Having grown up in Montclair, New Jersey, I’m pretty jaded to its charm. It's only when I mention the town to anyone in the New York City-area (and are met with an ever-familiar "Oh yes Montclair, such a cute town"), or bring my friends to visit that I'm reminded of its allure. The New York Times has described it as being part of “the Brooklyn triangle” (despite it being about an hour's drive away) and it's often referred to as “Park Slope West.” Yes, I can see all of the eye rolls from New Yorkers from here. In its defense, the descriptions aren’t far off.
New Jersey often gets a bad rep. As a recent New York transplant, I know that more than anyone. But put your misconceptions about Jersey strip malls and pollution-driven factories to the side for a minute—Montclair is more Stars Hollow than Jersey Shore. It hosts film festivals, jazz concerts, farmer’s markets, and fairs in its quaint urban-suburban setting. And it's home to adorable parks, vintage boutiques, eclectic restaurants, and even a museum. This is not me bragging (this might be me bragging), these are just facts.
Just ask celebrities, like Stephen Colbert, makeup artist Bobbi Brown, and actor Frankie Faison, who call Montclair home. It has a cosmopolitan vibe minus the exorbitant prices. I’m not suggesting you pick up and move here anytime soon (although, many New Yorkers are infiltrating flocking to the town to get a break real estate wise), but consider it for a weekend day trip. It’s only a 45-minute train ride away. Yes, you have to endure NJ Transit and step foot in Penn Station to get there, but it’s worth carving out the time. Ahead, we outline the draws. Who knows, you might end up staying a lot longer than you expected.
Where to Go: Wellmont Theatre
Previously home to a pretty impressive movie theater, the Wellmont now serves as an equally impressive concert venue. Acts from Snoop Dogg to Deadmau5 to Lauryn Hill have blessed the stage (Jay Leno, DNCE, and Kenny G are on the upcoming roster). It’s also the main meeting spot for Montclair’s annual film festival.
Where to Go: Van Vleck House & Gardens
A private estate turned into a community resource, Van Vleck is one of Montclair’s best and prettiest kept secrets. The space is filled with seasonal plants, fountains, and lovely walkways—perfect for a little R&R. They also offer yoga classes, holiday decorating classes, and bird hikes on the weekends. Once you’re done wandering the grounds, head over to the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens uptown (we recommend checking it out in the spring when they’re in bloom) for even more flowers to admire and/or Instagram.
Where to Go: Montclair Art Museum
Small compared to New York City standards, the Montclair Art Museum is one of the few U.S. museums devoted to American art and Native American art forms. A participatory exhibit entitled "Do It" is on display now, but the real treat comes in February when works from French master Matisse will be the highlight. The museum also hosts Free First Thursday Nights in the summer through the fall which includes extended hours, live music, and a full-service bar.
Where to Go: Clairidge Cinema
I know what you’re thinking: A movie theatre? I can stay in (insert respected city here) for that. Touché, but this cinema has been around since the early '20s and is a historic gem worth checking out. It’s a no-frills, old-school theatre with intimate, quaint screening rooms. If you’re looking for nachos, slushies, or other modern dine-in features, you’re not going to find it here. The roster of movies is the real draw. The exquisite Moonlight and Loving are currently playing there, and the lineup always includes excellent indie darlings you can only find in select theatres across the country. Characteristically so, the theatre also plays classic films (think: Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, It’s a Wonderful Life) the first Saturday and Sunday morning of each month.
Where to Shop: Culture Couture
Montclair is sprinkled with the usual retail suspects: Gap, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Lululemon, Blue Mercury, even a Bobbi Brown studio thanks to Brown herself. But it’s the independent shops that are truly worth your attention—and money. Culture Couture has been nestled on the corner of Church Avenue for years and brings clothing, accessories, shoes, jewelry, you name it, from around the world to its little enclave.
Where to Shop: Montclair Book Center
Nothing says suburban town quite like a local bookstore. This one also just happens to be one of the largest independent ones in the state. Choose from both new and used books (many going for half-price); you can even bring in books from home to sell or trade. Once you’re done perusing the aisles, make sure to check out the record store next door.
Where to Shop: Dot Reeder
Founded by New York City stylist and wholesale director Laura Barker, Dot Reeder is just the kind of boutique you expect to find in a tiny town like Montclair. You’ll find a curated selection of pieces from big-name brands like T by Alexander Wang, Rachel Comey, Steven Alan, and more indie options like beauty buffs RMS Beauty and Maison Francis Kurkdjian.
Where to Eat: Diesel & Duke
This spot is new to the area, but the owner is well-versed in the food department. Its second location (the first located in New Brunswick, New Jersey), Diesel & Duke is American food done right. The menu includes your everyday classic burger, but it also offers up quirkier options like the sriracha, peanut butter, and bacon burger and poutine fries, both of which are definitely worth the gamble. Go weird or go home.
Where to Eat: TS Ma
It's Chinese food, but healthy—basically, that's the overall ethos of TS Ma (they even have gluten-free options). They take favorites like General Tso's chicken and honey walnut shrimp and somehow turn around a lighter, tastier version. You’re in for a treat no matter what you order, but we’re partial to the crispy beef Szechuan style, soup dumplings, and Singapore mei fun.
Where to Eat: Raymond’s
You know Luke’s café from Gilmore Girls? That’s basically Raymond’s summed up—aesthetically, at least. The best (and most popular) meal probably being brunch, the diner-like restaurant is a staple in the heart of town. Choose the french toast and hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows (don’t ever forget the marshmallows) or the NYC-friendly avocado toast and poached eggs.
Where to Eat: Cuban Pete’s
Ask anyone in the surrounding towns, and they’ll tell you that they all flock to Montclair for Cuban Pete’s. The authentic food combined with the bustling, energetic atmosphere makes it the perfect spot to go for a date, a family meal, or a night out with friends. If you’re stuck searching for it on the always-busy Bloomfield Avenue, just look for the vintage turquoise truck parked outside. That, and the groups of people waiting for a table.
Where to Eat: Mesob
A great option for vegans or for those just looking to expand their culinary palette, Mesob is another place where outsiders flock to. It’s a great intro to traditional Ethiopian food if you’ve never tried it before. Just be warned that it's eaten with your hands family-style and the dishes don’t shy away from spice.
Where to Drink: Upstairs
Blink and you might miss the entrance to this bar. Once discovered (hint: it sits atop a Japanese restaurant), a lit glass staircase will guide you to where you need to be. Pull up a chair to the glass bar and enjoy a drink or two from their selection of retro and crafted cocktails.
Where to Drink: Egan & Sons
An authentic Irish pub with a rustic, cozy interior to match, it can get a little rowdy during the night, which might be your style. Otherwise, it’s also a perfect spot to lounge during the day and watch the game.
Where to Drink: Pig & Prince
The food here is divine (it’s also farm-to-table), but we recommend stopping by for a drink before starting or after ending your evening. The beer selection is decent and their specialty drinks are worth taking a chance on. It’s also a former railway station so don’t be surprised if you spend most of the night gawking over the high ceilings and cozy aesthetic.