Take mom to nation’s oldest seaside resort

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.

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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.

Take advantage of more than 30 antiquated bed-and-breakfasts in the Victorian district that ooze regality and charm and offer antique furnishings, gourmet breakfasts, afternoon tea and period features. (Jenna Intersimone Photography)
Take advantage of more than 30 antiquated bed-and-breakfasts in the Victorian district that ooze regality and charm and offer antique furnishings, gourmet breakfasts, afternoon tea and period features. (Jenna Intersimone Photography)

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.

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. (Jenna Intersimone Photography)
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. (Jenna Intersimone Photography)

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.

The Lobster House is a great alternative to pricey seafood dining with the hometown, lazy feel of a boardwalk restaurant. (Photo: Courtesy of Ed Morlock)
The Lobster House is a great alternative to pricey seafood dining with the hometown, lazy feel of a boardwalk restaurant. (Photo: Courtesy of Ed Morlock)

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.

The Nation’s Oldest Seaside Resort

The Jersey Shore gets a bad rap.

Whether it’s an Ocean Avenue full of bennies, Seaside Heights full of rowdy, drunken teenagers, or Asbury Park’s dirty, needle-ridden beaches, everyone has something bad to say about the famous coastline ruling the East Coast. However, when we think of the biggest cities of the Shore – Wildwood, Belmar, Atlantic City – one place that tends to escape the list is Cape May.

Why is this? Probably because Cape May doesn’t really fit the mold of the typical Jersey Shore beach town. There’s no insane florescent-lighted clubs, bungalows stuffed full of wild college kids or action-packed boardwalks. But this isn’t a reason to avoid the town – hell, if you want those things you can save yourself some Parkway driving and stay more north. However, if you’re bored of the typical dirty Shore beach (not that they aren’t wonderful) then get comfortable in the driver’s seat and find out why Cape May stands apart from every other boardwalked beach on the coast.

1. The entire city is designated as a National Historic Landmark. Sound lame? Well, unlike the “historical landmarks” your parents dragged you to on the edge of your town to learn about how colonial people made bread or something, the entire city is designated as a National Historic Landmark because of the outrageous concentration of Victorian buildings. 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. Wandering through the shady, laid-back town, especially near Washington Street, you’ll quickly notice that these colorful Victorians 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. 

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Strolling down Beach Avenue

2. The Cape May Lighthouse, over 100 years old, stands noble and dignified. Climbing lighthouses always seems like an activity you do because your parents make you, but climbing the Cape May Lighthouse is a highlight of the city experience. At the top of the lighthouse, built in 1869, you have a great view overlooking the end of the state (and the beginning of the next) where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean and you can check out the surrounding marshlands, where outdoor fanatics bird watch.

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View out of a 100+ year old porthole at the Cape May Lighthouse over the Atlantic

3. It’s a quiet, low-key and romantic beach town. There aren’t too many Jersey Shore towns that can call themselves “romantic” or “low-key” – instead, most are a little cheesy, equipped with their own theme songs, and are muddled with franchises and sticky kids. Cape May, however, with the quiet undertones of Savannah, Georgia or Charlotte, North Carolina, is a hotspot for stately weddings and, thankfully, is fit for adults. A town with pastel Victorians, quiet and cool streets, weeping willows and bed and breakfasts is made for romance. Embrace the sentimentality by going on a beach bike ride down Beach Avenue or going for a $6 wine tasting at the Cape May Winery.

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An afternoon wander down Washington Street

4. The city boasts the cleanest beaches around. It’s probably in part 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 locations of “Superstar Beaches” due to the quality of the water. You won’t run into any plastic bags or trash on Cape May beaches and, a rarity on the Jersey Shore, you won’t have to worry about any gross contamination here. Cape May feels very clean, luxurious and exclusive not only due to the beautiful homes and hotels, but also because the star attractions of the town stay neat and tidy.

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Cape May Point beach is one of the city’s most residential beaches

5. Cape May has got some great dining, shopping and staying. No need to rent a room at the Marriott around here – instead, take advantage of the many antiquated bed-and-breakfasts that ooze regality and charm. Most have their own legends, ghosts, themes and quirks. The same goes for Cape May restaurants in shops – you won’t find too many chains or franchises, but instead, lots of family-owned places that have been run by the same families for decades where you can find some interesting stuff and stellar seafood.

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Lunch at A Ca Mia, Italian restaurant and bakery at the Washington Street Mall

The Best Waterside Restaurants on the Jersey Shore

When you live on the Jersey Shore, summer doesn’t start on June 21, when the sand gets hot, or even when the local pools open up. Beachrats can barely wait for an 80-degree thermometer to tinker on over to the beach (which is why you can spot them surfing in the dead of winter), but instead, you’ll find these dirty combers scouring the sands as soon as the calendar swings over May.

Why? They don’t care if they have to wear jeans to do it – these people want to be on their boats, in the kayaks, hovered over the side with fishing poles, and trotting down the boardwalk with their sloppy puppies – and they don’t want to wait. However, even the dirtiest beachrat needs a nice meal once in a while that didn’t come from a truck, which is why you should check out the below Jersey Shore restaurants in between the spouts of living in your car this summer, especially before all those bennies get down there in mid June.

1. The Lobster House at Cape May Harbor

The Lobster House is a staple of a weekend well spent in the southern shores. With a modest price tag for outdoor seating, you can grab some menus, mark it up with your people, and head over to the respective bars to grab your crab cakes, clam chowder, and oysters on the half shell and enjoy them on the deck across the bay from million-dollar homes and yachts and plenty of gulls. The Lobster House is a great alternative to pricey seafood dining with the hometown, lazy feel of a boardwalk restaurant. Learn more at thelobsterhouse.com

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Photo Courtesy of Ed Morlock

2. Boathouse Restaurant at Wildwood

At Boathouse, choose indoor or outdoor seating for stunning panoramic views of the harbor while enjoying top-of-the-line fresh clams casino, steamed mussels, stuffed flounder, or twin lobster tails. A classier establishment than other harborside seafood restaurants, Boathouse is a great end note when you’re feeling like you deserve to spend a few bucks. Learn more at boathouseonline.net.  

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Photo Courtesy of Jenna Intersimone

3. Rooney’s Ocean Crab House at Long Branch

Rooney’s is a top-of-the-line restaurant and raw bar that sits just far enough from the hub of Pier Village while facing the Atlantic in a completely glass-screened seating area. Offering a raw bar, conveniently placed circular bar, private parties, and a truly stellar $30 all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch until Memorial Day that is never crowded, Rooney’s is a great spot for birthdays and anniversaries while also being a go-to for nursing your Sunday morning hangover with a Mimosa and some crab legs. Learn more at rooneysocean.com.

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Photo Courtesy of Jenna Intersimone

4. Moonstruck at Asbury Park

With an ambiance that doesn’t mimic pinkies in the air or bored businessmen, Moonstruck is reminiscient of an old-school cocktail lounge and restaurant tucked away at the corner of town in a romantic old building. Travel up the hiking steps, grab a bottle of wine, and listen to the insanity of Asbury Park from nearby… in the quiet corner of Moonstruck, equipped with a variation of classic Italian dishes. Learn more at moonstrucknj.com.

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Photo Courtesy of oldbridgemusiccenter.wordpress.com

5. Stella Marina at Asbury Park

Stella Marina boasts an extensive Italian menu in a classy, white tablecloth environment overlooking one of the most notorious boardwalks in the United States. With outstanding views of the Asbury beaches below, visitors enjoy some classic Italian accompanied by plenty of wines fit for events such as birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays. Learn more at stellamarinarestaurant.com

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Photo Courtesy of restaurantpassion.com