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There’s a peaceful, practical magic associated with a river. Stand on its banks and the spirit surrounds you: the soothing burble and rush; the rhythmic, shifting movement; the sense of time ceaselessly ebbing and flowing. This natural alchemy can be seen in the towns that have cropped up along these ever-changing bodies of water, too—and in New Jersey’s stretch of the Delaware River, the waterside gems of Lambertville, Stockton, and Frenchtown are among the area’s best-kept secrets for just this reason … and so many more.
Whether you’re a local whose family has called it home for generations; a weekend warrior from a nearby metropolis; a day-tripper searching for treasures; or someone seeking out the best breakfast this side of the Delaware, these distinct towns offer a return to a simpler, sweeter way of life. And with summer on the horizon, it’s the perfect time to explore these picturesque spots beyond Princeton, brimming with things to do, see, and indulge in. Happy trails. —Jennifer P. Henderson (photographs by Jess Blackwell)
The lowdown: Perhaps it’s the beautifully preserved 12-foot-wide Victorian and Federal-style row homes that line this quaint town’s narrow streets. Or the warm and welcoming community of artisans and craftsmen whose one-of-a-kind stores, galleries, and restaurants make it a cultural and culinary destination. Or maybe it’s simply the feeling you get the moment you turn onto Bridge Street: because entering Lambertville is like taking a serendipitous step back in time.
What to indulge in: Start off with a visit to Rojo’s Roastery (1) for a fresh-brewed cuppa and then make breakfast a must at Sneddon’s Luncheonette (2) (order a side of griddled corn muffins) or Full Moon Cafe for one of the establishment’s famous Eggs Benedict concoctions. Next up, lunch, and decisions, decisions: a wood-fired pie at Liberty Hall Pizza; Texas-style wood-smoked barbecue at More Than Q (3); traditionally prepared Oaxacan tacos at Tacos Cancun; or a table along the canal at the historic Inn at Lambertville Station (4). Best midday snack ever: a double scoop at oWowCow Creamery, named one of the best ice cream shops in New Jersey. From there, it’s a hop, skip, and a happy-hour jump to The Boat House, where the art of the handcrafted cocktail is alive and well. For dinner, tuck into homemade pasta and classic Italian desserts (the cannoli is beyond) at DeAnna’s Restaurant or Hamilton’s Grill Room, where the menu changes daily to feature seasonal offerings from local farms and butchers. Finally, don’t forget to pop in at Anton’s at the Swan for après-dinner drinks.
What to see and do: Work off that sweet-honey-cream cone with a hike, bike, walk, or kayak along the Lambertville stretch of the Delaware and Raritan Canal towpath. After your nature excursion, head over to Zanya Spa Salon (5) for a manicure, pedicure, massage, or cut and color with one of the stellar stylists. And beginning June 2 through September 2, 2017, experience Lambertville’s First Friday Celebration, including a gorgeous fireworks presentation along the banks of the Delaware; special events and promotions at area boutiques and restaurants; and the First Friday Art Crawl with exclusive exhibitions and refreshments at select galleries.
Where to shop: So many stores, so little time. Peruse the stacks, racks, and displays of treasures at the legendary antiques mecca The People’s Store (6). Place your bid on everything from fine and decorative art to furnishings and jewelry at the famed Rago Arts and Auction Center. Browse the thoughtfully curated sartorial collection at Greene Street consignment. Panoply Books (7) thrills with its array of unusual, offbeat, rare, and out-of-print books, and vintage vinyl, art, and cultural ephemera. Bucks County Dry Goods (8) is the best of both worlds, offering a mélange of mid-century antiques, local artwork, and contemporary fashion and accessories. Explore the modern-meets-cottage home furnishings and lifestyle store Blue Raccoon (9) or tap into Zinc Home and Garden’s (10) industrial-farmhouse vibe.
The lowdown: This tiny Delaware River town may be small in size—0.6 square miles to be exact—but it’s big on old-world charm. Established in the mid-1800s, Stockton specializes in acclaimed contemporary cuisine with a nod to the area’s rich history, along with parks and protected green space perfect for hiking, picnicking, rafting, and bird-watching to your heart’s content.
What to indulge in: At the very heart of town is the Stockton Inn (1). Once a private residence (and a speakeasy) dating back to 1710, it now houses a recently renovated restaurant and the Dog & Deer Tavern bar (2) (read: the only establishment in town with a liquor license), which both offer acclaimed contemporary American cuisine with a side of authentic yesteryear ambience. Boasting a similarly storied background—rumor has it that former first POTUS George Washington once rested his boots here—The Sergeantsville Inn is known for its fine dining, including its vast array of entrées and delicious staples, like the tomato bisque. For less-formal food options, Via Ponte’s traditional Sicilian dishes and brick-oven pizza are molto buono, along with the aptly named Cravings, the perfect spot for breakfast, lunch, or an ice cream cone, located just off the towpath between the center of town and Prallsville Mills.
Where to shop: Seek and ye shall find—unique wines, eclectic spirits, and craft beers, that is, when you swing by Stockton Fine Wines & Spirits (3) for a tasting and a chat with the owners, who know a thing or a two about everything from pinot noirs to DeuS Brut des Flandres. Foodies, get ready: The Stockton Market (4) is so much more than your typical farm store. A veritable trove of deliciousness, this year-round farmers’ market-grocery-café (with live music on Friday evenings) hosts a slate of local vendors who proffer their wares, from artisanal breads and gourmet chocolates to small-batch pasta and grass-fed meats to dried spices and handmade jewelry. Insider’s tip: A visit to the famous Sweet Melissa baked goods stall will have you whispering sweet nothings to the delicious display of cupcakes, cookies, and gorgeous cakes (even their icing is a work of art).
What to see and do: Dating back to 1720, the Prallsville Mills (5) complex comprises the original grist mill, a linseed oil mill, saw mill, and granary, and is now maintained by the Delaware River Mill Society as a cultural destination for art shows, history tours, live music, and yoga classes. A few miles north of the Prallsville Mills, a towpath leads to Bull’s Island State Park, where you can take a stroll along the walking bridge to Lumberville, PA. Keep your eyes open for the American flag affixed to the bridge girders: the flag was anonymously hung there after 9/11 and local residents have taken up the efforts to care for it. Farther down the D&R Canal Park towpath, in Titusville, you can get your American Revolution fix with a journey across the pedestrian bridge to Washington Crossing Historic Park, in Pennsylvania.
The lowdown: Situated on what is affectionately known as “New Jersey’s west coast,” the hamlet of Frenchtown is as quaint as they come, with a main street of specialty shops, restaurants, and art galleries surrounded by quiet streets dotted with beautiful Victorian-era homes. This laid-back little gem also is an unexpected creative enclave, with a vibrant community of artists of every medium.
What to indulge in: There’s no better place to begin in Frenchtown than Early Bird Espresso & Mercantile (1), for your caffeine fix (the house specialty: espresso, of course) and a freshly baked croissant. If you’re looking for gluten-free, vegetarian, or vegan fare, the Pulp Café & Juice Bar (2) has a full menu of locally sourced foods, including juices and smoothies. Breakfast and lunch are a lock at the Frenchtown Café (3), where daily specials keep things deliciously interesting. If you’re hankering for pizza, Galasso’s Pizza & Restaurant is the answer with options including chicken parm, primavera, and traditional margherita pies. A converted warehouse is home to Lovin’ Oven (4), a delightful farm-to-table eatery that believes food is love. The historic Frenchtown Inn is ideal for special-occasion meals with a contemporary American and French–inspired menu. And no trip to town is complete without a sweet-tooth stop at Minette’s Candies, where confections like house-made truffles and coconut haystacks reign supreme.
Where to shop: Equal parts cool and quirky, the boutiques and shops of Frenchtown will guarantee you won’t go home empty-handed. Be sure to give yourself enough time to explore every nook, cranny, and treasure tucked inside Modern Love (5), the brilliantly curated paean to vintage and modern finds for women, men, and children. From book clubs, signings, and workshops, The Book Garden (6) is more than just the new and rare independent bookshop around the corner; it’s a gathering place for the community where everyone knows your name—and the title of the next great book you need to read. Crafters will find their blue heaven (and every other color of the rainbow) at The Spinnery (7), purveyors of all manner of knitting, spinning, weaving, and dying supplies, along with creative toys for kids and artisan-led classes.
What to see and do: With the picture-postcard-perfect Delaware River as its backdrop, much of Frenchtown’s fun can be had on or along the water. Delaware River Tubing offers easy and accessible tubing, rafting, kayaking, and canoeing, and reservations include a classic riverside BBQ meal, to boot. The Cycle Corner of Frenchtown makes exploring the area a breeze for visitors of all ages with two-hour and daily bike rentals. If staying on two feet is more your speed, tap into Frenchtown’s creative force with a paint-your-own session at Re-new Paint Studio. Little Engine Studio is a recently opened gathering spot for creators of all ages with classes, explorations, and other diversions. Don’t miss the exhibitions, installations, and film screenings at ArtYard, a gallery and creative incubator founded by resident artists, filmmakers, curators, and writers. And if you happen to find yourself in Frenchtown this July, embrace the local esprit de corps with themed events, store promotions, and restaurant specials in honor of the town’s Annual Bastille Day Fete.