Cape May is an all-American seaside resort bursting with yesteryear charm. Its visual splendor includes an architectural tiara of Victorian gingerbread homes in candy-colors. Throw in an adorable trolley, old-fashioned candy stores selling saltwater taffy and the magnificent Atlantic Ocean and you’ve got a beachfront fairy tale. Summer is the quintessential season, but it’s an outdoor haven for much of the year. Here’s the lowdown on planning an off-season getaway.
Cape May’s miles of wide, sandy beach is its crown jewel. Swimmers, surfers, kayakers and SUP enthusiasts enjoy its waves well into October. While dolphins frolic close to the shoreline, up your chances of a sighting by hopping on a nature cruise or fishing boat.
When the weather turns too chilly to get in the water, consider open-air yoga. Yoga On the Beach offers classes May-October for a $5 drop-in rate.
Bird observers have been flocking to Cape May for centuries. Its wide variety of habitats, including pine forests, salt marshes and grasslands, act as manna for migrating birds. Bring your binoculars or just enjoy nature’s spectacle as you hike one of the peaceful trails at the Cape May Bird Observatory, open and maintained year-round. On my bright yellow beach cruiser from Congress Hall, I enjoyed miles of flat roads, some with designated lanes, and the occasional company of courteous drivers.
They don’t call New Jersey the Garden State for nothing; South Jersey is rich in agriculture. It’s a relaxed pedal to 62-acre Beach Plum Farm, nestled in protected wetlands. The farm does not rely on synthetic pesticides or herbicides. Take a self-guided or group tour and marvel over the raised beds of produce that supply local eateries. Make sure your bike has a big basket as the farm’s store is loaded with tempting goodies you won’t want to resist.
Congress Hall is the oldest seaside hotel in America. Its bright yellow exterior, stately white columns, veranda adorned with dozens of teak rocking chairs and scrumptious pool give it an elegant yet cozy air. The manicured grounds are landscaped with flowers that you may gaze at as you are comfortably ensconced in an Adirondack chair—if the Atlantic Ocean view isn’t getting all of your attention. In cooler weather, the convivial lobby is a fine place to enjoy a cocktail by the fire as you listen to live music. Guest rooms offer every soothing amenity, so you’ll feel pampered and relaxed at the same time. Room rates are deeply discounted in the off-season, with mid-week fall rates starting at $129 nightly.
Eats + Drinks
The Blue Pig Tavern serves comfort food with a fresh twist. The produce is supplied by Beach Plum Farm, so seasonal flavors dominate the menu. Stellar salads feature just-picked greens while you can’t go wrong with mac and cheese served in a cast-iron skillet. Ask for a table near the fireplace or on the enclosed patio.
Hot Dog Tommy’s elevates the humble wiener to an epicurean experience. Choose between the Bigger Badder Dog, Leaner Weiner or a mouth-watering vegan version, laced with your choice of house-made toppings. The banana peppers add a zesty crunch and the fortifying mashed potatoes take this casual edible to the next level. Closed all winter.
Located right near Beach Plum Farm is Willow Creek Winery. This 50-acre estate is producing sustainable wines grown and bottled on site. The microclimate is surprisingly reminiscent of Bordeaux and these young vines are producing some extremely polished pours. They offer daily tours and tastings along with light bites in a dreamy rustic setting.
Take the bus to Atlantic City, where you’ll switch to New Jersey Transit bus #552 to Cape May. The entire journey clocks in at 5 hours.
Photo credits: Cape Resorts, Robert Pagano and the author
Allison is a native New Yorker, who has lived in Rome, Tuscany, Melbourne, Toronto and Los Angeles. She frequently contributes travel pieces to Family Travel Forum, using her own children as guinea pigs as they travel the globe. She is fluent in Italian and Spanish and laughably adequate in French. Her background as an Early Childhood Educator gives her an added understanding of what it takes to travel with kids in tow. She firmly believes that the most important part of education takes place outside of the classroom, on the road, around the world. She never misses a chance to sample local delicacies, as her love for travel goes hand-in-hand with her love for food and wine. Follow Allison at @gourmetrav.