Come summer, Princeton’s collegiate crowd clears out, making this the perfect time to enjoy the area’s quaint, brainy charm. Here’s where to go first.
Brick Farm Market
With a juice bar, a cheesemonger, house-dried sausages and polished-concrete floors, this lofty market feels more Brooklyn than Jersey. But in fact, Brick Farm Market has rather bucolic roots: It was founded last year by Robin and Jon McConaughy, owners of the nearby Double Brook Farm, as a place to sell the many sustainable products that come from their acres. The pair are somewhat new to the agro biz — they had one of those life-changing Michael Pollan moments a decade ago — and their fresh perspective is what makes this place so memorable. Just 15 minutes from downtown Princeton, it’s worthy of a stop for a snack, a meal, or ingredient-gathering on your way back to Philly.
Go here for: A hip twist on a country farm stand. 65 East Broad Street, Hopewell.
Some Princetonians care as much about high couture as they do high culture, as evidenced by the staying power of this glossy women’s shop that has been around for more than 20 years. This isn’t your average boutique: Rolling racks hold apparel, bags and shoes from the most Vogue-approved brands, including Lanvin’s flared dresses, Phillip Lim’s fringed leather bombers and Givenchy’s handbags. Even if you don’t buy, go to browse the well-edited collection, and to maybe catch a glimpse of Zoë’s most loyal customer, a cutting-edge local fashionista who happens to be 92.
Go here for: The legendary end-of-season sales, during which basically everything is 70 percent off. 11 Hulfish Street, Princeton.
Princeton University Art Museum
This is considered one of the top university-owned art museums in the country, and the collection is as era-spanning as Janson’s History of Art, with some impressive headliners: Monet, Fra Angelico, de Kooning and Warhol, to name a few. It’s located just across from Nassau Street, Princeton’s main retail drag; a quick trip will pull you onto the must-visit leafy campus.
Go here for: Gratis culture — admission to the museum is free. McCormick Hall, Princeton.
The Farmhouse Store
The owners of this popular home and gift store have an eye for goods that are artsy and handcrafted but still totally casual and cute. To wit: light fixtures made from old crates, non-cheesy Shore house wall accents, whimsical throw pillows, and wooden propellers outfitted with clocks that would make any home office cool.
Go here for: Gifts. The staff is notably friendly and helpful and will steer you to the perfect find, whether it be jewelry, tableware or something one-of-a-kind. 43 Hulfish Street, Princeton.
The Cloak & Dagger
Set in an old colonial with a beckoning red door, Cloak & Dagger has all the trappings of a cozy independent bookstore, but with a twist: It only carries mystery books. The owners can point out the many genres, from cozies (PG-rated stories) to gumshoes, noirs, classics, historic, young adult and thrillers. (Despite the breadth, Agatha Christie is still the top seller.) They also have great games and puzzles.
Go here for: The kids. Nothing can get a young’un hooked on reading like a good whodunit. 349 Nassau Street, Princeton.
Originally published as “Beyond the Ivy” in the July 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.
Photography by Jauhien Sasnou.