Cape May, New Jersey, is a beautiful beach town known as America's oldest seashore resort. It is a designated National Historic Landmark, home to hundreds of Victorian buildings, the second largest collection in the country after San Francisco. In addition to its stunning architecture, the area features natural beaches and marshes as well as fine dining and shopping, making it a popular tourist destination. Whether you're looking for a beach vacation for the whole family to enjoy or a quiet place to go birdwatching and indulge in fine food, Cape May has a little something for everyone.
Endless white, sandy beaches are one of the biggest draws for tourists, and Cape May offers 2.5 miles of ocean and bayside beaches where visitors can surf, swim, kayak, and fish. The beaches are family-friendly, and lifeguards are on duty all summer long. Though you might find free parking along the side streets on the main strip, metered parking is available, along with restrooms and open showers every half-mile to clean up and rinse off after spending the day on the sand.
The Cape May Whale Watch and Research Center has offered ocean safaris since 1987 onboard the 90-foot-long American Star. On your whale-watching journey into the Atlantic, you're likely to spot seals, dolphins, and native birds. The vessel offers comfortable seating for up to 150 passengers and a snack bar. So, grab a treat and take a seat while the marine naturalists on board tell you all about the feeding, breeding, and migration habits of the animals.
Head to the Washington Street Mall for a shopping experience uniquely Cape May. This outdoor venue doesn't allow skateboards or bikes, so you can enjoy a pleasant stroll among the shops or relax on a bench next to one of the fountains with an ice cream cone, fudge, coffee, or a crepe. If you're on the hunt for a unique souvenir, there are plenty of cool shops to choose from, including handmade crafts and goods, beef jerky, books, and art. You'll even find a dog boutique, a Mexican grocery, and a Christmas store.
The Cape May Lighthouse is at Cape May Point State Park, just two miles outside the city. The lighthouse has an extensive history dating back to 1859, and you can climb the 199 steps to the top to get amazing panoramic views. If you'd rather stay on the ground, stop by the Oil House, which serves as a visitor's center and souvenir shop. While you're there, why not make a morning or afternoon of it? Stop by the art gallery, take a nature walk through the surrounding grounds of the park, or fly a kit on the nearby beach.
The Cape May County Park and Zoo is home to more than 550 animals. Admission is free, but you can sign up for paid animal encounters to get up close and personal with giraffes, capybaras, camels, or the zoo's reptiles. Inside the zoo, you'll find a cafe, carousel, gift shop, and a carousel ride, but you can also explore the walking paths, fishing ponds, disc golf course, and playgrounds in the surrounding park.
Cape May is a pretty obvious place to go if you love beaches and the ocean, but there's much more to see here for nature lovers. You can meander along the trails at the Nature Center of Cape May, walk the grounds, or tour the numerous gardens and greenhouses. There's a three-level observation tower that looks over the grounds and plenty of ways to get close to nature, including cycling, kayaking, and salt marsh boat tours.
The Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum is an excellent place for a history buff or aviation enthusiasts, but there's enough to see here to interest visitors of any age. The facility was once used to train Air Force pilots during World War II. Today, it houses 26 aircraft, including an F-14 Tomcat, a Huey helicopter, a turbojet engine from a Boeing 777, and a room of rare 1940s memorabilia.
Historic Cold Spring Village is an immersive experience that shows you what it was like to live in the 1700s. Here, you'll find costumed actors demonstrating everything from how a printing press works to how to churn butter and tour buildings of the period, including a one-room schoolhouse, a woodworking shop, pottery, and tinsmith, just to name a few. You also have a chance to buy sweets from the bakeshop or ice cream parlor or stop by the Cold Spring Brewery to see what's on tap.
The Emlen Physick Estate dates back to the Victorian era. Its 18 rooms have been carefully preserved, giving you a look at how people lived in the 1800s; you might experience a little more than the beautiful architecture and antique details – rumor has it, the Emlen Physick Estate is haunted. Stop by for an estate tour, scavenger hunt, tea, or, if you dare, sign up for a murder mystery dinner or haunted house tour. There is more than a little bit of history to see here.
If you prefer roller coasters and waterslides to relaxing days on the beach, check out Morey's Piers and Beachfront Water Parks. Located just down the road in Wildwood, New Jersey, this place is worth the trip. With two waterparks and three piers of rides, you can spend all day here and stay well into the night without doing the same thing twice. Take your turn on the waterslides and explore the River Adventure, then head to the pier and try the carousel, giant Ferris wheel, roller coasters, or brave the SkyCoaster or Springshot. There's also plenty to eat, including pizza, BBQ, seafood, and world-famous Curly's fries.