Orient me to Montclair / Bloomfield, NJ
July 27, 2014 7:45 AM   Subscribe

We are moving to New Jersey on the Bloomfield / Montclair border. I know nothing about the neighborhoods except their reputations. Help me hit the ground running with things I should know, especially best coffee, food, shopping, parks, health services, business services and other things that wikipedia has left out. Thanks!

Relevant factors:

+ three people: me, my partner, and our preschool aged son
+ two old cats
+ we got bikes and a car
+ been in Providence, RI for the last three years; prior to that we lived in Brooklyn and Queens, NY
+ we only have about two weeks to get everything sorted out before our schedules get nuts
+ I will need to commute into nyc for work in September

While I've asked for recommendations for the best things these areas have to offer, I would also like to know what to avoid. Thanks again.
posted by safetyfork to Travel & Transportation around Montclair, NJ (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Montclair sort of has three regions: Upper Montclair, the South End, and then Downtown Montclair.

Upper Montclair is the wealthy side of town; main shopping area are around Watchung Avenue and Bellevue. Ridiculously expensive houses. Pricier shops are up there- GAP, Williams Sonoma, Whole Foods, etc.

In the middle is Downtown Montclair; hipper boutiques that are slowly being taken over by national chains (Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie). Really excellent book shop around here- the Montclair Book Center. Also close to the main branch of the library, which has a free trade coffee shop in it. This is where all the ex-Brooklynites live; it is possible to live in this area without a car. More modest houses in this area.

South End is the "sketchy" end, but since it's Montclair, it's not really that sketchy. There's some spill over crime in this area from Orange, though. More diverse area of town in general. Again, more modest houses, with a small downtown area. Here, you'd be close to the Star Tavern, which has the best pizza in the state, according to some.

Bloomfield is quite a bit more diverse than Montclair. The main business district is around Broad Street/Bloomfield Avenue, but there is stuff all around Broad Street. Generally, the closer to Montclair/Glen Ridge the nicer the area; the closer to East Orange/Newark, the slightly sketchier.

Parks: Essex County has a nice system of parks and reservations. The two big ones are Eagle Rock (near Upper Montclair; great views of NYC) and South Mountain Reservation. There's also Mills Reservation. The big park is Brookside, at the border of Montclair/Bloomfield/Glen Ridge; there's also Nishuane.

Food: There's just about every ethnic restaurant you can think of in the area and they are tasty; also poke around Bloomfield for more options. There's abundant Italian food as well. The main center for restaurants is Downtown Montclair. We also have these "diner" things which are quite good.

Transit: The Montclair Boonton line serves the area and goes to both Hoboken (and then PATH to lower Manhattan) and Midtown; parking permits are somewhat difficult to get. Biking is really easy.
posted by damayanti at 8:05 AM on July 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Excellent and friendly Ethiopian food at Mesob on Bloomfield Ave.

If either or both of you are bus commuting to NYC, it's much cheaper to park at the Allwood lot and take NJ transit buses than to take the Decamp buses in town.

Anderson Park in Upper Montclair has a very nice art fair in the spring, and is a great place to learn to ride a bike or roller skate. I used to run in that neighborhood a lot, and one day happened upon Buzz Aldrin's boyhood home, which is tucked away just off the park. I won't tell you exactly where so you can experience the same delight at discovering it!

The Bellevue branch of the Montclair public library is a JEWEL. It is right out of "The Music Man", right down to the dumbwaiter. Very limited hours, but one of my favorite buildings on the planet.

Have fun -- I spent some of my happiest years in Montclair!
posted by apparently at 8:54 AM on July 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: damayanti has the immediate area covered. Here are some other closely neighbouring towns.

Glen Ridge: Narrow little town that runs between the lower portion of Montclair and Bloomfield. Known for its gas lamps and big expensive houses (think John Hughes movies). Doesn't really have a town center to walk around in, but has nice sidewalks to just stroll around.

Verona: Northwest border of Montclair. Has a huge park with a great playground and a big pond and boathouse). The park was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (the guy that designed Central Park, NYC). There's also Kip's Castle, which is owned by the county.

West Orange: West of Montclair. South Mountain Reservation (big dog run here), Turtle Back Zoo, Paddle Boats, Reservoir, Zoo Education Center (opened last week), Thomas Edison's lab/museum, Eagle Rock Reservation (you can see NYC from there). Much bigger Whole Foods (corner of Eagle Rock and Prospect Avenues) than the one in Montclair on Bloomfield Avenue.

Bloomfield: Has a huge park (Brookdale Park), and little segments of shops/restaurants along Broad Street. There are also shops/restaurants in Bloomfield Center on Bloomfield Avenue. Bloomfield College is also near Bloomfield Center. It's got some really nice green space there.

Shopping (this is by no means complete):

Tons of great little stores on Valley Road in Upper Montclair, Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair and Bloomfield and Church Street in Montclair. Also cross streets of Upper Montclair (Bellevue, Watchung). Watchung Center in Upper Montclair is a nice little village-like area to walk around.

Big shopping can be done on Route 3 in Clifton, about 10-15 min away (Trader Joe's, Target, Stew Leonard's Wine/Liquors, Ulta, Home Depot, HUGE Barnes and Noble, Costco, etc.). All kinds of stores on Rt 46 (Fairway!).

Malls: Willowbrook Mall in Wayne about 15-20 min away (Macy's, Bloomingdales, JC Penney), Short Hills Mall about 30 min (Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdales, Macy's), Livingston Mall (Macy's, Lord and Taylor, Sears).


Mountainside is right on Glen Ridge/Montclair border on Bay Avenue (I've not been there in years, so I can't say how it is)

St. Barnabas Medical Center is in Livingston (this is the biggest of the three. It's a teaching hospital and is the only certified Burn Center in NJ)

Clara Maass is in Bloomfield, subsidiary of Barnabas Health (much smaller than St. Barnabas)


You need permits to park almost everywhere in the lots long term! Definitely look into Park and Ride, or Buses. The main bus line for Montclair is DeCamp. Overall, it's got it's problems, but it is what it is.


Huge Shoprite in Bloomfield on Broad Street
Whole Foods - small one in Montclair on Bloomfield Avenue/larger one in W.Orange as above
A&P Fresh in Upper Montclair on Valley Road
Trader Joe's in Clifton on Rt. 3 West
Huge Stop and Shop in Clifton on Rt 3 East in a big shopping center called Clifton Commons
Fairway in Woodland Park Rt 46 West
Farmer's Markets twice a week: Tuesdays on Church Street and Saturday at Walnut Street Train Station

In terms of what to avoid, unfortunately you need to be careful in a small area near Lackawanna Plaza. This in the south end of Montclair around Bloomfield Avenue/Glen Ridge Avenue/Bay Avenue/Mission Street/Pine Street/Elmwood Avenue. It's an area that's had a few 'targeted' shootings and several muggings, car jackings.

Always lock your doors/windows. Make sure you don't leave your bikes out. Never leave anything in your car. No change, nothing. Always lock it. Please resist the urge to leave it running in the winter to warm it up. There are reports every week about cars stolen out of driveways. Sucks, but true. Chances are nothing's going to happen, but there are break-ins in Montclair.

Here's a local website. Oh, and check out the Montclair Museum of Art. They have kid-oriented activities all the time!

Anyway, I hope this is a good starter list. Good luck with your move! Feel free to memail me if you need more help/have questions - I've got, um, several decades of Essex county up my sleeve.
posted by dancinglamb at 9:44 AM on July 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Montclair Bread Company is remarkable. The baker and co-owner is a former Amy's Bread head baker, and she bought the old MBC and totally reinvented it about three years ago. I can't say enough wonderful things about it.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:41 PM on July 27, 2014

I'm about to move out, and the things I'm going to miss are almost all related to food...

Red Eye Cafe
Thai II
The Bread/Bakery places listed above
Mancinni's Pizza
Cuban Petes (for the food. the decor/ambience is kind of a head ache).

All of these are in the bloomfield ave section of town. I used to live in Upper Montclair (the homeowners are rich, but there's also a lot of renters that way) and enjoyed a few other spots for their convenience but won't miss them as much as these spots.
posted by lownote at 9:44 AM on July 28, 2014

I live a few towns away just off Bloomfield Avenue. There are tons of restaurants and shops all the way from Bloomfield through West Caldwell, so definitely check out the full length of it to discover some great places.

If you're a big boardgames/comics nerd like me and my husband, you'll want to visit Time Warp Comics & Games in Cedar Grove. It's pretty crowded, but they've got a good selection, and the staff is really helpful.
posted by MsVader at 11:39 AM on July 28, 2014

Best answer: Welcome! We moved to Montclair from Boston just about a year ago with our two preschool-aged kids, and I remember all too well the stress of trying to figure out all the details from afar. Good luck with the upcoming move!

Other commenters have given excellent advice on food, transit, and the like, but I can add a few kid-specific things.

Montclair has some great playgrounds Our favorite (my kids are two and four) is Edgemont Park on Valley Road. There's a beautiful lake surrounded by walking paths, so we enjoy taking the kids there as much as they enjoy going. Verona Park (mentioned above) also has a great playground, a beautiful lake, and paddle boats. Eagle Rock Reservation (also mentioned above) has some very family-friendly hiking trails that are easy enough for a preschooler but have breathtaking views of NYC at the top.

BaristaKids is amazing for finding out about kid activities, programs, and resources in the area. We check the BaristaKids calendar on a weekly basis -- they post a weekly "weekend roundup" of family-friendly activities.

The Montclair Watercooler and the Montclair Moms email lists are also very useful for getting a sense of the area and making connections (I'm sure that Glen Ridge, Bloomfield, etc. have their own mailing lists too).

Montclair actually has two YMCAs -- one for older kids and adults (the "big Y") and one just for kids under six (the "little Y"). We LOVE the little Y - there's a pretty impressive array of classes and programs. The little Y (also known as the Geyer Y) also offers Parent's Night Out babysitting the first Saturday of everything month, drop-in swimming in the winter, and back-up babysitting. Website here.

Feel free to send me a PM if you want to hear more or have any questions.
posted by aether516 at 8:17 PM on July 28, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for their replies they are all very helpful. I have marked a couple of answers as best that hit a few key things, but really, each answer is much appreciated.
posted by safetyfork at 9:55 AM on July 30, 2014

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