If you live in NYC, there’s a good chance you’ve made the trek to Montauk, partied your butt off in Atlantic City or spent some QT up in the Catskills, so you might be struggling to find that next great weekend away in the tri-state. Often overlooked by local travelers, Cape May—located at the southern tip of New Jersey, less than three hours away—is the type of town that swells in the summer months but is truly special year-round. What we love most: It’ll remind you of those Southern seaside havens straight out of a romance novel, where colorful Victorian homes line manicured streets, the locals are small-town friendly and there’s lots of gorgeous natural beauty, too.
7 Things to Do in Cape May for a Dreamy Seaside Getaway (in Any Season)
1. Hit The Beach(es)
There’s lots of variety in the beaches that line the boardwalk in town, but some of our favorites are just a short drive away. Most notable is Sunset Beach, which as the name suggests, offers picturesque beach sunsets that’ll make you question whether or not you’re truly above the Mason-Dixon Line. Just north you’ll find Higbee Beach, another incredible option that’s secluded and dog-friendly. For a quiet option that’s right in town, head to Poverty Beach for soft, white sand and a vantage point that might even produce some dolphin sightings during the summer months. There are even a few whale and dolphin watching boats that offer up-close-and-personal encounters if you’re into that kind of thing.
2. Climb A 160-year-old Lighthouse (and See A Shipwreck)
Sunset Beach sits right on the edge of Cape May Point State Park, which boasts boardwalks that wind through lush wetlands filled with wildlife. (In the fall, it’s a great place to see migrating hawks.) The park’s most famous attraction is the historic Cape May Lighthouse, which dates back to 1859 and still operates today—climb the 199 steps to the top for a view that reaches all the way to Delaware on a clear day. Just off the coastline here, you can catch a glimpse of the remains of the S.S. Atlantus. The World War I–era ship was wrecked in 1926 after a storm pulled it off of a dock in Cape May.
3. Soak Up The Town’s History
If you want a break from salt water and sand, or you’re visiting in the fall, spring or even the winter months (Cape May has ah-mazing Christmas decorations and spirit), there are many historic tours to look into. One highlights the grounds and interior of the Emlen Physick Estate, a handsome, well-restored Stick style home that belonged to a prominent Cape May family and illustrates life in the 1800s.
4. Explore Downtown
Spend an afternoon at the Washington Street Mall—think charming outdoor promenade, not suburban retail complex—perusing shops filled with clothing, souvenirs, arts and crafts, artisanal foods and even fancy soaps. There’s also an outpost of Kohr Bros frozen custard, which, if you’ve never tried it—we cannot stress this enough—you’re missing out. You’re likely to see a carriage or trolley ride passing by, and you’d be smart to jump on one, as it can be a great way to get acquainted before you decide on a place to take a load off (there are plenty of breweries and distilleries for that). Pro tip: Spend some time exploring the charming streets centered around the intersection of Decatur Street and Columbia Avenue as a starting point, but the entire town can be covered on foot, too.
5. Visit An Alpaca Farm
Perhaps the area’s most unique activity: An alpaca farm about a 25-minute drive from town, where you can “meet and mingle” with the fleece-covered cuties. On Saturdays during open farm days, visitors can feed the animals as well—all free of charge.
6. Dine On The Water
You’ll find an abundance of two things here: fresh seafood and sweeping water views. For an upscale option, Peter Shield’s Inn should be your first choice (it’s also a romantic B&B if you’re looking to make a night of it). The restaurant includes five dining rooms and a porch that overlooks the Atlantic. You’ll also find seaside views at Iron Pier Craft House, along with local craft beers, a tapas-style menu that’s great for sharing, plus sushi and a raw bar. For breakfast, you’ll want to hit up Mad Batter, which has been serving patrons for over 40 years. Go for the syrup-drenched pancakes and the “Morgan Rostie” (three eggs, lump crabmeat, sun-dried tomatoes, crispy potatoes, herbs and Swiss). At dinner, you’ll find more seafood and even vegan crab cakes (made with hearts of palm and chickpeas), plus live music every night. Outside of town, Good Earth Organic Eatery is an ideal spot to grab lunch between a morning at the beach and an afternoon inland. The menu is packed with salads and vegan entrees, as well as local scallops and a catch of the day.
7. Stay At A Sleek New Hotel…or A Classic B&b
The Boarding House, one of Cape May’s newest hotels, looks like the beach house of our dreams: stripped wood furniture married with crisp white linens, comfy club chairs with leather ottomans (plus a few of the 11 rooms even sport a surfboard above the beds). Take advantage of the upstairs roof deck to catch some rays (or shade). For more of a classic Cape May B&B—and there are a lot of them—we love Casablanca. This boutique spot is nothing if not luxurious, with rooms boasting safari-like décor, large-leaved greenery, animal-print upholstery and dark wooden bed frames and furniture. There are ten rooms to choose from, including the Paradise Cottage, a two-floored suite complete with a kitchenette and gas fireplace.