In Cape May, Fun Lingers Long After Summer

The resort town boasts off-season perks aplenty.

Photo by Lynn Martenstein

Don’t be fooled by the stoplights in Cape May in fall. Many of them just blink on and off. The town, however, is definitely on.

Fall is Cape May’s fastest-growing tourist season, second only to summer, according to Cape May County’s Tourism Department. “More than 47 percent of visitors return in fall to experience non-beach activities, such as birding,” says tourism director Diane Wieland.

They have plenty of reasons to visit. The shops and restaurants are open; fall events—from quaint to quirky—are plentiful; and the hotels and B&Bs are budget friendlier. An oceanfront room at La Mer, for example, is $184 in October versus $434 in July—a 58 percent price cut.

The city’s ode to fall starts with Oktoberfest on September 28. Historic Jackson Street shuts down for the all-day block party, reopening as a German market with appropriate food, crafts and oompah music. A popular attraction is the pop-up beer garden at the Virginia Hotel’s Brown Cottage.

The fall fanfare continues with the 47th annual Victorian Weekend, October 10–14. Sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities (MAC), the event reprises the town’s past with house tours, trolley rides and spicier fare, like a Victorian Vices program at Nauti Spirits distillery.

Harvests loom large in Cape May’s fall festivities. One of the town’s oldest celebrations is the 34th annual West Cape May Lima Bean Festival, October 12 at Wilbraham Park. Lima beans were a top crop in South Jersey for many years, earning the area bragging rights as the lima bean capital of the world. Today, West Cape May honors the legume with bean-inspired food, apparel and handicrafts.

Birding continues to soar in popularity as a tourist attraction in Cape May County, recognized as one of the top birding hotspots in the country. The fall migration of birds and butterflies through the island is an air show not to be missed. Your best perch is at New Jersey Audubon’s Fall Festival, October 17–20. Or you could choose the Nature Center’s Monarch Migration Festival, October 13.

For spookier fun, try Scarecrow Alley at the Emlen Physick Estate, October 12–November 4. The display of straw-and-scrap characters, created by area students, scout troops and community groups, always draws a crowd, and inspires plenty of selfies.

The spirit world intrigued Victorian-era folks in Cape May. Today, it inspires an annual Halloween Parade, October 20 on Washington Street. It’s a must-see spectacle of mummers, marchers and twirlers strutting their stuff down one of the prettiest streets in town.

The Exit Zero Jazz Festival hits another high note later in the season. Top jazz artists and emerging talent will perform at Cape May’s stages, clubs and restaurants, November 7-10. This year’s lineup includes David Sanborn, the Bad Plus, Ona Onabulé, John “Papa” Gros, a Manhattan Transfer/Take 6 collaboration and a centennial celebration of jazz giant Art Blakey.

Looking for more family fare? Beach Plum Farm, a 62-acre farm in West Cape May, offers Fall at the Farm every Saturday in October and November. Visitors can enjoy hayrides, pumpkin picking, live music and farm-grown picnic fixings.

The farm also hosts October and November dinners under the stars on Saturdays, featuring guest chefs from sister properties such as Congress Hall and the Virginia Hotel. You can extend your stay by booking one of the farm’s five new residences—two cottages and three barns—to explore your inner farmer.

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