Waypoint: Cape May, New Jersey

Waypoint: Cape May, New Jersey

Cape May is arguably the first true coastal resort town in the U.S. Find out why it should be on your MFD.

Photos by Dori Arrington

Just saying the word “beach” or bringing your favorite beach to mind, will ease most people into a pleasant state of relaxation. For many, waves washing ashore on sandy beaches defines the ideal weekend or the setting for a perfect vacation. Looking at sunbathers on crowded beaches around the world, it would be easy to believe we’ve always been drawn to the shore for entertainment or relaxation. However this is far from the case, for most of history, the coast was a dangerous place.

Writing for the Smithsonian, in her work Inventing the Beach: The Unnatural History of a Natural Place, Daniela Blea observes: “From antiquity up through the 18th century, the beach stirred fear and anxiety in the popular imagination. The coastal landscape was synonymous with dangerous wilderness; it was where shipwrecks and natural disasters occurred.” We may not know the pleasures of a seaside stay, if not for Cape May, New Jersey, when in the mid-1800’s it became the country’s first oceanside resort town.

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Each region has its own vernacular for a trip to the coast. In New England you’re going to “The Cape,” in Maryland, especially Baltimore, you’re “Goin’ Downy Ocean.” From the Carolinas through the southeast, you’re simply going to “The Beach.” In New Jersey, where Cape May defines the “Jersey Shore,” you’re “Headin’ Down the Shore.”

Cape May is home to a number of beaches, the largest and most popular is Cape May Beach, with over 5 miles of sugar soft sand facing the Atlantic Ocean. Where Cape May Beach ends, Cape May Point State Park begins, where it is washed by the more gentle waters of Delaware Bay. Turning north from Cape May Point State Park, are Sunset Beach and Higbee Beach, best known for spectacular sunsets, swimming, sunbathing and fishing.

Cape May Point State Park is also home to another favorite attraction, the Cape May Lighthouse. Built in 1859, the lighthouse is still a working aid to navigation, but is also open to the public for tours. Visitors can climb the 199 steps to the top of the lighthouse for a panoramic view of the town, the Atlantic and Delaware Bay. On a clear day, you can see Cape Henlopen ten miles across the mouth of the Delaware Bay.

As much as Cape May is known for its beaches, the historic seaside town is equally known for its unrivaled collection of Victorian architecture. Numerous towns claim individual neighborhoods or sections listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but Cape May outdoes them all, with the entire city listed on the Register. One of the most popular homes is the Emlen Physick Estate, an 18-room Victorian mansion built in 1879. The estate is now a museum, that offers tours of the house and its beautiful gardens. Visitors can also stroll through the surrounding neighborhood to see many other Victorian houses that have been lovingly preserved.

Located at the southern tip of Jersey, Cape May is the northern point of the Delaware Bay. With well marked, navigable inlets on both the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay, Cape May is easily accessible by boat. This easy access makes Cape May one of the leading sportfishing hubs in the Northeast. Venerable boatbuilders like Egg Harbor, Post, Luhrs, and Viking all have their roots in southern Jersey. With easy access to the nutrient-rich, deep-water canyons along the continental shelf, The Canyon Club and South Jersey Marinas host some of the richest sportfishing tournaments on the East Coast.

The town is also easily walkable, with many of the Victorian houses and buildings open to the public. The Washington Street Mall is a popular spot for shopping, with a variety of unique boutiques and restaurants. Visitors can also walk down to the promenade to enjoy the ocean views.

As boaters, we all have an appreciation for the selfless commitment to the life-saving efforts of the Coast Guard. Most “Coasties” have a solid memory of Cape May, as it’s the location of the U.S. Coast Guard Basic Training Facility. Coasties spend 53 rigorous days in Boot Camp in Cape May before being assigned to a ship or duty station somewhere around the world.

For history buffs, the World War II Lookout Tower is also a must-see. Cape May played an important role in the protection of our country during World War II. German U-Boats were very active in our coastal waters during the war, with several being sunk or captured by the Navy and Coast Guard. One of those U-Boats, the U-869 was discovered by recreational divers off the coast of New Jersey. One of the observation towers once used as a lookout to spot enemy craft is open to the public for tours. Visitors can also take a tour of the Cold War Submarine Memorial, which is located in the nearby town of Wildwood, New Jersey.

Cape May is home to a number of festivals and events throughout the year. The Cape May Food & Wine Festival is a popular event, as is the Cape May Music Festival. Visitors can also attend the Cape May Film Festival and the Cape May Jazz Festival.

Overall, Cape May is also a charming and historic seaside town that offers something for everyone. Whether you’re interested in a vacation on the beach, fishing, history, or just looking for a relaxing time in a pristine natural setting, Cape May has something to offer. With its Victorian architecture, scenic beaches, and rich history, it’s no wonder that Cape May is considered one of the country’s first and best resort towns.

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This article originally appeared in the April 2023 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

Source: https://www.powerandmotoryacht.com/voyaging/cape-may-new-jersey-as-a-cruising-destination

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