Traveling through The Garden State, you can find some amazing towns from Cape May to Lambertville to Ramsey (and all points in-between), but 2 "small towns" received major props as being among the best in America!

Smithsonian magazine rated the 20 best Small Towns in America - the criteria was that a 'small town' was defined by a population of the area with less than 25,000 residents.  Other factors in the magazine rating included museums, historic sites, botanic gardens, resident orchestras, art galleries and other cultural assets common to big cities  The magazine found 2 amazing towns in New Jersey - both in the central region of the state, with one to the east and one to the west.

First stop - Mercer County.  Princeton came in #12 in this survey - the famed Ivy League town offers old-school charm with the strength of the university.  Smithsonian mentions the university museum, with one of the richest college art collections in the country—the Chinese art collection in particular is considered world-class.

The McCarter Theatre Center was also recognized by Smithsonain.  The Center became known as a pre-Broadway showcase since its opening in 1930, even hosting the world premiere of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.  Stars ranging from Katharine Hepburn to Herbie Hancock have graced its stage. Come June, the Princeton Festival pulls in top talents for performances in musical theater, opera, jazz and cabaret.

Next stop - Monmouth County for Red Bank, which came in at #3.  Growing up about 15 minutes from this great place, and having worked only a town or two over in the past, it is great to see Red Bank be recognized.

The center of this town is the Count Basie Theater, a 1,500 seat theater that started as The Carlton Theater in 1926.  Basie grew up in Red Bank, and was forever immortalized in lights when his name graced the theater in 1984.  The likes of the Goo Goo Dolls, The Counting Crows, Weird Al Yankovic, and Squeeze (returning April 25th - tickets available) have been a part of the history of the Basie, which has a great reputation for its amazing acoustics.

Main Street in Red Bank features many cafes, galleries, and Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash - the famed cmic book shop created by filmmaker Kevin Smith.  The landmark Victorian train depot was restored, and the Molly Pitcher Inn has never looked better (named for a Revolutionary War heroine who is said to have brought water to thirsty soldiers serving under George Washington during the Battle of Monmouth County).

The Navesink River has their waterfront park, the setting for jazz concerts in the summer and iceboating when the river freezes; string quartets and youth choruses perform at the Monmouth Conservatory of Music, while the Two River Theater Company stages new plays and musicals.

By the way, the 2 towns that finished ahead of Red Bank were Great Barrington, Mass. (#1) and Taos, N.M. (#2).  Check out the entire top-20 by clicking here.