11 New Jersey Christmas Towns That Go All-Out for the Holidays
Santa Claus is coming to the Garden State, and we’ve found 11 Christmas 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. These local Christmas towns are getting into 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, then check out our Holiday Fun Guide for even more ways to be merry.
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1. Asbury Park
If your holiday travels take you down the shore, make Asbury Park a stop on your tour. The Holiday Bazaar at the Asbury Hotel every Sunday through December 19 is a must-see, filled with vendors and local shops selling the cutest and coolest art, jewelry, home goods, and more. While you shop, kid-friendly activities abound. Little ones can make holidays crafts to gift grandma or grandpa, as well as snap photos in the holiday photo booths. Free movie screenings (National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, anyone?) and concerts galore round out Asbury Park's holiday fun.
2. 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, listen for the Holiday Harmonies throughout the downtown, including carolers, jazz musicians, and handbells. Stop by Red Tank Brewing to get a picture with St. Nick.
Guests at Congress Hall can dine in holiday style this Christmas season. Photo courtesy of the resort
3. 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 during a Lamplighter Christmas 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 jolly old St. Nick. You can also climb aboard the Santa Express every weekend until Christmas for a festive Santa train ride, departing from either Richland Village or Tuckahoe Village.
Get your letters to Santa written, then drop them off in the Santa mailbox in downtown Cranford. Photo by the Laurie Rein
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 Saturdays in December, the Cranford Theater hosts special 9:30am screenings of favorite Christmas movies. On Fridays December 10 and 17, horse and carriage rides through downtown are accompanied by s'mores and hot chocolate. Be sure to swing by local shops and eateries for take-home goodies, like a gingerbread cookie decorating kit.
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. Visits and photos with Santa, holiday crafts, ice sculpture demonstrations, a vintage-style rocking horse, and rides on a miniature train dazzle and delight visitors who bask in the glow of thousands of dazzling lights. Be sure to stop by Santa's mailbox on the Green to drop off your children's letters. Spend time shopping for holiday goodies, plus gourmet treats at the annual Morris Winter Market by Grow It Green.
Take a festive carriage ride, watch the amazing ice sculptures being carved, and stroll the decorated downtown New Brunswick. Photo courtesy of New Brunswick City Center
6. New Brunswick
Downtown New Brunswick becomes a Winter Wonderland during the holiday season. Peruse the local shops and restaurants while admiring the beautifully-decorated Christmas trees representing diverse cultures and traditions throughout the city center. On select dates, witness frozen works of art come to life at live chainsaw ice sculpting demonstrations. Catch performances by local musicians, take the family on a horse-drawn carriage ride, and capture memories of the holiday season with selfies or cookies and milk with Santa.
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 college 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 Palmer Square Christmas tree every evening. Head over to Kale's Garden Center while you're in town for weekend Santa visits and holiday displays in the greenhouse.
There’s no shortage of seasonal entertainment at Historic Smithville. With charming cobblestone-lined streets, the colonial village offers a blend of old-time celebrations with a dizzying nightly light show on the lake that will shine in your memory for decades. On weekends, gather around the fire pit on the green to make your own s'mores. Weather-permitting, the train and carousel are open through December.
At the 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
9. 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 WNTR Holiday Village & Makers Market pops up every weekend through Sunday, December 19. The 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 more than 100 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 downtown on Sundays for fresh foods and holiday items at the weekly farmers market. On Saturday, December 18, Santa's Photo Booth is open for a click with St. Nick.
There's no better way we can think of to kick off the holiday season than at the Clinton Christmas Parade. Held the first Friday in December for the last 35 years, this parade in historic Clinton features floats, fire trucks, costumed characters, and, of course, the jolly old man in red himself. There's just so much joyful sparkle, you'll be lit up inside for days! It's a freeze-worthy reason to bundle up and be a part of the crowd. Save the date—Friday, December 2, 2022—for next year's event, and get there early for a good spot.
This post, originally published in 2019, has been updated.