Explore Montclair, NJ: Parks, Arts and Good Eats Near NYC

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Things to Do in Montclair, New Jersey - The Charming Streets of Montclair
The Charming Streets of Montclair. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Located just 12 miles from New York City in Essex County, New Jersey, Montclair provides an ideal suburban getaway. Here, charming streets lined with boutiques, art galleries, and eateries keep things lively downtown on the main thoroughfare, Bloomfield Ave. Two miles away in Upper Montclair, Montclair State University is home to the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center along with the Alexander Kasser Theater – a 500-seat venue presenting student drama, music, and dance performances. First-time visitors will be delighted with the variety of things to do in Montclair. Let’s explore!

Things to Do in Montclair, New Jersey - The Montclair Art Museum
The Montclair Art Museum. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Celebrate the Arts at Montclair’s Art Galleries and Museums

From art galleries displaying the works of local artists to the Montclair Art Museum with an extensive collection of Native American art, Montclair enjoys a lively art scene.

Opened in 1914, the Montclair Art Museum was the first museum in New Jersey to grant access to the public and also the first dedicated solely to art. The museum exhibits American and Native American art and honors the creativity of a diverse range of artists, past and present. Exhibits are drawn for more than 12,000 works which include basketry, beadwork, ceramics, paintings, and sculptures. The museum’s collection includes the work of artists dating from the 18th- to the 21st centuries. The work of local artist George Inness is among the museum’s highlights.  

Things to Do in Montclair, New Jersey - Native American Sculpture at the Montclair Art Museum
Native American Sculpture at the Montclair Art Museum. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Free and open to the public, Montclair State University houses multiple galleries including the well-known Segal Gallery which focuses on contemporary artwork from professional artists. The Sculpture Garden has over a dozen outdoor works.

At Studio Montclair Inc on Bloomfield Avenue, artists have showcased their work for over 20 years. The studio’s mission promotes culture, education, equality, and tolerance through art and diversity. Art classes are available to people of all ages and abilities. Options include drawing, fiber arts, jewelry design, painting, and sculpture.

The Celebration of the Arts Continues at Performing Arts Theatres

Located on the corner of Bloomfield Avenue and Seymour Street in downtown Montclair, the Wellmont Theater dates back to 1921. In its lifetime it served as a venue for vaudeville and stage plays attracting top acts of the era including Charlie Chaplin. It’s also been a movie house with screenings accompanied by a pianist playing the theater’s Wurlitzer pipe organ.

Restored to its original grandeur including an elaborate Italian marbled lobby, the Wellmont Theater serves as a live performance venue welcoming such renowned performing artists as Tom Jones, Joan Baez, and Third Eye Blind.

Another excellent place to catch life performing arts is the Alexander Kasser Theater on campus at Montclair State University. The 500-seat contemporary venue presents MSU student drama, music, and dance performances.

Things to Do in Montclair, New Jersey - Alexander Kasser Theater at Montclair State University
Alexander Kasser Theater at Montclair State University. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

The Montclair Film Festival

For more entertainment, mark your calendar for the Montclair Film Festival. Held each October, the Montclair Film Festival showcases new works from American and international filmmakers. A favorite part of the event is the post-screening Q+As between filmmakers and film lovers.

More Activities at Montclair State University

In addition to the Alexander Kasser Theater, Montclair State University is home to a museum honoring one of New York’s beloved baseball players, Yogi Berra. The Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center honors his career as a baseball player for the New York Yankees and the New York Mets. A child of Italian immigrants, a World War II Navy gunner who served at D-Day, a record-holding athlete, and a friend to many, this American icon uttered some of the most frequently recalled sayings in American life including his most famous quote: “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

There’s also an opportunity for ice skating at Montclair State University. Home of the Redhawks Men’s and Women’s hockey teams, MSU Ice Arena offers hockey for all ages and skill levels, ice skating lessons, figure skating classes, and public skating sessions.  

Step into Centuries of History at the Crane House

Built-in 1796 by Israel Crane for his wife, Fanny, the Crane House has experienced many evolutions. A successful merchant, Crane owned a general store, several textile mills, and a rock quarry in Newark. The Crane House remained the family home for over 100 years.

After a brief period as a rental property, the Crane House was purchased by the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) of Montclair-North Essex as their headquarters. The YWCA was started in 1912 by Alice Hooe Foster, the first African American to graduate from Montclair High School. It was the only African-American YWCA in the United States that was not affiliated with a white YWCA.

Today the Crane House serves as a museum under the umbrella of the Montclair History Center sharing the stories of the Crane family members, enslaved workers and servants, the women and girls of the YWCA, and the founders of the Montclair Historical Society. Montclair History Center‘s mission remains to preserve and share the local history of Montclair and Essex County.

Watchung Booksellers

54 Fairfield St, Montclair, NJ 07042

In Upper Montclair, book lovers will want to check out Watchung Booksellers. Sporting the tagline, “for the love of books,” this community indie bookstore has served the Montclair community for over 30 years. Expect an onslaught of aromas as you enter this quaint shop. You’ll note the earthy smell of books and the unmistakable scent of pasta cooking next door at the Italian restaurant da Pepo connected to the store.

Watchung Booksellers celebrates and includes many diverse voices. The walls of the shop are lined with wooden bookshelves creating a cozy reader’s paradise. Stop in and read awhile!

Book lovers will also enjoy special events hosted throughout the year at the Montclair Public Library. Programs are designed for all ages, including storytime for children.

Slip into a Peaceful Refuge at Montclair Parks & Gardens

Van Vleck House & Gardens

21 Van Vleck St, Montclair, NJ 07042

Van Vleck House & Gardens began as a 12-acre private estate when Joseph Van Vleck Sr. and his family moved to Montclair from Brooklyn in search of a refuge from city life. Now you can do the same by spending an afternoon wandering through the botanical garden best known for its rhododendrons and azaleas.

Things to Do in Montclair, New Jersey - Edgemont Memorial Park
Edgemont Memorial Park. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Edgemont Memorial Park

Valley Road, Montclair, NJ 07042

Boarded on the east by Valley Road, Edgemont Memorial Park’s focal point is the World War I memorial honoring the 69 young men who lost their lives while serving their country. This peaceful park encircled by a sidewalk features a pond and a fountain at its center.

Alonzo F. Bonsal Wildlife Preserve

Riverview Dr W, Montclair, NJ 07043

Alonzo F. Bonsal Wildlife Preserve is a 20.68-acre preserve located and owned by the Township of Montclair. Formed after a citizen’s group lobbied to save the woodland from development in the 1970s, this urban preserve consists of remnant wetlands and uplands surrounding the Third River, a tributary of the lower Passaic River watershed.

Presby Memorial Iris Gardens

474 Upper Mountain Ave, Montclair, NJ 07043

Situated on 6.5 acres adjacent to the Victorian-era Walther House, the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens contains over 14,000 irises of approximately 3,000 varieties. Visitors are welcome to enjoy this unique iris collection during the annual spring Bloom Season that runs from mid-May to early June.

Places to Eat

Montclair serves up a wide variety of eateries. You’ll find seafood, Italian, Mediterranean, and American cuisine alongside these two interesting spots.  

Egan & Sons

118 Walnut St, Montclair, NJ 07042

A community favorite since 2005, Egan & Sons offers true Irish pub culture in the heart of Montclair. On the menu are time-honored Irish favorites with American staples that promise a hearty meal of comfort food. This Montclair classic spot has it all — TVs, outdoor dining, brews, cocktails, and delicious Irish-inspired fare. Whether you’re looking to catch a game inside or enjoy a nice Montclair night outside, Egan & Sons delivers.

Samba Montclair

7 Park St, Montclair, NJ 07042

At Samba Montclair you’ll find homestyle Brazilian fare served in a stylish, rustic space. Expect antique pots and vintage tableware as you enjoy brunch, lunch, or dinner. Also, Samba is the only certified gluten-free restaurant in New Jersey.

Based in New York City, Terri Marshall is an award-winning writer covering cultural travel, multi-generational travel, road trips, soft-adventure, camping, cars and characters. From hanging out with penguins in Antarctica to fishing for piranhas in Peru to road-tripping through the jungles of Belize, Terri’s always up for an adventure. Drop her into a landscape filled with mountains, towering evergreens, waterfalls and a glacier or two and she’ll be in heaven. But what thrills her most of all is traveling with her teenage grandkids. Terri serves on the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Committee for the North American Travel Journalist Association (NATJA). She also serves as the First Vice-Chair of the Eastern Chapter for the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). In addition to writing for SheBuysTravel, Terri’s publication credits include AARP, Island Soul, Girl Camper Magazine, A Girls Guide to Cars, CHILLED, World Footprints, North Hills Monthly, Alaska Business Monthly, Alaska Contractor and more. Follow her on Instagram at TrippingWithTerri.
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