The Jewel of the Jersey Shore. The Resort Queen of the Garden State. The Victorian Star at Exit Zero. Cape May, that liberally nicknamed vacation spot at the bottom of the New Jersey peninsula (below the first mile marker on the Garden State Parkway) has the Atlantic Ocean on one side, the Delaware Bay on the other, and dozens of restaurants, B&Bs, rental houses, beaches and fun things to do in between. Dutch Captain Cornelius Mey claimed it for the Province of New Netherland in the early 1600s. Today, couples and families claim it all for themselves.
Romantic couples of any age, beach-loving families with children over 3, and anyone who wants to take it easy — before and after stuffed shrimp.
What to do:
Don’t go if you dislike unhurried walks down Victorian lanes or going to different bistros every night. But do go if a tandem or surrey bike ride around town appeals to you, if you like parasailing, vineyards, jazz and art festivals, climbing a lighthouse, riding ocean waves, or searching for the famous Cape May Diamonds, naturally formed quartz pebbles that wash up on the shores of Sunset Beach near Cape May Point.
Where to eat:
Cape May might have an agreeable pace, but you’ll rarely agree on where to dine — only because there are dozens of choices: from traditional pubs like The Ugly Mug to trendy grills like Fins; from an any-kind-of-frank-in-the-world curbside stand like Hot Dog Tommy’s to a reliable breakfast haven like Uncle Bill’s Pancake House; from classic Italian like Godmothers to enduring seafood like The Lobster House … if you can decide without arguing, you’ll want to splurge even more.
Where to stay:
The only thing harder than deciding where to eat is where to stay. Many couples enjoy the B&Bs, of which there are many, ranging in style from classic Victorians like The Queen Victoria to the slightly more intimate, like Mason Cottage. You can rent an entire house, book a motel across from the beach, or stay at a history-steeped hotel like Congress Hall, which was President Benjamin Harrison’s summer White House in the late 1800s.
If you’re not counting those Cape May Diamonds on Sunset Beach as gems, then count the tranquil beach itself. On the calm bay side of the peninsula, there’s a gift shop, ice cream stand, nature trails and, between May and September, an emotional evening flag-lowering ceremony honoring American veterans, complete with Kate Smith singing “God Bless America.” Other gems include secluded Higbee Beach and the Cold Spring Village Restoration.
On the way:
On the trip down, consider breaking up the drive with a visit to Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, or to the rides and concessions on the Ocean City and Wildwood boardwalks. There’s also the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, at Exit 116 in Holmdel — which means there’s just 116 miles to go.
From Hartford: 4 hrs, 20 min / 272 miles
From New Haven: 3 hrs, 55 min / 239 miles
From New London: 4 hrs, 30 min / 283 miles