Each summer, you troll the East Coast for the best beach towns. You’ve been everywhere from Cape Cod to Bethany Beach to the Outer Banks. And you’ve tested everything from fried clams to fudge to breaking waves along the way. But have you been to the original beach destination?
Cape May is known as the oldest vacation resort in the country. The southern tip of the Cape May Peninsula was named after a Dutch sea captain and settled by New Englanders from the New Haven Colony. Then vacationers from Philly arrived in the 18th century. This little town has been luring people to New Jersey ever since.
Once you arrive, you’re not surprised it’s remained popular; Cape May is adorable. The Historic District is filled with Victorian buildings that look like gingerbread houses. Washington Street Mall, a three-block pedestrian area, is lined with toy stores, ice cream shops, and kitschy souvenirs. The Cape May Fisherman’s Memorial is dedicated to the men lost at sea over the years. A paved boardwalk runs in front of the water. While in between them, a soft-sand beach is filling up with walkers, sunbathers, and kids trying out their new shovels and buckets.
You’re staying at the waterfront Ocean Club Hotel. The boutique hotel is chic and breezy. Your room has a soaking tub and a balcony overlooking the beach. Chaise lounges, with bright orange towels, stand in attention by the pool and on the sun deck. Pineapple caipirinhas are delivered from Tiki Ten35, the poolside bar. While attendants will set up chairs and umbrellas on the beach, if you prefer the sand.
You plan to spend a lot of time on that beach, but there are a few other things you can’t miss while you’re here. Go on a whale and dolphin watch. Right now, you also might see a great white shark that’s been tracked off the coast. Kayak through the marshes, where sandpipers, ospreys, and herons nest in the tall grass. Visit the Cape May Lighthouse in Cape May Point State Park. After climbing 199 steps to the top, you’re rewarded with an amazing view of the water. Then stop at the Cape May Winery and enjoy a glass of chilled Albariño on the deck. The first beach destination is still one of the best.