie Walano
Rose Marie Walano
Freelance Writer

Rose Marie Walano is a freelance editor and children's author. (And a Cosmo alum!) Among the many things she loves are high tea, period dramas, Central Park, K-pop, and her adorable mini-doodle, Colette. You can follow her on Instagram at @rosiewalano.

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