The 24-year-old German drove around the 3.2-mile street circuit at Port Imperial in an Infiniti road car before taking part in a news conference with promoter Leo Hindery, Weehawken mayor Richard Turner and West New York mayor Felix Roque.
"Sebastian got a very small taste of what racing around the Port Imperial course will be like but there's no substitute for when he'll be driving at just over 200 miles an hour," said Hindery in a statement.
The race, pencilled in for next June with the New York skyline as a backdrop, will be the second U.S. round after a circuit still being built in Austin, Texas, makes its debut in November this year.
Vettel arrived in New Jersey after finishing fourth in Sunday's Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.
"It's been fantastic to be the first to drive the new circuit," he said after giving some passenger rides. "It's clear it is going to be a big challenge in a Formula One car."
Organisers expect upwards of 100,000 people to attend the race and say it will receive no subsidies from local or state government