Cape May Favorites
Favorites Over the Last 15 Years
In 1995 my parents moved to Cape May. They had started visiting some of the bed and breakfast inns for weekend getaways, now that my brother and I were older. They realized the prices were not much different than homes they considered buying around their present (boring old, suburban) neighborhood. I had been out of college for a year then, and it wasn't long before I moved there myself. It didn't last too long, and in many cases isn't particularly good for year-round residents in their 20's. But since then I have spent many a week and weekend visiting the charming town at the very bottom of New Jersey's jut out into the water.
Now that my parents are moving out of their house in Cape May, it seems appropriate to commemorate my time spent there and share the experience with others. So here are some of my favorite 'things' there. These highlights of my experience may or may not serve as a guide to your visit, but I hope it gives you the urge to check it out and enjoy!
Appreciating the noticeable clean feeling in the air, and even the water (yes, clean at the Jersey shore!) is not your imagination. Because of the position on the Cape, a quite pointed chunk of land which is actually an island, it gets really good fresh air. But aside from being fresh, the sea air is negatively charged, causing a positive reaction in our body's cellular wiring as well. Leaves everyone feeling a little better than they did with stale city air!
The salt in the water, and the sand itself, do wonders for the skin of your feet. I enjoy rubbing wet sand over my feet, massaging it to exfoliate, and draw out toxins. To buy a nice foot cream to follow, try Bath Time or one of the many other shops.
Walking and Biking
The land is very flat in Cape May, making it the perfect place to bike and walk. How you will do this depends on the length of your visit, and whether you are able to bring bikes. There are plenty of bike rental places, that keep their bikes clean and updated. A surrey bike is really fun for small groups; it's like a car that everyone pedals. There's no need for sense of balance, and everyone can enjoy the sights together in a more conversational level. If you do get a surrey bike, make sure you understand the limits of where you can travel. These rules aren't meant to limit your fun, they are just good guidelines for having fun while avoiding traffic.
If you want to be able to explore the unknown, single bikes are the way to go. One of my favorite things to do, which I would like to do again since it's been...oh about 15 years?...is ride bikes to Sunset Beach. You should be prepared with water, and for the weather, but this is an incredibly easy ride, and it really is fun. (Read more about Sunset Beach itself below and see the map.)
A favorite long walk of my family is a walk "down to the cove". The cove is the far west end of beach drive, where the road ends and the beach starts its long stretch to the point. From here you can see Cape May lighthouse just off in the distance. Couples (one of which included myself) often choose this spot to say their "I do's" and tie the knot. When I got married here, there were surfers in wet suits and everyday beach goers who turned their folding chairs in the direction of the ceremony to have a peek! But anyway, a walk from where my parents lived to the cove took about 30 minutes each way. As you head that way, the beach is to your left, and the street on the right, lined with shops, houses and inns. It's a splendid way to get a little exercise and sea air!
Of course, even the most rebellious of tourists must have a few 'must see's' on his journey. Here are the ones that I feel make the top list of ones to try.
- Lighthouse and Nature Center I have to admit, it took me a few years to set the time aside and make it to the lighthouse. With the luxury of having parents who live in Cape May, you lose a sense of urgency for seeing the sights. But when I did make it, it was worth the trip. I've probably been at the top a total of 3 times, but it doesn't really get old. One great thing about the visit now, is the addition of a small nature center on the grounds. It's not the grandest of destinations; if you're looking glitzy, forget it! But the items in their collection give a sense of what beautiful things really exist right in this spot. If you want to stay away from shopping, it isn't too hard to do. The lighthouse has a cute little shop, but you're not forced to go in, and nothing to buy in the nature center allows the kids to focus on...well, nature. Be sure to visit on a cool fall or spring day when you can take a beautiful walk through the trails there. Enter on the opposite side of the parking lot. The people who work in the nature center will be happy to answer any questions and help you head in the right direction. If you are into wildlife and birds, bring your binoculars and get going!
- Sunset Beach is a great place to picnic, go fishing, fly a kite, or just collect stones. The tiny bay waves wash the stones over and over again, polishing them as smooth gems. You will find hues ranging from deep coral red, to caramel and grey, all the way to the transparent stones known as Cape May diamonds. You can see the remains of a sunken cement ship just off the shore, a haven for birds and marine life, and behold a beautiful sunset because of the beach's westerly orientation. Each night of the summer season, tourists and locals gather to watch together, to the playing of the national anthem. If you're into this sort of thing, by all means enjoy. If you'd rather enjoy the sight with the sounds of nature alone, take a little walk to the right, you should be able to watch with peace and quiet. Also, a great place to bring dogs who enjoy a swim, as they are not permitted on the ocean beaches.
- Cape May Zoo may not be on the island itself (just a short drive away) but it is a wonderful place to visit, especially with children. The natural setting provides a nice backdrop for the wide variety of beautiful animals that live there.
While I haven't nearly experienced all the tourist attractions in Cape May, I would recommend checking out some of the historic sites as well. Since I don't have first hand experience, I'll defer to those who do: http://www.capemaymac.org/index.html, and http://www.capemay.com/visitors-center.html are both good sites to begin with. One thing is certain, Cape May is eager to share it's history with others! Maybe now that I won't be 'a local' I'll take my own advice and get to some of these places. At least I have made it a handful of times to see the productions at the Cape May Stage which I have thoroughly enjoyed. This intimate theatre setting is sure to impress you!
Cape May must have hundreds of shops, many of which are truly one-of-a-kind stops. These are not in any particular order, nor is this a really complete list; there are plenty more places, but over the years I have made a conscious effort not to be consumed by the act of being a consumer, preferring to focus on the natural beauty of the place. But assuming you may want to take this opportunity....here are some great places! PS: If not for yourself, think of bringing home a little something for special ones back home.
Bath Time has the best soaps. Period! Anyone who uses soap should stop in, treat yourself to a few bars, and pick up a few for your friends! My all time favorite: Lavender.
The West End Garage Check this place out relatively early on your shopping jaunts, because there is such a variety of offerings under one roof. If you arrive here all out of money, you may sit down and cry over your losses, or end up in debt. There are old and new things, mostly either handmade or antique/classic.
Goodscents on Carpenter lane, a small street with shops that runs behind the popular walking 'mall' area of Washington Street. This is one of those places where everyone who walks in for the first time says "wow, what is that smell?" Of course there are many scents mingling in the store, and if you enjoy naturally good smelling incense, candles, and soaps, you'll end up wanting at least a few smells to bring home for yourself. They also have an intriguing selection of handmade jewelry and decorative items, and a unique music collection.
Whale's Tale is a shop with several varied but strong focii. The front of the store contains mostly beautiful shells and jewelry, unique and clever toys in the center, and rows and rows of cards in the back. Over the years, this place has grown on me, and they have some really quality items.
Sunset Beach (again!) Lol - I didn't even realize they now have mini golf at sunset!!! It must be new this year. Anyway, there are lot's of things to shop for here, and I imagine the grill is nice (I think my parents and kids liked it...) but the main reason I like to go here is for the fossil and rocks shop. Although they have many other things, there is a huge collection of stones and fossils. This is also the shop where we purchased our beloved hermit crabs, one of which is still happily living over a year later. If you have any need for any type of stone, or just want to browse, this is the place. They also have a large collection of outdoor garden décor items, which are pretty cool. Again, a fun place for the kids.
Over the years I have become increasingly concerned with healthy food, so I usually bring lots of my own food to cook and prepare at my parents' house. Of course, often if you are on vacation, it's nice to eat out a bit, even if you can cook at your parents' house! So when we do, here's where I turn.
Lucky Bones for me, this place is great. The food never feels like 'food service' fare, it's fresh and tasty. My favorites here are the black bean soup, the roasted beet and goat cheese salad, and the many veggie pizzas. Of note to those of you who eat more animal matter, my parents are hooked on the scallops (wrapped in bacon!) and the steak tips sandwich. See for yourself, it's yummmy!!!
Gecko's for me, is great. It's small, and it's not the four seasons, but I find the food to be fresh, tasty, and healthy. It may have something to do with my love of southwestern foods, but hey, it's the best thing going for a walk through town! I like sitting on the porch, and my kids actually loved the food, even though it wasn't "kid" food. It's been too long since I went to remember my favorites but I'd jump at the chance to go back and find out. *update, we went to Gecko's again in the summer of 2014 and I still loved it!
Bliss Homemade Ice Cream Just wow. The quality and flavors are so unique and deserving of mention. You can get boring, factory made ice cream at home. I urge you to try something different while you're on vacation! And they have wonderful, organic coffee!!! I am editing this post to include them, since my previously posted Higher Grounds Coffee shop has closed. My favorite flavor: lavender blueberry!
Hot Dog Tommy's is definitely an experience to try. Make sure you study the menu while you are standing in line (which you will be for a while on most days!) You have to love Tommy's New York style, reminiscent of the 'soup nazi'! But he's a nice guy, just trying to enjoy life doing what he loves best. And, although it's a hot dog place and I don't eat hot dogs, he has a bunch of vegetarian options which are really reasonable. Great for a day you want to eat cheap and easy at the beach without a lot of fuss.
There are many other restaurants I have heard are wonderful, in which I haven't had the pleasure of dining.
The beach at Jefferson Street has lifeguards, rentals, close proximity to rest rooms and shops,and even a tiny snack stand.
The beach often has a cove element, providing a shallow swimming pool for the younger kids.
Fish, find Cape May diamonds, fly a kite and bring home a hermit crab, clothes and gifts.
Several blocks of Washington are reserved for walkers, lined on either side with fun shops and eateries. Visit parallel Carpenter Lane as well!
Don't let a few steps stop you from getting to this breathtaking view. It really is worth the trip!
A second-generation, family-owned bed and breakfast where the owners pay personal attention to every detail of your stay. themanse.com
Well, thanks for visiting the Hub, and hopefully sunny Cape May! Please let me know if you have any questions about other (maybe more mundane) things that come up for you while you're visiting. I hope while I am no longer able to dwell there, I can continue as one who encourages others to enjoy the scene.