SANNA HERBST

Brooklyn West? That’s what locals jokingly call Maplewood. The walkable downtown bustles on weekends, with locals and visitors enjoying charming restaurants and retailers. South Orange, Maplewood’s sister town, can be identified by streets lined with old-fashioned gas street lamps and a cool vibe boosted by the South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC) and Seton Hall University.

Ready to explore SOMA? Try The Order, a favorite cafe offering a worldly selection of drinks or visit the Mediterranean-inspired Jackie and Son for smoothies and griddled delights. Head to The Fox & Falcon, part trattoria, bistro and pub for a seasonally-inspired dinner (get the fried fennel, you guys!) and signature cocktails.

Indie toy store Sparkhouse stocks a wide selection of toys—the STEM selection is especially top notch. Maplewood Mercantile is a woman-owned shop in the heart of town filled with vintage home finds. Mod Studio has an in-house design bar to customize your kids’ tees.

Essex’s expansive 2,100-acre nature reserve, South Mountain Reservation, is packed with play areas, historic sites and hiking trails galore, including its enchanting Fairy Trail filled with dollhouse-like creations tucked into nooks along its edges. The res also boasts ice skating in the winter plus mini golf, an aerial obstacle course, and most famously, the Turtle Back Zoo, a treasure boasting more than 200 species.

Take the long way to Maplewood’s town center— checking out SOMA’s picture-perfect, vintage homes is popular pastime. Grab a slice of Able Baker’s blueberry coffee cake and meander under the tracks to Memorial Park. Once a year, it’s home to the rollicking two-day music, art and food fest, Maplewoodstock, slated for October of 2021. End the day at Village Ice Cream Parlour for custom milkshakes and other creations named for local schools. Sweet.

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