When I went to Cape May for the first time years ago, I was blown away by its many gorgeous Victorian houses, pristine beach, and cute, lively town center. We recently went back, and I was still stunned by its beauty and easy yet sophisticated vibes.
The seaside town of Cape May in New Jersey was never on my radar until a friend mentioned it to me when I bemoaned a lack of quality beaches in the Washington, D.C. area. It was a four-hour drive from my house, but she assured me that I would love it.
Well, my friend knew me so well because once I laid eyes on those Victorian houses, I was sold. At the time, I was stressed out from work and in need of some serious R&R in the form of a good beach and maybe a cute town. Cape May delivered both.
I had booked the Queen Victoria Bed and Breakfast housed in one of those cute wooden houses, and I was already excited even before I got there. Once I got to the B&B, I felt like I had been transported somewhere centuries earlier. The wooden structure was in a shade of green with a decorative gabled roof and a wraparound front porch with rocking chairs.
Other houses in the area were equally cute. I felt like I was in a fairy tale because pastel- colored houses with gingerbread trim, turrets, and gables were everywhere. I must have taken hundreds of pictures.
Then I went to the beach, and boy, was I speechless. The sandy area was huge. The sand itself was so delicate and clean, like someone had just meticulously cleaned every grain before I arrived. I went swimming and it was bliss.
The town center around the Washington Street Mall area was lively and fun with gorgeous buildings in line with its Victorian identity. In addition to the many restaurants, there were many specialty shops perfect for just browsing or doing some serious shopping. My favorites were a bath store called Bath Time and a gourmet food store, the name of which escaped me.
Cape May became a favorite place for those seeking the sun, sand, sea, and seafood back in the 18th century. Unlike other well-known seaside towns in the North East, Cape May had no boardwalk. There used to be one, but it was destroyed by hurricanes. In its place today is a sea wall lined with shops, restaurants, guesthouses, and Bed & Breakfasts.
I later learned that they started building a lot of these Victorian style houses after the big fire in 1878 that destroyed most of the town. At the time Victorian style was at its peak, and so it became the style of choice for Cape May looking to rebuild itself.
We went there recently as I was in need of an emergency R&R again, and was dismayed that many hotels and B&Bs were fully booked. I was grateful that one of the boutique hotels, the Virginia, was available, and it turned out I liked it a lot as it had its own dedicated beach area and provided beach supplies, making it easier to enjoy the sun, sand, and sea. The drive was again four hours, but it was definitely worth it. It now ranks number one as my favorite seaside town in America.