Ranked as the second best beach in the United States and ninth in the world by Trip Advisor in 2011, Cape May is the country’s oldest seaside resort. It lies at the southernmost point in New Jersey, on the Cape May Peninsula. Bounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Delaware Bay, and a canal, this island (technically) boasts the country’s second largest collection of Victorian houses. During the winter months, the population is roughly 5,000 residents, but during the tourist season, Cape May hosts an average of 50,000 people. Expect a solid crowd and a great time on a weekend getaway to Cape May.
Related: America’s Top 20 Beaches
From Philadelphia, there are three main routes to connect with Garden State Parkway. About 10 miles past the Walt Whitman Bridge, travelers have a choice of taking State Route 55, U.S. Route 322 or the Atlantic City Expressway.
The no-frills expressway takes about an hour and 45 minutes to get to Cape May. Take either the Ben Franklin or Walt Whitman Bridge to Route 676 South. Follow the signs for Route 42, Atlantic City. That turns into the Atlantic City Expressway. Stay on the AC Expressway until exit 7. Then take the Garden State Parkway south to Cape May. After Route 109 ends, cross the bridge into Cape May. Don’t expect many places to stop for a bite or a break if you take this option.
Travel time on U.S. Route 322 is about the same as the expressway, but it’s a more scenic route and offers a variety of options for food. It runs parallel to the expressway. Stay on U.S. Route 322 until you see signs for the Garden State Parkway. Once on the parkway, head south and don’t get off until you get to Cape May.
Some travelers prefer taking State Route 55 South with an exit on Route 42 South to Route 47. Route 47 South turns into Route 347 for a bit, then becomes Route 47 again. Stay on it, and it will take you through Rio Grande and right to the Garden State Parkway South. Don’t get off until you see signs for the parkway, and then stay on the parkway until you reach Cape May. Be forewarned, while this route is another scenic alternative, depending on the flow of traffic, it can become a nightmare. Travel time can run from two to three hours.
621 Route 50
Corbin City, NJ 08270
The Buck Tavern in Corbin City offers reasonably priced appetizers, soup and salad, sandwiches, burgers, platters, a variety of entrees and beverages. It is well-known for its delicious seafood options, too. Don’t miss out on the area’s best crab cakes and a solid selection of beer on tap.
Crabby’s Suds and Seafood
1413 Boulevard, Route 50 (Belcoville)
Mays Landing, NJ 08330
A relaxed, Maryland-style crab house, Crabby’s Suds and Seafood sports indoor picnic tables guests are encouraged to make a mess of. Diners are provided crab hammers and rolls of paper towels to enjoy fresh USA blue claw crabs, year-round. Alaskan king crab, dungeness and snow crab are also available. Other menu items include salads, seafood, steaks and pasta, and the ever-popular he-crab soup, which is served on weekends only. Locals recommend a crabby Mary mixed drink as a true original.
Related: Road Trip Rules
223 Congress Place
Cape May, NJ 08204
Price: from $125 per night
Located at the end of the Washington Street Mall, about one block from the beach, the Victorian Motel is centrally located and offers an easy walk to area stores and restaurants. Open all year, the deluxe motel features rooms with two double beds, suites with king-size beds and efficiency suites with private bedrooms. Rooms include digital flat-screen televisions, WiFi and individually controlled heat and air-conditioning. Enjoy balconies overlooking Washington Street Mall, a large outdoor pool and a kiddie pool, a second-floor sundeck, shuffleboard, barbecue gas grill and an outdoor bike rack.
Southern Mansion/Cape May Bed & Breakfast Hotel
720 Washington St.
Cape May, NJ 08204
(800) 381-3888 or (609) 884-7171
Price: from $260
The Southern Mansion, built around 1860, is considered to be the largest bed and breakfast in Cape May. It boasts the biggest bed and breakfast rooms and suites in the area. The historic mansion is located on 1.5 acres of beautiful gardens. Located in the historic district, the beach, shops and restaurants are about a five-minute walk away. Amenities include private bathrooms with hand-painted tile showers, flat screen televisions, a full gourmet breakfast and the Willow Creek Winery. The B&B offers beach chairs and towels to guests during the summer.
The Spirit of Cape May
1218 Wilson Drive
Cape May, NJ 08204
Price: free children 6 and younger/$20 children 7 to 12/$25 to $30 adults depending on the trip.
During the past several decades, Cape May has become known as an eco-tourism destination. The 110-foot Spirit of Cape May features two decks, a large cabin with seating for more than 100 people, outdoor seating on the main deck for an additional 120 people and an upper deck with space for 175 people. The upper deck boasts an enclosed area with seating and includes a large open-air dance floor. The cruise ship features both hot and cold food, along with a full bar on both the upper and lower decks. The company specializes in dolphin and whale-watching cruises. It also offers dinner and sunset cruises, World War II history cruises, a lighthouse cruise, bird watching and kayak tours.
Cape May County Park & Zoo
707 Route 9 North
Cape May Court House, NJ 08210
The Cape May County Park & Zoo features 85 acres of quality exhibits and is home to 250 species of mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles that total more than 550 individual animals. Founded in 1978, the zoo started with about 70 animals, including an African lion, spider monkeys, barnyard animals and native New Jersey wildlife. In the 1990s, the zoo was renovated and new exhibits were constructed to include an African savannah that consists of 57 acres populated by giraffes, zebra, antelope and ostrich. In 1998, after a fire, the original reptile house was replaced. At the same time, an aviary–the World of Birds–was constructed. Fun fact: The zoo is home to 13 flamingos from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch.
Beautiful sandy beaches, clean water and an ocean breeze make Cape May an excellent place to enjoy water sports. Fishing, boating, kayaking, swimming, wading, body surfing and surfing are just of the few ways visitors can enjoy the beautiful Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay. The Cove, an area of the Cape May beach, is well-known to surfers. As a result of its geography, the Cove provides waves that generally range from 3 to 6 feet. Located at the southern end of Beach Avenue, it is known for good swell direction. In the summer, expect a crowd. A beach tag is required to gain access to this protected wildlife sanctuary during the summer. A 30-minute walk will take visitors to the Cape May Lighthouse.
In Cape May, you’ll also find Cape May Diamonds on Sunset Beach and other beaches in the area. They’re not real diamonds, but are actually clear quartz pebbles that wash down from the Delaware River, and collecting them is a popular tourist hobby. The diamonds are also polished and sold at shops in town.
The Rusty Nail
205 Beach Ave.
Cape May, NJ 08204
Known as the place to spend the night after a full day of surfing, the Rusty Nail is an iconic surfer bar and restaurant. It became the hangout for the surfer crowd in the 1970s. Located on the grounds of the Beach Shack, the Rusty Nail boasts one of the longest wood bars in Cape May. It features a full bar, live entertainment and beach-appropriate comfort food. Enjoy outdoor seating, a fire pit and shuffleboard. The establishment also serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Related: Fun for the Road
429 Beach Ave.
Cape May, NJ 08204
Overlooking the beach, Martini offers an upscale place to spend a night after a day of walking the boardwalk, shopping at the Washington Street Mall or basking in the sun at the beach. Its chef, John Siuta, creates elegant meals influenced by cuisine from Spain, Italy, France, Greece, Morocco, Japan, India and other cultures in the Mediterranean and Southeast Asia. The restaurant bar is known for its unique cocktails and live music in the summer. After dinner, this is a great spot to enjoy a midnight espresso or cappuccino and dessert on the porch with a glass of port or Spanish Brandy.
Jeffrey B. Roth, has won numerous state and national news and feature-writing awards during his career. A well-known crime writer, investigative reporter and a feature writer, Roth writes for a number of magazines and newspapers. Listed in the Locus Index of SciFi and Fantasy authors, Roth is the author of a number of published short stories and poetry. His work can be found on Examiner.com.