If you are reading this, welcome to your chance to join an exclusive club — the club of people who choose not to go down the shore on summer weekends and, instead, go on day trips to cool towns.
Down the shore on a June, July or August weekend, you will encounter hordes of bodies and minds all doing the same activities at the same times. You will be charged for any and all actions that you take in public. And if you happen to power through all this chaos and make it to the beach, you will bake in the midday sun and writhe in sunburn for the remainder of the month.
But in a cool downtown on a June, July or August weekend, you will be able to park without turning in your savings account. You will be able to maneuver up and down the sidewalk without weaving through people like a running back in search of a first down. And you will be able to stay cool, literally as well as figuratively, by ducking into restaurants, bars and shops as you please.
Choosing cool towns over the shore on summer weekends is not merely a figuratively cool thing to do. It’s also a decision to summer it up while retaining your sanity and respect for other people.
God imbues all humans with dignity according to the Torah and our nation’s founding alike. But a summer weekend at the shore makes it easy to forget that principle.
Don’t forget it. Choose the day trip. Here are some local towns you can visit.
The county seat of Bucks County also has its most beautiful and active downtown. There are countless places to eat, drink and eat dessert. Pick an outdoor option so you can eat and take in the scenery at the same time.
Once just a typical suburban town with not much to do, this Lower Bucks County locality has transformed its downtown area into an upscale dining and shopping scene in recent years.
The Delaware County version of Newtown.
The ever-changing Suburban Square is a destination unto itself, and the stores along Lancaster Avenue are a mix of upscale and quirky.
Phoenixville combines so many of the amenities that make a main street great: eateries, places to drink, history and beautiful scenery.
Known largely as a college town, there’s much more than meets the eye, with plenty of dining options and picturesque streets for walking.
After a brief absence, Narberth’s iconic Independence Day fireworks are back. Although upscale condos are going up seemingly everywhere, Narberth remains a quintessential small town USA kind of place, with a main drag featuring three pubs, as well as a park with basketball courts where Wilt Chamberlain and Kobe Bryant once played.
Just ask anyone who lives near Ambler: It’s back, and you should visit.
Maple Shade, New Jersey
Maple Shade’s main street is small but exciting. You can eat pizza at Tacconelli’s, grab a beer at Dr. Brewlittle’s Beer Co. and go thrifting, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Burlington City, New Jersey
A micro city on the Delaware River that Benjamin Franklin used to frequent offers a lot of history for local buffs. It also has a burgeoning scene of eateries, bars and shops. Be sure to stop and stare out at the Delaware for a few minutes halfway through the loop.
Bordentown City, New Jersey
An Italian restaurant, a candy shop and a brewery are among the amenities at this other South Jersey micro city. And like Burlington, its history is alive as you walk through it and see the old buildings.
Bordentown also displays signs that explain that history. One fun fact is that it was once the home of Thomas Paine, the man whose pamphlet “Common Sense” helped inspire the American Revolution.
Lambertville, New Jersey
New Hope across the Delaware River is the obvious day trip choice for many Philadelphia-area residents. But while New Hope once catered to members of the bourgeoisie looking to get their hippie on for an afternoon, it now just caters to the bourgeoisie, which is why it’s as crowded as the shore on summer Saturdays.
Lambertville, just over the bridge, is now the better and more peaceful spot, and with about as many places to eat, drink and shop.
Stockton, New Jersey
This little borough in Hunterdon County is just pretty to walk through. But it also has a farm market and some nice restaurants.
Merchantville, New Jersey
This little borough in Camden County is trying to revitalize its downtown area. So far, it only really has a heartbeat stretch that includes a brewery, coffee shop and tavern. But all three are high-quality and, taken together, make the town worth the trip.
Collingswood, New Jersey
Collingswood and Haddonfield are technically separate towns, but together they form a single Camden County stretch with a lot of activity. Pro tip: Do not pick a place to eat until you get there and start walking around. There are too many options. Other pro tip: If you want to watch a game that day, too, end your walk at P.J. Whelihan’s at the edge of North Haddon Avenue in Haddonfield.
Rancocas Woods, New Jersey
Crafters and antique dealers line this little commercial stretch at the edge of a Mount Laurel neighborhood. Not quite a downtown and not quite a yard sale, Rancocas Woods is something unique in the region. It also has places to eat along the path.
Medford, New Jersey
Many downtowns today have one brewery. Medford has three. It also offers antique shops, ice cream and a great barbecue place called the Whole Hog Café. That’s a rarity in South Jersey.
Walk the loop and choose your brewery along the way. You can’t miss at any of the spots. JE