Spotlight on 2023 NJ Destination of the Year Finalist: Montclair

Why be one in a million when you can be one in 7 million? Ask Jason Gleason, executive director of the Montclair Center Business Improvement District.

“We average between 475,000 and 590,000 visits to our district per month, and 6.3 million over the past 12 months. As we officially roll out COVID – fingers crossed – we expect to reach around 7 million in 2023! Gleason predicted. “With a robust festival lineup and calendar, a mix of world-class dining and business, outstanding music venues, theatres, museums and galleries and killer boutique hotels, we don’t see this as an unrealistic expectation.”

You don’t need a crystal ball or even rose-colored glasses to see Montclair through Gleason’s lens. But will Montclair see its way to the top of Jersey’s Best Destination of the Year 2023 shortlist? Seeing is believing.

The Wellmont Theater in Montclair has been attracting renowned artists and large audiences for many years. Photo courtesy of Wellmont Theater

Learn more about Seymour

The redevelopment of Seymour Street, adjacent to the legendary Wellmont Theater, brings 250 upscale residential properties to Montclair as well as new businesses and the magnificent Wellmont Art Plaza for which “a ton” of public programming is planned throughout the year. It all starts this winter with the festive season as visions of hula-hooping elves replace sugar plums dancing in your head – one of the city’s unique twists on the tradition. Although a recent addition to the city, the plaza was recognized with Downtown New Jersey’s Built Project Excellence Award.

Businesses new to Montclair on Seymour Street include the third location of Mud Clay Studio, which will open in November 2022, for pottery students to give crafts a spin; plant-based restaurant Brick City Vegan opens early next year; Madison Reed Hair Color Bar, the once-only online hair color sensation, is now open for DIY services and purchases; Nami Nori, which opens just in time for the holidays in December, brings its sensational hand-rolled sushi from Brooklyn to the burbs; and Cornbread Farm to Soul will soon serve its comforting soul food in this fourth location.

One River School of Art + Design opened in Montclair in February 2022, offering in its sixth location art education classes, camps and workshops in painting, drawing, sculpture and graphic arts.

The high-end retail and independent boutiques of the Montclair Center within walking distance mingle with restaurants offering all the cuisines of the world, at every corner. Photo courtesy of NJ Advance Media

Center Attractions

Montclair Center has been a regional shopping, dining and entertainment destination for decades. It has national retailers like Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, Athleta, and Lululemon; but what really sets Montclair apart are the myriads of eclectic independent boutiques, specialty stores, antique and antique stores, as well as home furnishings and decor stores in each of the city’s shopping districts, d ‘Upper Montclair to Walnut Street through Watchung Plaza and South End.

A newcomer is Haus of Highlights, its stunning window display is a hint of the beauty to be discovered within. Offering hair services including coloring, blowouts, treatments, extensions, and updos, Haus is also a “cultured and curated boutique shopping experience.” Book a reservation Tuesday through Sunday and enjoy a signature drink while you shop or get served. This year, Montclair also hosted Vesa Brides, a boutique experience where future brides can find a dream dress and all the accessories in a warm and personalized atmosphere.

There are nearly 100 places to eat in Montclair, from the elegant restaurant at Scala del Nonna to the three all-American places at Raymond’s and all the world fine dining in between. More than a handful of live music and DJs, like Just Jake’s, Ruthie’s and Porta.

Speaking of music, the 2,500-seat Wellmont Theater hosts musical performances and headliners year-round; and the Outpost in the Burbs, a unique volunteer-run outreach organization building community through music and public service, hosts performances on Fridays and Saturdays three seasons a year at the historic First Congregational Church.

Montclair is a mini mecca of art, and you can see it unfold before your eyes at the Montclair Art Museum. Photo courtesy of NJ Advance Media

Specialization in Art, Celebration of Culture

Visit the Montclair Art Museum, a leading American art museum and community art school, to explore its gallery or participate in one of its many workshops. Renovated and reopened by Montclair Film in 2021, The Clairidge, a century-old cinema, is once again screening films year-round.

Montclair attracts thousands of people to attend its annual festivals, and this year saw the return of its Pride Festival in June and the Montclair Jazz Festival in September. Inaugural events hosted by the Montclair Art Museum include the AAPI Lunar New Year Celebration and the Latino Heritage Celebration.

October sets the stage for its biggest event, the Montclair Film Festival. Now in its 11th year, it takes place over 10 days and presents independent films, comedies, documentaries, panels, family events and works by emerging artists at venues around the city, including the Wellmont and the Clairidge .

Van Vleck House and Gardens includes a country estate surrounded by acres of landscaped grounds and occasional concerts in Montclair. Photo courtesy of NJ Advance Media

Where suburb meets city

Montclair, with its rich blend of suburbanism and urban sophistication, is diverse, cultured and inviting.

“We’ve become the center of arts and culture in New Jersey, and for good reason,” Gleason said. “There really is something for everyone to enjoy on almost any occasion.”

Perhaps Montclair will rise to the occasion as Jersey’s Best Destination of the Year 2023.

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