Going to Cape May, New Jersey, for an early September wedding would be fun, we thought. How could we know how much fun, and how attractive, clean and organized this most-southern part of New Jersey would be?
And how could we know that we would drive over four hours to get there, and find that a fellow guest at the wedding is also a fellow columnist for WEEKEND? Yes, who should be an old friend of the bride’s parents, but WEEKEND’s own wine expert, Arthur Levin. I had never met Mr. Levin before despite our being neighbor columnists for many years. I guess it proves the “six degrees of separation” canard.
Cape May is an old Victorian beach enclave, now the presumed capital of Bed and Breakfasts in the universe, from all I could see. I cannot tell you how many B & B’s there are, but I heard numbers between 50 and 100. This could make your choice of overnight accommodations a nightmare, but fear not, I will try to solve that dilemma for you.
Although it is a four-hour drive, I think it’s a great weekend destination, for the early fall. Instead of driving to the mountains for the foliage, try to catch the last of summer along the great stretches of beach at Cape May. I found it much less boisterous than the other major beach areas of the mid-Atlantic, such as Ocean City and Atlantic City, New Jersey, or Ocean City, Maryland.
There are several streets in the historic district that are chock-a-block with large Victorian houses, many of them now B & B’s. Probably the best of these is The Mainstay on Columbia Street. It is a restored Italianate Victorian villa with an inviting wraparound porch. Its furnishings are authentic of the period of the house, which is mid-19th century. I’m told that The Mainstay is the grandfather of all B & B’s. There are several others in town that are appealing, including The John Wesley Inn, The Manor House (where we stayed on our earlier visit to Cape May many years ago), The Queen Victoria, and The Fairthorne. The family of the bride has a warm and inviting bed and breakfast called The Inn at The Park on Washington Street. It is slightly away from the main center, but next door to a park, and only a few steps from the Emlen Physick Estate. (This famous old Victorian stick-style mansion, in a very attractive garden, is one of the most interesting places to visit in Cape May.) The Inn at The Park would be a great place to stay if you like the pleasant company of a friendly family who serve great breakfasts. Check these out on the web. Virtually every one has a website, and reservations can be made through that medium.
We stayed at a great location, the Columbia House, which is not strictly a bed and breakfast, but a guesthouse, meaning they don’t serve breakfast. We had an apartment, with two bedrooms, a living room and a brand new kitchen, and a porch, where we could sit and catch the breezes in the morning, or in the cool of the evening. Just two blocks from the beach, it was a very convenient location.
Just across the street was one of the best little clothing shops in town, called “Cheeks,” where I managed to find just the right shirt and a cute little sun hat. Nearby is a walking street called the Washington Street Mall, which has a few restaurants and the usual compliment of gift shops, et cetera. But we were not there for shopping, (not with the wedding and the gorgeous beaches so near.)
There are lots of distractions in the area, if you are not at a wedding and get tired of the beach (and the shopping). One of the most fun things to do is to take the Cape May – Lewes ferry. This is a fun way to get down to Delaware and Rehoboth Beach, and to the big shopping outlets on the Delaware side. The ferry takes less than an hour and is a cool ride on a hot day.
We took a long car ride all around the area, which included the Cape May Pont State Park, West Cape May, Cape May Point itself, (where there are even quieter beaches), then North to Stone Harbor, and Wildwood. The Ocean Drive takes you over flat salt marshes, where you can see forever.
Back in town, there are alternatives to driving, of course. In fact, we pretty much parked the car and left it, so we could get a little exercise. There are wonderful walks and bike rentals, (in fact you can rent a surrey bike for four, which looked pretty good to me.) You can take a horse drawn carriage ride, or an old fashioned trolley/bus on a tour around town, with a running commentary.
There is whale watching in this area, and we kept hearing people exclaim that they had seen schools of dolphin just off the beach. There is a very sheltered harbor, where you can watch the fish come in. I was told that the best breakfast in town is at the Lobster House, which is at the harbor.
Speaking of eating, we had a delicious meal at an Italian restaurant, with the very strange name of Stumpo’s. (At least you won’t forget it.) One morning, we had a great breakfast at Aleathea’s, at the Inn at Cape May. There were several other restaurants that we would have tried if we’d had time, and I’m sure no one will starve in a place like this.
We knew we’d like the trip, since we love the nephew who was getting married, and were thrilled with his choice of bride. In addition, it would be a family reunion for all the cousins who hadn’t been together in a while. The big plus was to get to spend time in a very civilized American resort town, enjoyable in every way.