New Yorkers used to passing through Newark on their way to somewhere else might not consider New Jersey’s largest city a tourist destination. But Lauren Craig wants to change people’s minds with a few reasons to visit. One hundred, in fact.
Her new book, “100 Things to Do in Newark Before You Die” ($16, out Aug. 15, Reedy Press), highlights the city’s offerings in culture, food, art and history.
“There are so many things opening every day,” said Craig, the marketing manager for Newark Arts and the “glambassador” for the city’s visitor’s bureau. “There’s more than just the airport. I’m really hoping people will give Newark a second look.”
Today, there may be no better sign that an area has arrived than the presence of the latest food trend, and downtown Newark’s first poke restaurant, Ono Grinds Poke, opened this year.
“It’s like the new thing — everybody wants poke,” Craig said. “With a trendy food opening, that’s how you know it’s changing.”
Newark’s first Whole Foods also opened earlier this year.
And for those used to reading headlines about crime in the area, the city is also trying to shake off its violent reputation; statistics released by the Newark Police Department late last year showed that crime in the city reached its lowest rate in 50 years.
“It’s been absolutely on fire, the changes,” said Craig, who also recently launched a website, 100thingsnewark.com, to continue to cover the city’s happenings (like celeb chef Marcus Samuelsson’s forthcoming Newark restaurant).
We asked Craig, who lives and works in downtown Newark, for her picks on what to do in the city this fall.
Newark International Film Festival
This film festival returns for its second year next month, with indoor and outdoor screenings from Sept. 8-10, and pays homages to Newark’s roots as the birthplace of celluloid film.
Open Doors Citywide Arts Festival
As marketing manager for Newark Arts, Craig is gearing up for the 16th annual Open Doors Citywide Arts Festival, running Oct. 12-15 at galleries and studios across the city. “That’s a great way to get a taste of the Newark arts scene,” Craig said. “All the galleries are open for four days of exhibits, art talks, music and all sorts of performing arts.”
For good eats, head to Halsey Street. “It has great mom and pop-style, locally owned stores,” said Craig, who recommends Burger Walla for Indian-inspired flavors and burgers; Freetown Cafe for drinks such as lavender lattes; and the newish specialty coffee shop Black Swan Espresso. Another good area for dining is the Ironbound neighborhood, a destination for Portuguese and Spanish food; Craig’s favorites there include Catas for tapas.
This historic mansion in downtown Newark is part of the Newark Museum and features several period rooms restored to the 19th century style, when the beer-brewing Ballantine family moved in. “When I walk in there, I step back into the 1800s,” Craig said. “It’s a gorgeous place.”
This triangular park reopened in 2014, after a $3 million renovation by Dan Biederman, the developer behind Bryant Park’s rehabilitation. “It’s beautiful, gorgeous and has this carousel that I tell everyone that they have to get on,” said Craig, who also recommends the park’s outdoor bar, Burg.
Grammy Museum Experience
Craig is “super excited” about the first East Coast location of the Grammy Museum, which is slated to open in October at the Prudential Center. Visitors will be able to explore all aspects of the recording process, from playing instruments to singing backup to mixing tracks. There will also be a New Jersey-centric display, including local artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra, Queen Latifah and Whitney Houston.
Newark is 15 miles west of New York City — about a 45-minute drive from downtown Manhattan — and is accessible via public transportation by taking NJ Transit to Newark Penn Station, Amtrak to Newark Penn Station, PATH to Newark Penn Station, or Greyhound to Newark Penn Station.
Correction: An earlier version of this article advised an incorrect transit route.