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Roadside America: Princeton, New Jersey, The Quintessential College Town
Breathe it in: the warm aroma of fall leaves and cable-knit sweaters, the musty scent of old buildings and library books, and the added jolt of freshly brewed coffee.
It's the smell of a college town, but not just any college town: Princeton, New Jersey, home to the fourth oldest Ivy League university in America.
Princeton particularly shines in the fall, when the energy from the start of the school year is fresh and deciduous trees light up the collegiate Gothic campus in shades of red and orange. Driving into town on Washington Road, it's clear why the Princeton Review consistently ranks Princeton University among the ten most beautiful college campuses in the country.
Located in the south-central part of New Jersey, Princeton is an hour-and-a-half drive from both New York and Philadelphia and an even easier train ride, making it the perfect city getaway. A day trip into town isn't complete without the following stops.
The epicenter of Princeton, Nassau Street is a charming road dotted with restaurants, boutiques, bookstores and a fantastic independent movie theatre. Much of the action is clustered around the historic Nassau Inn in Palmer Square, with artisanal chocolate and olive oil shoppes, along with preppy chains like J. Crew and Kate Spade.
Food-wise, you have an extensive menu to choose from. For a quick bite, grab a salad or sandwich at Olive's, at 22 Witherspoon. A few doors down, Small World Coffee offers the perfect caffeine fix; try the Grumpy Monkey Blend. For a sit-down meal, Teresa Caffe is a popular date spot among students, with thin-crust pizzas, inventive pastas and delicious house bread, freshly baked down the street at the Terra Momo Bread Company.
And then there's the ice cream. Three different shops cater to different tastes. Thomas Sweet, at 183 Nassau Street, offers an extensive menu of classic and wacky flavors, including their signature "blend-ins" with candies, nuts or fruits. Halo Pub, at 9 Hulfish Street, excels at richer, heavier flavors, like classic chocolate and vanilla. And my personal favorite, The Bent Spoon at 35 Palmer Square West, specializes in local and artisanal flavors, like New Jersey honey and heirloom tomato sorbet. Their cupcakes are ridiculously delicious too.
The best way to enter Princeton's campus is through the FitzRandolph Gate on Nassau Street, which leads you directly to the front lawn of Nassau Hall. For several months after the American Revolution, this colonial landmark served as the capital of the United States, hosting the early American government and Congress of the Confederation. It is now home to the university's administrative offices.
Just to the right of Nassau Hall is a pathway leading to "up-campus." The imposing Alexander Hall sits on your right. According to Princeton lore, a student designed the building for his architectural thesis and received a failing grade. Later, when the student amassed his fortune, he donated a large sum of money to the university, on the condition that it be used to bring the building to fruition. It holds the Richardson Auditorium, which hosts campus events.
On the left is Blair Arch, one of the university's prettiest and most photographed landmarks. The arch often plays host to university a cappella groups, who take advantage of its incredible acoustics to perform preppy favorites from days gone by. If you happen to be on campus late on a Thursday or Saturday night, you might be able to elbow your way through the crowd of tipsy coeds to catch a performance.
Left of Blair Arch is a small road leading to the Princeton University Art Museum, which is home to a tightly curated but impressive array of artwork. Current exhibitions include "Dancing into Dreams: Maya Vase Painting of the Ik' Kingdom" and "The Fertile Crescent: Gender, Art and Society."
For a full tour of the Princeton University campus, book a free Orange Key Tour, intended for prospective students, at the Frist Campus Center.
Canoeing through the foliage of the D&R Canal to the man-made Carnegie Lake is a quintessential fall experience. Princeton Canoe & Kayak Rental offers four-person aluminum canoes, three-person adventure canoes and kayaks for reasonable rates until November 4. Go in the afternoon, and you may catch the Princeton Crew teams at practice.
[Photo Credit: Flickr via Calgary Sandy]