At the southern tip of New Jersey's shore 125 mi/200 km south of Newark, Cape May is one of the most appealing destinations on the Eastern Seaboard.
As the nation's oldest seashore resort, Cape May offers a lot more than sea, sun and surf: It has more than 600 restored, gingerbread-clad, pastel-painted structures from the Victorian era. Some of the best homes line Congress Place, but the entire city has been designated a National Historic Landmark. (It's a very popular place to visit, so be prepared for gridlock during high season.)
Roaming about anywhere in town is like stepping out of a time machine: Try to make time to tour some of the marvelously restored Victorian homes, including the Emlen Physick Estate, a fine example of stick-style architecture, with inverted-corbel chimneys and jerkin-head dormers.
Other highlights include the Chalfonte, an old resort hotel; the recently renovated Congress Hall, once the summer White House of President Benjamin Harrison; and the Cape May Point Lighthouse, which offers panoramic views of sea and land. The city is known as having among the best bed-and-breakfasts in the country, too: Some of the most outstanding are along Congress Street.
Cape May is also the northern terminus of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, a 70-minute trip across Delaware Bay connecting the southern tip of New Jersey with Delaware (a useful, mileage-saving route if you're headed in that direction). Ferry traffic can be very heavy, however, especially on summer weekends: If at all possible, avoid the passage on Saturdays 9 am-3 pm in July, August and Labor Day weekend. We highly recommend making reservations for the ferry whenever you travel.
In nearby Cape May Court House, 13 mi/20 km north of Cape May on U.S. Route 9, the Cape May County Zoo—featuring 345 species—is well worth a visit. Another worthwhile detour is the five-minute drive to Cold Spring Village, an outdoor museum that re-creates life in a 19th-century farming village.
If you have time for a day trip, you also might want to visit one of two intriguing places in nearby Cumberland County. One is Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center and the Museum of American Glass in the city of Millville, where you can explore the history of the area's glassmaking tradition and other crafts (http://www.wheatonarts.org/). The other is the county seat of Bridgeton, where you'll find some 2,200 registered historical structures.
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