It is the hometown of Zach Braff, Lauryn Hill, and Kevin Spacey, ultimate Frisbee was created at its high school, and native Elisabeth Shue returned here to film Gracie.
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The village of South Orange, which covers less than three square miles, features a vibrant downtown, scores of turn-of-the-century mansions, and Seton Hall University.
Gaslights line its streets, and at SoO’s center is a New Jersey Transit train station, which means you don’t even have to get in your car to visit.
SO Artsy: The South Orange Performing Arts Center (One SOPAC Way; sopacnow.org) launched in 2006, and the 415-seat venue brings in all kinds of acts, from jazz artist Stacey Kent (another South Orange native) and rocker Marc Cohn to the American Repertory Ballet and family-friendly music group the Sippy Cups. The building also houses five movie theaters with the latest blockbusters as well as indie flicks. It’s right next to the train station downtown, and there is ample parking at several lots within walking distance.
Culture Club: Keeping with the arts vibe, the Baird is the center for the town’s Department of Recreation and Cultural Affairs. Set in Meadowland Park (5 Mead Street; thebaird.org), the century-old building features the Pierro Gallery of South Orange (where talents such as New Jersey Monthly senior editor Eric Levin have shown off their works), a theater, and several arts spaces. The Baird hosts concerts and other performances, and is a venue for various workshops and classes.
Shopping Spree: The downtown features a collection of shops that cover a little bit of everything. Mia Cose Bella, which means “My Beautiful Things,” features one-of-a-kind ceramics, jewelry, and textiles, as well as baby gifts and unique cards (8 W South Orange Ave; miacosebella.com). Kitchen a la Mode, launched last summer, sells all kinds of useful and classy accessories for cooking and entertaining, and frequently hosts happy-hour munchies and other fun events (19 South Orange Avenue). For the little ones in your life, Sparkhouse Kids (15 Scotland Road; sparkhousekids.com) sells toys, holds art classes, and hosts children’s book signings. And Urban Femme (7 Sloan Street; 973-762-4499) is one of several clothing stores within walking distance of downtown.
Chow? Me In: There is no shortage of restaurants in South Orange, and the town features a little bit of everything within the span of about two city blocks. Looking for some authentic Italian? Antonella’s is the place to go (8 Village Plaza). Ethiopian? There’s Harrar Ethiopian Café (11 Village Plaza; 973-761-5222). Mexican? Toro Loco is a village hot spot (23 Valley Street, toroloco.net). For tapas, try Voro (52 Vose Avenue; vororestaurant.com). Papillon 25 has a great martini bar and live jazz on Thursdays (25 Valley Street; papillon25.com). Gaslight Brewery has homemade beers on top every night, along with good food and shuffleboard (15 South Orange Avenue; gaslightbrewry.com). For something lighter, get a salad, wrap, or burrito at Terence Allen and check out the works of local artists on the walls (10 Sloan Street; 973-313-1161) or grab a slice of pizza at the Village Trattoria (21 South Orange Avenue; villagetrattoria.com). If none of that satisfies you, Eden Gourmet is a specialty super market with homemade donuts, local produce, and salad, entrée, and olive bars (1 South Orange Avenue, edengourmet.com).
Wide Open Spaces: For some fresh air, you can frolic in Meadowland Park (just northwest of the downtown area) or head west on South Orange Ave to visit South Mountain Reservation, which covers more than 2,000 acres and includes hiking trails through forested acres and past streams and waterfalls, a flat, paved footpath with views of the New York skyline, and a spacious dog park.
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