While New Jersey, unfortunately, has a bit of a bad reputation, there are still many cities in the Garden State that are lovely to live in and visit. Even if it is the most densely-populated state in the nation, in no time at all residents can find themselves on a beach, up a mountain or in Philadelphia and New York City.
This enviable location in the northeastern United States does come at a cost, however, as high house prices make New Jersey an expensive place to live. Some of the best cities in New Jersey are also industrial and urban for the most part. On the plus side, however, it is known for its outstanding public school system and numerous institutes of higher education.
One of the wealthiest states in the country, New Jersey has beautiful beaches and charming little coastal towns for you to enjoy along the Jersey Shore. With pristine farms and fields still covering about a quarter of its territory, New Jersey certainly has a lot of different sides to it.
Half an hour’s drive west of Manhattan, the pretty hillside community of Montclair is a popular place to put down roots and raise a family. An affluent and diverse town, its immaculate neighborhoods are home to attractive old houses with interesting art institutes and theaters dotted here and there.
Part of the New York metropolitan area, it mainly serves as a bedroom community with most people commuting to the teeming city for work. While many families move here for its relaxed pace of life and splendid school system, it is an expensive area to live with crime also being a bit high for many residents’ liking.
Most of Montclair’s shops and restaurants can be found along Bloomfield Avenue, while its plentiful parks also offer sublime views over New York City’s sparkling skyline.
11. Ocean City
Often called ‘America’s Greatest Family Resort’, Ocean City is jam-packed with exciting attractions and entertainment options. Located right at the heart of the Jersey Shore, its bustling boardwalk and broad beach have all kinds of fun activities for holidaymakers of all ages to enjoy.
For almost a century, its eight miles of oceanfront beaches and inviting waters have enticed tourists in need of some sun, sea and sand. While the coastal city has a wealth of cool watersports to try out, its famed boardwalk is lined by arcades, mini-golf courses and movie theaters. One of its main spots to hit up is Gillian’s Wonderland Pier for its giant Ferris wheel and classic carousel.
Countless souvenir shops and seafood restaurants are also scattered about while its numerous street performers and cultural festivals only add to the lively ambience. The family-friendly resort town is also a great place to live thanks to its top-class schools and scenic seaside setting.
10. New Brunswick
Set along the south bank of the Raritan River, New Brunswick serves as both a commercial hub for central New Jersey and a commuter town for New York City. Due to its excellent transport links and short commute times, it is a popular place to settle down though its schools, housing stock and even the safety of its streets leave much to be desired.
Despite this, it is still a major center for the sciences, arts and cultural activities, in large part thanks to Rutgers University and its sizeable student population. Several brilliant museums dot its campus while the city’s downtown boasts a vibrant nightlife scene with bars and nightclubs lining its streets.
Other than enjoying its college town atmosphere and catching a concert or play at the George Street Playhouse, visitors can stop by the Zimmerli Art Museum or check out its many live music clubs.
Even closer to Manhattan’s alluring attractions and entertainment options is New Jersey’s fourth-largest city Elizabeth. An important port and center of industry, it lies just south of Newark, next to the busy bay of the same name.
Despite being densely populated, the city’s river is lined by gorgeous green spaces with a fine collection of colonial-style buildings studding its downtown. Plenty of superb grills, restaurants and the prestigious old Ritz Theater can be found here. Shoppers instead head out to The Mills at Jersey Gardens which is the largest outlet mall in the state.
Although there is much to like about Elizabeth, it unfortunately rates poorly for its schools, housing and cost of living. This doesn’t stop people from moving here for all the opportunities that living in such a centrally located city brings.
8. Cape May
Perched right at the southern tip of the peninsula of the same name is the sunny seaside city of Cape May. One of the country’s oldest vacation resort destinations, it is renowned for its brilliant beaches and the hundreds of lovely old Victorian buildings that border them.
Initially home to whalers and fishermen, almost the entire town was impressively rebuilt following the infamous fire of 1878. This accounts for the homogeneous architecture on show with its picture-perfect streets protected as a National Historic District. While ambling around the popular resort you’ll see lots of brightly-colored buildings with fine wrap-around porches, many of which now house cosy bed-and-breakfasts.
Aside from exploring its atmospheric center, you can also lounge on some of the best beaches along the Eastern Seaboard or arrange epic whale-watching tours and deep-sea fishing trips. Other than its expensive housing, Cape May is a magical place to live due to its spellbinding setting and historical nature.
Also known for its impressive history, Morristown has often been called the ‘Military Capital of the American Revolution’. Its strategic setting saw George Washington and the Continental Army camp here during the harsh winter of 1779 with numerous sites around town protecting this important part of the country’s past.
These landmarks include various campsites, the hilltop Fort Nonsense and the Georgian-style Ford Mansion where Washington and his wife Martha stayed. Collectively they make up the Morristown National Historical Park with a museum and visitor center also examining this period in more detail.
While the small town is rightfully known for the key role it played in the war for independence, ‘Mo City’ also has some fantastic local shops and restaurants to check out around its green. Coupled with its laidback pace of life and superb schools, this makes Morristown a tempting option for families.
6. Seaside Heights
In complete contrast, Seaside Heights is a lively beach town known for its amusement-oriented boardwalk and pounding nightlife scene. Located on a long, thin barrier isle that separates Barnegat Bay from the Atlantic Ocean, it sees huge crowds of young revelers visit each summer.
Connected to the mainland by the Thomas A. Mathis Bridge, the small resort community calls itself ‘Your Home For Family Fun Since 1913!’. It certainly has a lot of exciting things for you to see and do as Casino Pier and Funtown Pier are both packed with amusement rides, arcades and eateries.
Its two-mile-long boardwalk also has loads of bars and nightclubs to try out that were popularized in the hit MTV show Jersey Shore. While it does get very busy and crowded in summer, the rest of the year residents enjoy its beautiful beaches and boardwalk in peace and quiet.
Lying on the Delaware River just across from Pennsylvania, Trenton has been New Jersey’s capital since 1790. The city owes much of its growth and development to its strategic location in between Philadelphia and New York City.
Both of these teeming metropolises also have a large impact on its local culture with many residents supporting a sports team or two from either city. Plenty of people also commute to them for work as there aren’t all too many jobs going in town besides working for one of its governmental agencies.
Since manufacturing and industry dwindled in the seventies, Trenton has fallen on hard times which has hurt its schools, housing and safety statistics. Despite this, many move here for its great transport links, affordable cost of living or to attend the College of New Jersey. Tourists also stop by as the ‘Turning Point of the Revolution’ boasts some interesting sites related to the war.
As it offers up incredible views of Manhattan’s iconic skyline, it is no wonder Hoboken is one of the most popular places to live in the state. Located in northeastern New Jersey on the Hudson River, it has an artsy industrial vibe with pretty parks lining the waterfront.
Once an industrial port known only as the birthplace of baseball and Frank Sinatra, ‘Bartown’ is now famed for its trendy bars and lounges. As such, many young professionals reside here and commute across the river each day with the thousands of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology also contributing to its lively, youthful feel.
Its proximity to New York City’s enticing sights and opportunities does come at a price as many tenements have been transformed into luxury condominiums in recent years. While renting and the cost of living is quite high, locals benefit from great services and schools, all while avoiding the hustle and bustle of busy Manhattan.
Oft-overlooked in favor of nearby Manhattan, New Jersey’s largest city Newark is a culturally rich place, home to countless museums, galleries and theaters. While it suffers from a bad reputation and has been economically disadvantaged for some time, it is still one of the nation’s major air, shipping and rail hubs.
Founded in 1666 by Puritans from New Haven Colony, it initially flourished due to its setting at the mouth of the Passaic River. In the second half of the twentieth century though, the steady decline of its industry and increasing racial tensions eventually culminated in the notorious 1967 Newark riots. Since then, the important seaport has been associated with high crime rates though things are slowly improving thanks to ongoing revitalization plans.
While the state of its housing stock, schools and job market are still a cause for concern, the 50,000 or so students who attend its universities breathe fresh life and energy into the city. Its performing arts center also attracts tons of tourists, who come to see its top-class plays, concerts and dance shows.
2. Jersey City
Nestled away in between both Newark and NYC is the state’s second-largest settlement Jersey City. Often referred to as New York’s ‘sixth borough’, it shares much of its history, geography and culture with the massive metropolis.
Set just south of Hoboken, J.C. occupies part of a large peninsula with Newark Bay lining one side and the Hudson River on the other. As it shares many mass transit connections with Manhattan and has lots of banks and financial institutes dotting its waterfront, it is now one of the most expensive cities to live in the United States.
Commuters and tourists still stay here however with its amazing multicultural makeup and exquisite yet affordable ethnic restaurants somewhat making up for the eye-watering rent prices. Yet another added bonus are the phenomenal views on offer of Manhattan, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty from its waterfront park.
One of the most desirable places to live in the state, Princeton is most known for being home to the prestigious university of the same name. While the Ivy League school’s sizeable campus and student body dominate much of life in town, a number of other important institutes are also based here.
Lying almost equidistant between Philadelphia and New York City, the calm and quiet college town has lots of attractive old buildings to amble past on its campus. These include its Collegiate Gothic-style University Chapel and Nassau Hall which briefly served as the United States Capitol in 1783. Other than taking a tour of its lovely lawns and historical halls, the Princetown University Art Museum is a must for its fabulous collection.
Most of its shops and restaurants can be found along Nassau Street which is the main hub of activity in town. Although house prices and the cost of living are high, residents benefit from superb schools and public service with Princeton’s intellectual air and beautiful scenery also attracting many others.