Today’s Princeton, NJ, City Guide comes from Jacqui Alexander, the owner of Jacquilope, a social media and branding consultancy that specializes in marketing for small businesses. She is also a painter, art show curator, RISD grad and a life-long New Jersey native, and today she takes us on a tour of Jersey’s historic Princeton area. Thanks, Jacqui, for this wonderful guide! — Stephanie
Read the full guide after the jump . . .
Say the name “Princeton” and undoubtedly the first image that comes to mind are the ivy-covered buildings of the Princeton University campus. While the university does imbue Princeton with much of its energy — the town’s population rises and falls with the school’s schedule — there is so much more to discover in this small central New Jersey town. (In fact, Smithsonian Magazine recently listed Princeton as one of the best small towns in America. While the reasoning may elude those who have yet to visit here, to us Princetonians, that news was no surprise!) Though an hour’s car ride can take you to the mountains, the beach, New York City or Philadelphia, you needn’t look outside Princeton to find culture and adventure. It is truly a gem!
Princeton is a small city, and between the township and the borough, it takes up scarcely 20 square miles. (One of the reasons that Princeton is such a tight-knit community!) We enjoy a lot of unity and collaboration in Princeton. Small businesses often work together and support each other, news about upcoming events travels fast and it’s easy to find a friend to sit and eat ice cream with on the Palmer Square green. In the borough, you’ll see academics, shoppers and bicyclists weaving through the streets — Nassau Street and Witherspoon Street being the main thoroughfares, with the Princeton University campus at the heart of it all. As you leave the borough and venture into the more residential areas of the township and beyond, you’ll follow wooded roads dotted with stunning colonial estates and farmhouses and pass parks with meandering trails and farms as well as fields of cows, horses, corn and apple trees.
There is something in Princeton for all to enjoy. Let me guide you through the town and region where I’ve grown up. (And if you do come visit, chances are you’ll pass me on the sidewalk!)
Check out this Google Map with all of the spots mentioned in this guide.
Downtown/Central Historic District
The epicenter of Princeton, this area packs a lot of action into less than two square miles! This is where you’ll find the Princeton University campus, as well as the bulk of the shops and restaurants. Nassau Street is the main line, with Witherspoon Street stemming from it right at the gates of the university.
Small World Coffee — Having been a barista here for over five years, I can tell you that this cafe is simply not to be missed. Small World serves classic espresso drinks, pastries, teas and light lunch to hundreds (thousands) of visitors daily. They roast their own beans and have crafted the perfect espresso blend for their world-famous cappuccino. Try the Tough Chai, homemade and loaded with spicy organic ginger. Bring cash, and don’t be deterred by the lines — the crew works hard to move them fast! 14 Witherspoon St., Princeton, NJ, 609-924-4377
The Bent Spoon — Another Princeton favorite, this ice cream shop serves up scoops of artisanal homemade ice cream and sorbet made using many local and organic ingredients. Plenty of classic flavors fill the case, but there are always some surprises to try: NJ Sweet Corn, Mascarpone, Chocolate Habanero . . . the list goes on! Trays of fresh baked cookies and cupcakes are piled high next to the register, making it the sweetest spot in town. 35 Palmer Square West, Princeton, NJ, 609-924-2368
Jazams — Who doesn’t love a good toy store? This family-owned shop is simply packed with fun and is as irresistible to adults as it is to kids. Outdoor toys line the entrance, and inside you’ll find books, games, science toys, art supplies and plenty of smiles from the staff and the shoppers. 25 Palmer Square East, Princeton, NJ, 609-924-8697
Zoë — Entering Zoë is like leaving the suburbs behind and walking backstage at a fashion show. The most current high-fashion clothing lines the racks, and jeans, shoes and purses are on display, the designer names and styles tempting even the most frugal shopper. 11 Hulfish Street, Princeton, NJ, 609-497-0704
Jane — A consignment shop with a funky edge, Jane has racks of designer clothing, exotic vintage finds and displays of amazing costume and antique jewelry, along with art and accessories. 7 Spring Street, Princeton, NJ, 609-683-5263
Mediterra Restaurant — Set back in a beautifully landscaped courtyard on Palmer Square, you’ll find Mediterra. Priced on the higher end, Mediterra features fine wines and rich dishes inspired by the Mediterranean countries, made with locally sourced ingredients. Best when you can enjoy your meal on the wisteria-covered outdoor patio. 29 Hulfish Street, Princeton, NJ, 609-252-9680
Spruce Connor Interiors — Probably my favorite home goods shop in the region, Spruce has stylish selections of everything from art to furniture. Succulents and exotic corals, bright colored vases, shiny metals . . . if it’s stylish and on-trend, you’ll find it here. Feeling the urge to give your living space an upgrade? They specialize in interior design, too. 45 Palmer Square West, Princeton, NJ, 609-688-8312
Teresa Cafe — Run by the same company that owns Mediterra, Teresa offers a more casual vibe and menu. Grab a seat at the bar and watch as chefs top handmade pizzas with local ingredients and maneuver them in and out of the brick oven. 23 Palmer Square East, Princeton, NJ, 609-921-1974
Sakura Sushi — If sushi is your thing, stop into Sakura, the most popular sushi spot in the area. This place gets busy, and the lively atmosphere is enhanced by the wisecracks the two sushi masters make as they serve up roll after roll. 43 Witherspoon Street, Princeton, NJ, 609-430-1180
Labyrinth Books — One of the most beautifully curated bookstores I have ever visited, starting with the window displays. My favorite sections are the locals’ section, the cookbooks and the amazing art section, though I could easily get lost in any aisle. 122 Nassau Street, Princeton, NJ, 609-497-1600
Princeton University — A visit to Princeton would not be complete without a stroll through campus. Each building is an architectural masterpiece, from the intricate stonework scrolling of the Princeton University Chapel to Frank Gehry’s curved steel roof on the Lewis Science Library. Be sure to cross Washington Street and sit by “the fountain” for the best people watching in town.
Princeton University Art Museum — While I return again and again to the Contemporary Art sections, this museum has thousands of pieces in its collection, including Asian, Western European and African art. Sculptures by artists such as Henry Moore, Alexander Calder and Louise Nevelson can be seen throughout campus. Enter the campus at the intersection of Witherspoon and Nassau Streets, and follow the signs to the museum.
McCarter Theater — Located across from the town’s small train station, McCarter has hosted hundreds of legends on its stage, from musicians to actors. The smaller size of the theater lends a feeling of intimacy and makes each performance completely engrossing. Their yearly production of A Christmas Carol has been a holiday tradition to many. 91 University Place Princeton, NJ, 08540, 609-258-2787
Greene Street Consignment — Labels with big names — Nannette Lepore, Tracy Reese, True Religion and others — can be found on the racks at Greene Street. It’s easy to score fashionable, posh clothes for men and women at great prices at this pretty boutique. 162 Nassau Street, Princeton, NJ, 609-924-1990
Olive’s — Whether you’re looking for a quick and hearty lunch or dinner, or you’re in search of a sweet snack, Olive’s has it. The friendly faces behind the counter serve your fresh food fast. Writer’s favorites: burritos, mozzarella sandwiches and their gooey Rocky Road Brownie. 22 Witherspoon Street, Princeton, NJ, 609-921-1569
greendesign — Each time I go into greendesign, I find something new to covet, whether it’s the handmade jewelry, adorable baby clothes or the organic bedding. Everything in the store is eco-friendly, organic or sustainable, so you can do some gift giving with heart. 42 Witherspoon Street, Princeton, NJ, 609-651-4643
Princeton Record Exchange — If anything in Princeton has earned “cult” status, PREx might be it. Walls and walls of music — CDs and vinyl — lure collectors and enthusiasts from all over. You can find the obscure album you’ve been searching for amongst the racks; just ask the staff to help you figure out where to start! Be sure to check the budget bins for CDs and DVDs, most under $5. 20 South Tulane Street, Princeton, NJ, 609-924-3472
Rouge — The fashion-savvy girls shop here, snagging shoes and tops at trunk shows and sampling spritzes of luxe perfumes. Prepare to be tempted and to walk out having splurged on at least a little something. 51 Witherspoon Street, Princeton, NJ, 609-921-0280
Witherspoon Grill — Classic American fare — steaks, lobster mac & cheese and ribs — get the upscale treatment at Witherspoon Grill. I love the rich interior decor and getting dressed up to sit in the upholstered chairs to enjoy a cocktail at happy hour. 57 Witherspoon Street, Princeton, NJ, 609-924-6011
Arts Council of Princeton — Housed in a recently built modern building designed by world-famous architect and Princeton resident Michael Graves, the Arts Council is a non-profit that supports the visual and literary arts with a gallery space and classes and workshops for all ages, making it the hub of the art scene in town. 102 Witherspoon Street, Princeton, NJ, 609-924-8777
Princeton Canoe & Kayak Rental — Looking for a great way to experience Lake Carnegie and the Delaware & Raritan Canal that runs along the edge of town? Why not explore it all by canoe? Pack a lunch and paddle, then stop along the way for a picnic next to the water. Keep an eye out for the rowing teams that practice along Lake Carnegie. 483 Alexander Road, Princeton, NJ, 609-452-2403
On the south end of the downtown area, two main roads split and lead you out of town. Follow either and you’ll find places to explore, with many historical landmarks, farm fields and beautiful homes.
Albert Einstein’s House — A rather unassuming house compared to some in Princeton, the Einstein house sits in a row of neat homes on Mercer Street. Einstein did not want his home to be made into a museum, so it remains a private residence. Walk in his footsteps from here to the Institute for Advanced Study, right down the road. 112 Mercer Street, Princeton, NJ
Institute for Advanced Study — Founded in 1930 by a pair of philanthropists, the institute has been home to scholars such as Einstein, Kurt Gödel and J. Robert Oppenheimer. Its purpose is to encourage theoretical research, with scholars working in the schools of historical studies, mathematics, natural sciences and social science. Many brilliant minds have strolled the picturesque grounds, making this one of the world’s leading centers for intellectual inquiry. 1 Einstein Drive, Princeton, NJ, 609-734-8000
Princeton Battlefield State Park — Only one tree stands in the middle of this field: the new Mercer Oak, spawned from the massive oak that once stood here and witnessed the Battle of Princeton. (If you’ve seen the Meg Ryan movie I.Q., they spend time stargazing under the magnificent old tree.) Battle reenactments take place on the field to commemorate Washington’s victory here in 1777 shortly after having crossed the Delaware, both turning points in the Revolutionary War. Today, the fields are well used by sunbathers and pick-up sports players. On the property, the Clarke House Museum is furnished from the Revolutionary era, with military artifacts on display. 500 Mercer Road, Princeton, NJ, 609-921-0074
Institute Woods — At the back of the Battlefield Park, you can follow foot trails into the Institute Woods, owned by the IAS but open to the public. Over 500 acres of forest and wetlands, the trails are serene and beautiful, especially on snow days. Everyone’s favorite spot in these woods is the bridge.
Drumthwacket — Though I’ve never visited, I drive past Drumthwacket, the governor’s mansion, nearly every day, and always wonder where the name came from. It turns out that it was derived from Scottish Gaelic words meaning “wooded hill.” Though the city of Trenton is our capital, the property was owned by a Princeton University treasurer who later became our state’s governor, and it became the governor’s residence going forward. There are free tours through the historic mansion on Wednesdays. 354 Stockton Street (Route 206), Princeton, NJ, 609-683-0057
Cherry Grove Farm — This organic farm is famous for its small-batch artisanal cheeses. Try the award-winning Toma or Buttercup Brie, or catch this year’s Nettle Jack, laced with organically grown stinging nettles! The animals graze on open pasture, and the farm store stocks an array of tasty local goods. Bring the kids, especially in the spring when the baby goats and cows make their debut. (There’s nothing cuter than a noisy, leaping baby goat!) 3200 Lawrenceville Road, Lawrenceville, NJ 609-219-0053
Terhune Orchards — Terhune Orchards is a family-run farm within biking distance from downtown Princeton. Visit for berry, apple or pumpkin picking; say hello to an assortment of farm animals; and be sure to grab a cider donut and a cup of their homemade apple cider. A great place to visit with kids. 330 Cold Soil Road, Princeton, NJ, 609-924-2310
Follow Nassau Street/Route 27 through town to the northeastern end of Princeton and you’ll find several small neighborhoods, along with a shopping plaza and pretty vistas of Carnegie Lake. The bridges that cross the lake offer great sunrise and sunset views.
Hoagie Haven — “The Haven” is a notorious Princeton spot, open until 2am on weekends and slinging deliciously greasy food to all who enter. (Jon Stewart has mentioned his visits once or twice on the Daily Show.) Their signature item? The “Phat Lady,” a cheesesteak with mozzarella sticks and fries on it. Bring cash, snag a seat on the benches out front and chow down. 242 Nassau Street, Princeton, NJ, 609-921-7723
Smith’s Ace Hardware — An odd choice for this list, but worthy of a shout-out. Smith’s has everything you need, but what I love most about this store is its amazing selection of kitchenware at very reasonable prices. The staff is very helpful, which is good if you’ve accidentally ruined your fancy copper frying pan and need advice on whether to clean it or replace it . . . 301 N. Harrison St., Princeton, NJ, 609-430-4300
The Whole Earth Center — This is the community-based food store of your dreams. Started in 1970, it offers loads of locally grown produce, all manner of bulk goods and a prepared-foods center serving fresh juices along with displays sharing information about the local food scene, current environmental issues and other community events. Ride up on your bike and get a discount on your purchase! 360 Nassau St. #1 Princeton, NJ, 609-924-7377
Greater Princeton Area
Kingston, NJ — If you head northeast on Route 27, you’ll leave Princeton and enter Kingston. It’s a very small village but has a few sites worth mentioning! Enjoy a glass of wine and a rich Italian meal at the beautiful Eno Terra, grab a slice of brick-oven pizza from Osteria Procaccini or bike back to Princeton on the canal path past Carnegie Lake.
Hopewell, NJ — Just a short drive northwest of Princeton you’ll find a town that rose from the farm fields. Hopewell has emerged as an up-and-coming destination for foodies. Visit Nomad Pizza for handmade, brick-oven pizza using locally sourced ingredients; cross the street and grab a cup of coffee at the bustling Boro Bean. Stroll to Hopewell Park to walk the field trails or stop by the Morpeth Gallery to take in fine art.
Though the Route 1 corridor cutting through central Jersey passes right outside Princeton and is lined with chain hotels, if you have the money, there are a few charming inns in town that are easy to walk to.
The Nassau Inn — Anchoring the Palmer Square shopping loop, the Nassau Inn is a stately building right at the center of town. It hosts its own restaurant and bar, the Yankee Doodle Tap Room, a cellar-like spot frequented by locals with a fireplace and portraits of famous Princeton alumni hanging on the walls. Its location also makes it a popular site for weddings, and it’s not uncommon to see wedding parties posing on the stone patio by the Palmer Square green. 10 Palmer Square East, Princeton, NJ, 609-921-7500
The Peacock Inn — While it may be housed in a renovated 18th-century colonial mansion, the Peacock Inn’s rooms are contemporary and elegant. Their restaurant serves “New American” cuisine and has won awards for its food. 20 Bayard Lane, Princeton, NJ, 08540, 609-924-1707
From Newark/NYC, take the train on the New Jersey Transit Northeast Corridor Line to Princeton. You will have to transfer at Princeton Junction station and board the two-car train, lovingly referred to as “The Dinky,” which will take you on a two-minute ride to downtown Princeton. It’s an easy trip by car, as well — take the NJ Turnpike to Route 1, which will lead you to Princeton.
From Philadelphia, you can take the SEPTA West Trenton Line, but you’ll need to transfer in Trenton to New Jersey Transit’s Northeast Corridor Line into Princeton Junction, taking the Dinky into town. It’s easier by car — take 95 North toward Princeton, taking the exit at Route 206 North, which will lead you straight into town.
You don’t need a car to explore Princeton; most of the spots in this guide can be reached with very little time spent walking! If you’re looking to rent some wheels, you can rent a bike from the oldest bicycle shop in America, Kopp’s Cycle. 38 Spring Street, Princeton, NJ, 609-924-1052
Albert Einstein — Physicist
Michael Graves — Architect & Designer
Paul Robeson — Musician, Activist
John McPhee — Author
Toni Morrison — Author
Joyce Carol Oates — Author
Jon Stewart — The Daily Show
Dr. Cornel West — Author, Activist
Emily Mann — Director, Playwright
Paul Muldoon — Poet
John Nash — Mathematician (subject of the movie A Beautiful Mind)
Michael Showalter — Actor
John Lithgow — Actor
Ethan Hawke — Actor
Trey Anastasio — Phish
John Popper — Blues Traveller
Ween (Greater Princeton area) — Band