At the southernmost tip of New Jersey lay Cape May, enticing visitors with its Victorian charm, burgeoning wine country, and esteemed restaurant destinations. Named America’s oldest seaside resort — and designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1976 — Cape May often ranks high among the best beaches in New Jersey, not only for its beautiful coastline but also for its quaint and history-steeped landmarks. Book a room at one of the many bed-and-breakfasts in town, and start planning your adventures now.
No trip to Cape May would be complete without climbing the 199 steps of the town’s lighthouse, a navigation aid to seafarers since 1859. An expansive view of the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay greets you at the top, which becomes even more majestic during one of the monthly full-moon experiences from April to September.
To take in even more history, head to the Emlen Physick Estate. Built in 1879, it is the former home of the grandson of Dr. Philip Syng Physick, recognized as the father of American surgery. Guided tours lead visitors through 15 rooms of the Frank Furness-designed mansion, offering a look at Cape May’s Victorian past.
A 15-minute walk south on Lafayette Street brings you to Cape May Stage, where contemporary theater performances unfold inside a former church dating to the 19th century. From May through November, find a show nearly every night of the week. Seats can be reserved online.
Little ones in your group will love the Cape May County Park and Zoo, featuring 650 animals — like Bella the African lion, Ziggy the zebra, and June the giraffe. Admission is free. Meanwhile, Cape May’s abundance of wineries offers an adventure for the adults. For a self-guided tour, visit Cape May County’s online trail (capemaycountynj.gov), mapping out not only a half-dozen winery options but two breweries, too.
A visit to Washington Street Mall is a must for those looking to shop. The three-block, outdoor walking mall features dozens of boutiques, alongside gift shops selling everything from cigars to handmade soaps to jewelry of all sorts. Several art galleries are scattered throughout.
Find plenty of eating options at the mall, too, like the seafood-centric Louisa’s Cafe and its next-door artisanal chocolate shop, The Chocolate Bar. Arguably Cape May’s two most popular restaurants, however, are the Ebbitt Room and Mad Batter Restaurant & Bar, sitting side by side on Jackson Street, a block from the water.
At the Ebbitt Room, choose to relax with a cocktail on the charming front porch, or head inside for an elegant dinner featuring ingredients from the restaurant’s own farm. Next door, people line up for Mad Batter’s 8 a.m. opening to be among the first to savor its fresh-squeezed juices, brioche French toast, and other brunch bites. At dinner, the menu is populated with crabcakes, filet mignon, and other classic American fare.
West Cape May’s Exit Zero Filling Station has become a haven for foodies. The newly remodeled spot features a buzzing restaurant that serves savory Indian curries, memorable burgers, and drinks from a full-bar setup. Find four beers on tap, alongside a list of wines and cocktail specials that just might make you want to appoint a designated driver in advance.
Two other new drinking destinations are open for business this season. Head to Cape May Court House for a pint at COHO Brewing Co., where beers are bestowed with names like Hung Jury and Double Jeopardy. In North Cape May, Gusto Brewing Company boasts a bright and airy space to sip on small-batch beers from a constantly changing tap list. Start your session with a quick brewery tour.
For tours of a different sort, check out Curious Cape May, a new company dedicated to sharing unusual tales about the town’s history. Hop on a beach cruiser or set out by foot for a 60- to 120-minute guided experience exploring Cape May’s hidden gems.
Over the years, Cape May has played host to its fair share of celebrities. This March, repeat visitor Oprah Winfrey dined on oysters, lobster, and chocolate lava cake at the Ebbitt Room with longtime partner Stedman Graham and best friend Gayle King.
Anne Hathaway and Tina Fey are both Cape May regulars. Fey’s been spotted everywhere from the Blue Pig Tavern at Congress Hall to Cape May Olive Oil Co. to the Cape May County Park and Zoo. Hathaway’s most notable seaside spotting was during a karaoke session, when she belted out Journey’s "Don’t Stop Believin’ " at the now-closed Martini Beach.