The Jersey Shore gets a bad rap.
Whether it’s an Ocean Avenue full of beach rats, Seaside Heights full of rowdy teenagers or supposed dirty beaches, many have something bad to say about the famous coastline ruling the East Coast.
However, when we think of some of the biggest town names of the Shore — Wildwood, Belmar, Atlantic City — one place that tends to escape the list is Cape May.
For the same reasons that Cape May is set apart from the “typical” Shore town, it’s also an ideal Shore spot to bring mom as Mother’s Day creeps up on us this weekend and spring is in full bloom.
Walk Victorians that line streets
Unbeknownst to most weekend beachgoers, the entirety of Cape May is designated as a National Historic Landmark because of the concentration of Victorian buildings in the three-square-mile city. Instead of being roped off from tourists with entrance fees tacked on, people live in these 600-or-so homes and they make it count.
You can live in these homes for a brief time, too — take advantage of more than 30 antiquated bed-and-breakfasts in the Victorian district that ooze regality and charm. The historic bed-and-breakfasts often offer antique furnishings, gourmet breakfasts, afternoon tea and period features, bringing a stay not equated with most other lodgings on the Jersey Shore from about $125 a night.
If you wander through the shady, laid-back town, you’ll quickly notice that the colorful Victorian homes are adorned with elaborate gardens, eccentric details and people casually enjoying their tea on wrap-around porches. This makes the city feel very comfortable, lived in and real.
Don’t miss the Emlen Physick Estate on a leisurely walk, a Victorian house museum that will take you back to the era through the home’s architecture and décor throughout 15 restored rooms for $12 a person.
Lounge on some of best U.S. beaches
The city boasts the cleanest beaches around. It’s probably partially because the neat and tidy beaches, such as Higbee Beach or Poverty Beach, cost $6 a day, but nonetheless, the Natural Resource Defense Council has designated the 24 Cape May beaches one of its 38 cities of “Superstar Beaches” due to the quality of the water.
Although it may not be warm enough to swim during Mother’s Day weekend, the season doesn’t officially start until Memorial Day Weekend, meaning you can skip the $6 daily pass and simply enjoy the bright beaches and clean sand.
Also check out Cape May Point State Park, which is full of beaches, marshlands, an exhibit gallery as well as nature trails throughout its 235 acres. The park is also known as one of the best places in North America to view bird migration, making birding one of the most popular activities for outdoorsy visitors at the park.
You can also climb to the top of the Cape May Lighthouse for $8 a person at the park. Built in 1869, you’ll join the 100,000 people who hike the 199 steps to the top each year and get a stellar view of the end of the state, where Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean.
Sample local food and wine
The Washington Street Mall, in the heart of the Victorian district in a walkable distance from the beach and most central bed-and-breakfasts, only contains shops that are privately or family owned and are a great stop for visitors to head to an ice cream parlor, café, restaurant or clothing boutique.
One of my favorite Washington Street Mall restaurants is A Ca Mia, which operates as a bakery, art gallery and Northern Italian restaurant inside a building constructed in 1872. Try the crab cake Italiano, oven-baked crabcakes with fresh crabmeat, peppers, spinach and pine nuts served with caper aioli and capellini in a tomato pesto sauce for $22 for one cake or $31 for two.
The Lobster House, on Cape May Harbor, is a great alternative to pricey seafood dining with the hometown, lazy feel of a boardwalk restaurant. With a modest price tag for outdoor seating, you can grab some menus, mark it up with friends and family, and head over to the bars to grab your crab cakes, clam chowder and oysters on the half shell at market price and enjoy them on the deck across the bay from million-dollar homes and yachts and plenty of gulls.
The Cape May Winery and Vineyard, about five miles from the tourist center of Cape May, can provide a $6 wine tasting cap to a seafood dinner from down the street. Sample wines throughout four vineyards from 70 acres of the property from one of the three tasting rooms or the wooden deck overlooking the vineyards.
With pastel Victorians and cool streets full of weeping willows, the city boasts wallet-friendly yet memorable family attractions that are ideal for a day trip or a long weekend by the beach to celebrate the number one woman in your life — mom.
CAPE MAY ATTRACTIONS
Emlen Physick Estate is a Victorian house museum which contains 15 renovated rooms that can be toured for 45 minutes for $12 a person at 1048 Washington Street and can be reached at 609-884-5404.
Bed-and-breakfasts in Cape May range from $160 to $400 a night for Mother’s Day weekend. Around 30 are throughout the city, most concentrated near the ocean and central Victorian district.
Higby Beach and Poverty Beach are popular Cape May beaches with a $6 entrance fee starting after Memorial Day Weekend.
Cape May Point State Park is full of beaches, marshes and an exhibit gallery off of Route 629.. It’s also widely known for its bird watching opportunities and can be reached at 609-884-2159.
Cape May Lighthouse contains 199 steps to the top and can be hiked for $8 a person at 215 Light House Ave and can be reached at 609-224-6066.
Washington Street Mall is an outdoor mall at 401 Washington St. full of cafes, restaurants, clothing boutiques and dessert shops located in the heart of the Victorian District.
A Ca Mia is a Northern Italian restaurant at 524 Washington St. in the Washington Street Mall and can be reached at 609-884-6661.
The Lobster House is an eat-in or take-out seafood restaurant at 906 Schellengers Landing Rd. on the Cape May Harbor and can be reached at 609-884-8296.
The Cape May Winery and Vineyard is a 70-acre winery that provides $6 tastings and tours at 711 Town Band Rd. and can be reached at 609-884-1169.