Photo Credit: Audrey Blake Breheney
“The Parkslope of New Jersey”
By Sarah Emily Gilbert
On the east side of the Watchung Mountains sits Montclair, New Jersey, an unhurried, charming town in Essex County that’s lined with thousand-year-old trees and architecturally significant homes. It boasts six historic districts and 43 locations on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Charles Shultz House, known as the Evergreens. A three-story Victorian mansion built by a respected New York architect in 1896, the home provides unobstructed views of the city skyline, marking the close connection between the suburb and New York City. Many Montclair residents commute to and from Penn Station for work, and with them come metropolitan influences. The small town is home to 39,000 people, seven train stations, two cinemas, a theatre, an art museum, and an endless array of cultural experiences.
The pulse of Montclair is in its art scene. This spring brings the Montclair Film Festival at the Wellmont Theatre and the Matisse and American Art exhibit at the Montclair Art Museum. Featuring original works by the French Master and American artists such as Warhol and Lichtenstein, the exhibit exemplifies the Museum’s 12,000-plus fine American and Native American works. A wealth of art is also on display at Gallery 51, Gallery Loupe, 73 See Gallery & Design Studio, and Pinot’s Palette paint and sip classes. Art-loving Yankee fans can head to the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center, which is located on the campus of Montclair State University, the second largest university in New Jersey. For the younger scholars, there’s Music Together Montclair, a music and movement program for newborn to five-year-olds, or Jazz House Kids, a community arts group that teaches children through jazz. Local arts continue to be promoted by Studio Montclair, a professional visual arts organization that holds exhibits and events.
Perhaps better than any work of art is the town’s natural beauty. Montclair’s position along the First Watchung Mountain makes it a major pathway for migratory birds. Atop the Montclair Hawk Lookout—the second oldest hawk watch in the country—there is a 500-foot aerial view of the lower Hudson River Valley, and sometimes, a Broad-winged Hawk. As the weather warms, the focus shifts to the thousands of tulips planted for May in Montclair, a month-long celebration of the town through community concerts, garden tours, markets, and more. The flowers continue at Presby Memorial Iris Gardens and the Howard Van Vleck Arboretum—a popular spot for engagement photos. Located on the edge of Montclair’s shopping and dining districts, Anderson and Edgemont parks are bordered with extraordinary flowering trees, along with eclectic eateries and boutiques.
Dapper gentlemen and trendy tots venture to Upper Montclair Plaza for The Haberdashery at Crookshorns and the Apple Village children’s store. Fashion-forward women scour the racks of Dot Reeder, Oasis, or Barbara Eclectic; while outdoorsy folk go to Heratji for skis, snow goggles, and sweaters. Bookworms snuggle into Montclair Book Center to browse their goldmine of vinyl, and collectors seek 19th and 20th century treasures at the Montclair Antique Center. There have been sightings of Steven Colbert at the home décor store, Howell, which is reason enough to shop their whimsical home accessories and gifts.
For a true taste of Montclair, locals do brunch at Raymond’s Diner and get homemade treats at The Little Daisy Bake Shop. Adventurous eaters enjoy Ethiopian cuisine at Mesob Restaurant or sip Yogic Chai at neighboring Trend Coffee & Tea House. The modern American restaurant and gastro-pub, Pig & Prince, is located in the historic Lackawanna train station, while the upscale European pub, De Novo, is at the Upper Montclair train station. Several shops and restaurants are housed in these transportation hubs, revealing the town’s commuter mentality.
The NJ Transit Montclair-Boonton Rail Line has local stops through town and will also take you into Newark Penn Station, Hoboken, and New York Penn Station in less than 40 minutes. Just outside Montclair’s border is Route 3, which goes directly past the Meadowlands (a mere 25 minute drive from town), into the Lincoln Tunnel, and then NYC. The nearby Garden State Parkway provides access to Northern/Southern NJ, the NJ Turnpike, and I-80.
There aren’t many places where you can hike a mountain, attend a Giants game, and see a Matisse painting all in one day. Montclair, New Jersey offers all of this and more.