Offbeat Princeton: Exploring the Road Less Traveled

The lesser-known attractions of Jersey's Ivy League haven.

Bicyclists enjoy the picturesque (and flat) D&R Canal State Park towpath.
Bicyclists enjoy the picturesque (and flat) D&R Canal State Park towpath.
Photo by Brent Herrig

You might be familiar with Princeton’s bucolic campus, stately homes and historic inns. But there’s an offbeat side to Princeton, too, offering less traveled but equally compelling escapes—and they just happen to be particularly alluring in the fall. From a ghost tour to afternoon wine under a majestic sycamore at an 18th-century bed-and-breakfast, they comprise the lesser-known side of this Ivy League haven.

The Inn at Glencairn, nestled in a peaceful setting on Route 206 between Princeton and Lawrenceville, provides an ideal base for your getaway. Ten years ago, Janet Pressel converted her elegant Georgian manor house into this award-winning bed-and-breakfast, juxtaposing original features like pine plank floors with the amenities of a modern boutique hotel. She outfitted the five guest rooms with flat-screen TVs, free WiFi and beds topped with Egyptian cotton linens and comfy feather-stuffed padding.

The inn’s great room, with massive ceiling beams and a 12-foot-wide open hearth, dates to 1736. Patty Tarr—who is innkeeper along with her husband, Mason—cooks full breakfasts daily. Then there are the afternoon wine sipping and temptations such as Patty’s chocolate chip cookies and spiced pretzels. Guests often pack them for nearby excursions, such as a tour of the 18th-century Brearly House, overseen by the Lawrence Historical Society, or a walk or bike ride along the new 11.8-mile Lawrence Hopewell Trail.

From the inn it’s a hop, skip and jump to Cold Soil Road for Terhune Orchards’ Harvest Festival. For six weekends a year, starting in late September, the farm supplements its already substantial draws—pick your own apples and pumpkins, shop the farm market, taste Terhune wines—with fall-themed family activities and live music. Barbecued chicken, pork sandwiches and all the trimmings are on offer, along with Terhune apple cider, which can be enjoyed hot or cold and with cider doughnuts. Among the activities, many of which are included in the $8 admission, are corn-stalk and hay-bale mazes, wagon rides, pumpkin and face painting, and hobnobbing with the farm’s barnyard animals. (Children under 3 free.)

If homestead cheeses are high on your list, it’s hard to beat those produced at Cherry Grove Farm, one minute south of Glencairn on 206. Its market is stocked not only with cheeses such as Buttercup Brie and Lawrenceville Jack (all made with milk from the farm’s cows), but also its meat, poultry and eggs. Visitors can learn to make their own ricotta and mozzarella. (Check the website for class dates.) On October 24, 2015 Rachel Weston, author of New Jersey Fresh: Four Seasons from Farm to Table, taught a class on paté and pickles.

Ready for something truly offbeat?  The Princeton Tour Company’s Ghost Tours, which are offered on Saturdays in October, explore campus and surrounding neighborhood spots where apparitions or paranormal activity have been reported. They’re led by expert ghost hunters who provide dowsing rods, night-vision flashlights, electromagnetic field meters and thermometers. The hunts, which end with a tour of the Princeton Cemetery, typically sell out a week in advance.

Entering Princeton from Route 1 and Alexander Road, you’ll pass a more down-to-earth attraction: the Princeton segment of the D&R Canal State Park. The canal towpath on this 6-mile stretch is well trod by local walkers, runners and bicyclists. It’s accessible from the parking lot at Turning Basin Park, which also features picnic facilities and a playground. Princeton Canoe and Kayak Rentals is directly across the road. (Saturday, Sunday and holidays from early September through early November.)

For offbeat eating, consider the Ivy Inn, Princeton’s version of a dive bar, where you can order fresh, casual eats at bargain prices—for Princeton, that is. Or try Café Vienna, which offers the beverages and sweet treats of a Viennese kaffeehaus for breakfast, lunch and afternoon jause, along with American-style eggs and sandwiches. Proprietor Anita Waldenberger uses many of her Austrian family’s traditional recipes for her Sacher torte and apple strudel. The most unusual place for breakfast, lunch or midday snack is the self-service Genomics Café, a soaring, futuristic atrium space—and one of seven eateries on the campus open to the public. In its midst is a sculpture by Frank Gehry that serves as a meeting room for the lab’s scientists.

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