Aerila view of Lambertville, New Jersey.

7 Most Overlooked Towns In New Jersey

New Jersey carves out a candid space in the northeastern U.S., between New York City (east), Pennsylvania's Poconos (west), and north of slim, historic DelawareThe Garden State also sports 130 miles of soft, sandy Atlantic shoreline, dubbed (somewhat infamously, thanks to the MTV show) the "Jersey Shore." But all kidding aside, there are many amazing places to visit across this state's seven distinct regions, with such standouts as Atlantic CityAsbury Park, and Cape May. At the same time, New Jersey is home to many overlooked small towns that are just as capable of turning heads. Here are seven worth singling out this upcoming spring. 


Aerial view of Maplewood, New Jersey.
Aerial view of Maplewood, New Jersey.

Though Maplewood sits a mere 20 miles east of Lower Manhattan, it has a polar opposite personality to the Big Apple. This Essex County township is all about community rather than hustle. Settle into Maplewood Village, aka "The Village," where bistros, bookshops, coffee houses, and (in the summertime) local produce vendors have all staked out real estate in the few cozy blocks in front of the train station. Adjacent to The Village is the tranquil 25-acre Memorial Park, which flows into the Maplewood Country Club. To expand on the suburban nature immersion, hike on up to the 2,100-acre South Mountain Reservation on the northwest side of town, where trails, a reservoir, another golf course, and even the Essex County Turtle Back Zoo await. I'll leave you with a couple of fun facts about Maplewood: several popular movies filmed scenes here (such as Garden State, Stepmom, and I Wanna Hold Your Hand), and the game Ultimate Frisbee was invented here in 1968 by local high school students. 


Allentown, New Jersey, in winter.
Allentown, New Jersey, in winter.

This borough of New Jersey's Monmouth County embodies small-town charm and packs quite a historic punch, too. Allentown is centered around Conines Millpond – a lovely, tree-lined watering hole with a rustic mill from 1855 standing obstinately on its shore. Speaking of 19th-century structures, Allentown has a historical district consisting of 225 homes that are listed on the state and national registries – many of which were erected in the mid-1800s. This communal village also emphasizes its pedestrian-friendly Main Street (i.e., Old York Road). Grab a cup of joe or a vegan meal at the quirky and retro Moth Coffeehouse, or get your bicycle tuned up at Bruno's so that you can pedal the wide-open farmlands of Allentown's surrounding greenbelt. 


Aerila view of Lambertville, New Jersey.
Aerial view of Lambertville, New Jersey.

Lambertville is nestled on the eastern shore of the Delaware River, connected with New Hope, Pennsylvania, by the walkable (or bikeable – more on this in a moment) New Hope-Lambertville Bridge. This Hunterdon County community has a welcoming layout, with laid-back small-town streets filled with individualized residential homes, quaint churches, and the occasional boutique shop or bistro (Lambertville also has an array of international restaurants). This Rivertown's art scene will certainly help put Lambertville on more radars. Its multiple galleries highlight local talent, the ACME Screening Room showcases independent cinema, and its annual art festivals bring in fresh perspectives and scores of inspired attendees. Finally, thanks to its numerous scenic paths, Lambertville is one of only six towns in New Jersey to be designated as "Bicycle-Friendly" by the League of American Cyclists. 


Aerial view of Keyport, New Jersey.
Aerial view of Keyport, New Jersey.

This overlooked waterfront borough was recently highlighted by the New York Times as "a Hidden Gem on the Jersey Coast." Keyport encompasses the southern extent of the namesake harbor – itself an extension of Raritan Bay. New York City's skyline can be seen from this one-square-mile community (which is also in Monmouth County, some 35 miles northeast of Allentown), but similar to Maplewood, it has a much more relaxed, nostalgic, New England-esque vibe. The shore is lined with parks and playgrounds, a waterfront path, a boat launch, a fishing pier, and a small public beach. Another half block up from the water is where the commercial district begins – spanning Front, Main, and Broad Streets. Pop into a traditional diner for a hearty breakfast, or save your appetite for some evening seafood. 

Red Bank 

Aerial of Red Bank Navesink New Jersey
Aerial view of Red Bank, New Jersey.

Another underrated New Jersey waterfront town is that of Red Bank – just 10 miles north of magnetic Ashbury Park. This radiant Burrough (once again of Monmouth County) is situated on the southern banks of the Navesink River, which opens up to lake-like proportions on the east side of Red Bank's horned peninsula. Though a small town of only about 13,000 people, Red Bank has a polished look to it, and lots of nightlife zest. There are a handful of live performance venues, including the Two River Theatre and Count Basie Theatre (named after famous jazz musician and beloved Red Bank native Willam James "Count" Basie), a local craft brewery (Red Tank Brewing Company), a slew of upscale restaurants, and the film connoisseur-haven: Basie Center Cinemas. 

Spring Lake

A crowd of sunbathers and swimmers enjoy a warm beach day in Spring Lake New Jersey.
A crowd of sunbathers and swimmers enjoy a warm beach day in Spring Lake New Jersey. Editorial credit: Andrew F. Kazmierski /

Slipping down to the south side of Ashbury Park, the borough of Spring Lake in (you guessed it) Monmouth County is a beautiful addition to the Jersey Shore but, for some reason, hasn't quite captured the same crowds. The focal point of this charming borough is the long, wide, clean, and sandy Spring Lake Beach, which parallels Ocean Avenue for the entire extent of the town limits – sandwiched between the refreshing waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the picturesque and accommodating public boardwalk. While sunny days will inevitably point visitors here, don't overlook the sizable eponymous body of water in the center of town. Stemming from the lake are more than 60 independent shops and satiating cafes, eateries, and gourmet restaurants scattered about historic 3rd Avenue and its offshoots. 


Phillipsburg, New Jersey
Phillipsburg, New Jersey, seen across the Delaware River from Easton, Pennsylvania.

Let's end back on the banks of the Delaware River. Phillipsburg is ideally located roughly equidistant from Philadelphia and New York and a mere 30-minute drive from the Pocono Mountains. Upping the location factor even further is the fact that this Warren County town is a stop along the Delaware River Railroad Excursion. Enjoy a round-trip ride through the scenic river valley aboard the 1950s steam locomotive. The train departs four times per day (from May until the end of October), and takes two hours to complete the circuit. Gricers can follow up their tour with a visit to the Phillipsburg Railroad Historians Museum. Otherwise, explore the riverside shopping district, cross the walkable bridges shared with Pennsylvania, and maybe grab a craft pint at the highly-rated, family- and pet-friendly Invertase Brewing Company. 

New Jersey may be the fourth-smallest state, but it still possesses a wealth of uncovered gems. Beachgoers, art enthusiasts, nature lovers, and community-centric folks can all find something compelling in The Garden State; you just need to know where to look. But since everyone knows the fan favorites, why not peruse some of New Jersey's overlooked towns instead? Queue up your best Bruce Springsteen playlist and get started with these seven secret(ish) spots. 

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