View of Washington Street Mall - a pedestrian shopping area in downtown Cape May. Editorial credit: EQRoy /

8 of the Most Hospitable Small Towns in New Jersey

New Jersey might be a small state, but because of its proximity to popular and densely populated states like New York and Pennsylvania, there are many attractions and spectacles to find in the “Diner Capital of the World.” The most hospitable small towns in New Jersey are especially brimming with cultural treats and historical treasures that are more valuable than the casinos of Atlantic City. Whether you are strolling through the many small towns along the glittering Jersey Shore or trekking across the New Jersey landscapes of famous lakes and mountains, there is no shortage of desirable destinations for you to stay at. So get away from the heavy traffic that New Jersey is infamous for and see the unknown and underappreciated hospitality of New Jersey’s small towns.


A huge clock in the main street of Madison, New Jersey downtown on a sunny afternoon
A huge clock in the main street of Madison, New Jersey downtown on a sunny afternoon, via Wirestock Creators /

Approximately 15 miles from New York City, the borough of Madison is a small, rosy delight at the outskirts of one of the biggest cities in the world. Known affectionately as “Rose City” due to the abundance of roses and other flowers growing in the town, Madison was once called “Bottle Hill” until it was renamed after President James Madison. The borough is also a hotbed of natural wonders, as it was built on the ridge-like remnants of a terminal moraine left by the Wisconsin Glacier more than 10,000 years ago. The many “potholes” in Madison mark the last ice pieces of the glacier; other natural attractions include the Great Swamp to the southwest and the Black Meadows/Troy Meadows area to the northeast. In the town, Sayre House was the headquarters of General Anthony Wayne during the American Revolution. Nowadays, people visit Madison to watch plays and performances at the Shakespeare Theatre.

Cape May

Tourists walk through Washington Street Mall in Cape May, New Jersey
Tourists walk through Washington Street Mall in Cape May, New Jersey. Image credit JWCohen via Shutterstock

Cape May is a wondrous, seaside retreat less than an hour away from Atlantic City. With perfect views of the Delaware Bay, Delaware, and the Atlantic Ocean, there are plenty of seaworthy experiences and trips to enjoy. To relish in the warm sunlight and bracing waters of the Atlantic Ocean, wade through the many beaches of Cape May like Sunset Beach or charter ferries and tours across the bay. To admire the simplicity of nature and its creations, do some birdwatching at Cape May Point State Park and Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area. And to immerse yourself into the Victorian-era past, roam the rustic halls of the Emlen Physick Estate, a living museum depicting ordinary Americana life in the 1870s. Finally, for those who want to spend a longer time in Cape May, find accommodations at the Chalfonte Hotel, the Grand Hotel of Cape May, or the Angel of the Sea.

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, via Andrew F. Kazmierski /

As the “Jewel of the Jersey Shore,” the borough of Spring Lake gleams enticingly on the Eastern Coast. About 43 miles from Trenton, Spring Lake contains many historic and natural attractions for those seeking the simple pleasures of New Jersey. The Sea Girt Lighthouse not only acts as a modern guide for wandering ships, but also serves as a local history museum elaborating on Spring Lake’s past as a port town.

The Spring Lake Beach is a wide stretch of pristine sands and waves for people to luxuriate. Nearby, the Divine Park and the Wall Township Reservoir are excellent locations to appreciate the local wildlife and wilderness of New Jersey. On April 12, Spring Lake will be hosting a theatrical production called Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore, a comedic story of romance and the sea. As for lodgings, the Hewitt Wellington, Spring Lake Inn, and The Breakers on the Ocean are a handful of lively lodgings for you to stay a long time.


The charming historic town of Lambertville, New Jersey.
The charming historic town of Lambertville, New Jersey. Image credit EQRoy via

About 48 miles from Madison, the small town of Lambertville sits opposite from its Pennsylvanian neighbor, New Hope, along the banks of the Delaware River. Lambertville was once a lackadaisical agrarian town since its inception in 1705. But then the Industrial Revolution transformed it into a bustling epicenter of manufacturing, transportation, and commerce. The town proved its geographic efficiency in 1915, when the Liberty Bell was carried by train through the historic Lambertville Station and to its ultimate destination, Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

During the American War for Independence, George Washington once rested at the Holcombe Farmstead that still stands today. For those who wish to know more about Lambertville’s contributions in the past, the James Wilson Marshall House Museum has many tidbits to provide. As the “Antiques Capital of New Jersey,” Lambertville purveys many unique antiques at the Golden Nugget Antique Flea Market. If you do intend to stay and shop at Lambertville, then book rooms at the Chimney Hill Estate Inn or Lambertville House.


View of the historic Cooper Grist Mill in Chester, New Jersey.
View of the historic Cooper Grist Mill in Chester, New Jersey.

What the township of Chester lacks in a cornucopia of historic and cultural amenities, it certainly compensates by providing a laidback atmosphere and simplistic charm for people who yearn to get away from the fuss of the big cities. Only 41 miles from Lambertville, visitors can be entreated to Chester’s agricultural spirits at the Alstede Farms. The nearby Hacklebarney State Park promotes numerous hiking and biking trails for the adventurous nature-lovers. In addition to this park, there are many other places to experience the quietude and calm of the New Jersey wilderness, such as Black River Park, Tiger Brook Park, MacGregor Preserve, and Black River Wildlife Management Area. Each of these locations house a fascinating panoply of local wildlife. Consider spending your time at the PH Steakhouse.


Clinton, New Jersey: Downtown historic Clinton, Hunterdon County
Clinton, New Jersey: Downtown historic Clinton, Hunterdon County. Editorial credit: EQRoy /

Situated on the South Branch of the Raritan River in the Raritan Valley, the opulent town of Clinton is a nexus of scenic attractions and natural splendor. About 12 miles from Frenchtown, one can enjoy the spectacularly stellar terrain of Clinton, starting from the Spruce Run Reservoir, the Capoolong Wildlife Management Area, and all the way to the Round Valley Recreation Area. For history buffs who wish to appreciate Clinton’s vital role in water power and quarry mining in New Jersey, then see the exhibits and well-preserved artifacts of the Red Mill Museum Village. When it comes to more modern and avant-garde artworks, the Hunterdon Art Museum does not disappoint. Do adore what Clinton has to offer, be it the wild side of New Jersey or the historic appeal.

Ocean Grove

View of the boardwalk along the beach in Ocean Grove, a town on the New Jersey Shore
View of the boardwalk along the beach in Ocean Grove, a town on the New Jersey Shore, via EQRoy /

Ocean Grove, quite similar to Spring Lake which is about five miles south of the town, is a pleasant and soothing resort town on the New Jersey coast. Ocean Grove is famous for its well-preserved quaint Victorian houses. Most importantly, people gather to Ocean Grove to witness vibrant performances at the Great Auditorium, a massive wooden theater that hosts choral concerts and Sunday worship services. When it comes to the breezy embrace of the Atlantic Ocean, the Ocean Grove Beach and Boardwalk offer grand experiences of the turning waves and soft sand. No need to feel lost and confused, because the Carriage House Bed & Breakfast, Laingdon Hotel, and House by the Sea are examples of the many fine lodgings you can spend your vacation at Ocean Grove.


City Center of Frenchtown, New Jersey.
City Center of Frenchtown, New Jersey.

Frenchtown, lounging at the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey on the Delaware River, is a resplendent borough that encapsulates the bucolic sublimity of a New Jersey town. Once the dwelling place of the Lenni-Lenape tribe, Frenchtown was so named from the French immigrants in the 1800s fleeing from guillotine executions in France.

Only minutes away from Lambertville, the Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park treats travelers to amazing biodiversity and wilderness, riddled with dozens of biking and hiking trails for those seeking exploration into the unknown. Two notable authors, James Agee and Nathanael West, occupied much of their time in Frenchtown writing many of their pivotal works. This year, there will be three major events that will enliven the atmosphere in Frenchtown-first, the Wine and Art festival in May; Bastille Day in July; and RiverFest in September. For accommodations, you can find all you need at the National Hotel or Widow McCrea House.

In Conclusion

During the war for American independence, New Jersey was the Crossroads of the Revolution due to its strategic location, as best observed from the Battle of Trenton. Nowadays, many of the most hospitable small towns in New Jersey embody the vital spirit of American freedom. With seaside resorts like Ocean Grove and Spring Lake along the New Jersey Shore, and historic locations like Lambertville and Madison, travelers from near and far will rethink their assumptions about New Jersey. So if you ever need to relax and unwind from all the traffic jams in big cities like Newark, then the small towns out there are perfect getaways for your peace of mind.

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