How to Spend a Day in New Brunswick, NJ

by Alex Kenney
New Brunswick, NJ

So, Governor Phil Murphy just confirmed that Central Jersey exists. He even signed off on a bill promoting tourism in the region, but what exactly is Central Jersey and what’s in it?

Central Jersey is now recognized as Middlesex, Mercer, Somerset, and Hunterdon Counties. Middlesex County is most well-known as the home of Rutgers University’s flagship campus in New Brunswick. But that’s not all there is. Whether you find yourself visiting a friend or dropping off the kids at college, here’s how to spend a day in New Brunswick, NJ.


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Grab a Twix Latte at Friends Cafe

If you’re a fan of the sitcom “Friends,” this is the spot for you. Nestled in a residential area a few streets behind campus bounds, Friends Cafe is a cozy spot with a cult following. The owners named it with the show in mind and even decked out the bathroom walls in screencaps and references.

Another wall in the cafe is dedicated to pictures of customers’ pets. Friends is so pet-friendly that they carry dog treats, beds, and water bowls, and there’s even a menu just for pups. The cafe also hosts a monthly meet-up for NB Pack Walks, a local dog-walking club.

During the summer months, Friends stays open late for weekly live jazz on Thursdays. Local jazz musicians come by and bring the neighborhood to life with the sound of saxophones, trumpets, keyboards, guitars, and drums. Be sure to make a purchase first, though!

Most importantly, swing by for their specialty coffee drinks, including the Twix Latte, the Reese’s Cup Latte, and the Honey Bear Latte. Then, grab an authentic Persian dish to go because we’re about to be walking.

Take a Detour on Easton Avenue at Spina Records

Walk a few blocks towards campus and arrive at Easton Avenue, the center of student nightlife. If you go up the street towards the train station, you’ll see a wall decorated with huge wooden records. It’s cute for flicks, but what’s even cuter is the store next to it, Spina Records—New Brunswick’s premier record shop.

If you have vintage tastes, you can buy or browse vinyls, cassettes, posters, pins, and antiques at the shop. Like Friends, they also occasionally host live music acts, usually with a $5 cover. Shows are announced on their Instagram.

Sip on a Rose Chai from Hidden Grounds

Farther down Easton, on an almost unnoticeable corner, there will be some benches and a set of stairs leading down to Hidden Grounds. This coffee shop’s specialty is their iconically blush pink rose chai, offered both hot and iced. Even their tote bag (which is super reasonably priced at $11) lasted me over a year as a cute, sturdy everyday bag that leveled up all of my outfits.

Hidden Grounds is such a local hit that there’s another location down the street next to New Brunswick Station, but the one closer to Spina Records is the shop’s original location. Hidden Grounds has since expanded to Hoboken, Jersey City, and Brooklyn.

Stroll through Voorhees Mall on Your Way to the Zimmerli Art Museum

Make a turn on Mine Street and take a stroll through one of the most relaxing spots on campus at Voorhees Mall. Contrary to the name, there are no stores or shops here—just grass, trees, university buildings, an art museum, and a statue. Whether you cut through the courtyard or take a moment to sit and savor your surroundings, this spot is especially beautiful during the spring and fall months when the ground is littered with big pink petals or dried brown leaves that mark the beginnings of changing seasons.

Just as you get to the other side of the mall, the Zimmerli Art Museum entrance calls you in. The museum features an impressive curatorial portfolio of art from around the world, including a unique Russian and Soviet nonconformist collection. It looks small from the outside, but believe me, looks can be deceiving.


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Refresh with a Bingsoo at Semicolon Cafe

Towards the train station past the art museum, walk under the bridge and cross into downtown New Brunswick. After all of the walking you’ve done so far, surely it couldn’t hurt to get a refreshing snack.

Walk down the street and you’ll see a circular sign that is dangerously easy to miss. It reads “Take a pause,” in reference to Semicolon Cafe. Another place that is deceivingly small from the outside, Semicolon stands out from other local cafes with their bingsoo offerings.

Bingsoo (빙수) is a Korean milk-based shaved ice dessert that most commonly comes in red bean flavor. At Semicolon, they offer strawberry, mango, matcha, black sesame, and chocolate. The chocolate bingsoo comes loaded with creamy shaved ice, mochi, a brownie, a scoop of ice cream, and a cookie stick, all for just 8 dollars.

Semicolon also has locations in Jersey City, Washington Heights, and Murray Hill.

Grab a Pint and a Bite at Harvest Moon Brewery

A noticeably less student-occupied area, George Street is lined with restaurants and bars where you can wind down from walking around all day. Located in the very first block of Downtown, Harvest Moon Brewery & Cafe is a cozy bar and restaurant that has the best music selection around. So long as weather permits, the restaurant always keeps the windows open, letting the ambience of small city bustle enter the dark dining room. I go for their fish and chips, a bar classic that will never let you down. Harvest Moon also takes up a large part of George Street’s outdoor dining, allowing patrons to listen in on live music performances in the street. For more New Brunswick restaurant recommendations, look here.

Despite being mostly known for Rutgers, New Brunswick is a vibrant city with valuable institutions, a flourishing local culture, and above all, eats you can’t find anywhere else. It’s not called the Hub City for nothing, after all. If you’re curious about what Central Jersey is all about, come on down.

About the Author/s

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Alex Kenney is a third-year Journalism and Media Studies student at Rutgers University - New Brunswick. Having lived in Bergen, Essex, and briefly Hudson County, she calls anything north of Newark home. She is a big fan of NJ Transit and knows most major highways in her area like the back of her hand, even though she doesn’t drive.

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