Because of its proximity to the New York Metropolitan Area, the township of Montclair, NJ, may give an impression of a bustling city.
But this charming little destination has a low-key, laid-back vibe that’s far from the busy streets of Manhattan.
It’s located in Essex County, with a French name that translates to “Clear Mountain.”
It also sits next to the First Mountain of the Watchung Mountains of New Jersey, making it a hotspot for outdoor attractions.
In fact, the town boasts numerous parks where residents can enjoy and commune with nature.
But there are also manmade attractions where human creativity and talent are celebrated, such as performance art theaters and galleries.
Then there are the museums and historical homes showcasing the region's storied past.
There are many wonders to see in this place, making it a quick but worth-it vacation spot that’s less than an hour away from New York City.
Here are the 15 best things to do in Montclair, NJ:
Feel Like a Medieval Citizen at Kip’s Castle Park
The magnificent Kip’s Castle Park is located on both Montclair and Verona, with sections of the 10-acre attraction owned by either town.
But the location hardly matters as this impressive attraction will make you forget those unimportant details.
Upon arrival, you’ll immediately recognize the medieval look of the estate, with crenelated and conical towers straight out of movies.
It was designed after the Norman castles, boasting a 9,000-square-foot space of intricately designed rooms and halls.
Today, the castle is owned by the local government.
It’s open for tours, so join one to see the ornate rooms, ancient furniture, and other old artifacts.
Visiting here is the closest you can get to being in a real-life castle in Europe.
Glide across the Ice at Clary Anderson Arena
Clary Anderson Arena is the coolest destination in town—literally!
This ice skating rink is the premier venue for all winter-related activities in Monclair, such as figure skating and ice hockey.
During your visit, you might catch one of the wild and exhilarating games by local teams, so join the spectators and cheer for your favorite players!
The facility also holds figure skating shows, with some talented local skaters showing off their jumps and spins.
If you want to join in the fun, visitors and residents are welcome during the public skating sessions.
So give your thighs a workout and feel the slippery ice under your blades!
For those who need to refuel after hours on the ice, visit the in-house concession stand for energizing drinks and snacks.
See the Flowers of Presby Memorial Iris Gardens
Mountainside Park, as its name suggests, is the largest green space in town, sitting next to First Mountain.
While it’s a well-known attraction in Montclair, most visitors will hear first about the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens, which is part of the park.
It was donated by the family of Frank Presby, a local horticulturist who focused on growing varieties of iris.
Today, the garden covers around six acres and has a park-like layout, making it easy for visitors to see the colorful blooms.
So walk along the designated paths and marvel at the flowers growing in every direction, with hues of deepest purples and brightest yellows.
Don’t forget to take pictures!
There’s a colonial home flanked by trees at the edge of the property, making for an excellent landscape photo background.
Discover Stunning Works at Montclair Art Museum
All art forms are celebrated in the township, so you’ll find many destinations dedicated to human expression and creativity.
One of the most celebrated is the Montclair Art Museum, a historic and one-of-a-kind facility.
When it opened in 1914, it was the first and only museum in the US housing American and Native American artworks.
It continues to be one of the few facilities dedicated to pieces, with more than 12,000 items on its permanent collection.
So while here, check out the stunning paintings, sculptures, photographs, and other works by indigenous peoples and celebrated modern artists.
One of these collections is the works of George Inness, an influential American painter famous during the 19th century.
You can also catch the rotating exhibits with themes that don’t stray too far from the overall thrust of the museum.
Relax and Unwind at Glenfield Park
Montclair has two urban centers: Montclair Center along Bloomfield Avenue and Upper Montclair a little further north.
Montclair Center is considered the bigger commercial area, so more businesses and retail establishments are in this part of town.
So there was a demand for accessible green spaces where people can visit during breaks or after their work hours.
Glenfield Park was the answer to that demand, located just a few meters from the bustling downtown.
Within the 20-acre park, there are wide, open spaces and large patches of woods where some native flora still remain.
They are watered by the Second River, which is actually a small brook.
To access the waterside sections of the park, you can follow the well-paved paths that go deep into the urban forest.
It’s the perfect little escape after a busy day in the office.
Enjoy a Film Festival at Wellmont Theater
As mentioned, every form of art is celebrated here in Montclair.
For performance art, film, and entertainment, one of the main venues is at the grand Wellmont Theater, located in the bustling Montclair Center.
It has been around since 1922, serving as a venue for live entertainment before holding movie screenings.
In recent years, the theater underwent major renovations to fit modern systems that address the needs of contemporary audiences.
The venue now hosts major acts by well-known national artists, such as Fetty Wap and DNCE.
Because of this, the theater is mostly associated with bombastic productions that attract younger crowds.
It also serves as the venue for the Montclair Film Festival, which showcases work by national and international filmmakers.
So if you’re a film buff, make sure that you plan your trip around the festival’s dates.
Feel the Magical Vibe at Van Vleck House and Gardens
The Van Vleck House and Gardens is something out of an urban fantasy novel about magical creatures living in old, enchanted mansions.
At least, that’s what most people might think upon arrival to the estate.
The eponymous family once owned this attraction, but it’s now a designated public botanical garden growing ericaceous plants.
These types of flora thrive in acidic soil, which prompts the plants to grow flowers in shades of red.
So you can expect bright pink, deep red, and magenta blooms overflowing from the vines and trees growing on the property.
These are mostly azaleas and rhododendrons, which the family developed into various vibrant hybrids.
Under the care of gardeners, these plants were allowed to grow all over the regal mansion and expansive grounds.
The result is a scenery that looks right out of our story, with large bunches of flowers overflowing from balconies, walls, and windows.
Remember Our Heroes at Edgemont Park
The grand Edgemont Park, alternatively called Edgemont Memorial Park, is an expansive green space at the heart of Montclair.
Having been around since the 1920s, this 15-acre attraction has become a local institution frequented by residents and visitors alike.
Its most prominent feature is a large, artificial pond created by damming the brook passing the middle of the park.
On it, a small island holds a tall obelisk that serves as a memorial to World War I heroes.
The rest of the park is mostly open space, offering uninterrupted views of the magnificent structure and its mirror image on the water’s clear surface.
For those with kids, you can let them stay for a bit on the well-equipped playground as you take in the gorgeous sights and fresh air.
Immerse in History at Crane House and Historic YWCA
While it may look like a boxy, unassuming structure, the Crane House and Historic YWCA is one of Montclair’s most historically significant attractions.
In fact, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, just a few years after the NHRP was founded.
It’s because this house served as a base of operations for the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA).
The organization used the property to provide social service for African American women, making it a significant structure remembered during Black History Month.
Before it served this noble purpose, the house was owned by Israel Crane, a local businessman considered the wealthiest during his time.
So the property was considered a grand mansion back then.
Today, his old furnishings are still present inside the property, which you can view with guided tours.
You’ll also learn much about the house and its former occupants while roaming the halls.
Explore the Hidden Alonzo F. Bonsal Wildlife Preserve
The Alonzo F. Bonsal Wildlife Preserve is a hidden gem in Montclair that most visitors may have never heard about.
Plus, it’s easy to miss, with its entrance located on an unremarkable sidewalk.
That’s why this 30-acre attraction remains a pristine destination for those who want to escape the city’s noise.
The thick forests make the preserve the perfect little sanctuary for native animals, such as deer, owls, and small mammals.
To get a chance to encounter them, trek the trails that crisscross the park.
You can also check out Third River, which runs along the southern borders of the preserve.
On one section, there’s a wooden bridge traversing it, which makes for pretty landscape photos in the middle of the wilderness.
Commune with Nature at Yantacaw Brook Park
The low-key Yantacaw Brook Park is a quiet neighborhood park located in the northern sections of Montclair.
Its most distinguishing feature is the large pond in the center, fed by the eponymous brook.
There’s a fountain in the middle of the pond, which is one of the few marks of human development in the park.
The whole place is relatively undeveloped, with bridges, a dam, and some paved trails as indicators of human activity.
So don’t expect any modern amenities here.
But that’s why this park is frequented by locals, as it offers a quick escape from urbanity even though the suburbs are just behind the tree-lined borders.
Many people come here to stroll, jog, or walk their dogs.
So if you want to bring down your stress levels and unwind for an hour or two, make a quick stopover to this location.
Catch a Show at Alexander Kasser Theater
The Montclair State University is much like Kip’s Castle Park in that its campus also stands between two towns—this time, Montclair and Little Falls.
On the Montclair side, you’ll find Alexander Kasser Theater, the premier performance art venue in the academic complex.
It’s also one of the places where performance art is celebrated above other art forms, serving as the campus’ flagship facility for the field of study.
Within the 500-seat contemporary theater, you can witness students perform stunning theater productions, orchestral performances, and dance recitals.
It’s also been fitted with modern lighting and acoustic systems that elevate every performance to a new level.
Play Sports at Anderson Park
The Olmsted Family were influential figures in landscape architecture, with members of their clan planning places like New York’s City’s Central Park.
One of their little-known designs is in Montclair, the scenic Anderson Park.
This unassuming green space covers an area of 14 acres, located near the Upper Montclair commercial center.
Since it’s largely unstructured, the park lends itself to various activities like lacrosse and field hockey games.
There’s also a circular path that runs around the central lawn, a great place for morning jogs or afternoon strolls.
If you plan accordingly, you might even catch the Arts and Crafts fair happening annually in the park.
Other Things to Do Nearby
Once your Montclair adventure is done, why not check out these other places just a few minutes away?
Learn about a Celebrated Inventor at Thomas Edison National Historical Park
The great inventor Thomas Edison changed the course of modern technology as we know it.
And his last residence and laboratory just happen to be in West Orange, a ten-minute drive from downtown Montclair.
So you can quickly head to the Thomas Edison National Historical Park during your spare time.
This complex is composed of two buildings, one housing Edison’s laboratory and another his residence.
You’re welcome to tour both structures and see the various equipment and machines utilized by one of the greatest inventors in modern history.
See Manhattan from Eagle Rock Reservation
Eagle Rock Reservation technically has parts within Montclair, but its main entrance is found at West Orange.
You don’t have to leave Montclair to climb the small hill, but you can head to the neighboring township for quicker access to the view deck.
This lookout is the most prominent attraction in the reservation, offering plenty of magnificent views of the Manhattan skyline.
Aside from this location, the destination boasts other scenic spots, including the steep and bare cliff from which it’s named.
You can explore these other spots via the trail system that winds all over the reservation.
If you keep an eye out, you might spot the abundant wildlife, such as birds of prey, large omnivores, and fluttering insects.
Montclair has the idyllic, small-town charm that makes it a surprising but welcome destination just on the outskirts of the New York metro area.
So if you happen to love nature, history, various forms of art, and outdoor adventures, this place is your best bet.
Reference this guide when making plans so you won’t miss the top spots!