There are many old and charming small towns in the great state of New Jersey. With memorable summer destinations, college towns and sleepy suburbs, the garden state represents small town USA from Sussex County down to Salem County. Here is our second installment in the ongoing series on Mommy Poppins New Jersey, Great Small Towns in NJ. Check out our first installment on Chester, NJ and let's hear it for wonderful small towns!
If you are looking for a small town in NJ with riverfront property, a cute downtown, strong family values, a train to NYC, great schools, recreation, parades, festivals and tons of family activities...look no further! Cranford, with a population of just over 22,000, is tucked away in Union County, NJ with the Rahway River running right through town. Surrounded by Westfield, Kenilworth and Roselle Park, the town is just off Garden State Parkway exit 137. The cute little town offers more than 10 parks, a very active community center, two pools, a canoe club and tons of town events!
As far as schools, Cranford has you covered. There are several public elementary schools and one high school. Cranford High School was ranked 51st among NJ schools in 2012 by New Jersey Monthly magazine. You can also find a few private schools in town.
The Cranford Community Center hosts the YMCA Pre-School for children ages three and four years old. Three year olds can attend Tuesday and Thursday for 2.5 hours per day. Four year olds attend Monday, Wednesday and Friday for 2..5 hours per day.
Cranford offers not one, but two pools to residents! The Orange Avenue pool complex is strictly outdoor and Centennial Avenue pool indoor/outdoor and boasts a fitness center. Annual memberships are available, as well as seasonal. Non-residents can purchase limited memberships that are more expensive. Programs like swim instruction, triathlon training and American Red Cross training classes are offered. They even offer babysitting services during the week, so members can participate in classes, use the fitness center or just swim. You can also host your birthday party at the pool or even rent the entire pool after 6pm. During the summer, members can sign their children up for Kidz Klub. This summer camp includes arts and crafts, games, sports, swimming, day trips and more. You can sign up for all of the nine weeks or just one.
The Cranford Community Center is available to all residents (proof of residence is required). It boasts a gym, game room and lounge area. Every Friday night, they dedicate the entire center to middle school aged residents. Kids can use the gym, play foosball, pool, air hockey or ping pong. On the first Friday of the month, the center holds a recreation dance for middle school aged kids from 7pm - 10pm. Many fantastic programs are offered for the whole family! Children's programs include: Sing A Song Music class, Mommy and Me Music, Sports Squirts (ages 3-5), Soccer Squirts (ages 3 - 4), Tennis Squirts (ages 3 - 5), Kinder Yoga, Kinder Book Club, Science programs, pre-school arts and crafts classes, classes on etiquette and manners, cooking, music, acting and so much more! Adult programs offered at the Community Center include: Barre classes, yoga, cooking, stargazing, music, Zumba, pilates, self defense, ceramics and many more.
The Cranford Canoe Club was once a private club in the 18th Century, but it's now open to the public. You can take a ride down the Rahway River and check out the local wildlife and relaxing scenery. The club is open seasonally and is great for beginners. Rentals are $25 for canoes and kayaks and $35 for tandem. All rentals are two hours long. They even supply an outdoor grill and fryer and soft-serve ice cream!
Cranford Family Dinner Night:
Cranford encourages strong family values and a close-knit community. One way they showed this was by designating Tuesdays as "Cranford Family Dinner Night" in April. Local restaurants and stores are supporting this with special offers to get families involved. The idea is help get residents to see the benefits of dining together as a family. The initiative encourages families to dine together at least once a week.
The highest-rated (as per Yelp) restaurant in Cranford is A Toute Heure on Centennial Avenue. The quaint bistro serves up fresh and local cuisine daily. The dinner menu changes month depending upon what the local farmers and markets are offering.
Another local favorite is the Old City Cafe & Grill. This cute downtown grill serves up Middle Eastern fare is located on the corner of North Union and Alden Avenues. The eclectic menu offers dishes like Hommus Dip, Fattoush, Shawarma, Lamb Chops and more.
The Kilkenny House Pub and Restaurant boasts American pub food. Located on South Avenue East, the pub offers a few outdoor tables. Their menu includes pub faves like mozzarella sticks, wings, burgers, salads, sandwiches and some Irish favorites like Shepherd's Pie and fish and chips.
There are many town-wide events that go on in Cranford all year long!
The town's Fall Festival will take place on Sunday, October 13 and will feature artists, crafters, vendors and activities for the kids! On the same day, the much-anticipated Rubber Duck Derby will take place at 4pm at Sperry Park. You can find ducks at several small shops in town, if you want to be in on the race. The ducks are released into the Rahway River from the park and travel to the finish line at the North Union Avenue Bridge. Prizes are awarded for lucky duck winners!
The 6th Annual Scarecrow Stroll is in mid-October and even has its own Facebook page. Prizes are awarded for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place, plus Best Scarecrow by a business owner.
Other seasonal events include the Halloween Parade on Sunday, October 27 at 1pm, where costume categories are judged and awards are given. There are even awards given for the best hand-pulled mini float. Santa Claus comes to Cranford at the Community Center on Saturday, December 7 from 9am - noon.