Great Towns to live in NJ: Montclair in Essex County

 

Montclair, New Jersey in Essex County. Photo courtesy of ExpatAussieInNJ.

GREAT NJ TOWNS TO LIVE IN: This is the first post in what will be an ongoing series where we review the best towns in New Jersey to live in. Naturally I couldn’t start anywhere else but in my own adopted NJ home town of Montclair.

Location

Nestled on the side of the Watchung Mountains in Essex County, Montclair is one of the most vibrant and colorful towns in all of New Jersey. Situated between a cluster of other towns including Verona, Cedar Falls, Clifton, Glen Ridge, Bloomfield and West Orange, the township borders extends over 6 square miles and includes both Upper Montclair, in addition to Montclair.

Town size & Cultural Makeup

Montclair has a culturally and socioeconomically diverse population of approximately 38,000 made up primarily of Whites and African-Americans, but also including Asian, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders and Hispanics. The town is home to a significant number of expats including Brits, French, Germans, Scandinavians and others. Religious affiliations include primarily Catholic and other Christians, Jewish and Muslims. While there is a wide range of socioeconomic groups in the town, Montclair is rated as one of the more affluent towns in the Essex county, which itself has the 5th highest median house prices in the NJ state. The town is known to be a favorite spot for New Yorkers wishing to move away from the city for a better quality family life. This may account in part for the reputedly high proportion of town residents in media and associated industries. Serviced by the NJ Transit via the Montclair-Boonton rail line, Montclair is a large commuter centre having 3 railway stations: Bay St, Walnut St and Montclair University stations.

Shopping & Amenities

 

The downtown shopping area on Valley Rd, in Upper Montclair, New Jersey

The downtown area of Montclair is centered on Bloomfield Avenue, although there are also shopping strips on Valley Rd, Watchung Ave, Walnut St, the corner of Cedar Ave and Orange Rd and a downtown area in Upper Montclair. Aside from a number of antique furniture, jewellery, and other bohemian-feel shops, there is a wide variety of retailers that sell shoes, clothing, toys, gifts, art, pharmacy items and white-goods. Bloomfield Avenue downtown has two multi-storey parking decks (carparks) that service the commercial centre and there is short-term metered parking widely available. Montclair has a Social Security Centre and a large public library, with a range of different churches and a synagogue catering across different religious groups.

Food & Entertainment

One of the most attractive features of Montclair is its eclectic range of restaurants and cafes. Eateries include Greek, French, Ethiopian, Cuban, Caribbean, Japanese, Italian, Turkish, Chinese, Asian, Thai and Indian cuisines. There are also numerous coffee places and pizzerias. ‘Raymonds’, the main local diner near the Bloomfield Avenue downtown area, is a popular eatery, where you will need to be early to get a seat!

Some other appealing art and entertainment venues include the Wellmont Theatre, Montclair Operetta Theatre, movie theatres, art galleries and the ‘Montclair Art Museum’.

Parks

 

A beautiful tree display in Fall in Brookdale Park, New Jersey. Photo © Expat Aussie in NJ

New Jersey is blessed with wide swathes of trees and greenery across the state and the parks found in many counties just add to the total green aura. One of my favorite things about Montclair is Brookdale Park. Originally designed by the same firm who created Central Park in New York, Brookdale Park is the largest and most widely used public green area in the town. It is used for numerous sporting events, walking, picnics, free public performances, fireworks displays as well as containing a dog park and its own rose garden. There are several other parks and reserves including Edgemont, Anderson, Nishuane, Mills Reservation. Good walking tracks can be found in the Eagle Rock Reservation which features a stunning lookout, where on a clear day or night, excellent views of New York and Jersey City can be seen.

Sporting Venues & Swimming Pools

Montclair offers a number of sporting venues. This includes ice-skating rinks, tennis courts, playing fields as well as several public swimming pools. Other swimming facilities are found at Montclair University.

Schools

Unlike the vast majority of other townships in NJ, Montclair’s public school system is based on a magnet system, where pupils can attend any of the towns elementary (6) and middle schools (3) although there is only one high school. The town is also home to Montclair State University.  Montclair hosts several private educational institutions including catholic and other private schools.

Town Vibe

The town has a fairly vibrant, eclectic feel that is aided by the venues for arthouse cinema and music. Montclair has an art and cultural feel to it that may not be present in many other NJ towns. There is a very wide range of socioeconomic groups, perhaps more than some other towns and definitely something different for a Sydney dweller. This, together with its cultural diversity, is one of Montclair’s appealing characteristics for many newcomers.

Attractions nearby

Local: Presby Memorial Iris Gardens, Eagle Rock Reservation, Montclair Art Museum, Brookdale Park

Nearby: Grover Cleveland Residence, Paterson Falls, South Mountain Reservation, NJPAC and the Iron District in Newark, Newark Museum, Liberty Science Centre (Jersey City).

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18 thoughts on “Great Towns to live in NJ: Montclair in Essex County

  1. This is a wonderful description from one newcomer to another. We moved here from Atlanta last year (which may as well be a different country in comparison to the Northeast US) and love MC thus far. Thanks for this post – I will share it when faraway friends ask about my “new hometown.” -Azie

    • Thanks so much Azie! I guess I am a bit biassed when it comes to Montclair but it really does have a lot going for it. When we chose it, we didn’t know of all the other town options we could have picked but even now, we still think it was the best choice:) Both of us feel we were lucky big time! How did you, as a newcomer decide on Montclair to live in? Always interested to find out how others research a place when so many available.

  2. We narrowed our search to Montclair on our “familarisation visit” in Jan 2012. Walked some streets between Grove and Ridgewood, and Oxford and Watchung, and ended up in one of those, close to Walnut Station.
    I liked the town, the transport, the “high Street” shops and feel, great library, great restaurants, and Egans Irish pub.
    The saddest thing about leaving (moving to Singapore) is leaving the house (only owned it for 14 months) and the area, very convenient to NYC and Parsippany for work

    • Sad about the house… It’s always hard to know when you’re and expat whether to buy or rent. We have never been given an exact date with this posting so as risk averse people, we were loathe to rush out and buy and having no credit history didn’t help. We seem one of the few who haven’t sold our house back home (Sydney), so we had the additional problem of not being cashed up when the expat offer came through.

      Although we didn’t get to know all the likely town options before choosing Montclair, I have never regretted moving to this town. It’s one of the best moves we made coming here, and will always have lovely memories of a pretty town in all seasons. Hope you have the same!
      The very best of luck with your move to Singapore and I hope you will keep in touch some how. I am on Twitter @ExpatAussieInNJ if you get the chance to look me up. Don’t be a stranger!

  3. I plan on moving to Montclair in the next eight months with my 11 year old son. I wanted to l know, where would I be able to find a nice house to rent (for right now) that’s is safe and inexpensive and what school is good for my son, who will be going to middle school. Any suggestions, please help.

  4. My husband and I were looking for a town to move to from NYC which had a lot of what urban living had to offer but yet space and privacy. We came across Montclair and we loved the town but once we started seriously looking at homes we quickly realized three things:
    A: Most sellers were moving out of their homes once their children became “school aged”. I guess the school lotto system (similar to China) is a turn off? Or maybe it’s the poorly rated school system?
    B. The prices of homes were inflated for the fact they hadn’t been remodeled in over 40 years some cases. Many homes still have buried oil tanks! Builders are coming into this town and buying decrepid homes for $100K and cosmetically refurbishing the existing homes with cheap materials and selling them for $499K. Our joke is if you see a home in Montclair listed for $499K run.
    C. A lot of the A-holes we were trying to get away from by moving to NJ were suddenly also moving here!

    Anyway…we decided in the end that many other towns in NJ had a lot of what Montclair had to offer but for a better price tag and more bang for your buck. We are now moving to Summit at the end of next month and couldn’t be happier.

    • Summit is indeed a very nice town, and as a relocation agent, one I recommend to many expats who are looking for an upmarket yet still urban experience. The Summit school system is also one of the better districts in Nth NJ. However, there are many other wonderful towns that are ‘Great Places to Live in NJ’, beyond Summit and Montclair. People look for what fits best with them economically, socially, culturally and politically, when choosing a place to live. There is no ONE town that suits everyone. In defense of Montclair, I would say it has a unique character and a school system to match, being a magnet district, that offers performing arts study in many of its schools. For many parents this, plus its very diverse social/economic nature, makes it a very attractive option. The school system here faces challenges that almost no other town in Northern NJ does, so perhaps it is unfair to summarize it with a throwaway comment. Housing prices are very high, and people selling are often moving away for property tax relief, which is very burdensome in Montclair compared to many others. Montclair has its downsides. But personally, I still love this town for its many plusses which include welcoming my self and my family as strangers, who now feel part of the local community.

  5. I would also recommend South Orange. It is the town one south of Montclair – has a nice little downtown, trains to NYC (shorter commute than Montclair), large homes with yards and swimming pools and a large expat community of Brits and Aussies. This is where people move to from Montclair after they have been in the area for a few years – and realize how much more they can get for their money by living in the adjoining town.

  6. What about towns with ferry access to NYC- hope this is a series of town reviews that continues as it is excellent reading the post and the comments for an Aussie expat looking to move out of Hoboken.

    • Hi Bailey,
      Thanks for your comments. I do intend to extend the series on Great Towns to Live In but just have been diverted by my work as a destination services consultant which has taken up my previous spare blogging time. Hoboken does have great ferry access to NYC as you would probably know. Other towns that have access to NYC by ferry include Weehawken, Edgewater, and Jersey City. Like Hoboken each of these has a quite different nature, and where you live (how far away from he river edge) can make a big difference to time and convenience of the ferry transport option versus other options like the PATH train, etc. I am not really clear though whether you are interested in knowing more about towns that are NOT on Hudson River, but that still make a good lifestyle option if you have to commute to NYC. If you do indeed need some assistance with information on towns, please feel free to email me with more specific questions. There are a lot of options for expats that have good lifestyles. Some of the best towns include Montclair, Summit, Millburn, Chatham, Madison, Morristown, Ridgewood, Allendale, Tenafly, Westfield, Cranford, Mountainside, Warren, Somerville, Basking Ridge just to name a few! Factors to guide your choice include max distance to travel to work, need for a train line, school quality (if applicable), and other lifestyle preferences. Happy to help if needed:)

  7. Kathryn Simpson says:

    I have a 14 year old high school son and I’m waiting for my home to be sold in East Windsor prior to the loss of my husband on June, 8th, 2015 I’m looking for nice, safe and change of life place to live and I have people overwhelmingly visiting that were never there for me for years with his illness and I’ve been praying that God send me a nice place, with nice people. I’m not racist but, are there African Americans in the area because I’m African American. Thank you

  8. Kathryn Simpson says:

    Also, I’d really like to rent to feat feel of the area. Are there Any town homes or homes for rental and is the school system pretty could. I’m a nice person and desire peace. Your input would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance!

  9. Just stumbled across your blog….thank you!
    We are relocating from Sydney to NJ in the new year. We need to be commuting distance to Basking Ridge – what are your thoughts on Bernards, Morristown? We are looking for an area wit good elementary and middle schools and are trying to compare Catholic and Public – do you have a blog on these? What has been your expeirence, we are coming from the Catholic System in Oz. Did you go over to the US sans kids to check out schools etc, we are not sure we’ll get the time, so may need to do our ‘discovery’ with them…..would love to hear your thoughts 🙂

  10. Clifford M Blackwell says:

    I’ve worked in this town the past 7 years… absolutely love it!
    I’m a song writer, just wrote a song about this beloved Montclair and can’t wait to release it to the public. The title: “My Old Town Montclair”

  11. I grew up in Montclair and moved out after thirty-five years because I needed to find a less stressful, congested and friendly environment in which to raise a family When I lived there it was a wonderful place with residents who had deep and long roots in the community that went back generations. Although it was clearly run by people who could be described as WASPs, the blacks, Italians, Irish, Jews all co-existed and over a hundred and fifty years, built a superb place to live. As Zana (previous comment) points out, today there are a lot of transplants living in Montclair. Many are OK, but most seem to be aggressive, obnoxious and self-centered New Yorkers, albeit economically well-off, who think the world owes them a living. While the town has never looked better with homes being renovated and an interesting mix of artsy-types including restauranteurs constantly being added, beneath the veneer, the soul of Montclair has been lost. The new resident is the type who pushes in front of you on a Saturday morning when your waiting in line to buy stamps at the post office, while their Land Rover is double parked outside blocking traffic. They proudly bore you with pictures of family trips to Europe in the summer and skiing in Switzerland over winter break but their children are largely ignored, non-supervised and are essentially raised by wolves, growing up with all kinds of emotional baggage. Unlike in the past, the town is very transient with many living beyond their means and never staying long enough to add value, character or history to this previously wonderful gem.

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