At the southern tip of New Jersey is Cape May, a Victorian community offering white-sand beaches, horse-drawn carriage rides, gracious inns, and dining so diverse that the New York Times has called it one of the culinary capitals of the East Coast. It also was named one of the world’s top ten beach destinations by TripAdvisor.
As at any beach resort, when summer heat swells, so does the traffic. To avoid some of the cars, opt for the scenic Cape May–Lewes Ferry route across the Delaware Bay.
WHERE TO STAY:
Congress Hall 251 Beach Ave.; 888-944-1816 A favorite of many a former President and once called Benjamin Harrison’s summer White House, Congress Hall helped put Cape May on the map in the 19th century. Guests can have meals delivered to their beach chairs from the hotel’s Blue Pig Tavern. Weekend rates start at $254, with a three-night minimum.
Southern Mansion 720 Washington St.; 800-381-3888 At the Southern Mansion , a bed-and-breakfast with an antebellum air, guests enjoy extra-large rooms and gourmet breakfasts. Weekend rates start at $240.
Beach Shack 205 Beach Ave.; 877-742-2507 For a vacation with a West Coast vibe, the Beach Shack offers efficiency rooms that come with a refrigerator and a microwave or larger suites with private decks. After a day spent soaking up rays, head to the hotel’s Rusty Nail for a local favorite: No Shower Happy Hour. Rooms start at $200.
BEST STRETCH OF BEACH:
At the southern end of Cape May’s promenade is the Cove, a span of sand that attracts surfers, kayakers, and those seeking more quiet than at the town’s main beach. Dolphins are often spotted just beyond the breakers, and it’s a good spot to watch the sun set over the Delaware Bay.
Mad Batter 19 Jackson St.; 609-884-5970 The Mad Batter at the Carroll Villa hotel serves an award-winning brunch that includes Chesapeake Bay Benedict and oatmeal pancakes. Be prepared to wait for a table. 410 Bank Street 410 Bank St.; 609-884-2127 Chef Henry Sing Cheng has turned an 1800s carriage house into a Caribbean oasis at 410 Bank Street. A constant on New Jersey Monthly’s best-restaurants list, it has also won in the Caribbean, French, seafood, and steak categories. Guests eat under the spinning fans of the dining room and porch or amid the garden’s hanging vines.
Lobster House 906 Schellengers Landing Rd.; 609-884-8296 Cape May’s legendary Lobster House offers a family-friendly, checkered-tablecloth atmosphere where diners enjoy very fresh seafood. For the ultimate in waterfront relaxation, have a cocktail aboard the schooner American, a sailing vessel docked alongside the restaurant.
WITH THE KIDS:
Cape May County Park & Zoo 707 N. Rt. 9, Cape May Court House; 609-465-5271 The Cape May County Park & Zoo (, north of town, is for the young and the young at heart. The 85-acre zoo houses 250 species of exotic animals—including snow leopards, wallabies, and black swans. Admission is free.
BEST SHOPPING: Washington Street Mall Between Ocean and Perry streets Washington Street Mall is a three-block pedestrian promenade with candy stores, jewelry boutiques, joke shops, art galleries, and more. Enjoy a Kohr Bros. frozen-custard cone while strolling along the brick walkway.
RAINY-DAY DIVERSION: Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum 500 Forrestal Rd., Cape May Airport; 609-886-8787 Consider a 15-minute ride north to the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum , where a historic hangar, dedicated to Navy airmen who died during World War II, displays more than 25 military aircraft. Kids will enjoy the interactive exhibits provided by the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia.
GO FOR A CARRIAGE TOUR OR BOAT RIDE:
Cape May Carriage Company Ocean St. and Washington Street Mall; 609-884-4466 Beverly Carr and her fleet of 15-plus horses have been providing carriage tours for more than two decades. Cape May Carriage Company offers daily tours in the summer. Tickets start at $40 for two.
Cape May Charters 1218 Wilson Dr.; 609-602-9048 Take to the sea aboard Cape May Charters . Among the many outings are whale and dolphin watching, party-boat fishing, and fireworks cruises. Private charters are also available.
This article appears in the June 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.