Cape May prides itself in being “America’s Original Seaside Resort,” and if you’ve seen photos of this dreamy town, you’ll know why. Perched along the coast of the Delaware Bay, this little New Jersey gem shines bright.
Although the town itself is cozy, don’t let that fool you! There is plenty to do in the Cape May area for everyone. No matter what kind of traveler you are, there are excursions for everyone — from beach dwellers to history buffs.
After all, Cape May is Jersey’s Best’s 2022 Destination of the Year! Their description of the town makes it even dreamier: “It is calm, elegant, casually confident in its grandeur — like the cousin who slips into the room unannounced but draws all eyes and attention nonetheless.”
Here are 21 things to do in Cape May that will make you fall in love with this seaside town too.
COOLEST PLACES TO STAY IN CAPE MAY
B&B Beachfront. Angel of the Sea Bed and Breakfast is less than a block from the beach. Check the photos for this property’s ocean view wraparound porch and gingerbread detailing. This romantic spot is great for couples.
Best Family Beachfront. The Heritage Inn is another great beachfront location and fabulous for families with it’s seasonal outdoor pool. Terraces on east-facing rooms feature great views of the sea.
Best Luxury Option. La Mer Beachfront Resort offers exquisite beachfront drinking and dining all in one spot. Located right on the beach, you can enjoy the amenities you’d expected from a world-class resort like a heated pool and beach equipment, while exploring the nearby nature and history that Cape May has to offer.
WASHINGTON STREET MALL
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Prized as “one of South Jersey’s most popular destinations,” this outdoor pedestrian mall has been a staple in Cape May for over 50 years. Washington Street Mall is home to over 75 places to eat, drink, shop, and adventure to your heart’s content.
Grab an ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s, enjoy sweet and savory crepes at Crepe May, get the best lobster rolls from Quincy’s Original Lobster Rolls, and visit a classic soda fountain at Margie D’s.
You’ll find plenty of great shops here — from fashion and accessories, to home goods, to specialty shops. Washington Street Mall is also home to the Museum of Fine Arts and Popular Culture, and Art Block — an arts and crafts studio your kids will love.
THE PAINTED LADIES
If there were ever a place to indulge your “Downton Abbey” or “Gilded Age” fantasies, it’s in Cape May, where you can tour the divine, brightly colored homes and even play era-appropriate games.
Every October folks are invited to not just admire the “painted ladies” houses from afar, but really get to know the historic properties via one of the house tours. So don’t forget your petticoats!
Cape May is home to hundreds of homes built in the Victorian era and the town’s historic district is even designated as a National Historic Landmark. Cape May MAC (Museums+Arts+Culture) preserves the town’s centuries-old legacy through guided tours and restoration of some of Cape May’s oldest properties.
The town’s Victorian flair is one of the things that makes it stand out. Once you catch a glimpse of stunning homes, you can’t help but wonder why we don’t build houses like that anymore.
Just ten minutes from the bustle of the town rests one of Cape May’s most popular spots for watching the sun go down. Rightfully named, Sunset Beach is the perfect place to end an exciting or relaxing day.
One unique feature of the beach is that it is where you can find “Cape May Diamonds.” They aren’t actually diamonds, but they are ocean kissed quartz crystals. Finding them can be a fun activity for kiddos or kids at heart.
Who doesn’t love bringing home something shiny?
EMLEN PHYSICK ESTATE
Cape May is famous for its Victorian homes, yet there is only one that can be viewed throughout the year. The Emlen Physick Estate is the town’s only operating house museum. Cape May’s MAC has been restoring the 1879 home for over 50 years.
Guided tours take visitors through the home built by renowned architect Frank Furness. The home is considered “one of the best examples of Victorian Stick Style architecture in the country,” and captures a glimpse into the life of a family of the time period.
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CAPE MAY POINT STATE PARK
Hey bird watchers, this one’s for you! Cape May Point State Park is one of the most popular bird-watching sites in North America, in part because it is a part of the path for certain migratory birds. In fact, the park calls their autumnal bird migration “world-renowned.”
Even if birds aren’t your thing, the park is nearly 250 acres of nature to see. There are even spots to find more Cape May Diamonds if Sunset Beach didn’t catch your eye.
Located within the Cape May Point State Park is the majestic 1859 Cape May Lighthouse. If you can muster the 199 cast iron stairs, you can see both the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean in a stunning view from the top.
The lighthouse has been open to the public, thanks to the MAC, since 1988 and they say more than 2.5 million visitors have climbed its nearly 200 stairs since then. This lifesaving historic landmark is in both the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
While you’re walking the beach you might see a strange concrete structure lurking. According to Atlas Obscura, this WWII bunker wasn’t supposed to be a permanent structure on the beach at Cape May Point. They go on to explain that when the bunker was built in 1942, it was on the higher ground several hundred feet away from the ocean. Now that water is constantly pressing underneath the building it could someday end up in the ocean.
Battery 223, settled into the sand, looks out of place on the gorgeous beach. Even so, it’s a fascinating time capsule.
WWII LOOKOUT TOWER
During WWII, the American military took preemptive action against potential German attacks on American soil. Part of that plan was building a series of lookout towers as part of the Harbor Defense of the Delaware [Bay]. Also known as Fort Miles, these towers were erected in New Jersey and Delaware so soldiers could warn of incoming enemies.
Now only the Cape May Lookout Tower remains. The MAC has restored the tower so visitors can climb the stairs inside to a gallery with changing exhibits. There is also a photo display with over 160 veteran photographs.
CAPE MAY WHALE WATCH & RESEARCH CENTER
Since 1987, Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center has been offering eco-friendly marine life cruises. The variety of cruise options gives visitors a chance to see whales, dolphins, a variety of birds, and even the occasional turtle, stingray, shark, and more!
There are three types of cruises with varying prices, inclusions, and durations. The cruises are a great excuse to relax or learn a little while keeping an eye out for splashes. Splashes means there are critters around!
In October and November, the Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center offers 12-hour adventures far beyond the shore. These trips take you 40-60 miles into the Atlantic, (don’t worry, the ship has a heated cabin), to find even more marine life.
While they can’t guarantee you’ll see everything, you might have the chance to see wildlife you haven’t seen before.
Ever heard of a Kittiwake? A Phalarope? No? Take a ride with these marine and pelagic bird specialists and change that!
NEW JERSEY AUDUBON’S NATURE CENTER OF CAPE MAY
Founded in 1992, The Nature Center of Cape May has been instilling a love and respect for nature for decades. They say their primary focus is on “hands-on” activities as a means of educating the public on the environment.
Located on Cape May Harbor, they offer natural history programs year-round. In warmer months visitors can spend time in their three-story observation tower to enjoy the beauty of nature, take part in numerous special events, and indulge a love of nature throughout the center.
BEACH PLUM FARM
Two miles outside of the heart of downtown Cape May is Beach Plum Farm, a working farm with public access. They produce 100 different kinds of fruits and veggies, while also raising Berkshire hogs and keeping chickens. Can you say “farm fresh eggs?”
Beach Plum is owned by Curtis Bashaw and Will Riccio, whose meat and produce go from farm to table at nearby establishments including Louisa’s Cafe, the Rusty Nail, and The Ebbitt Room.
If you’re so inclined, you can even stay in one of the farm’s cottages! They sleep six to eight in the peaceful bliss of the country.
HISTORIC COLD SPRING VILLAGE
Nestled between Routes 9 and 626 is a series of carefully curated 18th and 19th-century buildings. These fixtures makeup Historic Cold Spring Village, a living museum where visitors can practically time travel back to the 1800s.
The museum says visitors stay for an average of three to four hours, although others come back for two days in the space. Guests can experience what life would have been like for rural New Jerseyans 200 years ago in the village, while popping into various shops inhabited by staff recreating a working day.
WEST CAPE MAY
The borough of West Cape May has a rich history, and several buildings here date to the Colonial period. Built in 1715, the Whilldin-Miller House can be found here, and it’s one of the oldest houses on Cape Island. The core of this borough is on the National Register of Historic Places.
There’s also a rich agricultural history here — and the summer farmers’ market cannot be missed! With great restaurants, shops and more, it’s a great area to visit.
In addition, South Cape May Meadows is located here, and is a popular place for birding. It’s a safe haven for migratory birds, butterflies and dragonflies, because the area is located on one of the world’s top migratory paths. You’ll also find hiking trails that provide plenty of opportunities for viewing wildlife, including an undeveloped protected beach.
UNDERGROUND RAILROAD TROLLEY TOUR
Of the many kinds of trolley tours offered by the MAC, their Underground Railroad Tour is a special one. Cape May was a part of the intricate system of getting slaves out of the dredges of enslavement, and the trolley tour shows the town’s abolitionist history.
Harriet Tubman herself walked the streets of Cape May, as did railroad businessman Stephen Smith, whose train cars transported hundreds of slaves to freedom, according to the MAC. This tour extends from Cape May to West Cape May and makes a stop at Mt. Zion Cemetery.
CAPE MAY COUNTY PARK & ZOO
This *free* zoo is open every day of the year, except for Christmas. From lions to monkeys, red pandas to zebras, Cape May County Park & Zoo has a little bit of everything.
They even have a variety of animal encounters you can register for. Those encounters include a capybara one, where you get to feed them.
If you’ve seen Disney’s “Encanto” — or you just love capys anyway — you know why we’re excited.
HARRIET TUBMAN MUSEUM
Not to be confused with the Harriet Tubman Museum in Maryland, the Cape May Harriet Tubman Museum showcases the time in the 1850s when Tubman called the town home. The museum calls itself “a tribute to the rich history of abolitionist activism on this block,” because several abolitionist leaders summered in Cape May.
This museum not only dedicates space for Tubman’s legacy, but it also highlights how pivotal the town of Cape May was in the Underground Railroad journey.
Until 1999, Higbee Beach was a nude beach. It’s technically considered part of the Jersey Shore, though you probably won’t encounter anyone that fits the MTV shore persona.
NJ Monthly describes the beach’s waves as more of a gentle “sway” against the sand, so this beach is more strip than a bar. (Nudist pun intended.) This beach isn’t very wide, although it spans 1.5 miles down the coast of Delaware Bay.
Higbee Beach is also a destination for birders because of the migratory patterns in the spring and fall. Expect to see, “yellow warblers, orchard orioles, white-eyed vireos, and hawks,” according to NJ Monthly.
SALT MARSH SAFARI
Experience the biodiversity of Cape May County’s salt marsh aboard The Skimmer. These eco-friendly tours will demonstrate the variety of animals that call the salt marsh home.
The cruise provider says the marsh hosts over 400 bird species, 300 fish species and so many other invertebrates. They also have a highly experienced expert crew that can tell you all about not just the creatures, but why their ecosystems are so important to protect.
JERSEY SHORE ALPACAS
A stone’s throw away from Cape May is a town called Green Creek. And in Green Creek is a little farm with a herd of alpacas.
That’s right, alpacas. The adorable, fleecy critters are the perfect combination of cute and sassy. At Jersey Shore Alpacas you can see them, meet them and even feed their 18 ‘paca crew.
Then you can buy every stuffed alpaca in their gift shop so you don’t end up with a live one like Phil did on “Modern Famly.”
NAVAL AIR STATION WILDWOOD AVIATION MUSEUM
Inside a WWII hangar resides the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum. There are over 25 planes, helicopters, and jets in the museum, interactive exhibits, and opportunities to get inside some of the aircraft.
Rare artifacts can also be found in several hand-crafted exhibits. You’ll get a glimpse of life during WWII in the 1940s room, and you can even climb inside a real air traffic control tower.
This is a great museum the whole family will enjoy. It’s open on weekdays only.
WILLOW CREEK WINERY
Name-dropped in Expedia’s “The Best Thing To Do in Every State” in 2017, the award-winning Willow Creek Winery is a unique place. They say that their “microclimate” is like that of Bordeaux in France, which gives their grapes that special je ne sais quoi.
Take a tour of their grounds, enjoy a glass (or three) of their housemade wines and/or stop for a bite at their farm-to-table restaurant. And bring cash–they’ll give you a discount.
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MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO NEW JERSEY
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