Boaters looking to cruise to the perfect beach town destination should consider heading to the southern tip of New Jersey and docking in Cape May. This small coastal city has long been called “The Nation’s Oldest Seashore Resort”. Spending a few days or longer here offers everything that a boater would want or need. This includes protected dockage, a very pretty village to stroll or bike around, good food and entertainment, historic homes and inns as well sandy beaches close to the boat. Cape May is the summer place for families or couples.
For your voyage down to Cape May pay attention to the weather. You will be open seas if you are traveling down the coast of New Jersey. Read your charts so you know where to duck and cover and plot out any fuel stops in advance. Our voyage to Cape May had a good start first with good seas and then by being greeted by five dolphins playing near the long jetties at the Cape May Inlet at the Atlantic Ocean. If you are cruising down the Intracoastal Waterway you simply turn to starboard when you reach the Cape May Harbor. The harbor is well marked and once in you will pass the Coast Guard training station on your portside before seeing the marinas.
Two marinas to choose are Utsch’s Marina (www.capemayharbor.com) and Canyon Club Resort Marina (www.canyonclubmarina.com). We chose Utsch’s Marina because it was $2.00 per foot and closer to the beach and town if you decide to walk or take a bicycle. They offer one night free with six. Canyon Club Resort Marina is more upscale and costs $2.95 per foot. They have a pool and shuttle service to town. It is across the canal bridge and opposite Utsch’s.
After docking and washing down the boat we pulled out our folding bikes from the lazaret, grabbed our towels and decided the rest of the afternoon would be well spent at the beach on this hot day. (Bike rentals are available). Getting to the beach was easy. We took Pittsburgh Avenue about a mile to the end taking 10 minutes. My wife Maureen and I are in “average shape” and do not bike at home however we found the flat streets of Cape May easy to get around. At the beach we rented lounge chairs and an umbrella from Le Mer at an “afternoon special”. Being here was the perfect way to end a long day at sea. The beach here had soft sand, with ocean temperatures and surf just perfect to bob around in. The added bonus was watching more dolphins two hundred yards off shore.
For evening entertainment we made reservations at Elaine’s Dinner Theater (www.elainescapemay.com). Elaine’s is not what I would call fine dining or “sophisticated theatre”. It is however good fun with many improvised lines and some minor heckling encouraged. After the show we strolled down to the Rusty Nail on Beach Avenue (www.caperesorts.com) to hear live music. Entering the bar we were greeted by a crowd ranging from their early thirties to sixties enjoying the sounds of classic rock and roll. With the night temperatures cooling off we walked the one and half miles back to the marina.
A highlight of Cape May is its beautiful Victorian homes. In fact Cape May was declared a national historic site due to it having the largest collection of homes from the 1800’s. The Cape May Historic District composes of 380 acres with about 600 historic structures in it. These buildings are Late Victorian in style. They are brightly painted with many having large porches and detailed wood working. National Park Service architectural historian Carolyn Pitts said “Cape May has one of the largest collections of the late 19th century frame buildings left in the United States…that gives it a homogeneous architectural character” Many of the old inns and structures remind me of some of the same inns found on Block Island.
An ideal way to see those homes is to go to the Village Bicycle Shop on Lafayette Street and rent a pedal powered two or four passenger surrey for an hour. The shop keeper will point you to the several streets in the historic district where you can view them. As these surrey bikes are a little on the heavy side figure you will be done in an hour. (Hint: to save energy don’t peddle from a standing start but give the surrey a light push and then hop in) After seeing the old homes and inns we pop in and out of the shops on pedestrian only Washington Street. On a tip from a local we then walked a few blocks to the Key West Tacos (www.keywesttacos.com) on West Perry for freshly grilled ahi, grouper, mahi and chicken tacos. This was our best lunch during our stay.
After lunch we biked down Beach Avenue passing the classic looking older homes and hotels across from the beach on Pittsburgh to cool off in the surf and nap under an umbrella. For our evenings plans we had arranged the “Guardian” Trolley tour. This special tour operates only a few times a summer because it coincides with the summer Sunset Parade that the U.S. Coast Guard training school puts on. This tour receives special permission to drive around the base. The Sunset Parade includes the Recruit Precision Drill Team, marching troops, cannon fire and more. During our visit we watch (and felt) a Coast Guard duo helicopter fly-over. Sunset Parades will take place May 28th, July 2nd, August 4th and September 3rd. The Mid Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities (MAC) offers different trolley, inns, homes and walking tours throughout the season. You can find them at www.capemaymac.org.
For a look into what a restored Victorian mansion visitors to Cape May can take a tour of the Emlen Physick Estate on Washington Street. This “Stick Style” house was built in 1879 and has 18 rooms. Tours take 45 minutes ending at 1876 Carriage House. Information on this as well as many other Cape May places and events can be found at www.capemaymac.org.
Two other things to consider doing when in Cape May would be to visit Cape May Point (http://www.njparksandforests.org/parks/capemay.html). Here you can hike one of the nature trails, view the lighthouse or look for “Cape May diamonds” on the shore. Cape May diamonds are well worn down pieces of quartz usually found in size between a pebble and a small stone. While in Cape May I recommend taking your boat out one morning for a ride in the Cape May Canal. The canal completed in 1942 was built as a way to protect ships from German submarines that were a menace in the area. For 3.3 miles the canal goes west and ends in the Delaware Bay. While cruising down one morning we found many birds and a pod of dolphins at the end. When underway watch your wake and keep it slow.
If you are on Cape May a week and wish to see things outside of the town you can rent a car from Just Four Wheels for about $35 a day (http://www.just4wheels.com). From Cape May you are 90 minutes via a scenic state road to the bustling historical city of Philadelphia. You are also only a 15 ride to the fun and entertainment on the Wildwood boardwalk. (http://www.wildwoodsnj.com)
For information on Cape May go to www.capemay.com , www.capemaychamber.com and www.capemaymac.org