Walkable Urban Living in Central New Jersey (Princeton area)?
December 23, 2014 11:31 AM   Subscribe

Hi All, I am a single 30-something guy that will be moving to the central New Jersey area to take a job near Princeton and I am currently looking for a place to live. I prefer to live in a walkable, urban environment where I can walk to restaurants, coffee shops, and grocery stores. Are there any places like that near Princeton?

My work will be near the Princeton Forrestal area. From my internet research, it seems like for the most part the Princeton area is very much suburban and auto dependent, and the only real walkable areas is downtown Princeton, where I can't seem to find any quality rental stock. Are there any other areas I should consider? How about New Brunswick? Or will the commute be too soul crushing? I'm not much of a drinker or a party person so I don't need to be (or want to be) near a bunch of bars or clubs, but I would like the option of being able to walk to a few nice restaurants and coffee shops.

Oh, and I have a budget of up to $2000/month to spend if that helps.
posted by gyc to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
New Brunswick might be an option, but the closer to downtown you are the morerent will go up. Commute won't be too crazy most days. It's rt1 or 27 all the way down.

Maybe check out Kingston, not sure what the rent is like there. Plainsboro is not quite what you're looking for, but in certain areas is walkable.
posted by pyro979 at 11:42 AM on December 23, 2014

That's a serious commute to/from New Brunswick, though a mitigating factor is that rush hour goes the opposite way. But thing is, you'll be gobbling miles and miles of trashy soulless US-1 five days a week. How is that not "suburban and auto dependent", regardless of whether you can get a milkshake within a short walk from your apartment? If New Brunswick were some awesome boutique small-urban oasis, maybe I could see it. But it ain't.

Even if you find a way to live in downtown Princeton, that's still plenty of driving out to Forrestal. So IMO you need to accept that taking a job well outside urban america means lots of time in your car, and a generally suburban existence. You can't have it both ways, alas.

But that's not like being doomed to hell. For example, just 20 mins from Forrestal is the Franklin/Somerset area, which is the very opposite of what you think you like, but is dotted with amazing Vietnamese, Indian, Chinese, and Italian restaurants strewn in shopping strips along low-traffic roads and boasting vast easy parking lots. It's not so bad driving to stuff if 1. the stuff's good, 2. you're not in urban traffic, and 3. there's easy parking.

You'll have to be a bit more intrepid to find good stuff. You can't rely on conventional wisdom, as in an urban area where everything's under a magnifying glass. But this makes the hunting that much more enjoyable. Suburbia is studded with jewels for the adventurous and the open-minded.
posted by Quisp Lover at 11:45 AM on December 23, 2014

Also, if you're tenacious about the setting you have in mind, consider living temp in an Airbnb option in downtown princeton as you wait for rentals to open up.

Because downtown princeton's the only thing that will really hit the result you're currently looking for in any practical way that doesn't create more suburban experience than it resolves.
posted by Quisp Lover at 11:47 AM on December 23, 2014

Downtown Princeton is probably your best bet if you'd like a short commute and anything approaching a walkable urban downtown, so Quisp Lover's suggestion of Airbnb or another temp option may be a good idea. New Brunswick is urban, but I found it lacking for variety...it's very undergrad-dominated, which didn't thrill me as a graduate student, and may not thrill you as a working adult!

If you're open to a commute that risks being soul-crushing at times in exchange for a substantially better place to live, Philadelphia is definitely both urban and walkable. With a $2000 budget, you could get a very nice place in a very nice part of town. I've known folks who work in Princeton and live in Philadelphia, particularly the parts of South Philly that are close to I-95 (for example Queen Village). The train may also be an option, but I don't know how close either the Princeton Junction or Princeton stations are to your specific workplace.

Granted, I work in academia, and folks in academia tend to tolerate very long commutes, so a 1.5 hour commute seems reasonably normal to me, and may well seem outrageous to you.
posted by brackish.line at 12:01 PM on December 23, 2014

From close experience, Philadelphia to Princeton can be a hellish daily commute by car, especially if there are any serious accidents or serious weather. Even Chestnut Hill or another suburb would involve a lot of driving in exchange for at-home quality of life. The Trenton Septa line is okay, but with the transfer in Princeton, that's also a serious time commitment even if your job is close enough to the Princeton station.

There are a couple of very small towns like Rocky Hill and Lawrenceville, which at least offer a coffee shop + a couple of restaurants. Rocky Hill is pretty close to a grocery store and the essential Wawa, and if you enjoy walking/biking, it's a very easy area to take long walks down the canal and even to downtown Princeton. There really isn't anything else like Princeton that close to Princeton, and even most parts of Princeton will almost certainly require that you drive to get groceries amongst other things. It is very suburban.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:12 PM on December 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Suggest that you pay a visit to my hometown of Somerville, NJ, "the dining capital of Somerset County," approximately 20 miles north of Princeton. Somerville has retained, and revitalized, it's old-fashioned Main Street - now lined with restaurants, coffee shops, and retail boutiques featuring antiques, collectibles, used book stores, and vintage shops. The Main Street area is thoroughly walkable. Downtown also sports a near-new ShopRite grocery store. The train station is also conveniently located downtown, offering a train connection into NYC when you need a fully urban experience. Housing stock runs the full range, from single family & multi-family homes, mixed-use buildings on Main (retail 1st floor, apartments above), garden apartment complexes, and new and older "high-rise" style apartments and condos. Your budget is adequate to generous, depending on your standards. Somerville has a very good parks system for a mid-size town, with a pearl-string of parkland running through the town flanking alongside Peter's Brook. (The parkland also serves as a buffer against occasional spring flooding.) For convenience, there is big-box retail along Rt. 22, and the Bridgewater Commons shopping mall, just north of Somerville.

There are many "Main-street" style towns in central NJ, each falling somewhere on the upscale/gentrified - to - downscale/on-hard-times spectrum. Personally I think Somerville is one of the best - but I grew up there, so I am obviously biased. Others (that I know of) include: Bound Brook, the Plainfields, the Brunswicks, Raritan, Manville, Hillsborough. I'm not much familiar with points south of Princeton. You'd be hard pressed to find a true "urban" experience in central NJ - for that you need to head to NYC or Philadelphia (or their grittier satellites, Newark and Trenton).
posted by Ardea alba at 1:24 PM on December 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

For $2000 you can find a nice place in downtown Princeton. I would not give up on finding an apartment there. I rented from a decent management company there for a few years, I will try to find the link to their website. See if they have anything available.

You could also rent in the apartments behind TGI Fridays on Route 1, then ride a bike along the towpath to downtown Princeton. It's in between Forrestal and Princeton so may be a decent compromise for you if you ride a bike.

If you have any interest in roommates, a close friend of mine (30s male professional) has a great house in Princeton and he rents out rooms and a studio apartment in the basement. Memail me if you want me to ask him if he has anything available.
posted by amro at 2:46 PM on December 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is the company I rented from. Don't trust the website that there's nothing available; give them a call.
posted by amro at 2:50 PM on December 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

New Jersey has some active bike and walk advocacy groups for towns like you are thinking about. You might want to check out the NJ Bike and Walk Coalition, Walkable Princeton, and north of there Bike & Walk Montclair and Bike and Walk Morristown. West Windsor is closer to Princeton has the West Windsor Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance, which has been pretty active if making it easier to walk to train and stuff.

New Brunswick seems like a good place to check and does a Ciclovia a few times a year where they shut down the streets in part of town for bikes and walking. I'm not really familiar with it, but I did hear the mayor speak once and the town seems pretty committed to making it easier to walk and bike there. If you can afford Princeton, that does seem like the best bet tho.
posted by katinka-katinka at 3:18 PM on December 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not urban as such, but walkable: Pennington, Lambertville. Not sure about grocery stores though.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:28 PM on December 23, 2014

Best answer: I wouldn't recommend commuting from Route 1 or Route 27. Traffic is terrible during rush hour no matter what direction you're going in.

I would recommend the Colonnade Point or Canal Pointe condos on Canal Pointe Blvd. A friend has a gorgeous 2 bedroom condo in Colonnade Point. They are behind Route 1, with shops and restaurants at MarketFair and Windsor Green (malls/strip malls, not a downtown area).

Having moved here from an urban area, downtown Princeton isn't that interesting to me. Not a great variety of shops and Princeton is by no means renowned for its culinary scene. From what I know of the area, the nearest grocery store is a 30 minute walk from downtown proper.

I live near Forrestal Village and I can say I've fully embraced Central Jersey suburbia. I don't need the urban experience, but if I wanted it Princeton is a 10 minute drive, or I could hop on the train to NYC/Philly.
posted by elisse at 7:32 PM on December 23, 2014

You want Princeton. Walk down Nassau St and get phone#s on flyers for rooms for rent. If you speak Spanish, the Spanish flyers tend to have more affordable listings, I guess they serve the hospitality workers in the area.

Commuting on Rt. 1 is hell. I did it for 4 years. It usually took 20 minutes to go from Alexander Rd. on Rt. 1 down to Quakerbridge Rd.
posted by WeekendJen at 6:41 AM on December 24, 2014

Somerville might indeed be the place for you. I commute to Princeton from about twenty minutes north of there, so I think the car commute for you would probably be about 30-40 minutes depending on traffic. I haven't spent much time there myself, but my impression is definitely of a happy, interesting main street with a ton of restaurants.

Note: if you're looking at places in the Somerville-Manville-Raritan area, watch out for low-lying areas near the Raritan River. Bound Brook is the town that really gets nailed by flooding, but a couple of recent large storms have cut off Route 206 around Raritan for at least a day.
posted by velvet_n_purrs at 8:58 AM on December 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thirding Somerville. So many good restaurants! The commute might be a little long, but I believe it's all on a more scenic route than Rt 1.
posted by lyssabee at 9:17 AM on December 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Please Help Me With Dell Notebook Battery Question   |   Where's Rick's Cafe? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.