24 Hours in Northern New Jersey
Updated: Nov 4, 2021
Tucked in the shadow of New York City, northern New Jersey is often overlooked by visitors who flock to the city that never sleeps. Add to that the stereotype that New Jersey is home to nothing more than aggressive drivers, strip malls, and urban sprawl, and it's easy to understand why New Jersey doesn't make it on to many peoples' bucket lists.
Yet, skipping over northern New Jersey in favor of more well-known destinations would be a mistake. Northern New Jersey is a pleasant and surprising mix of city and country, old and new, upscale and down home. Once the fall colors hit in late October, the charm factor increases significantly. Bustling country towns give way to sweeping forests, hiking trails, and farms. Foodies will delight in the stunning variety of cuisines while the more adventurous travelers can take in the sights via dozens of parks, reservations, wildlife refuges, and more. If you're looking for a low-key fall getaway or a day trip from New York City, you might want to consider the Garden State. Read on for a short and sweet autumn itinerary in northern New Jersey.
Morning: Food, Drink & Shopping
Start your day at Bagels 4 U in Short Hills, NJ, where you can load up on fresh, kettle-boiled bagels. Don't let their nondescript, strip mall location fool you -- Bagels 4 U has been making bagels since 1985 and it shows. If you like spice, opt for the jalapeño bagel with regular cream cheese.
Once you've filled up carbs, head over to downtown Summit for a quick cup of coffee. Boxwood Coffee Roasters, a bright, modern coffee shop with a strong community vibe, serves up ethically-grown, small batch coffee from all around the world. Have a seat while you sip or take your cup to go and stroll through downtown Summit. If you're looking to kill a little time, pop into one of Summit's consignment shops to search for local treasures. The Collective, Greene Street, and the Junior League of Summit Thrift Shop are all good options.
How To Spend Your Day: Forests or Farms?
When you're ready to get away from the hustle and bustle of town, hop in the car and head west towards the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. Nestled amidst small towns and suburbia, the Great Swamp is a nature-lover's gem. The 12-square mile refuge boasts a variety of habitats that support dozens of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, waterfowl, and more. Start your hike at the Environmental Education Center and keep your eyes and ears open as you meander the system of trails and boardwalks. It's not uncommon to cross paths with snakes, frogs, birds, and the occasional raccoon!
After your hike, head down the road to The Raptor Trust for an up-close and personal experience with some of New Jersey's birds. Since 1983, The Trust has worked to provide medical care and rehabilitation for injured wild birds. The Trust is deeply committed to education and their rehabilitation and education center (home to approximately 50 birds!) is definitely worth a visit.
If you're looking for a more festive, fall-themed adventure, keep heading northwest towards Riamede Farm in Chester, NJ. Riamede Farm opened its orchards to the public back in 1974 and has been hosting u-pick addicts ever since. It costs $5 per person to get in and you can spend the afternoon frolicking amongst the apple trees, poking through the pumpkin patch, or crunching through the stalks of ornamental corn. With 68 acres and more than 34 varieties of apples, it's easy to get lost amongst the trees. Pick some apples and pumpkins to take home, and don't forget to grab a bag of apple cider donuts for the road. They are so light and fluffy they melt in your mouth and you'll have a hard time saving any for later.
If you made it all the way out to Riamede Farm, head into the sweet little town of Chester for a late lunch. The brand new Pren Kitchen is a good choice. Not only is their food scrumptious (think: flaky tomato tarts and indulgent baked goods) but it tastes even better when you learn they are committed to simple, homemade recipes that focus on reducing waste. Their cozy dining room is decorated with succulents, old photographs, and a big stack of games to pass the time while you wait. When your food arrives, the uber-friendly wait staff will gladly wheel the "sauce cart" over to your table so you can pick from dozens of creative condiments (ever heard of kimchi mayo?). Pren Kitchen encourages guests to put away their phones and share seats at the large communal table, creating a space that asks you to slow down and connect with those around you. So, stay awhile, order a second croissant, and play a round of Bananagrams before heading home.
After lunch, take the backroads and admire the parade of fall colors as you head east towards where you began your adventure. Stop off at the Watchung Reservation in Union County to stretch your legs and take in the crisp fall air. With more than 2,000 acres and numerous trails, you can walk as much or as little as you want.
Dinner: Grab & Go or Sit-Down
If you're heading back to NYC, swing through downtown Summit to grab a slice of pizza for dinner. You'll want a slice of everything at Village Trattoria but if you have to choose the Eggplant Parmigiana pizza or Greek Salad pizza are unique choices.
Looking for a more leisurely sit-down dinner after your jam-packed day? Head north to Montclair and grab a table at MishMish Cafe. The food is fresh and flavorful and the pita bread is so fluffy you could rest your head on it. If you're looking for a good vegetarian option, try the "Everything Vegan Hummus Bowl" -- it comes piled high with sautéed mushrooms, creamy hummus, and tofu slices encrusted with everything bagel seasoning. Plus, MishMish is BYOB, so you can bring a bottle of your favorite wine and raise a glass to a day well spent discovering the hidden gems of northern New Jersey!