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Cape May is a fantastic destination at the shore in southern New Jersey. This gorgeous seaside gem is full of Victorian homes, great restaurants, history, and fun activities. Visitors can fill their days with shopping, visiting wineries, and lots more, or they can relax on the beach and do nothing at all! To help decide how to spend your time, we’ve put together this list of some of the best things to do in Cape May during your vacation.
Go wine tasting at local wineries
One of the major attractions in Cape May is the local wineries. The area around the town is known for its vineyards and produces some remarkably good wines. The wineries fill up each day but can be especially busy when the weather is bad.
If this is your first visit to the wineries in Cape May, it is best to visit the two most popular ones: Cape May Winery and Willow Creek Winery.
Cape May Winery was the first winery in the county and has been family-owned since its inception. Founded in 1989, it spans 26 acres and has four vineyards. Visitors can tour of the facility, taste the different varietals, and enjoy the on-site restaurant.
On the other hand, Willow Creek Winery is one of the biggest wineries in New Jersey. It offers daily tours of its 50-acre vineyard plus flights and glasses for enjoying in the tasting room or on the patio. It’s also a popular lunch and dinner destination with families visiting as much for the farm-to-table menu as for the wines.
Climb the lighthouse
Don’t you just love incredible views? If so, your trip to Cape May would be incomplete without a visit to the lighthouse. This famous lighthouse is one of the most popular Cape May attractions thanks to its history and panoramic views from the top.
The restored lighthouse still has its original stairs from 1859, ensuring that people who trek the 199 steps to the top have the authentic feel of maritime history. Information panels along the climb and around the grounds tell the history of the lighthouse, including stories of its keepers, and provide details about how it functioned historically and still works today. Visitors can also see the original oil storage building, which now houses the museum shop.
Tour the Emlen Physick House
One of the most well-known mansions in town, the Emlen Physick Estate is a beautiful Victorian house museum. A visit here is one of the most popular things to do in Cape May.
Built in 1879, the Physick House is an architectural wonder with its 18 rooms showcasing the finer points of Victorian-style architecture and taste. If you are interested in Victorian-era architecture, history, and customs, a guided tour is a must. The museum tour will introduce you to the Victorian era through the Physick family’s stories and artifacts.
The mansion was restored 50 years ago and has since served as a movie filming location and a site for paranormal investigators. It’s rumored that the home is one of the most haunted places in South Jersey thanks to Physick family members who don’t want to leave.
Shop at Washington Street Mall
One of the best places to shop in town is the Washington Street Mall. This large outdoor mall covers three blocks and has numerous shops and restaurants. It is a scenic pedestrian mall with wooden benches for you to sit down and take in the beautiful garden planters, people watch, and do a little window shopping while you’re at it.
The stores along Washington Street Mall offer a range of items. In addition to designer outfits and luxury items, there are specialty shops including artisan chocolates, salt water taffy, and a cheese shop that makes cheese and charcuterie boards with locally sourced ingredients. From sports memorabilia to sweets and pastries, the mall offers lots of options.
Visit historic Cold Spring Village
A visit to Cold Spring Village is one of the fun activities in Cape May for lovers of history. Set on 22 acres, this open-air living history museum offers a glimpse at life in South Jersey in the late 1700s and early 1800s—a period known as the “age of homespun.”
At the village, historic re-enactors conduct the daily activities of an early American village, including weaving, basket making, and woodworking. Visitors have the chance to learn about the history, see all the work in action, and sometimes get to participate in making their own crafts.
The 27 restored historic structures include a blacksmith shop, general store, workshops, and homes. There is even a brewery set in an historic barn that’s open year-round.
See the World War II Lookout Tower
Because of its coastal location and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, New Jersey once had a lot of World War II lookout towers. Today, only one remains–Cape May’s lookout tower known as Fire Control Tower No. 23.
Constructed in 1942, the tower was one of 15 lookout towers designed to monitor Delaware Harbor, a strategically important waterway that led to Philadelphia and Wilmington. It was used to aim artillery fire and to detect approaching enemies.
Visitors can climb the 99 steps to the top of the restored tower to see the tip of the Cape. Along the way, there are galleries with information about World War II, including the Wall of Honor showcasing the efforts of local residents.
Sample the offerings at Cape May Brewing
Cape May Brewing is located at the small, local airport, a prime location for this beloved business. The brewery sits on over 20,000 square feet of land, which is home to its production facility, tasting room, and the cleverly-named beer garden — the Brewtannical Garden.
Founded in 2011 by three guys with a shared love for great beer, the brewery has become a leading craft brewery in New Jersey, gaining popularity among locals and visitors. The company has built a favorable reputation as a brewery committed to putting out quality beer with consistency. They are also known for sourcing most of their products locally. Visitors can opt to take a self-guided tour of the facility, one of the guided tours of the production brewery, or just relax and enjoy the tasting room and beer garden.
See the animals at Cape May Zoo
For over 40 years, the Cape May County Park and Zoo has been one of the area’s top attractions for families. The zoo, which offers free admission, spans an impressive 85 acres and is home to over 250 species of animals.
The Zoo features an aviary with exotic birds, a reptile house, and an African savannah exhibit with zebras, giraffes, and other large animals. Visitors can also see lions, monkeys, snow leopards, and many other species from around the world. The zoo is open year-round, so it’s a fun place to visit in Cape May any time you’re in town.
Hang out at the beach
One of the fun activities in Cape May is visiting the beach. If you have a thing for pristine beaches with the necessary amenities that make spending time on the sand fun, then you should not miss an opportunity to visit any of Cape May’s beaches, which are some of the best beaches in the area.
The beaches cover a 2.5 mile stretch of land parallel to Beach Avenue. Wherever you are in town, you are typically walking distance to a nice stretch of sand.
Visit the Museum of Cape May County
For nearly a century, the Museum of Cape May County has helped to preserve and showcase local community history. Its three historic buildings have exhibits tracing life and culture from the early Native Americans through current day. Visitors can see everything from a 1704 colonial kitchen to a Victorian sitting room, an extensive maritime collection, and a flag carried by local soldiers during the Civil War.
The museum offers regular family-friendly activities, including guided tours, lectures, and special events. There is a little bit of something for everyone.
Stay at Congress Hall
America’s first seaside resort, Congress Hall is a blend of elegant history and modern luxury. At over 200 years old, it is an example of grand architecture and a building packed with stories. It’s also a 4-star hotel with beautiful accommodations and lots of things to do. Lounge in a private beach tent, take in the view from the hotel’s lawn, swim in the pool, enjoy yoga, or dine in one of the on-site restaurants.
If you are interested in stay at Congress Hall, read reviews and book a room here.
Visit the Nature Center
The Nature Center of Cape May focuses on educating the public about the Cape’s wealth of natural resources. Founded in 1992, it was established to protect the natural environment and to provide much-needed environmental knowledge for different age groups. The Nature Center has an educational campus with an observation tower, classrooms, and display gardens.
In the summer season, there is regular programming for visitors of all ages. People can learn about coastal birds, go on guided beach walks, and take coastal safaris to learn about the animals that live in the harbor, among other activities.
Have a cocktail at Nauti Spirits
Nauti Spirits, a true grain-to-glass distillery, produces premium vodka, gin, rum, and whiskey at its farm location on Shunpike Road. The ingredients for their top-quality spirits are grown on the 60 acres of farmland and sourced from local farms, and distilling and bottling happens right beside the cozy tasting room.
Visitors can see how the artisan spirits are made and try and extensive cocktails list that showcases the flavor profiles of the spirits. We loved sampling the rum and indulging in the Old Fashioned cocktails made with Nauti’s Atlantic bourbon.
Visit the Harriet Tubman Museum
One of the newer points of interest in Cape May, the Harriet Tubman Museum chronicles the life of the conductor of the Underground Railroad. In the early 1850s, Tubman spent time working in the town, earning money to finance her efforts to help enslaved people escape to the North.
Exhibits tell the story of Tubman’s heroics as she helped dozens of people flee the South, including the nine formerly enslaved people who she brought through Cape May on their way to Canada. Photos and artifacts help bring the stories to life.
The museum also goes beyond Harriet Tubman’s story to highlight the once-vibrant local African American community. There is information about Black-owned businesses in the city over the last century—including the first Black resort—and the first community of free Black people which was founded 40 years before the Civil War.
Stroll through the historic district
Grand Victorian homes painted in all the colors of the rainbow are one of the town’s hallmarks. The best place to see some of the most beautiful ones is in the Cape May Historic District.
The Historic District, which is also a National Historic Landmark, spans 1.5 square miles and includes 600 buildings. Most were constructed in the aftermath of a 1878 fire that decimated the town, and they feature architectural elements of the Late Victorian style. To see some great examples, take a walk along Perry Street, Jackson Street, Decatur Street, and Ocean Street.
Go bird watching at the South Cape May Meadows
If you enjoy exploring nature and bird watching, the South Cape May Meadows is the perfect place to go. This area is sometimes called the Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge on some maps and is part of the New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail, a designation of the National Park Service in NJ.
Located along the Atlantic Flyway path for bird migration, this 200-acre natural preserve provides opportunities to observe native and migratory birds that call this incredible expanse of land home while moving along Delaware Bay. In addition to bird watching, visitors can hike nature trails and see other wildlife like deer, foxes, turtles, and monarch butterflies