Why You Should Visit Cape May, New Jersey

Cape May is the oldest seashore resort in the United States and one of the most unique vacation destinations on the east coast. Located below the Mason-Dixon line at the very southernmost tip of New Jersey, the town enjoys a southern climate steeped in southern hospitality and offers something for everyone.

Just a few hours from New York City or Philadelphia, the town has long drawn city dwellers down the Garden State parkway to enjoy the beauty of the Jersey Shore. The area came into its prime during the Victorian era with grand hotels and ornate residences.

A hurricane that swept over the island in 1962 caused severe devastation and property damage. The town rebounded gracefully restoring landmarks and reinventing itself with a visionary plan. During this renaissance, Bed & Breakfast Inns on Cape May became an overwhelmingly popular new endeavor and a lure for tourists to return to the once devastated island.

In 1976 the seaside town was designated a National Historic Landmark, only one of five in the nation. This designation requires that the buildings in the town retain their original design and adhere to the architectural guidelines of the Victorian period in which they were built. Today the community is true to its landmark form, a blend of old and new and a postcard perfect getaway for rest and relaxation.

The beaches at Cape May are a draw for many people. The long white sand stretches have enough breaks for serious surfers yet also offer more sheltered sands. Kayakers enjoy the surf as well as the dolphins that are almost daily visitors around the point. In the center of town, a boardwalk traces the edge of the dunes. Along its planks a line of arcades, penny candy and fudge shops tempt and delight young and old visitors.

For more organized adventures, Cape May has a host of attractions to choose from. The Cape May Light House is an all around favorite and its proximity to the nature center makes it a great destination with kids. You can climb the light house for a bird’s eye view of Cape May and then visit the nature center’s numerous reptilian and aquatic residents. The center also runs guided nature walks through nearby trails and along the beach.

Other local attractions include the Historic Cold Spring Village, a living museum of antiquity and the Concrete Ship, one of twelve prototypes built during the steel shortage of World War I. The Cape May Fireman’s Museum is located near downtown and is a wonderful preservation of old fire brigade trucks and tools housed in a unique building.

The island’s geographic location makes it a favorite stop for migratory birds and draws researchers and students from all around. The Cape May Bird Observatory is a nature refuge for the feathered tourists who enjoy the climate and ecology of the island using its brush and beaches for nesting and resting. Raised wooden walkways allow visitors full vantage without disrupting the fragile seaside ecology. The list of birds one might encounter includes hawks, osprey, eagles, kestrels, peregrines, sandpipers and plovers. The island is also on the path for migratory butterflies such as monarchs which flutter around the town’s streets and gardens. The birds are attracted by the rich marine life that surrounds Cape May, a draw for human fisherman as well.

Wildlife isn’t the only entertainment on the island. Cape May has a thriving cultural life as well. There are endless concerts and festivals throughout the year including the Cape May NJ Film Festival, Cape May Music Festival, Cape May Food & Wine Festival, Cape May Jazz Festival, an annual Beachfront Run, sidewalk sales, arts & crafts and the famed Lima Bean Festival dedicated to the regional crop.

The bevy of Bed & Breakfast Inns here has Cape May deemed the B&B capital of the nation. Many offer tours through their grand establishments and there are also frequent conferences for interested entrepreneurs. The “painted ladies” are all unique, varying in size, style and amenities. They can be enjoyed as architecture, history or through the colorful stories of their diverse owners.

Many Bed & Breakfast Inns and hotels on Cape May also house restaurants open to everyone and the island is filled with superb dining choices. One “can’t miss” is the Mad Batter which features a garden terrace, sky-lit dining room and “European-style” front porch seating. A scrumptious menu from breakfast to dinner includes regional favorites such as crab cakes and fresh catches. The Blue Pig offers veranda seating at Congress Hall, one of the oldest, largest and grandest hotels on the island. Lucky Bones Backwater Grill is another top pick for dining out. Located near the marina, the restaurant has a terrific menu, atmosphere, and offers the opportunity to take an after dinner stroll along the docks and marshes.

Throughout Cape May and especially along the beachfront avenues are welcoming pubs and taverns. Some offer ocean views, verandas and live music is always playing somewhere. The island has a vibrant night life but also maintains some quieter sections of town where alcohol is not permitted. Cape May’s history includes serving as a destination for Bible conferences and this status helped prolong prohibition throughout the town. It is wise to check out the “house rules” regarding alcohol when booking at a restaurant or hotel as parts of the island are still “dry.”

Cape May’s other claim to fame is as the Wedding Capital of the Northeast. The romantic Victorian setting combined with the beauty of the island’s beaches draws thousands of couples each year. The local economy has risen to meet the demands offering professional services for photography, receptions and every other nuptial need. The town invites the casual shopper as well with the Washington Mall, a pedestrian area filled with shops, restaurants, ice cream parlors and book stores all filled with unique regional treasures.

Summer lingers in Cape May and spring comes early so it’s easy to plan a getaway that will take advantage of this milder climate. There are numerous online resources to help plan your trip as well as established local services. For various fees you can rent rooms, houses, bikes, kayaks and just about anything else you might need for your stay. Just a short jaunt from the major cities of the Northeast, Cape May is a great vacation destination.

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