3 Surprisingly Charming Places to Visit in Newark, NJ

TM Ward Coffee Shop in Newark - cozy, aromatic, and un-pretentious.

I went to Newark, New Jersey in November to attend the Tony Robbins event "Unleash the Power Within" - four days almost non-stop jumping up and down, scribbling notes, cheering, journaling, visualizing, screaming, and dancing (pretty much in that order, over and over) morning to night - so I didn't have time to explore beyond the few blocks around the Prudential Center, but it turns out those few blocks were all I needed to find some unexpectedly charming sights and shops in Newark during my stay.

The topics for the event were right up my alley. I'm all about the goal-setting, life mastery, and positive growth ideas.

The first morning of the event was dedicated to long registration lines as upbeat Tony Robbins staff processed 16,000 attendees, with big smiles and admirable efficiency. We weren't allowed to bring in outside food or drink due to Prudential Center rules, so I wandered around the various kiosks inside the arena searching for healthy-ish hot drinks to ward off the chill as well as anything non-meat, non-wheat, and non-fried to eat. I subsisted on bottled water and lackluster tofu scrambles all day, and by the time I got back to my hotel that night I was hungry for vegetables and warmth.

So much excitement on the first day of the event. All 16,000 of us wandered around the arena in a state of euphoria, grinning like fools.

A Google search the next morning for coffee shops near the Prudential Center turned up the TM Ward Coffee Company, "established 1869," as a place to buy bulk coffee, tea, roasted (and raw) nuts, and homemade candies. I took an Uber from my hotel to their front door and indeed felt as though I'd stepped back into 1869 as soon as I walked in.

Beautiful original cabinetry, shelving, and long counters made for a perfectly old city atmosphere.

I sampled a couple of brewed coffees, sipping from my cup while standing around enjoying the warm, relaxed atmosphere, and bought a couple packages of raw nuts for snacks at the event. I had overheard door security at Prudential say the only food we could bring in was small, sealed packages of snack foods such as health bars, so I was hoping the plastic container of nuts would qualify. (Apparently, it did--the nuts were not confiscated during the mandatory bag search at the door.)

I don't know why, but these were the best-tasting raw pecans and walnuts I've ever had. Plump and fresh, and maybe coated with some kind of crack-dust because I couldn't stop eating them.

Upon closer inspection, I noticed the sculptures on the front pillars of City Hall were native American figures rather than classical Greek or Roman design.

On to try a new place for early lunch - another Google search find - Hobby's Delicatessen. A short walk there took me past the gorgeous City Hall steps and several culturally diverse shops and cafes. Hobby's also had a step-back-in-time feel, and was delightfully cluttered, un-fancy, and friendly inside. When I first walked in I thought I'd chosen the wrong entrance because a guy was hunched over a pile of messy papers at a basic kitchen table right inside the door, as if he were paying bills or something. He stood and cheerfully asked if I was taking food to go or "sitting down," a phrase which took me a minute to process for some reason before noticing the tables and chairs in the adjoining room, finally responding that I was sitting down. :)

Don't miss this wonderful Jewish-style deli where the focus is on customer service and basic, delicious comfort food.

I surveyed the menu and ordered a green salad with grilled veggies on top and a side of avocado, then sat wondering why there was a huge Saran-wrapped bowl of pickles left on my table. When my server came back, I asked about it and was told the contents were free to eat with my meal. All right, no problem--I gobbled down two pickled green tomatoes and a kosher dill with my veggie feast, stuffing myself with all the perfectly crisp raw veggies and perfectly grilled cooked ones, knowing it would be at least 9:00 pm before I'd get another actual meal.

A huge plate of nutritious yum at Hobby's. This vegan even ate the very clean-tasting egg.

I figured the pickles would be a good source of probiotics and the egg would provide a little extra protein, and between that and the nuts from TM Ward, I was good to go for the long haul until evening. As I sat eating and eavesdropping on the locals' conversations, I heard one man proclaim to another patron across the room that Hobby's was "the most Jewish non-Jewish deli in Newark," which I thought perfectly described the situation. You could get Matzoh Ball Soup as well as bacon and shrimp here, and only four basic types of cookies from the bakery counter - oatmeal, chocolate chunk, peanut chocolate chunk, and white chocolate chunk with macadamias. Cookie of choice for elderly African American women, according to my eavesdropping? Oatmeal. If only I ate sugar and white flour, I'd definitely join them. :)

After lunch, I decided to walk the few blocks to the Prudential Center from Hobby's and take in more of the local vibe. The area was clearly diverse - Caribbean, Ecuadorian, African, and Jewish influences were obvious everywhere you looked. At the crosswalk to the block the Center occupied, I came across "The Church that Founded Newark" - Old First Church Presbyterian. Its stone walls and ornate windows looked every inch those of a medieval 1666 church, a very visceral reminder of our country's protestant colonists venturing out into the New World with an eye toward religious and political freedom.

I read the placard of dates and events, stared up at the perfectly constructed stone architecture, and wondered what incredible stories this centuries-old structure could tell.

Back in my hotel that night, tired, chilled, and hungry, I called "Good Friend" Chinese food delivery for a late dinner of plain steamed vegetables with fried tofu and wisely asked for two bottles of water to be included with my order so I could hydrate that night as well as the next morning without going down to the hotel vending machines to spend $2.50 on a single bottle. (You know you aren't in Colorado anymore when the label reads "Poland" Spring rather than something to do with the Rocky Mountains.)

My nightly ritual. Veggies, tofu, water, and reviewing my notes from the event.

The next three days I happily followed exactly the same plan: coffee at TM Ward, early veggie/pickle lunch at Hobby's, and plain steamed veggies with tofu from Good Friend at night. :)

There is much more I could say about the entire experience, and a whole series of posts to write about my Tony Robbins self-help life-changing journey over the past several months, but for now these are my main takeaways from my time in Newark: 1) I was initially intimidated to travel to the New York area alone, but now I see why people love visiting and living in New York and the surrounding areas. People were friendly and helpful without being gushy about it, and the whole vibe is "cool" in every sense of that word--smart, diverse, tasteful, authentic, established, practical, open. 2) I will definitely go back when I can spend more time wandering around, eating out, and visiting the classic New York sights like the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, Broadway, the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center, etc. And 3) I don't need a ton of money or time to thoroughly enjoy my visit to a new area. Uber, Google, an appreciation of simple pleasures, and a spirit of quiet adventure are my very good friends. :)

Hampton Inn has these coffee cups with designs on them...oh never mind. :)