WHAT COMES TO MIND WHEN YOU THINK OF PRINCETON? Whether it’s Einstein’s mop of unruly hair or the iron gates of one of the world’s most prestigious universities, chances are you’re thinking of the town’s intellectual advances, but there’s so much more to this lovely New Jersey town. "From its perfect location halfway between New York and Philadelphia; to its rich tradition of arts, education and culture; to the exploding farm-to-table cuisine scene; the Princeton region truly delivers modern comforts alongside a deep American heritage," says Adam Perle, vice president, Princeton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau.
WHAT TO DO
Princeton Tour Company
Revolutionary War battlefields, mansions of the rich and famous and local lore are all part of the Princeton Tour Company’s highly customized walking and trolley tours. Owner and Princeton resident expert Mimi Omiecinski guides guests on a highly entertaining, often irreverent tour of ivy-clad Princeton University and the surrounding neighborhoods. Omiecinski’s infectious banter is filled with a memorable mix of history and juicy tidbits, but it’s her insider access to places like the super-secret, elite eating clubs that makes these tours so exciting.
Princeton University Art Museum
You could easily spend an afternoon perusing the boutiques and nationally known stores of Nassau Street, but art lovers will want to make a pit stop at the Princeton University Art Museum. Founded in 1882, this complimentary museum houses an impressive collection ranging from ancient art to contemporary pieces.
Grounds for Sculpture
Just a quick ride away is Grounds for Sculpture, a 42-acre indoor/outdoor museum set on the historic New Jersey State Fairgrounds in Hamilton. Founded by artist Seward Johnson (of the Johnson & Johnson family), Grounds for Sculpture is a playground for art lovers of all ages. "Grounds for Sculpture is unique," says Coby Green-Rifkin, director of marketing. "There really is nothing like it. It is so conducive to brainstorming and team-building."
Wander the paths and discover contemporary sculptures from emerging and well-known artists or happen upon the lifelike sculptures that bring famous paintings to life, crafted by Johnson himself. "Guided tours, sculpture scavenger hunts and hands-on workshops with teaching artists are among the many programs we offer, while we have private barbecues in the gazebo, picnics on the lawn from the Peacock Café and the awardwinning Rat’s Restaurant for dining options," Green-Rifkin says.
Plays aren’t the only shows at McCarter Theatre, where more than 200 performances of dance, music and, yes, theater, are held each year. "If you enjoy seeing the best of the best in theater, don’t assume you have to spend a ton of money on tickets and then travel all the way to New York or Philadelphia," says Megan Johnston, director of group services and advertising. "The reality is you can see the same level of performances with world-class artists right here. We draw from the best performers in the world, offering the same artists you’d see on Broadway, but at much more reasonable prices."
WHERE TO STAY/MEET
Since 1756, the Nassau Inn has been the centerpiece of Palmer Square. Meet in one of the 13 banquet rooms with a total of 10,000 square feet and then retire to one of the 188 guest rooms and suites, which offer a blend of history and modernity. "Nassau Inn is a destination for social and corporate events," says Mariela Blanco, director of sales. "People like to hold events at the historic Nassau Inn because of its dynamic combination of charm, elegance and good taste. Those attending meetings enjoy parking their cars and having everything they need right outside our doors. We are a Princeton icon people cherish and keep coming back to-either for our award-winning burger, their choice of 13 unique event spaces, our cozy lobbies or the luxurious new bedding. Destination matters!"
The Peacock Inn
Just a few blocks from Palmer Square is the lovely Peacock Inn, a one-of-a-kind historic inn imbued with a handsome, sleek sensibility. Home to just 16 intimate rooms, it is perfect for smaller groups who seek privacy and inspiration. Looking for a place to really wow a group? Book Peacock Alley, a secluded room tucked away downstairs. Lush murals of Princeton now decorate the walls, but it’s what these walls could say that really make it special (it’s a former speak-easy populated by the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald). The Peacock Inn isn’t just a place to hang your hat. Its highly rated, elegant restaurant is one of the best in New Jersey and can be all yours with a little advanced planning.
Hyatt Regency Princeton
Larger groups will find comfortable digs at the Hyatt Regency Princeton, which just finished a $19 million dollar renovation at the end of 2013. "Hyatt Regency Princeton’s incredible transformation and newly acquired meeting space present an extraordinary array of opportunities for planners. We’re ecstatic for our guests to experience the new property," says Dianne Pepe, director of sales and marketing.
Two floors of expanded, flexible meeting space totaling 32,000 square feet, plus 330 guest rooms with a fresh, nature-inspired design make the Hyatt a natural choice for planners.
Princeton Marriott at Forrestal
Set on 25 acres of woodlands just off U.S. Route 1, the Princeton Marriott at Forrestal is an IACCcertified facility boasting 33 meeting/event rooms with a total of 35,000 square feet. A full-service spa, indoor pool and the
302 guest rooms with a contemporary vibe complete the well-rounded experience. "Our on-site sales, events and culinary teams are dedicated to creating a brilliant experience for every group," says Matthew Cropanese, destination sales executive. "We focus on listening to the needs of our guests, and are proud to say our dedication to providing an optimal guest experience has placed the Princeton Marriott in the top 10 percent of the company for overall event satisfaction."
WHERE TO DINE
Princeton’s dining scene has become white hot, thanks in part to a few newcomers. Take a commitment to farm-to-table cuisine (much of the food comes from the Great Road Farm a few miles north) and blend with a talent like Josh Thomsen, who trained at the French Laundry, and you have Agricola. Whether you choose the courtyard, the charming family room and parlor or the in-the-heatof- it kitchen, this rustic eatery delights diners with seasonal, market-inspired American cooking (think roasted chicken with root vegetables and braised beef short ribs with roasted potatoes).
Chef Scott Anderson of elements restaurant welcomes diners to sample artfully plated new American food with a focus on quality ingredients. This much talked-about restaurant caters to groups large (rent out the entire restaurant) and small (take over the Cube, a cozy spot for eight), as well as in between (the loft and the chef’s kitchen). Brunch and lunch are three or five courses, while dinner is three, four or six courses. Want to really knock the socks off your guests? Opt for the chef’s nine-tasting menu-a three-hour, nine-course meal.
North End Bistro
Make your guests feel right at home with a little comfort food at North End Bistro. This kitchen serves straight up classics-lobster mac and cheese, spaghetti with mama’s meatballs, buttermilk fried chicken and, yes, fried Oreos. Dine outside on the patio, indoors in the East Room or reserve the restaurant in its entirety.