If you’re thinking about moving to New Jersey, living in the shadow of what many consider the world’s greatest city can prove to be a good thing.
With an increased interest in telecommuting and getting more square footage for less money, many city dwellers are now looking for the amenities that come with a suburban setting. With New Jersey, you can get those benefits while still keeping the bustling excitement of the Big Apple or Philadelphia within reach.
Good schools are another major draw for families thinking about living in New Jersey. In 2021, New Jersey’s public school system was named the best in the country for its pre-K through high school education by U.S. News and World Report. It doesn’t get any better than that.
But if you only know the state by what you see along the turnpike or I-95, it’s hard to figure out where to start looking for the best places to live in New Jersey. Fortunately, the state is only 150 miles long and 50 miles wide, so it’s not unrealistic to plan a weekend driving tour to get a good feel for the Garden State. To help with your planning, we’ve gathered a list of cities and small towns organized by New Jersey’s main regions, and we’ve included median home prices and other basics you need to know.
Best places to live in North Jersey — Elizabeth, Franklin, and Jersey City
Home to many New York City commuters, North Jersey’s specific regional boundaries are loosely defined, and the area is greatly influenced by the Big Apple.
With its close proximity to the city, people are moving to North Jersey to find the best of city and country life. Some of the most beautiful cityscape views in the country provide a spectacular backdrop for those who call this part of the state home. North Jersey is also a significant cultural hub and is home to the New Jersey State Opera, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, and the New Jersey Ballet Company.
The North Jersey swamps Bruce sang about now make a great place for nature lovers to explore. Many organizations have helped clean up the pollution that plagued the area for years, and now it’s a perfect place for excursions and eco cruises.
Popular for city commuters due to its two train stations and proximity to the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike, Elizabeth is the fourth largest city in the state with a population of 128,000.
Residents here are extremely diverse, representing 50 countries and 37 languages. The average age is 34.5 years, and a full 70% of Elizabeth’s residents are renters. The median home value is $356,092, a 13.5% increase between February 2020 and March 2021, according to Zillow.
With an exceptionally diverse population representing 50 countries, Elizabeth offers you the opportunity to taste cuisines from just about anywhere around the world. In the mood for Columbian fare? Try Parador Rojo. Looking for a fusion of Asian flavors? Head over to Noodle Fan. You may be tempted to move to Elizabeth just for the food.
If you’re looking for a more rural, outdoorsy feel, plan a home-shopping stop in the borough of Franklin, where there are lots of parks and green areas.
With a population of just 5,000, Franklin is known as the “Fluorescent Mineral Capital of the World” for its mining history, as many of its minerals have fluorescent properties. Located about 54 miles northwest of NYC, Franklin is just minutes from thousands of acres of farmland. With a median home price in the $200,000s (Realtor.com), Franklin provides a nice balance for those who prefer a quieter way of living that still gives them access to city life.
Nicknamed “Wall Street West,” Jersey City is home to several additional second offices of companies headquartered in NYC and is one of the top U.S. cities for commuters. The second most populous city in the Garden State after Newark, Jersey City’s population is about 262,000.
Many New Yorkers have moved to Jersey City to find a lower cost of living. However, the median home value is $546,406 (a 7% jump from February 2020 and March 2021), which is well above New Jersey’s overall median value of $387,105. But it’s still a good $100K less than NYC’s median home value of $649,490.
Jersey City is about as close as you can get to NYC and still remain outside the city limits. With an eastern waterfront that faces the Hudson River, it offers glorious waterfront views. This bustling city is home to Liberty State Park, which is as large as Central Park and provides panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island.
Named the most ethnically diverse city in the U.S. by Wallethub in 2021, Jersey City prides itself on being every bit as inclusive and culturally fascinating as NYC. A popular culinary destination with tastes from around the world, it’s home to Razza, which makes the best New York pizza according to The New York TImes. You’ll also find the largest planetarium in the Western Hemisphere at Jersey City’s Liberty Science Center.
Best Places to Live in Central Jersey: Trenton, New Brunswick, and Perth Amboy
Home to the state capital of Trenton, Central Jersey covers the area from Bridgewater to Toms River. Like North Jersey, it’s a popular place to live because of its close proximity to New York and other cities. Central Jersey is literally the crossroads of the Garden State, where the New Jersey Turnpike and Golden State Parkway meet.
If you’re thinking about relocating to Central Jersey, there are a variety of cities and towns here with diverse offerings for housing, dining, entertainment, and recreation. Central Jersey is known for its gorgeous county parks that provide its inhabitants with many locations for outdoor fun and relaxation.
Located on the Delaware River across from Pennsylvania, Trenton is the capital city of New Jersey. Its metro area’s population is around 400,000, with a median age of 34. An affordable city with a median home price of $213,538 (up 15.5% from February 2020 to March 2021), Trenton is just 28 miles northeast of Philadelphia and 55 miles southwest of NYC.
An ethnically diverse and lively city with a rich Revolutionary war history, Trenton also offers access to water sports and wildlife. Home to the Taylor roll (a scrumptious ham, egg, and cheese concoction) and tomato pie, Trenton is also considered to be the “Crossroads of the Revolution.” George Washington and his troops made their famous Delaware River crossing here in 1776.
With a population of 56,000 and a median home price of $322,275 (an increase of 11.1% from February 2020 to March 2021), New Brunswick is the home of Rutgers University. This medium sized city is located on the banks of the Raritan River.
With two train stations and many bus lines, the Big Apple is only an hour from New Brunswick, which is 40 miles southwest of Times Square. Johnson & Johnson is headquartered here, as well as the Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center.
This small city of about 51,000 restored its waterfront to capitalize on spectacular views of Raritan Bay and Staten Island with a promenade, marina, restaurants and historic landmarks. Perth Amboy is one of the more affordable NYC suburbs, just 21 miles away and offering a median home value of $331,269 (an increase of 12.2% from February 2020 to March 2021). Homes range in architectural styles, from Victorian to mid-century Ranch.
An increasing number of artists have been relocating here, and developers are hoping to attract more residents with a multimillion-dollar redevelopment of its 1920s train station.
Other popular Central Jersey towns include:
- Old Bridge
Best Places to Live in South Jersey and the Jersey Shore: Manalapan, Brick, and Medford
Forget what you’ve seen on MTV. Some would argue the Jersey Shore and South Jersey are the Garden State’s best assets.
With over a hundred miles of coastline, the state’s Atlantic coast has long been a popular beach vacation getaway, but more and more people have decided to move to the Jersey Shore to live year round. Its small town access to live music, boardwalks, and amusement parks make the region a fun place to live for people of all ages and backgrounds.
Manalapan Township made it to #4 on Coldwell Banker’s list of top 10 places to live in New Jersey. Now that more people have the flexibility to work from home, buyers from New York City have flocked to the area.
Just 15 minutes from the New Jersey beaches and 45 minutes from NYC, Manalapan’s average home sales price leapt from $425,000 to $525,000 between August 2019 and August 2020. Lower interest rates overall and New Jersey’s lower tax rates relative to New York make the township even more attractive for those looking to leave the big city behind.
With a population consisting of mostly young professionals and retirees, Brick offers a family-friendly environment less than 15 miles from the beach as well as convenient access to NYC, Philadelphia, and Atlantic City. If you’re looking for an area of New Jersey with peaceful streets and a slower-paced feel, then you might want to consider making your home in Brick. The median home value is $331,294, a 16% increase between February 2020 and March 2021. Out of its population of 75,342, 85% are homeowners, while only 15% rent. Residents of Brick love its Mantoloking Bridge County Park, with its 70-foot-long pier, boardwalk, picnic area, and gazebo.
For those thinking of moving to the South Jersey region between the Jersey Shore and Philadelphia, Medford offers a bucolic setting that’s a hub for culture and business. With a population of only 23,033, Medford has managed to avoid overcrowding.
There’s even land still available for you to build your dream home in Medford, if you find a suburban setting with an historic Main Street full of quaint shops and restaurants appealing. The median home value is $419,148, a rise of 16.1% between February 2020 and March 2021.
Other notable South Jersey options include:
Planning your move
If you’re leaving a dense urban area, you can help yourself avoid major hassles with these tips for moving out of NYC. Not sure if you’ll find your ideal home before you need to move out? Find out how to use the flexibility of moving and storage containers to give yourself some breathing room and peace of mind. Good luck with your relocation!
LB Gabriel is a freelance writer and frequent PODS blog contributor. When she’s not on a deadline, you can find her on a tennis court or golf course.