Cape May is the aristocrat of beaches with the prices and lineage to prove it. A great fire destroyed most of the town in 1875 but from the ashes, an ornate Victorian fantasy world of elegant seaside hotels and gingerbread mansions arose becoming the sandbox for gilded society. The town began hosting vacationers from Philadelphia in the mid-18th century and is recognized as the country’s oldest seaside resort. Today, it plays host to 45,000 vacationers during the summer weekends without compromising its tranquil, slow-paced, and relaxing atmosphere. Listed below are the top ten places to visit in Cape May.
10. Day Trip to Ocean City Boardwalk
Each year Ocean City’s Boardwalk receives hundreds of thousands of visitors. The boardwalk is family friendly and primarily geared towards children. The most well-known attraction in this beach town is Gillian’s Wonderland Pier along with being the home to Ocean City Waterpark, a fun attraction that allows everyone to put their fears to the test and find out what it’s like to race down a large water slide. The 2.5 miles of boardwalk features several restaurants, snack bars, and hangouts along with an incredible assortment of shops and retail establishments. Whether you have young children, reuniting with friends, or you are venturing on a weekend beach getaway with your significant other, you are sure to have fun!
9. Cape May Winery and Vineyard
The vineyard was first planted in 1992 and opened to the public in 1995. It now encompasses over four different vineyards, containing over 70 acres, from which they produce over 16 different varieties of grapes, and over 11,000 cases of wine per year. They offer three tasting rooms featuring 6 of their wines with a souvenir glass for $8, a winery tour which costs $20.00 per person, or you can walk through the vineyard or sit on the charming deck and experience the breathtaking views to be found there. The types of wine they offer are Dry Red, Dry White, Off Dry White, and Sweet.
8. Aviation Museum at the Naval Air Station Wildwood
Naval Air Station Wildwood (NASW) Aviation Museum is a non-profit museum located at the Cape May Airport inside historic Hangar #1. Originally named Naval Air Station Rio Grande in April 1943, it was shortly renamed to Naval Air Station Wildwood in June of 1943 because there was a lot of confusion between it and the Rio Grande, Texas regarding the mail, telegram, and telephone service. It served as an active dive-bomber squadron training facility during World War II. Aircraft stationed at NAS Wildwood included TBM Avengers, Douglas Dauntless’, Vought Corsairs, and Curtiss Helldivers. In June 1997 NASW Foundation purchased Hangar #1 and which was restored and transformed into an Aviation Museum that houses a number of aircraft, engines, special exhibits, and educational interactive displays. The museum is two football fields large inside with over 25 aircraft displays.
7. Cold Spring Village
Historic Cold Spring Village takes visitors on a trip back in time to a simpler, quieter era by bringing to life the day-to-day activities of villagers living in South Jersey during the 19th century. There are 26 authentic structures, along with village residents who are busy at work. Included in these structures is the Finley Blacksmith Shop where a blacksmith is forging iron hardware, and a weaver spinning yarn from the village sheep, among others. You can also take a stroll along the 30 acres of shaded lanes, enjoy the gardens and observe the farm where heritage crops are grown. There are also family activities such as making crafts like building a kite, creating a cornhusk doll and making a handkerchief doll.
6. The Cape May County Park & Zoo
This zoo and park are over 200 acres with many forested areas maintained in their natural state, and walking trails winding through the forest. Within the park grounds are picnic areas, nature trials, playgrounds, bike paths and more. Don’t forget to visit the fishing pond in late spring to see the ducklings and goslings waddling behind their protective parents. The zoo began operation in 1978 and now provides free year-round admission to a collection of more than 550 animals representing 250 species in 85 acres. It has been ranked as the fifth best zoo in the United States, not just because it’s free, but also because the animals receive excellent care. It’s complete with food court, gift shop, and train and carousel rides.
5. Emlen Physick Estate
The Emlen Physick Estate is a Victorian house museum built in 1879 by renowned architect Frank Furness for Dr. Emlen Physick Jr., his widowed mother, Mrs. Ralston, and maiden Aunt Emilie. The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities has restored, maintains and operates the estate as a Victorian historic house museum and offers guided tours year-round. No matter what time of year it is, you can take a tour of this 18 room mansion that features gigantic upside-down corbelled chimneys, hooded jerkin-head dormers, and the huge stick-like brackets on the porch while taking a glimpse into the lifestyle of this Victorian-era family. Tours generally take about 45 minutes and end with a visit to the 1876 Carriage House where you can see the current exhibit in the Gallery.
4. Morey’s Piers and Beachfront Waterpark
Morey’s Piers and Beachfront Waterparks is a classic seaside amusement park located on The Wildwoods’ Boardwalk which is only 20 minutes away from the town. They have received many awards including being voted as one of the top ten piers by Coastal Living Magazine, the World’s Best Seaside Park by Amusement Today, and they closed out the 2015 summer season earning yet another Ellis and Associates Platinum Safety Award. The park has been family owned and operated since 1969 and is currently run by 2nd generation Morey Brothers, Will, and Jack. They have over 100 rides and attractions that span the iconic boardwalk with three action-packed amusement piers which include kiddie rides, roller coasters and more. When you’re ready to cool down, they also have two beachfront water parks including Raging Waters Water Park and Ocean Oasis Water Park and Beach Club. It is fun for kids of all ages and well worth the short drive.
3. Cape May Light House
This lighthouse is the third fully documented lighthouse to be built at Cape May Point. The first was built in 1823; the second in 1847. The current lighthouse used the original bricks of the 1847 lighthouse and was built in 1859 at 157-foot-high. There are 217 steps from the ground to the top, with 199 steps in the tower’s cast iron spiral staircase. The lighthouse is owned by the state of New Jersey after ownership was transferred from the Coast Guard in 1992, which maintains it as an active aid to maritime navigation. If you can climb to the top, it affords you a breathtaking view that you won’t soon forget.
2. Sunset Point
The ranking number on the top ten tourist attractions in Cape May is Sunset Beach. This beach is a great place to collect Cape May diamonds, which are clear quartz crystals that can be easily found along the beach’s length, have a romantic walk on the beach enjoying the bay, see dolphins close to shore, and watch the unusually beautiful sunsets over the open water. There are also the remains of the SS Atlantus, locally known as the concrete ship, as well as an honorable flag ceremony that is completed at sunset during summer to honor those that have fallen for this country. This is a bit more remote and a little more tranquil than many others beaches nearby.
1. Trolley Tour
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the great number of things there are to see in this town, one way to find a starting place and become more familiar with the town’s layout is to take a trip on one of the trolley tours. You’ll find a variety of tours available including those geared to young visitors and trolley tours for the holiday season, so you can see the town when it turns into a Dickens village. You will also have the choice of a historic district tour, ghost tour, and midnight tours. Once you decide on which tour to take, look for the red and green trolleys to enjoy one of the best things to do in Cape May.
With a rich history, award-winning beaches, fine wines, outstanding restaurants, classic jazz festivals, special events year ’round, and nearly 600 preserved Victorian buildings, the city is a seaside resort drawing visitors from around the world. The entire city is a National Historic District making it the only city in the United States wholly designated as such. The most economically friendly, and least crowded, time to visit is during December when downtown lights up for the holidays, and carriage rides come at a premium, especially during the Dickens’ Christmas Extravaganza. The warmest, and most crowded, time to travel is during the summer when events like the Music Festival in late-May through mid-June keep the inns and bars brimming with guests.