TRAVEL AS FAR SOUTH on the Garden State Parkway as possible and you’ll happen upon Exit 0, otherwise known as Cape May. Hugging the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean at the very southern tip of New Jersey, Cape May is a National Historic Landmark that preserves its Victorian heritage and pristine beaches. Just 2.5 square miles, tiny Cape May offers a rich variety of formal and fun. It may be a short road trip from New York or Philadelphia, but quaint Cape May is worlds apart from the hustle and bustle.
WHERE TO SLEEP
From charming inns to historic hotels, Cape May offers a variety of lodging choices.
Congress Hall, a hospitality provider since 1816, stands watch over the beautiful beaches and enjoys a prime location between the walker-friendly (no cars!) Washington Street Mall and beach promenade. It also boasts 106 uniquely decorated rooms, as well as the popular Blue Pig Tavern, and bikes are even provided for leisurely tours around town. “The Hall is not a cookie-cutter venue, but a very individual enterprise catering to every corporate event,” says Patti McKnight, events manager. Meetings can be accommodated within the 3,800-square-foot ballroom, the sectional Harrison Room or the more intimate Founders Hall boardroom.
The historic, award-winning Hotel Alcott is a perfect choice for groups. The beautiful Italianate bracketed villa shares “a bygone elegance with modern comfort,” according to Alan Durollari, events manager. The 31 individually designed guest rooms have unique architectural characteristics and are the perfect marriage of old and new. The main event area boasts a courtyard, fountain and space for 180. La Verandah, awarded three stars by the Press of Atlantic City, offers simple buffets to luxury culinary affairs.
The Southern Mansion
For a dash of southern hospitality at the southernmost point in N.J., book the stunning Southern Mansion. This inn is an architectural masterpiece set on 1.5 acres of private tree-lined grounds, yet it’s only a five-minute walk to the beaches and town. There’s meeting space for 60, but don’t miss a group tasting and tour at The Southern Mansion’s Willow Creek Winery just a few miles away.
Inn of Cape May
For a classic Cape May look and feel, stay at the majestic Inn of Cape May. Overlooking the ocean, this inn has been welcoming visitors for more than a century. “This place is character. Big porch rockers looking out over the sea, and a laid-back atmosphere,” says Beth Eastman, president. In addition to 51 guest rooms, there is meeting space for 50.
WHERE TO EAT
Cape May restaurants offer everything from simple fare to Zagat-rated fine dining. The Victorian seaside town that has welcomed visitors since the mid-18th century is particularly famous for its seafood.
The Mad Batter Restaurant & Bar
Jackson Street is home to the famous Mad Batter Restaurant & Bar. This fine dining establishment is tucked inside the Carroll Villa Hotel, but it stands out all on its own. Serving everything from crab cakes and fish and chips to an inventive vegetable Wellington, the menu has something for everyone. The garden terrace, accommodating up to 60 people, opens onto the beautiful gardens. “We try to provide a very warm atmosphere here,” says third-generation owner Mark Kulkowitz.
The Lobster House
Located directly on Fisherman’s Wharf overlooking Cape May Harbor, the Lobster House shares a true seaside spirit. Of course, one of the most interesting features is the 130-footlong Schooner American, moored dockside. “It offers an outdoor cocktail lounge,” states Jessica Cicchitti, event coordinator. Private parties can choose from four different rooms, including a dance floor and bar. An outdoor patio, currently under renovation, will also be open for events with space for up to 130 people.
Peter Shields Inn & Restaurant
The stunning Peter Shields Inn & Restaurant, just steps from the sea, is a fabulous venue for entertaining clients and colleagues. The Georgian Revival mansion dates to 1907 and has five dining rooms, as well as a porch with water views. The menu includes traditional, contemporary and seasonal choices, and the wine is provided by nearby Cape May Winery & Vineyard. The views are as inspiring as the food. “The private dining room has breathtaking ocean views,” says Sean Brown, manager of the inn.
WHAT TO DO
Have some free time? There’s plenty to do in Cape May!
On the Water
Since 1993, Captain Jeff Stewart Sr. has been organizing daily whale and dolphin trips and sunset dinner cruises on The Spirit of Cape May. All the vessels in the fleet can be chartered privately. The harbor is a haven for wildlife and the sunsets are legendary. Captain Doug Ortlip of Tiny Cruise Line has a vessel that accommodates 12 and can be hired privately, making it a perfect choice for intimate occasions. The harbor tour takes in waterfront properties, the marina and even wildlife watching. Plan for a drop-off at some of the best restaurants in town, including The Lobster House and Harbor View, and enjoy a ride home after a hearty meal.
Off the Water
Check out Cape May Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC), a not-for profit organization. MAC preserves and promotes the rich history and culture for its residents and visitors. Take a ghost tour, visit Cape May Lighthouse or the Victorian house museum—Emlen Physick Estate. One of the multiple themed trolley tours includes the historic town and its many mansions. “Everything can be arranged for private groups,” says Susan Gibson, group tour manager.
The newly renovated Nature Center of Cape May features second- and third-story viewing areas, an aquarium and songbird feeding stations. There is a variety of available activities, including guided eco-tours in kayaks or on paddleboards,” says Gretchen Whitman, sanctuary director. Classrooms are available for lectures, which can be tailored on request.
Tired of the beach? Spend an afternoon touring and tasting at the Cape May Winery & Vineyard. This award-winning winery is 70 acres of stunning grounds, with four vineyards and 16 different grape varieties. “We offer private tours and wine tastings, as well as a lesson on winemaking from the enthusiastic and knowledgeable wine maker,” says Betsy Sole, events manager.