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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, seeing the 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.
Go wine tasting
One of the major attractions in Cape May is the local wineries. The area around the town is known for its vineyards and produces 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, start at 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. It spans 26 acres and has four vineyards. Visitors can tour 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. There are daily tours of its 50-acre vineyard plus flights and glasses for enjoying in the tasting room or on the patio. Willow Creek is also a popular lunch and dinner destination–some people come as much for the farm-to-table menu as for the wines themselves.
Climb the lighthouse
If you’re a sucker for incredible views, head to Cape May’s famous lighthouse. It’s one of the most popular places to go 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 year-round.
Built in 1879, the house is an architectural wonder with 18 rooms. 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 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 they 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 during the war, the tower was one of 15 lookout towers designed to monitor Delaware Harbor, a strategically important waterway leading 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 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 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 ingredients locally. If you’re interested in learning more beyond the tasting room and beer garden, take a self-guided tour of the facility or one of the guided tours of the production brewery.
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 draws 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
If you come to town in the summer, visiting Cape May’s beaches is a must. Some of the best beaches in the area, they 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. Note that beach tags are required for visitors 12 and older from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
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.
If you’re visiting in the summer, take the time to lounge in a private beach tent, swim in the pool, enjoy yoga, or dine in one of the on-site restaurants. In the winter, the hotel’s grounds turn into a winter wonderland with tons of seasonal decorations, a Christmas market, and food and cocktails for the holidays. It’s one of the most festive places to be at Christmas in Cape May.
If you are interested in staying 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. Established over 30 years ago, it 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 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 something from the extensive cocktails list. 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 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