New Jersey may be chock-full of bustling downtowns, but many lack the charm and polish that Princeton, a Mercer County municipality that dates to before the American Revolution, possesses.
Surrounding the Princeton University campus, Princeton is filled with locally owned shops, restaurants serving cuisine from all ends of the world, and attractions that beat going to the mall to escape the cold any day.
Even if you just spend a few hours wandering the area without an exact itinerary of where to go, what to do or where to eat, you’re bound to come home with a satisfied stomach, bag full of new trinkets and tired feet from exploring the bustling municipality.
With the holidays arriving, the perfect way to get in the spirit of December is to head to Princeton for a day trip to enjoy the area’s coziest and entertaining things to do.
1. Hop on a holiday trolley tour with the Princeton Tour Company
Princeton is full of scenic and historic spots, but this doesn’t mean much to visitors unless they have someone to explain it to them. From Saturday, Nov. 28, to Saturday, Dec. 26, the Princeton Tour Company offers hourlong holiday trolley tours that meet at 116 Nassau St. for $15 a person.
These tours take visitors to the homes and hangouts of Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Madison, Aaron Burr Jr., John F. Kennedy and Nancy Drew, as well as the Palmer Square downtown district. For more information, visit princetontourcompany.com or call 855-743-1415.
2. Sample local wines at Terhune Orchards
When it gets chilly outside, the best way to keep warm to stay cozy indoors — with a glass of local wine. Terhune Orchards, located about four miles from downtown Princeton, produces 12 varieties of wine — dry whites, fruit wines, dry red wines, off-dry and semi-sweet wines — on nine acres.
The tasting room, inside a 150-year-old barn, is where visitors can try five tastes of any of the Orchards’ wines for $5 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. at 330 Cold Soil Road. For further information, head to terhuneorchards.com or call 609-924-2310.
3. Check out an indie film at the Princeton Garden Theatre
Escape the cold for two hours and check out a cool indie flick by heading to the Princeton Garden Theatre, a nonprofit that plays classic Hollywood movies, foreign language films, filmmaker appearances and lectures, Saturday kids matinees and theatrically broadcast events such as from the National Theatre in London.
Admission rates range from $4 to $18 at the 160 Nassau St. theater, which is currently playing Spotlight, Trumbo, Coriolanus, the Book of Life, Hamlet and Where Are The Dreams of Youth. To get more information, go to princetongardentheatre.org or call 609-279-1999.
4. Pick up classic tunes at the Princeton Record Exchange
Looking for some music to listen to while you’re huddled up in your living room this winter? Head to the Princeton Record Exchange, one of the leading independent record stores since 1980, where visitors can buy and sell new and used CDs, used DVDs and used records.
On the shelves are 140,000 new and used music CDs, DVDs and vinyl records priced under $7 at 20 S. Tulane St. from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, visit prex.com or call 609-921-0881.
5. Get a taste of local culture at the Princeton University Art Museum
The Princeton University Art Museum may not look like the Museum of Modern Art, but it is one of the world’s leading university art museums with collections of more than 92,000 works. Plus, the museum — which is currently featuring exhibits on European art from the Pearlman Collection, Buddhist cave-grottoes located in the western province of Gansu near the city of Dunhuang, the Book of Kings and Ursula von Rydingsvard — is always free.
Visit the museum at McCormick Hall on the university campus on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Get more information by heading toartmuseum.princeton.edu or calling 609-258-3788.
6. Shop for books, apparel and food products in downtown Princeton
To pick up anything from used books to Princeton University garb to fudge in a quiet, clean and friendly atmosphere, take a stroll through Princeton’s downtown area, which centers on Palmer Square and is full of fine restaurants, apparel stores and specialty shops.
Make sure that you don’t miss the gourmet olive oil samples at Carter and Cavero, Food Network-recognized cupcakes from the House of Cupcakes, and the variety of books at Labyrinth Books. Plus, the area is full of every type of restaurant from farm-to-table to sushi. To find out more, visit palmersquare.com or call 609-921-2333.
Where to go for a hearty meal
- Farm-to-table eats: Agricola Eatery at 11 Witherspoon St.; agricolaeatery.com, 609-921-2798
- Mediterranean: Mediterra Restaurant and Taverna at 29 Hulfish St.;mediterrarestaurant.com, 609-252-9680
- Nationally ranked pizza: Conte’s Pizza at 339 Witherspoon St.;contespizzaandbar.com, 609-921-8041
- Upscale America: Elements at 66 Witherspoon St.; elementsprinceton.com, 609-924-0078
- Sushi: Mo C mo C at 14 S. Tulane St., mocmocsushi.com, 609-688-8788.
And to finish it off
- Ice cream: The Bent Spoon at 35 Palmer Square W.; thebentspoon.net, 609-924-2368
- Cupcakes: House of Cupcakes at 32 Witherspoon St.; houseofcupcakes.com, 609-924-0085
- Baked goods: The Little Chef Pastry Shop at 8 S. Tulane St.;littlechefpastries.com, 609-924-5335
- Chocolates: Thomas Sweet at 183 Nassau St., thomassweet.com, 609-683-8720
- Cakes: Chez Alice Gourmet Cafe & Bakery at 5 Palmer Square W., 609-921-6760.