One Tank Trips: Discover the Beauty of Princeton


By Jeff Bahr

If you mention Princeton, N.J., to an out-of-towner they’ll undoubtedly identify the village with its namesake Princeton University. This isn’t surprising. As one of the “great eight” Ivy-League colleges, the university has put an indelible stamp of prominence on the town that contains it. U.S. Presidents James Madison and Woodrow Wilson once walked its halls as wide-eyed freshmen, as did First Lady Michelle Obama, actors Jimmy Stewart and Brooke Shields, former Knicks basketball player and U.S. Senator Bill Bradley, and many other notables.

Mention Princeton to a local, however, and they’ll first tell you about the town’s beauty and endless charms, then point you toward the many restaurants, shops, museums, and outdoor activities that can be found in and around the village. If you’re lucky, they’ll even mention some of the town’s more offbeat spots and idiosyncrasies, and, oh yes, there is that marvelously oversized University that stands so regally on Nassau St.

As a one-tank trip, Princeton makes for a perfect destination, especially in the spring when the dogwood trees are in full blossom. Then, a stroll along Nassau St. (Princeton’s main drag, also tagged as Route 27) or across the large campus becomes almost magical. What’s not to like? Let’s go.


Boats and a Towpath

For those seeking recreation and tranquility, a walk or bike ride along the Delaware and Raritan Canal is in order. The 74-mile-long canal and its towpath remain remarkably intact and are undeniably beautiful. In Princeton, the path can be accessed at the canal’s intersection with Alexander St., and a small parking area has been provided for trail users. This location is also beneficial if one wishes to watch boat crews flash by in their high tech racing skulls on adjacent Lake Carnegie. Since Princeton University’s Boathouse is located just south of the Alexander St. Bridge, such comings and goings are commonplace here. The bridge offers the perfect vantage point to watch the teams as they “stroke” across the great blue expanse.


Photo by Jeff Bahr/ Nassau Hall, Princeton University. Ivy at the Ivy-League.



Auto hitching posts

If your idea of fun has less to do with toil and more to do with the feeding of mind and body, you’ll almost certainly end up in the center of town. Parking can be a problem here, especially on weekends when the tourist hordes come out to play. Generally speaking, the roads that fan out and away from Nassau St. will offer the greatest parking opportunities. If a space can’t be located on these side streets, however, three municipal garages stand at the ready to house your buggy.


A dynamic campus duo

A worthy itinerary for any first-time visit includes a tour of the campus followed by a stop at the Princeton University Art Museum. A student-run guide service takes groups of 15 or less on one-hour guided tours of the campus and points out many interesting facts along the way. If you’re curious how the term “Ivy league” came to be, this is the tour for you. Tours leave from Clio Hall on weekdays and the First Campus Center on weekends during the academic year, but you can always fall in with a tour already in progress if your timing is off.

Art lovers will rejoice when they view the more than 72,000 fine works exhibited at the Princeton University Art Museum. A world-class offering, the museum features ancient to contemporary art from around the world. “Princeton and the Gothic Revival” is currently on tap. The exhibit is scheduled to run through June 24.


E=MC2 = Princeton’s most famous resident

Nobel Prize winning scientist Albert Einstein lived in Princeton from 1935 to 1955. His small, unassuming house at 112 Mercer St. still exists as a private residence. An exclusive exhibition entitled “Einstein at Home” is currently being featured at the Bainbridge House at 158 Nassau Street. On display are family photographs, memorabilia, artwork, and select pieces of furniture that belonged to the world-renowned scientist. But don’t be misled by Einstein’s vast accomplishments, for stuffy he certainly was not.

“The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education,” quipped Einstein with a twinkle in his eye. How can you not love him?


Pain-free shopping

Shopping opportunities abound on Nassau Street. Wares found at these shops can be pricey but bargains are available to those willing to hunt. Here’s an example: In the haughty English-Tudor building known as Hamilton Jewelers (92 Nassau St.) a Rolex watch fetches as much cash as an automobile, while a stylish consignment shop just to its north sells many pre-owned and new clothing items for less than ten bucks. On my last visit, my fiancé and my wallet were very grateful for the latter!

Labyrinth Books stands directly across the street from the university. It’s great fun to browse through the titles as you mix with students and other intelligentsia inside.


Photo by Jeff Bahr/ Princeton University campus “springs” to life.

Of fluffy pancakes and Cupcake Wars

Restaurants throughout town are plentiful and varied. I’m told the Triumph Brewing Company is known for good food in general and a killer burger (considered by some as the best in Princeton) in particular, but I have yet to confirm this. I can speak for a few other establishments, however. PJ’s Pancake House at 154 Nassau St. has been a Princeton mainstay since 1962. To come here and not sample its delightfully fluffy pancakes is like traveling to Paris and ignoring The Louvre.

Since we’ve now thrown caloric caution to the wind, you may wish to gorge on some great ice cream and/or chocolates at Thomas Sweet Ice Cream and Chocolate at 183 Nassau Street. This cute-as-a-button shop features a variety of premium ice cream flavors that are on continual rotation, as well as a variety of boxed and unboxed chocolates. Try the “Blend-in” (ice cream blended in with your choice of nuts, candy, or fruit). It’s a local favorite for a reason. Trust me.

If you follow the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” and would like to sample a cupcake made by the winner of the 2011 skirmish, beat a sweet retreat to the House of Cupcakes at 30 Witherspoon St. There you will find a daily offering of 20 different cakes vying for your culinary attention. How sweet it is.


More to see and do

I’ve merely touched on the many things to see and do in and around Princeton, but that leaves more for you to discover when you get there. Just in case you thought I was going to leave you high and dry in the intrigue department, worry not my faithful friends. A little-known sliver of offbeat information follows.


An interesting fact that the Chamber of Commerce won’t tell you:

Only one week after the 9/11 attacks, an already frightened America received another scare when an unknown entity sent letters containing anthrax through the U.S. Mail. The highly toxic envelopes killed five people and sickened 17 others. After an extensive investigation, it was determined that the envelopes had been mailed from a Princeton address. And the box was located on Nassau Street no less. Happy travels!

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