Why Maplewood, New Jersey Is One of the Coolest Suburbs in America

published May 22, 2019
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Credit: Melanie Rieders/Apartment Therapy

Maplewood was chosen as one of Apartment Therapy’s Coolest Suburbs in America 2019. We showcased the burbs nationwide that offer the most when it comes to cultural activities, a sense of community, and simply a good quality of life. For more on how we define “cool” and what exactly counts as a suburb, check out our methodology here. To view Apartment Therapy’s other Coolest Suburbs in America 2019, head here.

If you’re a New Yorker, the thought may have crossed your mind that you’d never leave the city—and that your walk-in closet in Brooklyn would make for a perfect on-trend tiny house for your future kids. But Maplewood, New Jersey, home to colonial houses sitting beneath blossoming Magnolia trees, can make a convert out of anyone. Just ask the many newly transplanted young families and richly cultured long-time residents.

Attractive for its relatively quick commute to New York City, Maplewood has long been a highly sought-after community for its diversity, thriving artistic community, and progressive values.

Its rolling landscape is adorned with lush gardens, turn of the century architecture, a Rockwell-ian downtown aesthetic, and not a strip mall in sight. Over the past decade, home sales have climbed to record heights as a new wave of creative energy and entrepreneurial spirit has flocked to this three-mile colony where dads form punk bands and a hefty percentage of small businesses in downtown Maplewood are built, owned, and operated by women.

The NJ Transit train to Pennsylvania Station could easily position you next to Broadway stars. Each spring the theatrical productions at Columbia High School (whose noteworthy alumni include Zach Braff, Lauryn Hill, and SZA) sell out, the result of the unparalleled talent of the students both on and behind the stage.

Community events such as Maplewoodstock Music and Art Festival, a weekend-long music festival, draw thousands each summer to the idyllic lawns of Memorial Park, while artist collectives such as Rebel Folk Studio highlight the communal value of art, design, and collaboration that set Maplewood apart from other suburbs.

The experiences to be had within this Essex County standout are as diverse as the people who call it home. Spend your Saturday hiking or biking in South Mountain Reservation; create a visual masterpiece with your littles at one of Oh! Canary Studio’s many creative arts workshops; or maybe grab savory and sweet pastries from Palmer’s Sweetery and host friends for a low-key brunch in your backyard. (You can do that now. You have one of those.)

In need of an evening plan? First, grab a microbrew—we like local brew masters, SOMA Brewing Co.—from Matty at the Wine Barrel Maplewood. Then grab the fam and walk into town for a pizza dinner at one of our longtime-favorite BYOB spots, Arturo’s Osteria & Pizzeria. Your night might end at Rent Party, a monthly concert series that supports BackpackPals, a local charity; or with a cocktail at Coda Kitchen & Bar; or on your couch watching Bravo. No matter where your days take you in Maplewood, you’ll be glad you came, and glad that you stayed.

Median rent:

$2,625 per month, according to Trulia.

Median home sale price:

$588,700, according to Zillow.

Median household income:

$126,000, according to Census data.

Population:

24,847 residents in 2017, according to Census data.

Walkability score:

82, according to Walk Score.

Price per square foot compared to city:  

$284 in Maplewood vs. $1,457 in Manhattan, according to Zillow.

Average commute:

The NJ Transit Midtown Direct train takes New York City commuters from Maplewood to Pennsylvania Station (New York) in approximately 40 minutes.

Credit: Melanie Rieders/Apartment Therapy

Best local bookstore:

Words is a true local favorite, which stocks a diverse range of titles for all ages and interests, and rewards customer loyalty through discount programs. The bookstore also regularly hosts readings by literary talents such as Zadie Smith, and cultural figures, such as MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki.

Best place to get coffee:

The Bread Stand. We recommend pairing your espresso or cold brew with the pain au chocolat, which is made fresh daily.

Best vegan:

At Cedar Ridge, opt for the insanely delicious vegan pulled pork, and stay for a sweet or savory bakery treat. The owner, Paul, is a friend to all and will reward your child with a cookie if they finish their meal.

Best bar for when you want to be around people:

Retreat to your local garage bar. The DIY bar scene is taking off in Maplewood, providing a welcoming vibe to have a beer, watch sports, throw darts, and connect with your neighbors.

Best bar for when you want to be alone:

Pop into The Cassidy Bar & Kitchen during the lull between lunch and dinner service, and sip a seasonal cocktail at the marble-topped bar.  

Best free cultural activity to take part in:

Porchfest is quite possibly the most idyllic day of late summer. Musicians ranging from jazz trios, to punk bands, to singers and songwriters set up on stoops and porches throughout Maplewood’s trending Hilton neighborhood. Spectators stroll from porch to porch with snacks and kids in tow, enjoying the local talent.

Credit: Melanie Rieders/Apartment Therapy

Best street to find a birthday gift:

Baker Street. Whether you’re shopping for a birthday present for your child’s classmate, in need of a personalized floral arrangement, or seeking design-forward home accessories and jewelry, the women-owned businesses on Baker including Meus, Toy Division, A Paper Hat, and Brave Floral have endless options for anyone on your list.

Best workout:

Shakti Yoga. The classes in this Springfield Ave. studio target both your physical and spiritual health, and the schedule boasts options for all ages to work on their yoga practice.

Something only the locals know:

The Jitney (a white school bus that picks commuters up in their neighborhoods, before transporting them to the Maplewood train station) is where newcomers form some of their earliest neighborhood bonds.

Favorite family activity:

North Jersey Pride, hosted each year in Maplewood’s Memorial Park, features live entertainment, a children’s zone full of activities, and represents the inclusivity that the suburb is known for.

Favorite date night spot:

Restaurant Lorena’s, a fine-dining establishment that rates toward the top of 100 Most Romantic Restaurants, according to OpenTable.

Signature food:  

Scones from the Able Baker. Honorable mention goes to the Able Baker for their life-changing gluten-free banana bread and their daily selection of decorated sugar cookies. (Our favorite cookie, which was sold during the 2017 Women’s March, read “Your mom’s at a protest.”)

Credit: Melanie Rieders/Apartment Therapy

Favorite bike trails/parks/outdoor stuff:

South Mountain Reservation.

Favorite place for an Instagram:

The Rainbow Crosswalk at the intersection of Valley Street and Oakview Avenue, near Maplewood Town Hall.

What the neighbors are saying:

In sum, residents say it’s Brooklyn, but better! Neighbors praise Maplewood as a uniquely inclusive and welcoming community, where friends are easy to make. Those new friends likely lived one street over from you in Greenpoint, Jersey City, or Long Island City, which inevitably leaves you wondering how you existed without them for so long.

“The best part of living here is that all the friends I’ve made are people I would spend time with regardless of if our kids were friends,” says Kelly, 36, a Hilton neighborhood resident. “I always thought in the suburbs you had to kind of resign to socializing with your kids’ friends’ parents, but here we are friends because we have shared interests and passions—not because our kids play soccer together.”

Favorite local diner:

At Park Wood Diner, a quintessential Greek diner with an endless menu, the food is outstanding and the coffee is attentively refilled.

Credit: Courtesy of Anna Herbst

Favorite antique/vintage store:

Maplewood Mercantile is a must-visit. The store features an extensive collection of refurbished mid-century modern furnishings, antique rugs, and a carefully curated selection of vintage clothing.

Favorite salon/spa:

Fringe, an environmentally-conscious Aveda Salon, hosts a killer braid bar at local town events.

What do you love about your burb?

With enviable proximity to New York City, Maplewood is a melting pot and true reflection of our cosmopolitan neighbor, set in a quaint suburban setting. Yard space abounds and you will always have an epic view of the local Fourth of July fireworks. Maplewood is the epitome of “it takes a village.” You are sure to find your people, and the meal trains will always arrive—in good times and bad times.

The suburb boasts an endless roster of entertainment and cultural celebrations, meaning you’ll rarely run back to New York City. There’s also an entrepreneurial spirit in Maplewood that fosters long-dreamed about businesses, like music shops, cafés, or high-design quilting companies. Simply put, to us, there is no place better and we hope to welcome you real soon.

Credit: Apartment Therapy