A standout family vacation spot, Cape May sets itself apart from the many other delightful coastal destinations up and down the Eastern Seaboard. The opposite of the raucous party scene depicted in the long-running MTV series (something I always feel the need to preface), this Jersey Shore town at the tip of the Garden State is wholesome and steeped in nostalgia. There are beautiful beaches, green spaces, great restaurants and many kid-friendly attractions.
It’s a popular summer resort known for its sandy shoreline and live music. But make no mistake, this kid-approved town turns on the charm in the off-season, too. The vibrant fall foliage against the grand Victorian houses gives off postcard vibes and there’s even a tiny tot Halloween fest. Winter is quiet, save the holiday tourism boom. Many travelers favor spring because of the pleasant weather for outdoor recreation and the lack of summer crowds.
If you’re traveling to Cape May with the kids in tow, follow my recommendations to plan a trip that’s guaranteed to earn you points with your offspring and create lasting memories.
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How to Get There
Cape May is ideally located two and a half hours from New York City and just 90 minutes from Philadelphia. It’s right off the Garden State Parkway, which makes for an easy drive. If you’re planning to be in Lewes or any of the neighboring Delaware towns for any reason, it’s a quick ferry ride.
Where to Stay
America’s oldest seaside resort, Congress Hall will forever and always be one of my all-time favorites places to bring kids. It’s filled with heritage pedigree (Benjamin Harrison used it as his summer White House) so you can try to sneak in a history lesson while wandering the halls with older kids. Even if the education stuff doesn’t quite land, it’s still an amazing overnight for families thanks to the spacious suites, great in-site dining, swimming pool (open seasonally) and heaps of child-centric programming throughout the year. We went over Easter weekend and there were train rides, egg hunts and bunny photo ops. During the holidays, Congress Hall goes all out with decorations and a festive shopping village.
My other top pick for families is Beach Plum Farm in West Cape May. It’s a totally different vibe from the beach and bustling downtown; way more bucolic and ideal if you’re trying to foster a deeper relationship between your kids and nature. An agritourism on a working farm, this pastoral property allows guests to feed chickens, walk through the herb garden, eat harvest-driven fare and snooze in Amish wood cabins.
What to Do
What to do with kiddos varies based on the season. Family beach days rank at the top of the list during the summer. (Lifeguards are on duty from July 1 through Labor Day). If you’re not keen on packing up all the requisite gear, it’s nice to know that folks staying at Congress Hall have access to complimentary loungers, umbrellas and towels and can rent shade-giving rents, too. The latter is open to non-guests, but they’re usually all booked. In the warmer months, you’ll also see many families strolling the promenade, which runs parallel to Beach Avenue for nearly two miles. To get out on the water, consider booking a dolphin-watching cruise, fishing charter or paddle-boarding excursion with older kids.
Open daily from April through November, the 1859-built Cape May Lighthouse is a must-see historic attraction that visitors of all ages will enjoy. You can even climb the stairs to the top to burn off some energy, soak in the amazing ocean views and snap some awesome family photos. Since you’re already wearing sneakers (fairly essential to conquer all the steps), take advantage of the many trails in Cape May Point State Park. Want to give your legs a rest and win cool points with kids? Hop aboard one of the bright red trolleys for a 45-minute ride through historic Cape May. I’m not suggesting that all kids love shopping, but toy stores and souvenir shops make a compelling case for checking out the Washington Street Mall, a pedestrianized shopping street with many boutiques and casual eateries.
Because all kids love animals, head to the Cape May County Park & Zoo. Even if you aren’t staying at Beach Plum Farm, go for the day to do a tour (children 12 years and under are free) that includes meeting animals and learning about sustainable agricultural practices.
Where to Eat and Drink
If you’re looking for a quick and easy spot to grab a coffee and a bagel sandwich when the kids rise early, might I suggest Coffee Tyme, open from 7am to 7pm daily. Also on the grab-and-go side of things, families line up at Hot Dog Tommy’s to order all-beef dogs and leaner wieners with special toppings like chipotle chili sauce. Blue Pig Tavern is a cozy stalwart for breakfast, lunch or dinner. When the weather warms up, snag one of the outdoor tables and let the little ones run around the grassy lawn while you finish your meal. The ticketed farm-to-table dinners at Beach Plum Farm are next-level once your kids reach the age of being able to sit through a multi-course meal. For something a bit more casual during the day, the Farm Kitchen serves breakfast and lunch. You order inside the main Amish barn and eat at a picnic table surrounded by gardens. The Lobster House is a harbour-front institution with casual dockside seating that’s great for families as well as an outdoor cocktail lounge on a schooner and a raw bar, which are better if you get a sitter. On the sweet side of things, The Original Fudge Kitchen and scoops of ice cream from Fine Fellows Creamery are the stuff of sugar-charged childhood dreams.
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