Your Guide to Cape May, New Jersey
Cape May's nickname, Queen of the Seaside Resorts, might sound exaggerated -- but only to those who haven't had the fortune of lounging on its pristine, windswept shores or wandering through the wildly charming historic district. Colorful Victorian homes create a gingerbread house landscape so universally adored that the entire town has been declared a National Historic Landmark. Whether you're seeking an all-American family beach vacation, or a romantic weekend getaway, Cape May's plethora of charms will leave you perfectly enamoured.
WHERE TO STAY
The Grande Dame of Cape May accommodations, stately Congress Hall has wowed travelers with luxury accommodations and prime beachfront real estate since it opened its hallowed doors in 1879. Beach service with towels, chairs, and umbrella is included. Unwind with a spa treatment, swim in the family or adult pools, and when hunger strikes, dine at the Blue Pig Tavern, or onsite coffee shop. Spend sunset on a rocking chair on the verandah sipping a cold drink from the historic Brown Room bar, or wander down to an adirondack chair overlooking the ocean.
The fun and funky Beach Shack is set in a refurbished, beachfront motel. Rooms are large, and simply furnished, with outdoor space on a shared balcony. Guests can also book "bungalows," which comfortably sleep up to 8 people, perfect for family getaways. The dog-friendly property is super family friendly, with a swimming pool, and beach service. At sunset, sidle up to the Rusty Nail bar and restaurant. This surfer hot spot is one of the most popular bars in Cape May and offers live music, good grub, and ice-cold drinks.
The Virginia Cottages
The tony Virginia is a must-stay for visitors seeking creature comforts, but the true hidden gem are the Virginia Cottages, a series of Victorian homes converted into guest rooms and apartments. Families can also rent an entire cottage, if desired. Set in the heart of the historic district, the Cottages encapsulate Cape May's charms, and are located on a half-block from the beach. Daily continental breakfast is included, and is delivered to your door, cottage porch, or the cheery porch of the Virginia hotel, across the street.
WHERE TO EAT
The Red Store
Arguably Cape May's most innovative and exceptional restaurant, the Red Store with delight diners who appreciate unexpected plates with multi-dimensional flavors. The James Beard Award-nominated chef uses seasonal ingredients to create otherworldly dishes like a brined pork chop with grilled marinated bok choy, “Brooklyn brine” chipotle pickled carrots, and crispy herbed spaetzle. Every details is masterminded; even the salt is artisanal, and made from dehydrated Cape May sea water.
Blue Rose Inn & Restaurant
Make your way to one of historic Cape May's prettiest Victorian homes, where you'll find the Blue Rose Inn and Restaurant. Chef Michael Keating takes good care to prepare menus with freshly sourced ingredients, served in lovingly decorated dining rooms -- take note of the detailed stained glass. You might try seared scallops with herb sausage risotto, chanterelle mushrooms, and apple cider gastrique, or indulge in the flavorful pappardelle with slow-roasted pork shoulder, mascarpone, roasted garlic, smoked paprika and ancho chiles.
Union Park Dining Room
Crank up the romantic vibes with a visit to Union Park Dining Room, set inside a beachfront property. Old World appeal fills the elegant dining room, which is decorated with cherry and mahogany furniture and lit by the warm glow of candles. Diners can enjoy upscale American fare, like chilled rock shrimp with Greek olive and tomato tapenade, and seared duck served with duck confit hash, arugula and pear salad, shaved foie gras and sherry drizzle. If possible, save room for dessert, like the homemade ice cream cookies: French chocolate meringue cookies filled with nutella ice cream and topped with salted caramel.
WHAT TO DO
Hit the Beach
Cape May's coastline winds from Higbee Beach to Poverty Beach on Sewell Point. The wide swath of soft sand is a magnet for families intent on enjoying the sun, sand, and Atlantic Ocean surf. A number of hotels offer beach service, but most folks pack their own umbrellas, chairs and picnics to bring to the shore. Be sure to head to Cape May Point to pay a visit to the town's lighthouse, and climb to its top for 360-degree vistas. As the sun dips toward the horizon, meander to Sunset Beach for stellar views of nature's nightly farewell.
Washington Street Mall
After spending the morning in the surf and sand, enjoy a relaxing afternoon window shopping or buying souvenirs as you stroll through the center of downtown Cape May. Pedestrian-friendly Washington Street Mall stretches for 3 blocks, and is lined with all manner of shops, from high-end jewelry and funky fashions, to silly tchotchkes and fudge shops. You'll find artisan craft stores, like a soap shop, as well as restaurants and ice cream shops.
Dig into Cape May's storied history while relaxing on a guided trolley tour. The tours are an excellent way to get a detailed overview of the town, while learning about its fascinating past and vibrant present. You may opt for a historic tour, or hop aboard one of the themed tours, such as ghost, mansion, wartime and after-dark journeys.