New Jersey, also known as The Garden State, comprises 21 counties, many with regal-sounding names stemming from Dutch and English settlements in the early 17th century. Today, the mid-Atlantic state is known for its beautiful beaches and boardwalks, pristine wilderness, iconic pork roll sandwiches, and endless entertainment. The fifth-smallest state has ethnic diversity, a low crime rate, a plethora of outdoor parks and beaches, and numerous delicious dining establishments.
Below, we explore the top 10 best areas in New Jersey sorted by lowest to highest housing cost to income ratio. So, read on to discover which county aligns with you the most!
1. Essex County
Housing cost to income ratio: 0.63
Average childcare cost to income ratio: 0.13%
Violent crime index: 13.3
Nonviolent crime index: 30.3
Cost of living index: 135.1
Taking the top spot on this list is Essex County, a liberal community of around 800,000, with plenty of culture and character. Essex is multicultural – filled with Caribbeans, Latinos, African Americans, and more. Newark, the largest city in Essex, is conveniently located just a thirty-minute drive from New York, making it an enticing option for those who want a lower cost of living paired with the accessibility of the Big Apple. Looking to buy or rent in Newark? The real estate market is on the upswing, as many new condos are springing up offering amazing river views. Once settled you will find no shortage of fun events for all ages. Some highlights include GlassRoots, The Newark Museum, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and Branch Brook Park.
2. Cumberland County
Housing cost to income ratio: 1.00
Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.48%
Violent crime index: 29.6
Nonviolent crime index: 57.7
Cost of living index: 83.5
Cumberland is a coastal county situated on Delaware Bay. The county has around 150,000 residents, with the majority leaning liberal in terms of political views. While the state typically experiences all four seasons, Cumberland – in the south – receives less snow. Some popular outdoor activities are camping, fishing, and hunting. Notable destinations to check out include Parvin State Park, Bellview Winery, and The Palace of Depression (an odd appointment-only attraction built by a recluse). Drive 45 minutes east from Cumberland and you’ll arrive at Atlantic City, a huge tourist attraction for beachgoers and high rollers. With the second lowest housing cost-to-income ratio on the list, you can find a suitable home that won’t break the bank. Start your search with popular communities like Hopewell Township, Vineland, or Rosenhayn.
3. Hunterdon County
Housing cost to income ratio: 1.26
Average childcare cost to income ratio: 0.90%
Violent crime index: 6.7
Nonviolent crime index: 16.9
Cost of living index: 132.9
Hunterdon County has about 214,000 diverse, liberal-leaning residents, of various ages and education. It boasts an elite school district (one of the best in the U.S.), picturesque scenery, large estate-like homes, and plenty of acreage. Other popular areas are Bethlehem Township and Lebanon Township, which score high in safety and academics. Hunterdon County is one of the most upscale counties in the U.S., while still being affordable.
4. Atlantic-Cape May
Housing cost to income ratio: 3.18
Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.64%
Violent crime index: 70.3
Nonviolent crime index: 75.4
Cost of living index: 91.5
Cape May County is the southernmost county in New Jersey and neighbors Atlantic County to the north. Atlantic has a large population of 274,000, while Cape May sits lower at about 95,000. The three most popular areas to live in are Linwood, Egg Harbor Township, and Northfield. These moderately liberal communities are tight-knit. There’s never a dull moment in Atlantic City, as it is known for casinos, wide beaches, and the iconic Boardwalk. The famous MTV show Jersey Shore was filmed in Seaside Heights, a borough located in Ocean County which is just about an hour’s drive north of Atlantic. Despite the hustle and bustle of attractions in the summer, the vibe of South Jersey is laid back, with a beachy, country feel during the rest of the year. The school systems offer a wide variety of programs, including after-school tutoring and sports.
5. Sussex County
Housing cost to income ratio: 3.69
Average childcare cost to income ratio: 0.85%
Violent crime index: 7.2
Nonviolent crime index: 18.3
Cost of living index: 112.5
Beauty and serenity are some of the highlights of living in Sussex County. The population is on the smaller side (around 140,000 residents) making it a quieter, slower-paced place to live. Popular municipalities in the county are Lake Mohawk, Stanhope, and Fredon Township. The area is surrounded by an abundance of breathtaking greenery that’s perfect for outdoor activities. There’s skiing in the winter at Mountain Creek, sparkling lakes to enjoy in the summer, and beautiful orchards where you can pick apples in the fall.
As the northernmost county of New Jersey, Sussex borders New York and is only about a 40-minute drive from the city of Warwick, which hosts delightful shops and restaurants. Sussex is ideal for those who enjoy the outdoors, as it offers fishing, hunting, hiking, and endless sightseeing.
6. Somerset County
Housing cost to income ratio: 3.70
Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.06%
Violent crime index: 7.5
Nonviolent crime index: 20.8
Cost of living index: 135.3
Somerset is a highly diverse county in the north-central part of New Jersey. Its 329,000 residents tend to be moderately liberal and enjoy living in Bradley Gardens, Somerville, Bernards Township, and Bernardsville. The median household income is also well above the national median, at $116,510. If you’re in your mid-20s, Somerville may be the perfect place for you. The downtown is walkable, you can catch a direct train line to New York and enjoy a good nightlife scene as well. In comparison, Hillsborough is lovely but a slower-paced township. Whether moving solo, with a partner, or with a family, Somerset has plenty of boroughs and towns that can fit your lifestyle.
7. Warren County
Housing cost to income ratio: 3.85
Average childcare cost to income ratio: 0.99%
Violent crime index: 8.3
Nonviolent crime index: 26.2
Cost of living index: 101.1
Warren is a friendly, peaceful county of around 105,000. There is an array of wonderful school systems, public facilities, and job opportunities in this quaint community. Can’t decide which area, in particular, to call home? Start by taking a look at Vienna, Philipsburg, or Panther Valley – a gated community offering pools, tennis courts, and even a members-only golf course. Can you say lavish?
There are also elite public schools in Warren, such as Watchung Hills Regional High School, which offers students clubs and activities on top of academia. During the weekends take a short drive to one of the many wineries or go camping at Worthington State Forest. Although the cost of living in Warren is on the higher end of this list, it is perfect for raising a family.
8. Monmouth County
Housing cost to income ratio: 4.23
Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.48%
Violent crime index: 9.6
Nonviolent crime index: 24.8
Cost of living index: 129.7
A mid-sized county of around 619,000, Monmouth may be the best-kept secret of New Jersey. Monmouth is popular with those relocating from New York, especially from Brooklyn or Staten Island. Within the county, look for homes in the popular areas of Marlboro, Fair Haven, or Allentown. Save your dollars, skip private school, and send your kids to top-notch public schools. Any visit to one of the 30-plus parks clearly shows the pride the county has in its community. Spend lazy summer days on beautiful beaches or visit Point Pleasant – a family favorite that offers a boardwalk, amusement park, shopping, plus loads of restaurants and bars. For a quieter beach try Manasquan, Siegert, or Spring Lake.
9. Mercer County
Housing cost to income ratio: 4.57
Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.22%
Violent crime index: 12.3
Nonviolent crime index: 24.1
Cost of living index: 103.9
Mercer County is the county seat of Trenton, the capital of New Jersey. The county has a delightful small town feel with a population of around 367,000 and is close to major metropolitan areas. You can easily take the train to New York City or Philadelphia, both of which are around 90 minutes away. Famed ivy-league school Princeton University is in (you guessed it) Princeton – one of the popular communities, along with Robbinsville and Princeton Junction.
For a taste of arts, culture, and live music head to Princeton, Lawrence, or Trenton. If you are a fitness fanatic, Mercer Meadows is a scenic park with lovely trails for a bike, walk, or jog. Dog lovers can make a note to head to Rosedale Dog Park, which is a popular five-acre dog park perfect for small or large pups to play in – and get wet! Overall, Mercer County is a family-friendly place with lots to do.
10. Middlesex County
Housing cost to income ratio: 4.66
Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.34%
Violent crime index: 10.1
Nonviolent crime index: 21.6
Cost of living index: 123.6
Middlesex County, in central New Jersey, has a population of around 824,000. It has a vibrant Indian and Asian community, with many towns serving as commuter towns to and from New York City and other points north. Trains run hourly, from around 6 a.m. to midnight, but beware – the cars are crowded! Popular neighborhoods are Princeton Meadows, Monmouth Junction, and Plainsboro Center.
While there are not as many beaches and woods close by, you can connect with nature at Allaire State Park and Monmouth Battlefield State Park. Public and private schools are both highly rated, with over 300 schools. Lastly, Middlesex has easy access to the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike, making travel a bit easier.
Rakini Bergundy was born in a little surf town called Houhai in China and loves writing. She’s passionate about dogs, home renovations, and politics.