The bustling college towns in New Jersey make it a popular destination for students from all over the world. With back-to-school season upon us, there’s no better time to take a look at some of thriving communities near different colleges and universities. Whether you prefer a suburb with a store-lined downtown or a smaller city with easy access to nature, the Garden State has the right fit for you. We’ve rounded up the eight best college towns in New Jersey.
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This comfy little town has a surprising amount of food to eat and places to go to meet up with friends. Its school of higher learning, Rowan University, is home to a noted art gallery that has earned accolades for its collection of contemporary works by established and emerging artists. History buffs should plan a visit to the Heritage Glass Museum, a visual exploration of the town’s famed glassblowing factories. Students looking for more active pursuits can plan an outing to the Exit 4 Private Escape Rooms — which even has a Jersey Devil-themed room for any sport lovers out there. At night, the 21+ crowd heads over to Bonesaw Brewing Company to find out what’s on tap. For any out-of-town guests visiting for parents’ weekend, the Courtyard by Marriott is right on the Rowan campus.
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Hoboken. Home to Frank Sinatra and Stevens Insitute of Technology. It also has another claim to fame: with its 120 bars and pubs, Hoboken holds the title of “most bars per capita in America.” Beer lovers can nab $1 domestic mugs and discounted appetizers at Green Rock while watching the game on big screens. Pilsener Haus & Biergarten offers 70 beers, a tasty pub menu, and family-style dining tables that are great for groups. Students can take a break from the crowds for a few hours at Pier A Park and soak in the spectacular views of Manhattan — not to mention, Manhattan is a simple bus or PATH ride away, offering affordable and quick access to the city. Guests visiting their college students who choose to splurge on a gorgeous room at the W Hoboken can also enjoy waterfront views and a full-service spa. There’s truly no shortage of things to do in Hoboken — we’ve even created a local Hoboken bucket list full of things to check out. We have to mention that no visit to Hoboken would be complete without a visit to Carlos’ Bakery, of Cake Boss fame, for a slice of rainbow cake. Be warned: there are often long lines.
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This buzzing town is home to two universities: Drew Univerity and the Florham campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University. Students can start the day with a morning walk on the 1.5-mile Giralda Farms Preserve Trail, the former estate of Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, who used to host dog shows at the property. Afterward, they can settle in at Stryxe, an entertainment venue that houses bowling lanes, gaming rooms, restaurants, and two bars. Late-night munchies can be satisfied at Krust Kitchen, which serves up burgers, wings, fried Oreos, and giant whoopie pies until 11PM on Friday and Saturday nights. Guests can stay at The Madison Hotel in nearby Morristown, which even has its own library with a fireplace. Plus, there are easy one-seat trains into Manhattan’s Penn Station (the trip is about an hour long) for anyone looking to get out and explore the city on a weekend.
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We may be a little biased, yes, but Montclair is objectively an awesome college town. On weekends, Church Street comes alive with music — and students, residents, and out-of-towners enjoy the array of shops and restaurants. Montclair State University students can try on fun outfits at Velvet Lush and Urban Outfitters, or embrace their inner witch at Blu Lotus Metaphysical Center. Students can grab inexpensive eats at Playa Bowls or a few macarons at Le French Dad Boulangerie and people-watch for a few hours. Those over 21 can dance the night away at a late-night live show at Just Jake’s. Visitors can spend the night at the MC Hotel, which houses world-class restaurants and a rooftop bar with breathtaking views. Fun fact: Montclair State sprawls across three communities — Montclair, Little Falls, and Clifton.
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This quintessential college town is home to Rutgers-New Brunswick‘s five campuses. The university grounds include the Zimmerli Museum, a teaching institution with a wide range of collections and programming, as well as Rutgers Gardens, which include 60 acres of gardens, tree and shrub collections, and walking paths. Venturing off campus, students and their guests can take in a show at the State Theater of New Jersey or the George Street Playhouse. Foodwise, a must-have is the “fat sandwich” at RU Hungry?, which started as a Rutgers phenomenon but quickly became a New Jersey tradition. The Heldrich Hotel is a favorite of people looking to stay the night, with its easy access to shopping, dining, and nightlife.
Newark’s three institutes of higher learning — Rutgers Newark, New Jersey Institute of Technology, and Essex County College — have earned the neighborhood they are in the name University Heights. There are plenty of activities for students and their guests, including listening to concerts at NJPAC or the Prudential Center — or biking along the 36-mile Lenape Trail in Branch Brook Park. New Jersey’s largest museum, the Newark Museum of Art, has themed late-night events that complement its exhibitions. Food-wise, students can be found eating tapas in the city’s many delicious Portuguese restaurants in the nearby Ironbound section or enjoying world-famous Italian hot dogs at Dickie Dee’s. Visitors can book a room at TRYP by Wyndham Newark Downtown, within walking distance from the shop and cafe-lined Halsey Street.
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The ivy league college at the center of this picturesque community boasts an art museum noted for its pieces from ancient civilizations, early Renaissance paintings from Europe, and Asian art. Nearby McCarter Theatre Cente, one of the leading regional theaters in the United States, features more than 200 performances throughout the year. Students on a budget can visit Lake Carnegie, a 262-acre reservoir, where they can rent canoes or Kayaks or jog on the path that runs alongside it. Say Cheeze Cafe is known for its wallet-friendly fare, including a “build your own” grilled cheese sandwich, and Jammin’ Crepes is a fun spot to grab brunch on the weekends. The Hyatt Regency Princeton is steps away from the university and features a glass-enclosed swimming pool.
South Orange is home to one of the nation’s leading Catholic schools, Seton Hall University, and a downtown that’s ideal for window shopping. Little Shop of Hip Hop has a unique collection of accessories, jewelry, and more, and fashion finds at discounted prices can be found at Retail Therapy. Locals gather at Bunny’s Sports Bar to watch a game and eat thin-crust pizza, while Tito’s Burritos & Wings is popular among students because of its tasty bites, curated playlists, and surf flicks. State-of-the-art SOPAC has everything from theater to comedy shows to musical performances. Visitors can stay in the numerous Airbnbs or at the Courtyard by Marriott in nearby West Orange.