What to do in Cape May
This bucolic resort area, one of the country's original seaside vacation spots, is at New Jersey's southernmost point. It's known for its red-and-white lighthouse, which was built in 1859, and also for having one of the largest concentration of 19th-century Victorian houses in the country (only San Francisco has more). The city of Cape May, which sits on its own island at the tip of the Cape May peninsula, is refreshingly free of the cheesy party vibe that characterizes some of the other Jersey Shore destinations.
Where to go in Cape May
Although ocean beaches such as Sunset, The Point and the busier stretches of Cape May City are certainly a draw, the western side of the peninsula has two places worth visiting: The Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, with wetlands that are home to migrating shorebirds, and the Cape May Lighthouse, which is open for tours, including a full-moon climb that offers an excellent view of the night sky. The impossibly adorable Washington Street Mall is an outdoor shopping spot with storefronts that evoke the area's Americana architecture.
Where to stay in Cape May
Although you might not remember much about 23rd president Benjamin Harrison, he had good taste in vacation spots, choosing to spend his summers at the Congress Hall Hotel. The iconic yellow building, which is lined with American flags, sits directly across from Congress Street beach. Congress Hall has a dedicated beach area with lounge chairs and umbrellas (as well as tents for an additional fee), and should a change of scene be required, there's also a pool and cocktail bar on the hotel's expansive green lawn. The affordable, intimate Blue Fish Inn is about a 10-minute walk from Philadelphia Beach. It's a classic Jersey Shore motel with a pool, and feels updated and fresh thanks to a recent renovation.
Where to eat in... Cape May
With picnic tables, colorful umbrellas and a sandy floor, the laid-back Rusty Nail beach bar, which is part of the stylish Beach Shack hotel, caters to a varied mix of families, surfers, hipsters and locals. Fried and raw seafood are both popular, as are the kids' meals, each of which comes on a souvenir frisbee. Go early or arm yourselves with snacks and sand toys and plan to wait.