(Photo: Wally Gobetz/Flickr)
I’ve been a proud Jersey City resident ever since our family moved here from the Philippines in 1995. This pride has only grown in recent years as my adopted hometown developed in ways I never anticipated, overcoming its dodgy reputation. Now, I can show off buzzy new restaurants, hip cafes, and the best views of lower Manhattan. In fact, there’s no better day-trip target from New York City.
The Jersey City food scene has exploded in recent years, with Orange and Olive’s 10-course chef’s menu being a popular choice (Photo: Orange and Olive)
Jersey City, a diverse hamlet of 250,000, has been spoiled with new dining options. Not five years ago, eating out for locals often meant going to Manhattan or — God forbid — neighboring Hoboken. But now we can try the always-changing 10-course chef’s menu at Orange and Olive in the Heights. There’s also Milk Sugar Love, an ice cream parlor in the Hamilton Park neighborhood that focuses on organic ingredients and innovative flavors such as rich caramel corn that reminds me of mais con yelo, a chilled treat from the Philippines.
The organic and flavorful treats at Milk Sugar Love (Photo: Milk Sugar Love/Colleen White)
And there’s more to come: On July 26, the Jersey City Project launched Project: Eats, a street fair celebrating our expanding culinary landscape. It attracted roughly 10,000 diners. In addition to proven favorites, there were stalls teasing us with samples from soon-to-open eateries. Broa should be welcoming guests to its Grove Street location any day now; during Project Eats, it served a fragrant selection of savory Portuguese snacks, from crispy codfish croquettes to tender pork loin bifanas.
About 10,000 people attended this summer’s Project: Eats: a celebration of Jersey City’s food scene. (Photo: Mickey Mathis)
If you don’t come hungry, you can always visit Mana Contemporary, a free-to-enter arts and culture institution near Journal Square (the city’s central neighborhood accessible by PATH trains). Presently, Mana has 500,000 square feet of exhibition and studio space, and it continues to grow. Try to see everything, especially the Richard Meier Model Museum; you’ll be starving by the time you finish.
This guy looks very happy to be at Mana Contemporary. (Photo: Mana Contemporary/Ricky Phan)
Curious to see what else lies beyond the city? Here are some more day-trip destinations worthy of the commute.
We Jersey City residents give Hoboken a lot of grief just for being Hoboken, but Frank Sinatra’s birthplace developed way before our section of the waterfront did. Its biggest draw used to be Maxwell’s — the iconic bar where R.E.M. used to perform — before it closed last year (although Justin Timberlake had an impromptu performance there three weeks after it closed). Now, that distinction goes to Carlo’s Bake Shop of the TLC reality show “Cake Boss.”
Carlo’s Bake Shop is Hoboken’s new hot spot (Photo: Courtney Collison/Flickr)
WATCH: Cheesesteak - Hoboken-Style
It takes about an hour and a half to get to Beacon from Manhattan (by train from Grand Central), but Dia:Beacon justifies the trek. The museum’s Richard Serra installation of large-scale steel sculptures, titled “Torqued Ellipses,” is iconic.
Richard Serra’s unique steel sculptures at Dia:Beacon museum (Photo: Augie Ray/Flickr)
Technically part of Queens, the Rockaways has always been a beloved summertime hangout, because its beaches feel a world away from city life. It’s popular with surfers, too, particularly in the fall when waves are at their gnarliest.
The Rockaways is a popular New York beach getaway (Photo: gigi_nyc/Flickr)
This affluent Jersey town is packed with artsy activities (Montclair Art Museum regularly stages top-notch exhibits, and Gallery Loupe has an excellent collection of contemporary jewelry) and some of the best restaurants in the state such as Pig & Prince, a gastropub in a renovated 1913 train station whose chef cures his own meat. Other food-related events are occasionally hosted by Montclair Food & Wine Festival.
Pig & Prince is one of the great finds waiting to be discovered in Montclair, N.J. (Photo: Pig & Prince)
Like New Jersey, Staten Island has an unfavorable reputation, but out-of-towners (especially families) will enjoy the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, a leafy complex with beautiful gardens and historical architecture, one of which is the Staten Island Museum, home to works relevant to the area. Casa Belvedere, which sits atop Grymes Hill, offers gorgeous views of the Manhattan skyline, Italian cooking classes, and many other activities.
The Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden (Photo: Wally Gobetz/Flickr)
Chadner Navarro’s writing about travel and fashion has appeared in both print and Web publications, including DuJour, Ralph Lauren magazine, NY Post, Ultratravel US, and NUVO. He recently launched EIGHTY, a lifestyle and culture magazine about Jersey City, NJ.