Known as ‘The Nation’s Oldest Seashore Resort’, Cape May has been hosting happy holidaymakers for close to two centuries now. Set right at the southern tip of the peninsula of the same name, it is known for both its breathtaking beaches and wealth of fine old Victorian buildings.
Remarkably enough, the entire seaside city is actually protected as a National Historic District due to the hundreds of well-preserved historic houses that line its quaint and colourful streets. This truly does make the ‘Queen of the Seaside Resorts’ special to explore as exquisite architecture is on show wherever you look.
While it certainly has a rich history and heritage to uncover, epic dolphin and whale watching tours are also fun things to do in Cape May. Add in some of the best beaches along the Jersey Shore and all its exciting watersports and the scenic Cape May really does make for a top vacation destination.
16. Cape May Carriage
A very memorable way to see the city’s charming streets is to take a relaxing carriage ride around its historic heart. As you trundle about town in one of its ornate old carriages, your friendly driver will point out important landmarks and regale you with enthralling stories about Cape May.
For decades, thousands of tourists have enjoyed the small company’s romantic horse-drawn carriage rides that typically last either fifteen minutes or half-an-hour in length. Besides its vintage vis-a-vis or wooden wagonette, you can also be pulled around in a magical custom-made Cinderella coach.
Thanks to the relaxed pace of the tour, you’ll have plenty of time to take in the hundreds of amazing old Victorian-style buildings all around you. Afterwards, you’ll also get to meet, pet and photo some of their cute horses like Diesel, Oreo and Willow.
15. World War II Lookout Tower
The only surviving structure of its kind in the state, the wonderful old World War II Lookout Tower lies just a five-minute drive north of Cape May Point and its famous lighthouse. From the top of the lofty landmark, you can bask in divine views over Delaware Bay while informative panels teach you all about its past.
Also known as Fire Control Tower No. 23, it was built back in 1942 as part of the immense Harbor Defenses of the Delaware system. The 100-foot-tall lookout tower helped coastal batteries aim their artillery with photos and texts both inside and along its boardwalk outside explaining more about its history and the role it played in WWII.
Aside from gazing out over the glittering waters of the bay, you can also pay your respects at the All Veterans Memorial flame and hike about the surrounding Cape May Point State Park.
14. Salt Marsh Safari on the Skimmer
If you want to venture a bit further afield and see more of Cape May’s stunning surroundings, then a Salt Marsh Safari on the Skimmer is a must. Its incredible eco-cruises whisk you about the region’s pristine wetlands with beautiful scenery and wildlife guaranteed wherever you go.
Departing from either the South Jersey Marina in Cape May or Wetlands Institute at Stone Harbour, its sleek skimmer shoots across the surface of the Jersey Shore’s reflective waters. As you navigate its inland waterways and natural channels, you’ll spy some of the more than 400 species of bird that inhabit the area.
On your epic outing around the back bays, its experienced crew members and marine biologists also teach you more about the shimmering salt marshes’ animals and ecosystems. A very educational yet entertaining excursion, the safari is sure to delight family members of all ages.
13. South Cape May Meadows
Another picture-perfect spot to head if you want to see birds – and lots of them at that – is the South Cape May Meadows. Occupying both the peninsula and state’s southernmost point, the sanctuary is a haven for local wildlife with walking trails winding their way here and there amidst its wetlands.
Once a popular resort town, South Cape May was eventually abandoned in the 1940s due to erosion and salinization of its natural ecosystem. Over the next sixty years, nature slowly reclaimed the area with the large swathe of Atlantic Ocean coastline having been turned into a preserve in 2007.
Nowadays, it boasts idyllic beaches and dunes with pretty ponds also punctuating its vast wetlands. As you stroll along its boardwalk or conceal yourself in its observation platforms, you can often spy egrets, oystercatchers and waterfowl, among other flocks of birds.
12. Cape May Wineries
If after all the excursions and outdoor activities, you want to simply sit back, relax and sip a glass of wine, then you can’t beat visiting one of the Cape May Wineries. In total, about half a dozen estates and vineyards now dot the peninsula with terrific tours and tastings often taking place.
The closest to town is the Willow Creek Winery which has fantastic farm and vineyard tours to take around the picturesque property. Thanks to its unique microclimate, it produces flavor-rich Pinot Noirs, Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignons that are very reminiscent of those from Bordeaux.
Not all too far away are the Cape May Winery and Turdo Vineyards; both of which produce some of New Jersey’s finest wines. Here you can sip sumptuous wines either in their tasting room or outside on their terraces with Hawk Haven being another great option for wine tasting and vineyard tours.
11. Jersey Shore Alpacas
Head just fifteen minutes drive up the peninsula from the historic Cape May and you’ll come across the absolutely adorable Jersey Shore Alpacas. At the smallish farm, guests can feed, stroke and hang out with the cute critters while learning all about the unique animals.
Since 2005, Jim and Tish Carpinelli have bred alpacas with just under twenty now making up their herd. Outside in their peaceful paddocks, you can meet larger-than-life characters like Annabel Lee, Princess Leia and the majestic Cassanova’s Lightning Strike.
As you feed and caress them, you’ll hear all about their habits and get to know each alpaca’s special personality. Before returning to town, you can shop for quality clothing, toys and yarn made out of their fine fleeces in the farm’s gift store.
10. Historic Cold Spring Village
For those interested in learning more about the cape’s storied past, the Historic Cold Spring Village is the perfect place to go. Lying along US Highway 9 in the Lower Township, its collection of well-preserved old buildings and costumed docents transport you back in time to the early to mid-1800s.
Sprawling across a massive site, the open-air living history museum re-creates a rural town from the ‘homespun era’. Its 25 or so atmospheric old buildings include a schoolhouse and general store with a barn, bakery and blacksmith’s also lining its leafy streets.
Aside from entering and seeing original artifacts and even artisans at work in some of them, you can always ask the knowledgeable docents any questions you may have. Only open in summertime, the interactive museum also encompasses an ice cream parlor, restaurant and gift shop where you can pick up handcrafted artisan items.
9. Cape May Trolley Tours
Another fabulous way to travel about town in style and see its sights is to take one of the Cape May Trolley Tours. The company has a number of options to choose from, with some focusing on sports and ghost stories and others on history, architecture and the Underground Railroad.
In their cheery and colourful old trolley buses, you’ll explore the ‘Queen of the Seaside Resorts’ with an expert guide narrating everything you see. As the bus slowly cruises along its streets, you’ll get a better feel for its rich history and heritage and the numerous sides to the city.
On top of seeing all the phenomenal Victorian-style buildings, you’ll learn about its whale industry, Native American tribes and the countless ghost stories that swirl about the cape.
8. Emlen Physick Estate
While the city certainly boasts an astounding array of architectural gems, one of the most popular to visit is the attractive Emlen Physick Estate. Now a historic house museum, its delightfully decorated interior showcases how wealthy cape residents lived during Victorian times.
Named after its former owner, the splendid ‘Stick Style’ mansion was built in 1879 with its eighteen elegant rooms providing an interesting insight into the past. As you explore its entrance hall, dining room and bedrooms, you can admire all the fantastic period pieces and fine furnishings on show.
On guided tours of the estate, you’ll hear how the family and their servants lived and learn about the Cape May culture of the time. Afterwards, make sure to stroll around its gorgeous gardens and snap some photos of the brilliant building and its distinctive upside-down chimneys from the outside.
7. Dolphin and Whale Watching
As the waters off of Cape May teem with marine life, no trip to town can be complete without going Dolphin and Whale watching at some point. Numerous companies run trips out to see the incredible creatures both in Delaware Bay and out on the endless Atlantic Ocean.
Within just ten miles of the coastline, you can already spot bottlenose dolphins, humpbacks and fin whales swimming about. Many marine species inhabit the area’s open waters as the confluence of the fresh and saltwater creates plenty of nutrients for them to feed on.
While scanning the surface for fins and signs of breaching, the expert naturalists on board will teach you all about whales, dolphins and their ocean environment. With sightings almost guaranteed, trips out to see them really do make for a memorable experience.
6. Cape May County Park & Zoo
If you want to see even more animals up close and personal, then the Cape May County Park & Zoo is the best place to head. Located just past Cape May Court House, some fifteen minutes drive from the center, its lush green spaces house over 550 animals of more than 250 different species.
Once a plantation, the large swathe of woods and fields were turned into a park in 1942 with the zoo only following on in the late seventies. Nowadays, visitors can see everything from bison and black bears to lions, giraffes and even snow leopards in its spacious enclosures.
As well as seeing its monkeys and red pandas, you can also wander along the park’s leafy trails that take you past ponds and picnic pavilions. The zoo also has a charming little animal-themed carousel and relaxing train ride for young and old alike to enjoy.
5. Washington Street Mall
The heart and soul of life in town, the lively yet laidback Washington Street Mall is lined by most of its best shops and local eateries. Stretching three blocks in length, the open-air pedestrian street has a lovely nostalgic look and feel with brightly-colored buildings and benches bordering it.
Conjuring up images of the city’s boom-time in the late 1800s, the mall was opened back in 1971 to entice tourists back to Cape May which was then suffering high unemployment. The then-unpopular plan certainly succeeded as dozens of family-owned stores and superb seafood restaurants now stud the district.
Along the bustling thoroughfare, you can pick up tasty fudge and ice cream or shop for antiques and souvenirs with a huge number of inns and B&Bs lying nearby.
4. Cape May Lighthouse
Undoubtedly the city’s standout sight, the Cape May Lighthouse can be found towards the southern tip of the peninsula, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay. Towering 157 feet in height, it makes for some fabulous photos and viewing with commanding panoramas to be enjoyed from its soaring summit.
The third lighthouse to be built at Cape May Point, the current one dates to 1859 with the other two now lying underwater due to erosion. After perusing all the artifacts and exhibits on its history at the small museum down below, you can huff and puff your way up a seemingly endless spiral staircase to its viewing platform.
From up high, you can gaze out over the pristine ponds, beaches and dunes surrounding the historic lighthouse and the sparkling waters of the ocean stretching away into the distance.
3. Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum
Although the whole of its historic district could almost be considered a living museum, the city’s main cultural institute is the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum. Set alongside the Cape May Airport, it boasts an impressive collection of vintage aircraft, equipment pieces and interactive exhibits on the history of flight.
Formerly a WWII training site for US Navy pilots, the museum was established back in 1997 in the enormous Hangar #1. While it mainly focuses on the Second World War, it also displays shiny jets and supersonic fighter planes from the Korean War, Vietnam War and post-Cold War period.
Historical photos and well-done exhibits also cover Wildwood’s role in WWII and the considerable contributions of local civilians. Visitors can also try out its fun flight simulators and climb to the top of a real air traffic control tower.
2. Cape May Historic District
The main reason people come to Cape May though is because the whole city is actually recognized as a National Historic District. As you amble around America’s first seaside resort, you’ll see lots of amazing old Victorian buildings and important landmarks lining its scenic streets.
First discovered by Europeans back in 1609, the area was initially settled by whalers and fishermen before developing into a popular summer resort. While almost half of the town was destroyed in the fierce fire of 1878, it quickly sprung back in no time at all with new mansions and bungalows being built along Beach Avenue.
The delightful old district remarkably contains hundreds of well-preserved historic houses, many of which feature fine wrap-around porches and brightly-colored exteriors. Asides from strolling about and taking pics of its beautiful buildings, you can also check out its countless shops and restaurants.
1. City Beaches
Cape May does, however, remain a brilliant beach destination with stunning stretches of sand found along both sides of the peninsula. Many of these are often listed among the best beaches along the Eastern Seaboard thanks to their sparkling white sands and spectacular vistas over the ocean.
Right by Beach Avenue and the Historic District for instance you can already find over two miles of sun-kissed sandy shores for you to lounge on. As loads of shops, restaurants and inns line the beach, it is a very convenient spot to swim in the sea or top up your tan with seasonal lifeguards also being on-hand in summer.
Among the most popular to visit are Cove Beach for its expansive sands and top-class kayaking and surfing, while Sunset Beach offers sublime views over the bay each evening. Deck chairs, umbrellas and snacks are available at all of them which can only be accessed by purchasing an affordable city beach tag.