Cape May is one of the United States’ oldest resort destinations having entertained guests for over 100 years and is continuing to do so. It is located on the shore of New Jersey and is considered a National Historic Landmark.
One of the main reasons for its popularity is its high concentration of Victorian architecture. People come far and wide to see the impressive buildings that are unfortunately falling out of style.
As well as the architectural landscape, Cape May is home to a fascinating history and incredible sights.
In this guide, we discuss some of the amazing things you can do on your vacation to Cape May (see also our article on Waikiki).
The beaches in Cape May are considered to be some of the best in America. They are picturesque golden sands and are kept clean.
They are very family-friendly and you are able to rent an umbrella and lounge chair for a relaxing day in the sun.
From Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day you need to purchase beach tags to go on the beaches. This is to limit overcrowding and keep the beach in a good condition.
Overlooking Cape May is the lighthouse that was built in 1859. It continues operating to this day but welcomes visitors and tourists. It has been restored from its initial structure to accommodate the number of people going up and down the almost 200 stairs.
Don’t worry if that seems like too many steps for you, there are some stopping areas on the way to the top.
Once you get there you can experience the incredible view of Cape May. The lighthouse is located in Cape May Point State Park so you get a gorgeous view of nature.
This Victorian house museum is a must-see. It was designed by renowned architect Frank Furness and demonstrates a ‘stick-style’ architecture.
There you get to walk around the 18-room house and be taken back in time through period-appropriate deco.
On a guided tour you get shown around the house by a very informative member of the staff who can tell you all about the house.
If you are fortunate enough, the house is fantastic to visit around Halloween as there are tales of its haunting.
The Cape May Stage theatre company operates at the Robert Shackleton Playhouse, a 19th-century church.
The shows are intimate, with the playhouse only seating around 100 people. There you get to see traditional and contemporary works.
The performances are always of high quality and are very entertaining.
The Washington Street Mall is 3 blocks long and is an incredible outdoor shopping mall.
You get to shop (or window shop) in a large variety of stores, each with a gorgeous exterior.
This is a shopping mall, so while it is outdoors you won’t see any cars or bikes driving down it. In fact, the mall doesn’t even allow dogs.
The streets are decorated with plants and fountains so you get a tranquil feel from the place. They also have benches at the mall for those who enjoy sitting down and people-watching.
This zoo is great for the whole family because it is free to enter, all you need to purchase is any food, drinks, or souvenirs you want.
There are over 500 animals at the zoo including monkeys, giraffes, and snow leopards. The snow leopards are a particular must-see as the Cape May Zoo is one of the few that actually has a breeding pair. As a threatened species, this is incredibly important.
Cape May is famous for its birds, this is because it is at a crossroads for bird migration. So you get to see a lot of rare and common birds there.
Due to this, Cape May is very popular among bird watchers, which makes the bird observatory such a great place to go.
It was founded in 1975 and you get to see a variety of birds and learn about them. They also focus on butterflies so you get to experience all kinds of winged creatures.
This is considered an open-air museum and is a great way to feel like you have been teleported back in time.
There are multiple buildings that you can visit like a schoolhouse, inn, barn, and blacksmith. There are costumed actors in these areas that will show you what life was like. It is an entertaining learning experience for the whole family.
At the giftshop, you get to purchase a variety of handmade gifts that were made in the village.
Commonly found on the Sunset and Higbee beaches are Cape May diamonds. These are small pebbles of clear quartz that have washed down from the Delaware river.
While they aren’t actual diamonds, they are still pretty and fun to collect. Many shops near the beach will sell these ‘diamonds’ polished and sometimes carved into the shape of actual diamonds.
If you manage to find one they are a nice keepsake for your vacation.
You can get up close to marine life on a watching cruise. Cape May is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay, so is a prime destination for looking at whales and dolphins.
The boats offer live commentary by a guide so that you get a full learning experience about the sea and its inhabitants.
The cruise is around 3 hours long but you will have access to a bathroom and snack bar. Most of these cruises are also wheelchair accessible.
This is a stunning memorial to the lives lost at sea. It is located at the end of Harbor Cove and is a statue of a mother and her 2 children looking out to sea.
It was built in 1988 and has the names of local fishermen who died at sea engraved on it. It is a fantastic place to look out to sea and pay respects to the lives lost.
Many people leave stones or seashells at the base of the statue out of respect.
While this is a relatively new attraction, only opening in 2020, it is definitely one to see.
The Harriet Tubman Museum describes the life of a heroic woman and all the people she helped.
It also lays out the history of slavery in the United States and what Tubman did to combat it.
The museum is located in Cape May because Tubman spent time there in the 1850s working as a cook. Her earnings as a cook were used to fund the escape of her family from slavery.
Cape May has a rich history in the anti-slavery movement and you can learn all about it on the Underground Railroad Trolley Tour.
This tour will tell you stories about the history of Cape May and the underground railroad as you drive past some of the important buildings in the anti-slavery movement.
One of these buildings is the home of Stephen Smith, an abolitionist who was considered the wealthiest Black American at the time. He used a lot of his wealth to fund the anti-slavery movement.
The Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum is located in an old airport hangar and is a great place to visit for any aircraft fans.
The hangar was used during the Second World War and served as an active dive-bomber squadron training facility. It was later renovated into a museum for the general public to enjoy.
There you can find a variety of aircrafts, engine types, and military memorabilia. Some of the exhibits are interactive with you being able to get hands-on with history and possibly get in a cockpit.
It is a great day out for the whole family and a fantastic way to get educated on different aircrafts and the history of war.
This is a family-owned business that prides itself on good quality wine. You can tour the stunning grounds and sample different wines.
No reservations are needed as they work on a first-come-first-serve basis. This means you get a relaxing atmosphere that is filled with a variety of people.
As you can see, there is so much you can do in Cape May. Simply walking around you get to experience its deep history and see what has kept it as a popular vacation destination after all these years.