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Day Trip: Cape May

With its restored Victorian homes, historical tours, renowned restaurants, unique shops, and beautiful beaches, Cape May is a destination that beckons for more than just one day.

Posted June 19, 2009 by Emily Faherty

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Cape May Victorian Houses
See the Victorian houses that line the historic streets of Cape May.
Photo courtesy SK Communications LLC.

Cape May Beach
Enjoy the sun and sand at Cape May's beautiful beaches.
Photo courtesy SK Communications LLC.

Congress Hall in Cape May
The oceanfront Congress Hall is Cape May's oldest hotel and one of its most well-known landmarks.
Photo by Mark Henninger.

Cape May Lighthouse and Beach at Sunset
Cape May Lighthouse and beach at sunset.
Photo courtesy SK Communications LLC.

Celebrating its 400th anniversary this month, the seaside town easily provides an entire day of old-fashioned fun, but there are plenty of places to lay your head at night the “bed and breakfast capital of the world” should you extend this day trip into a weekend getaway.

Get Acquainted: Stop at the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts (MAC), the non-profit organization responsible for most of Cape May’s year-round guided tours, events, and entertainment. Take a charming trolley tour through town, visit the historic 1879 Emlen Physick Estate, or plan your visit around the popular Spring Festival in April and May or Victorian Week in October (1048 Washington Street; 609-884-5404; capemaymac.org).

Sidewalk Sales: The Washington Street Mall is the strip to hit for those special souvenirs. Browse the lane of diverse shops including Whale’s Tale, featuring unique home goods, jewelry, and children’s gifts. It was also NJM’s pick for best gift shop in South Jersey this year.  (312 Washington Street Mall; 609-884-4808, whalestalecapemay.com).

Around the corner stands a pink Victorian that is home to the chic boutique Victorious. You’re sure to find something remarkable at this shop of stylish designer clothes, vintage and modern jewelry, and one-of-a-kind accessories (Congress Hall Shops and 315 Ocean Street; 609-898-1777; victoriousantiques.com). Find out if Cape May “diamonds” are forever at the Sunset Beach Gift Shop in Cape May Point, which sells these special gems cut from quartz pebbles that wash ashore. For more on this Cape May treasure, click here. (Sunset Boulevard; 609-884-7079; sunsetbeachnj.com). And don’t miss Exit Zero, which carries clothing, bags, and towels featuring the signature “Exit Zero” logo, as well as a collection of original prints and paintings to remember your trip to the end of the Garden State Parkway (Perry Street at Congress Hall; 609-884-1125; exitzero.us).

Good Eats: Hailed as the restaurant capital of New Jersey, Cape May boasts many delectable options for everything from fine dining to beachfront grub. The Washington Inn (801 Washington Street; 609-884-5697), Union Park (Beach Avenue at Howard Street; 609-884-8811; unionparkdiningroom.com), and the Ebbitt Room at the Virginia Hotel (25 Jackson Street; 609-884-5700; virginiahotel.com) are just a few of the award-winning upscale establishments in town. For more casual fare, or after a day of surf and sand, head to Cabanas Beach Bar & Grill to grab a quick bite (try the awesome hot crab and artichoke dip) with a cold beer or refreshing margarita (429 Beach Avenue at Decatur Street; 609-884-4800; cabanasonthebeach.com). For breakfast, try the Greek eatery George’s Place (Beach and Perry streets; 609-884-6088) or join the crowd at the popular Mad Batter, famous for its eclectic brunch menu and award-winning jumbo lump crab cakes (19 Jackson Street; 609-884-5970; madbatter.com).

All the World’s a Stage: The Cape May Stage is a small theater company with performances Wednesday through Sunday at 8 pm in the newly restored Robert Shackleton Playhouse. Heads up: the theater teams up with nine gourmet restaurants for special dinner-and-a-show packages, so you can have a real night out on the town (Bank and Lafayette streets; 609-884-1341; capemaystage.com).

Raise a Glass: At the Cape May Winery and Vineyard take a tour with winemaker Darren Hessington to learn the entire process from vine to bottle to glass, while sampling many varieties in the barrel cave (711 Townbank Road; 609-884-1169; capemaywinery.com).

The Big House: Wondering what that large yellow building on Beach Avenue with a huge open lawn overlooking the ocean is? That would be Congress Hall, nicknamed “Tommy’s Folly,” and Cape May’s first hotel and very recognizable landmark. Completely renovated to its former glory of almost two centuries past, it is now a popular wedding venue, and home to the Blue Pig Tavern (609-884-8422) and the popular basement nightclub, the Boiler Room, which features live jazz, reggae, and blues  (29 Perry Street; 609-884-8421; congresshall.com).

Fun in the Sun: Grab the SPF and catch some rays at Cape May beaches, but don’t forget to get your beach badges first. This year’s Beach Chart says daily badges are $5, while three-day badges will run you $10 (children under 12 are free). Or take a cruise along the shore to climb the Cape May Lighthouse. Re-built in 1859, the lighthouse is one of the oldest operating in the country and continues to be maintained and restored by MAC.

Animal Planet: Animal lovers will find plenty to keep them busy in Cape May. Climb aboard the Around Cape Island Boat Tour for a whale- and dolphin-watching adventure sponsored by MAC. On land, take a trip to the Cape May County Park and Zoo to see the lions, tigers, and bears as well the reptile and amphibian house and the world of birds (707 Route 9 North; 609-465-5271; capemaycountygov.net). For more feathered friends, visit the Cape May Bird Observatory for special programs and field trips in the diverse birding area (701 East Lake Drive; 609-884-6052; birdcapemay.org).

Time Warp: About three miles north of Cape May lies the Historic Cold Spring Village, a 22-acre non-profit educational living history museum that allows visitors to experience life at the turn of the nineteenth century. Interpreters in period clothes present interactive events, crafts, entertainment, and more (720 Route 9 South; 609-898-2300; hcsv.org).

Be Our Guest: For those who plan a weekend (or longer), Cape May accommodations are endless. For the classic bed and breakfast experience, make reservations with the Craig House Bed and Breakfast (609 Columbia Avenue; 609-884-0100; craighousebnb.com) or the Queen Victoria (102 Ocean Street; 609-8702; queenvictoria.com). For a taste of history, stay with the town’s oldest hotel, the Chalfonte Hotel (301 Howard Street; 609-884-8409; chalfonte.com), the well-known (and allegedly haunted) Hotel Macomber (727 Beach Avenue; 609-884-3020; hotelmacomber.com), or the majestic Southern Mansion (720 Washington Street; 609-884-7171; southernmansion.net). Other beachfront options include the La Mer Beachfront Inn  (1317 Beach Avenue; 609-884-9000; capemaylamer.com) and the Inn of Cape May (7 Ocean Street; 609-884-5555; innofcapemay.com).

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