From bustling outdoor pedestrian malls to stunning natural wonders, there’s no shortage of outdoor spaces worth visiting in New Jersey. Now, the New Jersey chapter of the American Planning Association (APA-NJ) is honoring four unique spots in the state as among the best public spaces worth visiting.
The Wellmont Arts Plaza in Montclair and the Washington Street Mall in Cape May were both named among the best public spaces for their amazing walkability and mix of shopping, dining and arts. Paterson Great Falls, a National Park site, was recognized for its spectacular natural beauty in addition to its rich history. And Duke Farms in Hillsborough was also honored for its gorgeous scenery, gardens and trails perfect for walking and biking. Here’s what makes each spot so special, according to the APA-NJ:
Wellmont Arts Plaza, Montclair
The Wellmont Arts Plaza is located on 2.5 acres in Montclair. This pedestrian plaza is anchored by the Wellmont Theater, which has hosted big names like Tom Jones, Lauryn Hill, Third Eye Blind and the late Meat Loaf. Montclair’s go-to town center/arts district, the Plaza has “sculptural entry walls, overhead catenary lighting, and a unique ‘performance stair’ which complements the extensive landscaping and plays host to a variety of programmable uses such as outdoor dining, open-air performances, and shopping,” according to the APA-NJ website.
The walkability of the space was also praised by the APA-NJ. “Pedestrians can gather without the intrusion of vehicles, and this consequentially spurs neighborhood interactions, heightens pedestrian safety, encourages walking, and in this case, dancing,” says the NJAPA on its website. As a natural gathering place, it is at the heart of the Montclair arts and entertainment scene with plenty of shopping and dining options, too.
Paterson Great Falls
New Jersey history buffs know Paterson as America’s first planned industrial city thanks to Alexander Hamilton. “Hamilton envisioned Paterson, with its waterpower provided by the Great Falls of the Passaic River, as America’s counterpart and response to the industrial revolution occurring in England during the same period, when America was a fledgling nation. Industries that took off included cotton fabrics, railroad locomotives, textile machinery, jute, and silk spinning, weaving, and dyeing, among many others,” the APA-NJ says on its website.
The Great Falls Historic Landmark District was established in 1976 and was formally authorized by Congress and President Obama as the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park (GFNP) in 2009. It has also been designated a National Natural Landmark. It’s the second-largest waterfall east of the Mississippi River (after Niagara), plunging 70 feet over a rocky ledge into the trap rock and sandstone below. Some major enhancements are in store for this natural wonder, too.
“By the end of 2023, a new visitor’s center, parking deck and a unique, 7,000-seat historic stadium will be completed as additional amenities where activities and food services will be available,” according to the APA-NJ website.
Duke Farms, Hillsborough Township
Duke Farms is another natural Garden State gem that’s not to be missed. Situated on 2,700 acres, it was created by James Buchanan Duke, an industrial entrepreneur of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and benefactor of Duke University. Opened to the public in 2003, this natural sanctuary has 18 miles of walking and biking trails, plus an Orchid Range that offers a year-round tropical oasis.
“The property is essentially divided into two sections: the agricultural and ecological working lands, which host both habitat for wildlife and food production, and the cultural core,” says the APA-NJ website. “There is a native plant and tree nursery that cultivates several hundreds of thousands of plants to supply large-scale ecological restoration efforts. The farm operation consists of a 100-head cattle operation co-existing with endangered grassland birds and produces beef, pastured chickens, and vegetable production to supply the onsite Farm-to-Fork Café.”
Twenty miles of trails offer a mix of wide historic roads and natural trails. Visiting Duke Farms is free and bikes are welcome.
Washington Street Mall, Cape May
The Washington Street Mall is at the heart of Cape May, where the beach is consistently voted one of the best in the country. The Mall serves as Cape May’s town square and has a mix of more than 75 boutiques, shops, restaurants, bars, quick eats, activities and more lining the Washington Street Mall. With lots of seating areas and pretty gardens, it’s the perfect outdoor downtown attraction to hang out.
“Numerous bicycle racks are located on every block and a ‘Jitney’ shuttle service, with stops at Cape May hotels, neighborhoods, and the beachfront, is another way that people can get to the mall without a vehicle,” says the APA-NJ website. “As the picturesque heart of America’s original seaside resort, it is one of New Jersey’s most popular streets and truly worthy of being designated a ‘Great Street.’”