Best Things to Do in Cape May NJ: From the Beach to the Victorian Homes

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Cape May is a fantastic Jersey Shore destination. This gorgeous seaside gem is full of Victorian homes, great restaurants, history, and fun activities. There are a wide range of activities for visitors to fill their time. Or they can just sit on the beach and do nothing at all! Here are best things to do in Cape May during your vacation.

Unlike many destinations at the Shore, this was first and foremost an actual town that had residents all year long. It didn’t close up in the winter like some other places. The result is an incredible number of private homes from the Victorian era. The entire town was designated a National Historic Landmark.

But this isn’t just a relic of the past. Each year, interesting stores open on Washington Street. And in the farmlands surrounding the town, wineries, distilleries, and breweries can now be found in among the farms and farm stands. Whether you come for a long weekend or a full week, there’s lots of fun activities here.

The Wineries

Grape vines at Cape May Winery
The vineyard at Cape May Winery

One of the major attractions in Cape May is the local wineries. The area around the town is known for its wineries 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 go with the two most popular ones: Cape May Winery and Willow Creek Winery.

The Cape May Winery, which takes its name from the location, was the first winery in the county. Founded in 1989, it spans across 26 acres of land and has four vineyards. This winery has a homey feel, particularly because it is a family-owned business.

At this winery, you can get an extensive tour of the facility, taste the different varietals of wine they have available, and know what it feels like to be part of a wine-producing family.

On the other hand, Willow Creek Winery is one of the biggest wineries in New Jersey. It offers daily tours on its 50-acre vineyard. Beyond the excellent wine produced here, a farm-fresh grill menu is also available. Be sure to check it out when you visit Willow Creek.

Cape May Lighthouse

Lighthouse above sandy beach
One of the tallest and most popular landmarks on the Jersey Shore

Don’t you just love incredible views? If so, your trip to Cape May would be incomplete without a visit the lighthouse. This famous lighthouse is one of the most popular Cape May attractions for several reasons.

For a start, the lighthouse holds a significant place in the history of the area as it has served as the guiding light to a large number of ships at sea, helping them find the shore. To this day, the lighthouse still serves navigation purposes in the area. It has been fully restored and open to visitors who come to experience a part of the city’s history.

In the restoration, its original stairs were retained, ensuring that people who climb have the authentic feel of the maritime history. If you do not wish to climb, you can still find the lighthouse’s original Oil Storage Building here, and inside it, there is a museum shop where you can get keepsakes to remind you of your visit. There are murals in the lighthouse, at its base, and on the stairwell that tells the history of the lighthouse, including stories of its keepers and the place of the lighthouse in the history of the town.

Another reason for the high rate of visitors is the excellent view from the top of the lighthouse’s 199 steps. It offers a fantastic view of the area around the town and the Atlantic Ocean.

The lighthouse offers you family-friendly fun as your kids will have an adventure climbing up the stairs. Admiring the view from the top of the lighthouse can be a romantic activity for you and your significant other.

Green, three-story Victorian mansion in New Jersey
Victorian mansions are located throughout town

Emlen Physick Estate

While there are many beautiful old mansions in town, there is only one Victorian House Museum in Cape May. You can find this museum in the Emlen Physick Estate. As such, it only stands to reason that you should add paying a visit to Emlen Physick Estate to your list of things to do in Cape May.

If you are interested in Victorian-era architecture, history and customs, you should take this guided tour. A tour of the first and second floors of this museum will introduce you to the Victorian era by allowing you to look into the Physick family’s lifestyle, who were a proper Victorian family.

Built-in 1879, the Physick House is an architectural wonder with its 18 rooms showcasing the finer points of Victorian-style architecture and taste. The mansion was restored 50 years ago and has come to hold a place in pop culture.

Emlen Physick Estate has served as a location for some of Hollywood’s critically acclaimed horror movies, including The Prowler in 1981. It also appeared in the first season of Haunted Towns on Destination America, where a paranormal team investigated the house because it was believed to be haunted by the ghosts of the Physick family. It’s rumored that the home is one of the most haunted places in South Jersey.

So, if you are looking for something fun and spooky to do when visiting Cape May, go on a tour of the Physick Estate.

Cape May Brewing

People in a brewery taproom
The brewery’s taproom can be a popular place

Cape May Brewing is located at the small, local airport, a prime location for this well-beloved business. The brewery sits on over 20,000 square feet of land and includes some hilariously named spaces. It has a production facility where the magic of craft beer production happens. It also has a sour brewery equipment separated from others. There is also a beer garden, humorously named the Brewtannical Garden. Of course, there is also a tasting room where you can find all their craft beer and soda options all the time.

While visiting Cape May Brewing, you can either opt for a self-guided tour of the entire facility or one of the guided tours of the production brewery. You can also taste four of their samples using a pint glass which is their gift to you. If you find a beer you prefer out of the samples you have tasted, you can walk down to their shop, which they call Brewtique, and buy some of the beer.

Founded in 2011 by three guys with a shared love for great beer, the brewery has become a leading company in craft beer 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.

Colorful flower garden in front of Victorian home
Some of the Victorian homes look like postcards! (photo: EQRoy/Shutterstock)

Museum of Cape May County

Museums have always been a perfect way to immerse oneself in the history and culture of a destination. The Museum of Cape May County is no different. This museum, which was established in 1927, is an integral part of the county as it has been instrumental in the preservation and display of the local history of the community.

The museum comprises three historic buildings that hold the knowledge of the county’s history. It showcases the history and life from the early Native Americans through current day. The buildings that house the museums are in themselves proof of the ways the county has evolved.

To get the most out of your visit to the museum, you should participate in the wide range of family-friendly activities offered here, including the guided tours and numerous lectures or special events. Parents can focus their children’s attention on the rotating exhibits and child-friendly displays. The museum has something for everyone.

The location of the museum also makes it a perfect place for you to visit. From the museum, you can go to the beaches around the area, having both an educational as well as a fun day.

The Beach

Waves crashing on sandy beach with cloudy sky
The broad, sandy 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. This means that you can have a fun-packed day of exploring different attractions and end the day at the beach to relax or play beach games with your family.

The beaches in Cape May are also very family friendly. You can play games with your family or team up against other families in the area. And the beaches are also an excellent place for singles and solo travelers to meet new people and make new friends.

Congress Hall

Congress Hall is America’s first seaside resort and has been in existence for over 200 years. If you are looking to enjoy a pleasurable beach vacation in Cape May, you should get a room here. Even if you had made other accommodation plans, you could still opt to spend a night at Congress Hall to enjoy the experience.

The first thing visitors note is the Victorian-style buildings that welcome guests to what feels like a world of simple, enjoyable pleasures. However, this resort is not entirely a Victorian relic of the past. It blends both its historic appeal and its modern approach to service to create a unique experience for its guests.

Activities to carry out here include:

  • Lounging in a private beach tent with your significant other.
  • Taking in the view from the comfort of a rocking chair in Congress Hall’s lawn.
  • Having a lovely swim in the warm-water swimming pool.

Congress Hall offers you a combination of excellent customer service, fine dining, and family-friendly activities such as painting and yoga to keep you and your family engaged and entertained throughout your vacation.

If you are interested in stay at Congress Hall, you can read reviews and book a room here.

Nauti Spirits

Craft cocktail on bar
The craft cocktails at Nauti are fantastic

Are you looking for another farm tour while in the area? You should take a visit to Nauti Spirits, which is situated on a working farm.

Nauti Spirits is a distillery that produces premium Vodka, Gin, and Rum. A major attraction to this location is that just like the wineries mentioned above, the ingredients used in the production of these spirits are all grown either on the 60-acres of farmland the distillery is located on or in farms around the area. Not only is the distilling done within the premises, but the spirits are also bottled within the premises – a true grain-to-glass operation.

When you pay a visit to Nauti Spirits, there are various things you can do there. You can opt for a guided tour of the property, take a look at how the ingredients are grown, how the distilling is done, and how the drinks are bottled. If you have ever wanted to find out how artisan spirits are made, then a tour of Nauti Spirits is just the thing for you.

Apart from the guided tour, you can taste the various spirits. The distillers at Nauti Spirits love to share their craft with people around them and often offer tastings to visitors. Who knows, the feedback you offer might be valuable in the distilling process and the creation of their next product. You can also have some great new cocktails made from fresh ingredients gathered from the farm and distilled spirits.

Add a visit to Nauti Spirits to your list of things to do, for the tour and the drinks, of course.

Washington Street Mall

Cape May sign with bell and people walking in the background
Enjoying a day on the Washington Street Mall (photo: EQRoy/Shutterstock)

Shopping is a fun part of traveling. If you are in town and would like to include travel shopping in your list of Cape May activities, you should check out 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. It is a scenic pedestrian mall with wooden benches for you to sit down and take in the beautiful garden planters in the mall, observe people walking by, and do a little window shopping while you’re at it.

The stores in Washington Street Mall offer you a range of products to choose from. Apart from designer outfits and luxury items, you can find stores selling delicious edibles. There’s a cheese shop that offers you cheese and charcuterie boards made with locally sourced ingredients. You can also find the finest of Cape May’s olive oils at the Olive Oil store. From sports memorabilia to sweets and pastries, the mall offers you a wide range of products to buy.

The Nature Center

For a city with extensive natural resources due to its coastal location, the town gets one thing right: preserving the local environment for visitors and locals. One way that the town has done this is by establishing the Nature Center of Cape May, which focuses on educating the public about the cape’s wealth of natural resources.

Founded in 1992, the Nature Center was establish to protect the natural environment of Cape May Harbor and County, and provide much-needed environmental education for different age groups. The Nature Center has an educational campus with an observation tower, classrooms, and display gardens suitable for promoting environmental education.

The Nature Center is an ideal place to bring your family to while visiting this part of the Jersey Shore. You can explore nature at its finest and learn more about the natural environment of the area.

It also offers a variety of natural history classes designed for people of different ages. Adding a visit to the Nature Center to your list of activities can elevate your vacation from a regular one to an enjoyable educational trip for you and your family.

White lifeboat on sandy beach
The famous lifeboats of the Jersey Shore

World War II Lookout Tower

A visit to a new destination is often never complete without checking out the local historic landmarks. So, if you have the time when you visit Cape May, New Jersey, you should check out the World War II Lookout Tower.

New Jersey had a lot of World War II Lookout Towers, primarily because of its coastal location and its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. However, there is only one remaining, restored World War II Lookout Tower in New Jersey. This tower is known as Fire Control Tower No. 23.

Constructed in 1942, the Cape May World War II Lookout Tower was part of the 15 lookout towers that were constructed to monitor Delaware Harbor, a strategically important waterway that led to the cities of Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware. Collectively this harbor defense system was known as Fort Miles and it played a vital role in the coastal defenses during the Second World War. The tower was used to aim artillery fire and to detect approaching enemies.

This tower is more interesting because it is the only surviving tower out of the four towers that were originally in the county. As such, this tower is one of the last remnants that show the community’s role in the World War II effort. On the sixth floor of the tower, you will find a gallery with information about war, including a wall of honor showcasing the efforts of local residents. A visit to the tower can be a great family activity as you can turn it into a lesson.

The Meadows

If you enjoy exploring nature and bird watching, the South Cape May Meadows is the perfect place for you. 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 you with several fun things to do in the area.

For a start, you can observe the native and migratory birds that have come to call this incredible expanse of land home, whether for long periods or short rests, while moving along Delaware Bay. You can call it a haven for birds.

Some of the birds you can find there include endangered shorebirds like the Piping Plovers, which are at risk of going extinct on a national level. You will also find the Least Terns and American Oystercatchers, which are at risk of going extinct on a state level. Apart from birds, you can find deer, foxes, turtles, and monarch butterflies here. The preserve also provides trails for you to take strolls on while observing nature. From lush meadows to sand dunes, there is enough walking space for you to stroll and take in all that the preserve has to offer.

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