24 Hours in Cape May: It’s Worth the Trip Every Time

Cape May is the final exit on the Garden State Parkway, but a visit should be first on your list.

Exit Zero at Ferry Park in Cape May
Exit Zero at Ferry Park is the ideal place to sip a cocktail waterside and watch the Cape May-Lewes Ferry roll in. Photo: Jessica Orlowicz

24 Hours in Asbury Park: A Guide to the Jersey Shore’s Coolest Town
24 Hours in Bradley Beach: A Hidden Gem at the Jersey Shore
24 Hours in Long Beach Island: Favorite Spots From a Sacred Family Tradition

The first time I, a native Jerseyan, went to Cape May, I was an adult. Growing up, my father never drove past Sandy Hook for beach time. (From Essex County, the one-hour-plus drive to Gunnison Beach with three kids in the car was enough for him.) On my first visit to the town at the farthest reaches of our state, I understood my dad’s reluctance to add that extra hour to our trip, but upon arrival at exit 0, I also understood there was a payoff for making this trek, and it’s made Cape May my go-to beach town ever since.

Last summer, my boyfriend and I headed out for a day (and overnight stay) at some of our favorite haunts. We like to arrive midday; by then, the sun is starting to wane a bit, and the suntanning crowd is thinning, leaving the lovely, 2.5-mile stretch of sand on Beach Avenue a tad less populated. Even if we don’t take a dip in the ocean, we grab a parking spot at one of the metered spaces on Beach Avenue to enjoy the waves first thing. On lucky afternoons, we catch dolphins dipping and diving their way along the coast.

Cape May’s convention hall

Cape May’s convention hall hosts events from weddings to the Exit Zero Jazz Festival. Photo: Jessica Orlowicz

After a vitamin D fill up, we grab lunch at the newish Mexican spot Taco Caballito Tequileria (429 Beach Avenue). Opened in 2022, this roomy, bi-level eatery, with its urban-chic interior, is bustling. The menu of elevated Mexican fare includes inventive tacos, burritos, Mexican street corn and weekly specials, plus a long list of tequilas and mezcals at the full bar.

After lunch, we stroll over to the Washington Street mall, a pedestrian promenade befitting this quaint town. On our walk, we pass the yellow behemoth that is the iconic Congress Hall hotel—the oldest beach resort in the country, where vintage photos of early American dignitaries, including several presidents, line the walls of the entry corridor, and revamped, Colonial-style rooms with delightful, original Jefferson doors (think floor-to-ceiling windows) open to ocean-facing balconies.

Another block, and we are strolling the mall’s boutiques. We pop in Across the Way (313 Washington Street), a gift store brimming with novelties, jewelry, books and beachy wall art. Next, we hit Gallery D’May (401 Washington Street Mall) and chat up the proprietor about sculptor Paige Bradley’s newest works, like the striking, internally lit female figure in a lotus pose that I spied through the window. At the end of the mall, there’s a kiosk where visitors can purchase tickets for the themed trolley excursion from Cape May MAC, which offers a historic mansion-viewing tour, a ghost tour and an Underground Railroad tour, among others.

After that, we decide to speed up our sightseeing, so we visit Pedego Electric Bikes (110 Park Boulevard), where we try out the electric tandem bike, but opt for one of the golf carts they rent in partnership with Orange Moose Golf Carts as our afternoon wheels.

A tandem bike ride in Cape May, NJ

A tandem bike is a great way to see the town.

Now that we are motorized, we take a spin down Gurney Street, which has the largest group of Cape May’s Victorian painted ladies. Then, we head over to the Willow Creek Winery (168 Stevens Street) tasting room for a glass of their homemade sangria (plus a growler to go!) and a cheese plate. The year-round, 50-acre farm is the only winery on Cape May Island. The tasting room is open daily, and there’s a roster of other tasting events, such as Fire Pit Fridays, with live music.

Cape May’s famed Victorian painted ladies

Some of Cape May’s famed Victorian painted ladies Photo: Jessica Orlowicz

It’s check-in time, so we head back toward our hotel, passing by the Harriet Tubman Museum (632 Lafayette Street). The house-based museum was opened in 2021, and exhibits artifacts and information about Tubman’s activities in Cape May as she worked to help enslaved people escape the South. Along with photographs and papers chronicling her journeys, the museum also showcases other abolitionist activism in Cape May and the accomplishments of the city’s early Black community.

We make it back to La Mer (1317 Beach Avenue) after returning the golf cart and check in to a beachside suite, where we refresh from our day of fun. The room is spacious, tastefully decorated in soothing neutrals and complete with a sitting area and a balcony that offers an unobstructed view of the ocean.

A cabana at La Mer Beachfront Resort.

Catching rays and shade in a cabana at La Mer Beachfront Resort is a great way to spend time in Cape May. Photo: Jessica Orlowicz

We have worked up appetites for our dinner reservations at the Lookout (110 Sunset Boulevard) at Exit Zero Ferry Park in North Cape May. When we arrive at the Cape May ferry terminal, we are a bit early, so we stop for a waterside cocktail at the Dockside Bar. We slide into one of the high-top tables alongside the huge bar and choose a cocktail from the tempting list. The ferry comes in as we sip; the sun is starting to set, and there is a good breeze as we watch the huge ship pull in.

a burger from the Lookout at Exit Zero at Ferry Park

A burger from the Lookout at Exit Zero at Ferry Park Photo: Courtesy of the Lookout

Upstairs at the Lookout, the panoramic view of the Delaware Bay is captivating. The octaganal room means great views are on the menu—though not to be overshadowed by the actual dining experience, which is fresh, full of creativity and well prepared.

As our evening winds down and we head back toward the hotel, we are sad to see our sunny Shore day come to an end. But it’s Cape May, the weather is warm, and over the sound of the ocean in the distance, we hear strains of music and head that way. There are still tiki torches burning at the Rusty Nail (205 Beach Avenue), so we stop for a nightcap, settle into Adirondack chairs, and sink our toes in sand one last time.

No one knows New Jersey like we do. Sign up for one of our free newsletters here. Want a print magazine mailed to you? Purchase an issue from our online store.

Read more Jersey Shore, Shore & Travel articles.