Greetings from Cape May

A fresh wave of goodness rolls into this postcard-perfect seaside town.


There’s quaint…and then there’s Cape May. So unique is America’s oldest seaside resort town—anchored by Congress Hall, a restored 1816 grande dame that is now an inn—it earned the distinction of being the only whole city in the U.S. to be registered as a National Historic Landmark. Brightly painted Victorian homes, beautifully preserved nature enclaves and beaches, and a charming pedestrian shopping and dining zone have come to define the town of about 3,500 year-round residents (that number swells into the tens of thousands come summer) that sits on its own little island at the southernmost tip of New Jersey. But don’t mistake it for a time capsule; while it retains its centuries-old charm and pace, there’s a modern attitude operating behind the scenes. Local and ethical sourcing of food and goods, for example, just happens to be woven into the fabric of many new businesses, but the prevailing and oh-so-appealing vibe remains the same: Come as you are. If you’ve been Cape May-curious, the post-summer season when crowds mellow and the weather stays warm is a great time to get your feet wet. Here are some don’t-miss destinations.


Beach Plum Farm

Treat yourself to a luxurious home away from home when you rent a well-appointed cottage at Beach Plum Farm. Five historic residences (including one from the late 1700s!) that sleep up to eight guests offer everything-you-need accommodations for a family vacation or fuss-free getaway with friends. Each cottage is outfitted with a cook’s kitchen—and the property, which is actually a 62-acre working farm, boasts a market where you can stock up on supplies. Or simply wander (or take a bike or golf cart that comes with each property) into The Kitchen, an on-site Amish barn that serves true farm-to-table breakfasts and lunches. Ideally situated so that you feel like you’ve escaped to the country—but “civilization” is just a few minutes’ drive away—a stay at Beach Plum will have you tapping into your primitive side as you sit around your fire pit (or, when the mercury drops, your fireplace), only in the most comfortable way possible.


Jardin at the Hugh

Environmental stewardship is the first thing on the menu at Jardin at The Hugh. Your high-school French might remind you that “jardin” means “garden,” so its French-inspired, plant-forward cuisine is nicely characterized by the name. But that’s only a small taste of the kind of thought that goes into a dining experience here. The bill you might expect at the end actually comes first, in the form of a dinner ticket (meals are a prix-fixe affair) that eliminates the need for paper checks. With one seating per night, guests are invited to arrive early to relax on their scenic porch, a mood-changer that prepares you for the coursed menu that awaits. The food: Seasonal? Yes. Sustainably sourced? Absolutely. Local? Bien sûr. And it’s also gorgeous in a way that your camera roll can’t ultimately capture, so set your phone to airplane mode and just let yourself be transported.



With beach-approved brands like Lilly Pulitzer, Faherty, Free People, and more, Sunflowers of Cape May is a bright and just-right addition to the walkable Washington Street shopscape. Formerly a Stewart’s restaurant and ice cream shop with a nostalgic ‘50s vibe, the interior has undergone a face-lift that takes advantage of the location’s soaring ceilings, towering windows, and second-floor loft to make for some easy-breezy browsing. Although their main focus is outfitting men and women in cool, comfortable, quality threads, you can find fun go-withs, too. Like fun and floppy hats, slip-into sandals, bits of bling, and finish-the-outfit bags, like a cute clutch covered in—what else?—sunflowers.



Peace Pie

Sometimes playing with your food pays off. Or at least it did one Thanksgiving when Jerry Klause, founder of Peace Pie, swapped pie crusts for giant shortbread cookies and layered them with pie filling and vanilla ice cream. The improvisation was a hit and the concept was converted into a handheld ice cream sandwich version just in time for the following summer. Stroll up to its pint-sized shop on Carpenter’s Lane and face down a dizzying array of options—take a friend or two so you can trade a bite of your Salted Caramel Brownie for their Key Lime Pie or Peanut Butter Pretzel.


West End Garage

Find everything from antique housewares to vintage jewelry, funky frocks to reclaimed wood furniture, artisanal foods to, well, the list goes on in the rambling collection of boutiques housed inside the West End Garage. Just a stone’s throw from the historic downtown area, the building indeed started life as a gas station and garage and was converted over a decade ago into a browser’s paradise. Poke around ‘til your heart’s content and pick up a little fuel along the way at the neighboring Beach Plum Bakery and Café.


Cape May Beaches

Cape May has become so synonymous with its Victorian quaintness that you may forget the main attraction: a gorgeous coastline. Because it’s in New Jersey, you might not track that this locale is actually pretty far south (to get to Philadelphia, you have to drive over an hour and a half—north). And that means that their lovely beaches can be temperate well into September, which makes fall an excellent time to visit. (Translation: summer is reliably crowded.) The main drag—Cape May Beach—stretches a little over two miles and is outfitted with a boardwalk. Stroll it and take in views of beach houses and low-rise hotels along neighboring Beach Avenue that will take you back in time. But you’d be well-advised to check out the western coast: Head over to Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area. Walk its well-defined trails and, with a little planning, end up on the beach just in time to take in a spectacular sunset.


Mayer’s Tavern

Every good old tavern should come with a story. In the case of Mayer’s, it’s one of redemption thanks to the efforts of chef and owner Alex Laudeman, a Cape May native who had watched the place go from a bona fide dive known equally for its fried scallops and bar fights to a boarded-up relic. Together with her dad, Keith, owner of the regionally famous Lobster House, she fixed up the joint with a fresh facade, but held onto the good stuff, like its centerpiece bar—and the fried scallops, which continue to be top sellers. Only now they keep company with locally-sourced vegetables and on-point cocktails, all wrapped up in one laid-back package.


Givens Circle

You won’t find raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens when you wander around Givens Circle, but you will find more than a few of the owners’ favorite things. Along with her husband Danny Casale, shop co-owner Lindsay Givens—who might be better identified as a curator—outfits their store with goods they love from their ever-growing circle of makers and artisans, and authors. From hip ceramics to live-in-them organic tees and rompers to backgammon sets so cool you’ll be tempted to serve martinis on them, it’s the perfect spot to track down something for those hard-to-buy-for types. But pick up a little something for yourself, too.


Fudge Kitchen

What’s a visit to a seaside town without a little souvenir for your sweet tooth? The only problem is that treats from The Original Fudge Kitchen may not quite make it out of the town limits before being devoured. As the name suggests, fresh fudge is the specialty here and you can watch them turning out the confection-of-many-flavors from hot copper kettles right before your very eyes. But the sugar rush doesn’t stop there; pick up some Carmallows (yep, they’re chewy caramel-coated marshmallows), satisfy a sweet and savory craving with chocolate-covered pretzels, or dig into an Irish Potato, a specialty with roots in Philadelphia that sees coconut cream shaped into small “potatoes” and rolled in cinnamon.