8 NJ Christmas Towns That Go All-Out for the Holidays
Santa Claus is coming to the Garden State, and we’ve found eight towns that truly shine this time of the year. We're talking about the places where sleigh bells ring, carolers sing, and thousands of Christmas lights sparkle. While this year's holiday season may not offer all the local pomp and circumstance of prior years, these towns still manage to get in the holiday spirit with decked-out trees, strolling entertainment, and socially-distant visits with Santa.
So pull out all the warm clothes, cue the holiday music, and take a drive to one of these charming, Christmas-crazed New Jersey towns. Many are offering safe activities outdoors or entertainment that can be enjoyed from the comfort of your car.
Check out our Holiday Fun Guide for even more ways to be merry.
Editor's note: While we are trying to promote safer activities that occur outdoors or with social distancing guidelines in place, please keep your family and others safe by always wearing a mask and maintaining an appropriate distance. Keep in mind, COVID cases are on the rise everywhere.
Guests at Congress Hall can dine in holiday style! Photo courtesy of the resort
1. Cape May
The seaside town of Cape May goes all out for the holiday season, trimming its historic Victorian houses with gorgeous garlands and wreaths. Take in the beautiful holiday lights while solving a mystery along the way, during a Lamplighter Walking Tour, hop on a trolley ride with Mrs. Claus to see the Christmas lights, or swing by Congress Hall for breakfast with Santa, where diners can meet a contactless Jolly Old St. Nick. You can also climb aboard the Santa Express every weekend for a festive Santa train ride, departing from Cape May's Tuckahoe Village.
Get your letters to Santa written, then drop them off in the Santa mailbox in downtown Cranford. Photo by the author
Explore the joyfully decorated Cranford downtown and discover creative, unique Christmas trees sponsored by local organizations. You may spot a few gnomes along the way, too; they're part of the town's Gnome for the Holidays scavenger hunt. On Saturday, December 12, visit a socially-distant, on-screen Santa at the Investors Bank drive-thru event. Be sure to swing by local shops and eateries for take-home goodies, like gingerbread and cupcake decorating kits.
The Morris Museum is getting in the festive spirit! The decorations are up, and a visit is a perfect way to spend a day. Photo courtesy of the museum
With the sparkling holiday lights on the Green, downtown Morristown has always captured the spirit of the holiday season. This year, a socially-distant Santa Claus is coming to Morristown. Visitors can stroll to 17 North Park Place every weekend, where they can visit Santa through a window. Be sure to stop by Santa's mailbox on the Green to drop off the children's letters. Spend time shopping for holiday goodies, plus gourmet treats at the Morris Museum's Winter Market by Grow It Green.
Take a festive carriage ride, watch the amazing ice sculptures being carved, and stroll holiday-decorated downtown New Brunswick. Photo courtesy of New Brunswick City Center
4. New Brunswick
Downtown New Brunswick becomes a winter wonderland during the holiday season. Peruse the local shops and restaurants while admiring 18 beautifully-decorated Christmas trees throughout the city center. On select dates, witness frozen works of art at the Live Chainsaw Ice Sculpting. Catch performances by local musicians outside the downtown restaurants on Thursday through Sunday evenings, and capture memories of the holiday season at selfie stations located throughout downtown.
Start a new tradition this holiday season at Palmer Square’s “eco-friendly” outdoor synthetic skating rink! Photo courtesy of Palmer Square
Holiday happenings in this idyllic collegiate town offer something for everyone. Looking for low-key, warm, indoor fun with limited capacity? The festive display of decorated Christmas trees at Morven Museum's annual Festival of Trees gets kids of all ages into the holiday spirit. Wander through the downtown every weekend taking in the Palmer Square Holiday Entertainment, including carolers and a Strolling Santa. Bring along your ice skates for Skating on the Square every Thursday through Sunday. Check out the spectacular 70 foot Palmer Square Christmas Tree every evening, and on Sunday, December 13, stop by the Palmer Square Menorah Lighting. Head over to Kale's Garden Center while you're in town for weekend Santa visits and holiday displays in the greenhouse.
6. Red Bank
Your family will discover the best of Red Bank’s downtown arts and antique district during the annual seasonal scavenger hunt to find the Red Bank Elf. As you stroll the small-town shops on Saturdays, listen for the Holiday Harmonies throughout the downtown, including carolers, jazz musicians, and handbells.
At Dickens Village, in Maplewood, the houses are decorated, the tree is lit, and Santa makes socially distant appearances. Photo courtesy of the Maplewood Village Alliance
7. South Orange-Maplewood
The quaint villages of the SOMA area are the perfect setting for holiday shopping. Aside from the local neighborhood shops, both areas host outdoor holiday markets. The South Orange Open-Air Holiday Market runs on Thursdays, while Maplewood's Springfield Avenue Open-Air Retail Market pops up every Saturday. Dickens Village is an annual holiday tradition in Maplewood, returning this year with a socially distant Santa and houses decked out for the season. Stop by Santa's mailbox to drop-off letters while you're there.
Downtown Summit is decked out this holiday season! Photo courtesy of Summit Downtown
A visit to downtown Summit puts visitors in the holiday spirit with its shops, restaurants, and hidden elves! Try to spot 80 hidden elves within Summit businesses for a chance to win prizes. Take in the sights of the holiday season from a carriage ride with holiday music throughout the downtown, which runs every Saturday. Swing by the downtown on Sundays for fresh foods and holiday items at the weekly farmers market.
This post, originally published in 2019, has been updated.