Our Favorite Downtowns: Montclair

Abundant culture, culinary delights and rampant shopping make Montclair a can't-miss destination.

Church Street is Montclair's prime block for strolling amid shops and restaurants.
Church Street is Montclair's prime block for strolling amid shops and restaurants.
Illustration by Greg Betza

If New Jersey towns were high school kids, Montclair would be the overachieving valedictorian with the cool haircut, fashionable shoes and well-rounded circle of friends. Montclair’s restaurant scene is one of the best in the state, and its shopping and cultural attractions also get high marks.

Most of the action is in Montclair Center, which sprawls for about 10 blocks along busy Bloomfield Avenue. A pair of calmer blocks—Church Street and South Park Street, which intersect just south of Bloomfield Avenue—present the best opportunities for strolling, sidewalk dining and shopping. Two smaller districts, Upper Montclair and Watchung Plaza, also compete for attention. Locals gravitate toward the hot Walnut Street area for drinks at Egan & Sons; food at Red Eye Café and Le Salbuen; and baked goods at Gina’s Bakery and the Montclair Bread Company.

Christina Baker Kline, author of the best-selling novel The Orphan Train, is among the luminaries who call Montclair home. “Montclair is exploding with places to stroll and look around,” says Baker Kline. Especially appealing are the caliber and variety of the restaurants (“like it’s Brooklyn”), made affordable because so many are BYO. “It cuts down on cost,” she says, “but you’re still getting fantastic food.”

WHERE TO EAT: Favorites include Raymond’s for lunch or brunch; Scala del Nonna, Osteria Giotto and the NJM Top 25 Fascino for upscale Italian; Cuban Pete’s for funky Caribbean fun; the Wood Pit for serious barbecue; Villalobos for modern Mexican; and Le Petit Parisien for authentic Parisian macarons.

WHERE TO SHOP: Downtown has chain stores like Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie and Lululemon—plus boutiques for exceptional finds. Parcel has decorative paper, stationery and vintage ribbons; Isaiah Hemmingway sells beautiful bespoke suits for men and women; Dot Reeder edits its selection of women’s clothing with precision and panache. And downtown BYO-goers turn to Amanti Vino for its discerning wine and craft-beer selection.

DON’T MISS: The Montclair Art Museum is as sophisticated and ambitious as museums across the Hudson; it’s a short walk from downtown. The Montclair Film Festival has emerged as a popular annual event, thanks in part to the participation of Stephen Colbert, another Montclair celeb.

THEN AGAIN: Parking can be a headache—and walking on busy Bloomfield Avenue is no joy. That’s a focus of the Montclair Center Business Improvement District. “We’re going to make Bloomfield Avenue a better place to walk,” says Luther Flurry, executive director of Montclair Center Business Improvement District. Coming soon: a much-needed downtown hotel.

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