How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Cape May on the Jersey Shore — Beautiful Beaches, Historic Victorian Homes, and Sophisticated Inns Included

The seaside resort of Cape May in New Jersey has year-round appeal for families, couples, and groups of friends.

Victorian homes on beach in Cape May, New Jersey

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Cape May represents the best of the Jersey Shore. In contrast to the rowdy antics depicted on the now infamous mid-aughts TV show, this resort town delivers a far more wholesome, laid-back version of seaside fun with sandy beaches, first-rate attractions, and historic landmarks like the famous lighthouse.

As one of the oldest vacation destinations in the country, it has heritage in spades — the enchanting Victorian houses and colonnade facade of Congress Hall are prime examples — but that doesn’t preclude new businesses from popping up and injecting fresh energy into the long-standing landscape of shops, restaurants, and hotels. It’s this inimitable mix of nostalgia and novelty, plus ample year-round activities, that continues to appeal to families, couples, and groups of friends and makes Cape May so much more than just a summer spot. 

Best Time to Visit Cape May 

Lifeboat on beach in Cape May, New Jersey

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Cape May reaches its tourism high point in July and August. But unlike so many Jersey Shore towns, things don’t shut down after summer ends. The changing leaves and fewer crowds keep people planning getaways well into the fall. Victorian houses strung up with twinkling lights, cozy inns, and festive events like the Christmas tree lighting and outdoor shopping village at Congress Hall have turned the holidays into a proper winter wonderland. The quieter spring is a fantastic time to explore with nice weather and sans peak-season tourists. 

Best Things to Do in Cape May

Beach, Cape May Point Lighthouse, New Jersey

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For most summer tourists, the beautiful beaches steal the show. (Lifeguards are on duty at the beach July 1st through Labor Day.) Of course, Cape May offers way more than soft sand, waves, and well-looked-after facilities. The promenade, which runs parallel to Beach Avenue for nearly two miles, is a scenic path for jogging, walking, and strolling with the kids. Just don’t be surprised when the little ones ask to stop at one of the sweet shops along the way.

For shopping, head to the Washington Street Mall, a pedestrianized brick artery with boutiques and eateries that covers three blocks. Built in 1859 and still in use today, the Cape May Lighthouse ranks at the top of the list of must-see historic attractions. Visitors can climb the stairs for spectacular views out to Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The surrounding nature trails in Cape May Point State Park are worth exploring, too.

Even more heritage sits on display at the Emlen Physick Estate, an 18-room Victorian mansion-turned-museum. Meanwhile, fans of aquatic adventure will enjoy dolphin-watching cruises, fishing charters, and paddleboarding excursions.

Best Places to Stay in Cape May 

Swimming pool at Congress Hall, Cape May, New Jersey

Courtesy of Cape Resorts 

Welcoming guests since 1816 and steeped in coastal grandeur, Congress Hall is a stately beachfront icon that distinguishes itself with gracious hospitality, timeless style, and plenty of modern touches. The hydrangea-framed pool, manicured grand lawn with a towering flag pole, and rocking-chair-studded veranda evoke Herbert Pullinger paintings. Interiors reflect the same deference to the past, done in a way that’s equally well maintained.

There are also a handful of sophisticated inns set inside the old Victorian houses around town. If you’re planning a romantic getaway, consider booking the luxurious B&B-style Casablanca. A welcome newcomer to the accommodation scene, Lokal Hotel bills itself as a micro beach resort. That basically means guests get to enjoy amenities like a heated saltwater pool and chic apartment-style rooms. Modern-minded travelers also love the Boarding House.

Best Places to Eat and Drink in Cape May 

Crab Cake at Blue Pig Tavern, Cape May, New Jersey

Courtesy of Cape Resorts 

The Blue Pig Tavern at Congress Hall is a celebration of seasonality with many ingredients sourced directly from Beach Plum Farm in West Cape May. You can also dine right at Beach Plum Farm, which grows more than 100 kinds of fruits and vegetables, as well as raises chickens and pigs. Run out of the Amish barn on the 62-acre working farm, the walk-in-only Farm Kitchen cooks up deliciously homey dishes for breakfast and lunch.

A BYOB restaurant with a notably warm atmosphere, Iccara Italian Bistro serves seafood specialties like cioppino and homemade pasta to the delight of patrons who leave with doggie bags to savor every last bite. Family-owned and operated since 1978, the Washington Inn is a longtime favorite for elevated New American fare that’s elegant, but not overly fussy. It’s also great for happy hour. Grab a seat at the bar and order the two-for-one oysters and a cocktail (ask the bartender for whatever seasonal libation with local Alibi gin she’s mixing up).

Peter Shields Inn & Restaurant earns consistent praise for its gourmet fare, stellar service, and romantic beachfront setting. Diners rave about the crab cakes and special occasion-worthy ambience at Union Park Dining Room

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