Reporting Jay Lloyd
When your tires get wet, you’re there. “There” is Cape May Point at the very tip of the New Jersey shore, just below the Mason-Dixon line. A constant parade of visitors migrates to this unique spot in the Garden State’s landscape. What makes it unique is the absence of jangling casino slots, calliopes blaring from amusement park rides, and hawkers and hustlers that seem to fill every beach town to the north. What the visitor does find here is a tranquil, uncluttered beach, a scenic vista on the mouth of the Delaware Bay, an unassuming beach eatery and spectacular sunsets. Here’s what else you’ll find. –Jay Lloyd
Kayakers and artists share the beach on the southernmost point of New Jersey. Beachcombers sift through the pebbles, rocks and shells that wash up here, looking for those ultra smooth stones polished by the waves where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Delaware Bay. These “Cape May Diamonds” are prized by collectors and decorators alike. There are benches on the beach where visitors can relax and be fascinated by the skeleton of Atlantus, the partially sunken concrete ship that ran aground just offshore in 1926. On the fringe of the beach, The Grille, a modest outdoor eatery, provides a sandwich-laden menu and a view of the sunset and ferries crossing between Cape May and Lewes, Delaware. If you’re inclined to pick up a polished Cape May Diamond or a nautical themed souvenir, there is a pair of small, unassuming shops just off the parking lot.
CAPE MAY POINT STATE PARK
Cape May Point, NJ 08212
This meticulously maintained, 153-acre park is a multi-faceted landmark that’s distinguished by a nearly 160-foot-tall lighthouse with an identifiable crimson cap. It can be seen for miles and has guided Atlantic shipping since the mid-19th century. It’s also still operational. Visitors can climb to the lantern tower for a breathtaking 360 degree view of the ocean, bay and sanctuary that draws birders from across the country during migration seasons. A World War II gun emplacement and a nearby watch tower provide a fascinating look at an era when enemy submarines were steaming right into the Delaware Bay. A variety of nature trails open a window on the unique shore vegetation and wildlife, nurtured by the coastal wetlands. The beach is a magnet for surf fishermen and women. The only drawback here is a ban on swimming. But just parking your bones on the beach is fine.
WHERE TO STAY
It’s just about four miles between the city of Cape May and Sunset Beach. The road between the two has little in the way of commercial activity, so most visitors, if they haven’t rented a house at the point, stay in the city. Here is a trio of hotels where I’ve had return-worthy experiences.
The Victorian has been a favorite for years. It’s reasonable, clean and provides efficiency units with separate living and bed rooms along with refrigerators and dining space. It would be hard to find a better location. The Victorian is right on the Washington Street pedestrian mall, which is chock full of restaurants and boutique shopping. It’s also just a two block stroll to the beach and then an easy walk to beachfront attractions, including amusement arcades for the kids and ocean view bars for the happy hour crowd.
If Abe Lincoln were to return to Cape May — where he spent holidays as a young Congressman — the beachfront Congress Hall would have a familiar feel. While it has changed somewhat over the years since opening in 1816 (including to recover from a devastating 1979 fire), it maintains its charm while also accommodating modern amenities and tastes. Today, the hotel remains the “go-to” place for special occasions and pampered vacations. The Brown Room bar and lounge here is our favorite spot to tip a before- dinner drink, no matter where we stay or sup.
If you want to truly experience “Victorian” Cape May, check in at the Mainstay Bed and Breakfast Inn on a street where horse drawn carriages carry visitors marveling at the preservation of 19th and early 20th century homes. The rooms are furnished in period style, the downstairs common room is elegantly decorated and afternoon tea is served on a comfortable veranda.
The most enjoyable way to explore Cape May Point is by bicycle. Either bring your own or contact one of several bicycle rental shops in Cape May — your hotel probably has an arrangement with one or more. Geared Up has been a popular bike source because of its online reservation system and delivery to your lodging.
Kayak Rentals are also available. Check them out here.
You’ll find public restrooms at the information center in Cape May Point State Park.
Don’t forget bug spray, sun block, a good hat and a water bottle.