Cape May is an amazing destination, and the numbers don’t lie: Its beaches are not only considered the best in the U.S. but in the world. It’s the nation’s oldest seaside resort, and what sets it apart from other Jersey Shore towns is the Victorian architecture: Each home looks like a dollhouse. The city of Cape May was selected to be a National Historic Landmark on May 11, 1976. It’s remarkable to see how the Victorian homes have survived and aren’t in poor condition at all.
Cape May is the southernmost part of New Jersey, keep going and you’ll just end up in Delaware. It’s a peninsula and island at the intersection of Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
Cape May County spans 267 miles and has a permanent population of around 95,000 people, but that number exponentially increases during the summer months. The city of Cape May has the most Victorian homes in the U.S., just behind San Francisco.
In the past, Cape May was dubbed as the “Queen of the Seaside Resorts.” The area attracts travelers from New York, Pennsylvania, and Canada (especially Quebec!). Actually, a Cape May tourism office was opened in this Canadian province but then it was shut down due to budget cuts.
I got to visit Cape May for the second time in August, we celebrated my sister’s birthday there over one weekend. I feel grateful that my company had Summer Fridays: The workday ended at one o’clock in the afternoon on Fridays between Independence Day and Labor Day, so we got a head start on our beach weekend. There’s no beach town quite like Cape May.
Here’s a look into all the things you can do in Cape May.
- Enjoy the beach (duh)
There’s nothing like the soothing sound of waves crashing and seeing the open, clear ocean. I am once again surprised and grateful that such a stunning place is in a state considered part of the New York metro area. In particular, Poverty Beach made such a memorable impression: It’s calm and not too populated! There were very few people when we visited, so this beach is an attestation to the phrase “hidden gem.”
There’s an entrance fee and the name Poverty Beach refers to how this area was the beach people from the lower class would visit.
2. Shop at Washington Street Mall
A blog post about Cape May attractions wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the iconic Washington Street Mall! This is an open-air mall filled with gift shops, restaurants, coffee shops, and dessert parlors. The walkway is closed to cars, bicyclists, and skateboarders.
Whether you’re looking for a souvenir, a blouse, your next meal, a smoothie, or ice cream, it’s no doubt that you’ll find what you’re looking for at Washington Street Mall. The shops just don’t seem to end and the mall seems to stretch on for miles. There’s an abundance of ocean-themed jewelry, decor, and clothing.
I do have my favorites! Winterwood Gift & Christmas Gallery has amazing ornaments, Swede Things is a Scandinavian store that sells those adorable and loveable tomte gnomes, A Place on Earth sells soap and body scrubs, Cape Atlantic Book Company has a nice collection of books and journals, and Coffee Tyme has the best iced vanilla latte.
3. Have a tasty meal
Did you know that Cape May is called the Culinary Capital of New Jersey? Cape May doesn’t disappoint foodies, as the only problem you’ll run into is deciding which restaurant to go to because there are just so many.
The pasta pappardelle at The Pier House and the lobster mac n cheese at Washington Street Mall’s Cape May Fish Market (This restaurant prides itself on its less-ostentatious nautical decor, as the focus is on its tasty food, not the interior design) are both delicious. Harpoons on the Bay in North Cape May has a wonderful seafood menu. This restaurant is located right across Delaware Bay, so catching the sunset at dinnertime was special. People who have visited Cape Cod told me the Delaware Bay location reminds them of the Cape and Massachusetts.
4. Go on a trolley tour
This is definitely a worthwhile activity! There are a wide variety of trolley tours that can appeal to anyone in your travel party. Climb aboard the red trolley and let the guides tell you fun facts about the surrounding beautiful area. You can buy tickets in-person on Ocean Street-right where Washington Street Mall begins- and the trolley departs at the same exact same spot. The trolley moves at a lesisurely place, so there are plenty of opportunities to take photos!
For first-timers, I recommend the Historic District Trolley Tour because it’s a great introduction to Cape May. I took it in 2019 and loved it! There’s also the 2-hour Combination Trolley/Physick Estate Tour.
For a more specialized experience, try the Spirits and Oddities Trolley Tour, Mansions By The Sea Trolley Tour, and Historic Haunts Combination Tour.
The belief that there’s nothing to do in a seaside resort city during the Christmas season is total bogus: In addition to a myriad of Christmas events, there’s the Holiday Lights Trolley Tour, Santa’s Trolley Rides, and Ghosts of Christmas Past Trolley Tours.
5. See the sunset at Sunset Beach
Sunset Beach in Lower Township’s West Cape May has one of the most spectacular sunsets you’ll ever see in the United States. You can also search for Cape May diamonds on this beach: There are quartz crystals that wash up on the sand from the ocean!
There are also two gift shops in the area. One has a FANTASTIC selection of minerals and crystals- Seriously, it felt like walking through a small natural history museum. I got calcite from Mexico!
6. Visit the Cape May Lighthouse
Cape May Lighthouse is located in Lower Township’s Cape May Point State Park. It was constructed in 1859 and is fully operational! The park itself is very scenic, make sure to take a walk around!
7. Treat yourself to sundaes
I’m not saying the s’mores sundae I had from Fleck’s Ice Cream in Villas was the best treat I ever had, but I kinda am!
8. Go inside the Emlen Physick Estate
This unforgettable estate proves that Cape May’s rich Victorian heritage is definitely a factor that attracts tourists. It’s hard not to think that this Victorian building is beautiful.
This estate was the home of prominent surgeon Dr. Emlen Physick (That lucky duck, he got to live in Cape May). He came to New Jersey in 1876 when he was 20 years old and lived in this eighteen-room home. I loved the fact that he was president of the Cape May Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals! The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities saved the Physick Estate from bulldozers, and now we get to enjoy this beautiful property.
The tour is short and sweet and under one hour. The interior is awesome, and because the tour is not long at all, you can squeeze in other sightseeing into your day.
9. Visit Congress Hall
The Mercedes and Range Rovers in the driveway make it apparent that Congress Hall is a four-star, luxurious hotel. The location couldn’t be more perfect: Washington Street Mall and the beach are all within walking distance. Fun fact: Congress Hall was home to the area’s first cocktail bar after Prohibition!
You’re allowed to go inside and take a look at the lounge. I also went on the Grand Lawn and sat on the rocking chairs, despite two ladies looking at me suspiciously.
Anne Hathaway and Oprah Winfrey stayed here. Maybe I’ll stay here in the future?
I may have visited Cape May twice, but this place lures you in and I have a feeling I’ll be back here soon. Armpit of America, who? The third time’s the charm! xx