Recreational and economic opportunities play a major role in choosing where to settle down. As one of the most business-friendly states in the nation, New Jersey’s economy is booming while also offering residents direct and quick access to New York City and Philadelphia. But the state also has a spectacular variety of natural sights—more than 900 lakes and rivers, 127 miles of picture-perfect Atlantic coastline dotted with quaint resort towns and beaches, over two dozen state parks, and even more natural areas. Add to that its exceptional public school system that often ranks in the top three in the country, and you get an idea why people are drawn to the Garden State. Unsurprisingly, all of this makes for some pretty happy residents—New Jersey took the fifth spot in WalletHub’s recent survey of the happiest states, ranking high in emotional and physical well-being, work environment, community and environment, and low in suicide rates, depression, and separation and divorce.
- Jersey City – New Jersey’s second-largest city sits along the Hudson River, rewarding its residents with postcard-perfect views of the Manhattan skyline. The city has grown incredibly in the past 15 years, from sleek high-rises along the waterfront to the trendy bars and restaurants that have popped up along its historic, tree-lined streets.
- Hoboken – “Geographically, Hoboken is only about one square mile in total,” Peter Cossio, a sales agent at Brown Harris Stevens, said, adding that its nickname is Mile Square City. “On the west side of this mile, you’ll find one of the fastest-growing areas with new sustainable parks and services to be found on nearly every corner, including the Monroe Center, a factory [that was converted] to a multiuse space where you can find boutique fitness and health studios, kids’ programs, office lofts, retail spaces, dining establishments, and artist studios.
- Princeton – Princeton may be a small town, famous for its Ivy League university, but it also draws new residents with its robust jobs market and proximity to Philadelphia and New York City. From locally owned shops to world-class brands like Hermes and trendy farm-to-table restaurants to classic diners, Princeton has it all.
- Montclair – Known for its blend of urban and suburban conveniences, Montclair is the perfect choice for New York City commuters (it’s only 15 miles away from the city) seeking top-notch schools, a vibrant year-round cultural program, excellent restaurants, and an abundance of parks and green spaces.
- Ridgewood – Ridgewood, together with neighboring Ho-Ho-Kus, are often stated as two of the best places to live in the country for their excellent public schools, family-friendly amenities, and safety. Realtor.com also recently named Ridgewood as the third most popular zip code in the U.S. for its idyllic setting, proximity to Manhattan, and many parks. Both towns are located in Bergen County, about 18 miles from New York City, and are two of the most affluent communities in the Garden State.
- Milburn-Short Hills – “People are often initially drawn to Millburn for its reputation as one of the top public school systems in New Jersey. But in addition to an outstanding education, Millburn offers extensive recreational activities (a public pool, golf, and tennis), lovely outdoor spaces, and the locally renowned theater, the Paper Mill Playhouse — all with two train stations and Midtown Direct service to Penn Station in New York,” said Sue Lemkau of Harrison-Lemkau Real Estate Partners, Lois Schneider Realtor.
- Wayne – This town in Passaic County has a high-ranking school system — both public and private — which is a draw for many families seeking excellent education and suburban amenities close to Manhattan. Wayne is also home to three lake communities — Lionshead, Packanack, and Pines Lake — with beaches, playgrounds, and picnic tables, according to Joseph Simone, a realtor with Howard Hanna Rand Realty.
- Avalon/Stone Harbor – “Avalon and Stone Harbor offer the perfect combination of a vibrant, luxury summer resort atmosphere and the peacefulness of serene beach living during the off-season,” said Jennifer Gensemer, a sales agent at Long & Foster.
- Middletown – “Middletown dates back to pre-Revolutionary War times, and there’s a distinct sense of history in many areas. Housing styles vary considerably, from French chateau and Tuscan [designs] to grand center hall colonial to modern,” Thomas McCormack, senior partner and broker at Resources Real Estate, said, noting the town is also home to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and musician Jon Bon Jovi. Regular commuter train and ferry services guarantee a fast and convenient commute to New York City.
- Fair Haven – “Fair Haven has long been one of the most popular towns in Monmouth County. It has a wonderful small-town yet sophisticated feel. With restaurants, a library, and retail like the corner hardware store and River Road Books right in the heart of town, it’s easy to see why it’s a favorite place to live,” Katherine Raftery, a sales agent at Resources Real Estate, said, adding that in recent years, the town has been popular with families moving from Hoboken and Jersey City. The town has a diverse mix of homes that run the gamut from Victorian to sleek new constructions.