Cape May: Best of the Best

Cape May is one of New Jersey's most lovely towns, chock-full of gorgeously restored Victorian homes and some of the best restaurants on the East Coast. It's a charming place any time of the year, and a great place for familes to connect.  Here are the Best of the Best:

 

Congress Hall is one of Cape May's most famous hotels

Congress Hall:

This stately old mansion on the sea is a treasure, and quite possibly the most famous and photographed building in Cape May. I stayed in room 300 - the blue room - and I could see the ocean from every window. I could see the ocean while in bed. I saw the ocean while working on my laptop (free wireless internet is a plus). I could see the ocean while sitting on the toilet. Not a lot of hotels for which that claim may be made.

The bed was ultra-comfortable. The old fashioned bathtub was amazing, and the modern shower was high-powered, hot, and clean. Not a sound penetrated the sturdy doors and walls, and the fine Belgian linens were nirvana. You'll have sweet dreams in Congress Hall, no matter which room is yours.

www.congresshall.com

251 Beach Avenue

Cape May

 

The Blue Pig Tavern:

Circa 1700s, the Blue Pig Tavern is tucked into the corner of Congress Hall. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the Blue Pig recently released its own Blue Pig Tavern Ale, manufactured by the Flying Fish brewery in Cherry Hill. With several dining rooms, as well as an open air patio, the Blue Pig is serviced by Congress Hall's extensive bar. No BYOB here! I had crab cakes, and they were delectable. The Key Lime pie tops off a fine culinary experience with tart and savory sweetness.

25l Beach Avenue

Cape May

609-884-8422

 

Cape May Parasail:

Floating 500 feet over the ocean is like living in a cloud: fluffy, free, fabulous. Cape May Parasail is owned by Atlantic Parasail, the best company in the country for parasailing. They've been doing this for 20 years, and are 100% accident-free. That's very important when considering a parasail professional. The owner Guiseppe, 27, is a master of the sport. When the weather in Cape May turns cold, he heads to St. Thomas or Hawaii or Key West, continuing to perfect the art of captaining the boat that pulls the parachute that holds the people who fly. His assistant Bobby is the quintessential surfer dude, and very polite and considerate while hooking customers into the harness that will hold them above the water. I saw dolphins from my vantage point, and requested the optional dip of the feet. Bobby and Guiseppe have sailed customers from age 16 months all the way up to 88. This is not 'Fear Factor,' and you'll be surprised at how relaxing a flight above the Atlantic can be. Before - or after - your sail, stop in next door at Dock Mike's for an awesome breakfast.

 

Cape May parasailing is safe and fun for all ages

www.atlanticparasail.com

South Jersey Marina

Route 109

Cape May

(609) 884-8759

White Dove Cottage:

Built in 1866, The White Dove is nestled on the lovely and quiet Hughes Street, less than 2 blocks from both the beach and the delightful shops of Cape May. The street is quiet and gaslit, shaded by ancient sycamore trees, and the porch is a relaxing haven of rocking chairs. Furnished with American and European antiques, The White Dove is decorated with Currier and Ives prints and wallpapers that remind you of Grandma. I had a sumptuous breakfast of French Toast and sausage, peppered with great conversation with the other guests.

www.whitedovecottage.com

619 Hughes Street

Cape May

(800) 321-DOVE

 

Godfather's

Situated conveniently on Cape May's promenade, opposite the movie theatre, is Godfather's Cafe Italiano. Offering very reasonably priced pizzas, sandwiches, salads, and sides, Godfather's is a delicious alternative to fancy & fine dining. The pizza is Southern Italian pizza, totally homemade by charming owners Nick and Francine Cassizzi. Red pies, white pies, tomato pies . . . They're all spectacular. Godfather's offers a Life Guard special of 2 slices of pizza with a fountain soda: $5.00. You can't beat that with a stick. The Bada Bing Chicken cutlet is a popular option, as is the Italian Garden salad. For a taste of South Philly in Cape May, go to Godfather's.

730 Beach Avenue

Cape May

609-898-1920

 

La Mer Hotel

Located just steps from the ocean, on the Promenade, is the best family hotel in Cape May: La Mer. With a pool, gym, free and easy parking, lots of bikes racks, and spacious rooms that include full kitchens and balconies, La Mer is a reasonably-priced non-stuffy place of accommodations for groups and those with little ones or teens in tow. A laundry room is a definite plus, and the location is prime.

www.capemaylamer.com

 

Uncle Bill's Pancake House

Steps from Congress Hall, in a circular building, is the best pancake house in Cape May. Uncle Bill's Pancake House has a long tradition of serving visitors and locals to the town, as well as to 6 other locations throughout South Jersey. I had the peanut butter chocolate chip pancakes, and I was in Breakfast Heaven.

Beach Avenue & Perry Street

Cape May

609-884-7199

 

Kohr Brother's Ice Cream

In the cobblestone-paved Washington street shopping area is Kohr's. My son and I have a Jersey tradition of eating at least 3 Kohr's ice cream cones during every beach vacation. The peanut butter/chocolate twist, dipped in chocolate, is phenomenal.

Cabana's on the Beach:

A classically cool beachfront place where surfboards hang on the wall is the chic and breezy Cabana's. This beach bar and restaurant is a great hangout for both locals and vacationers, with lots of nightly entertainment. Extremely kid-friendly, Cabana's offers Tuesday night kid's specials that include all kinds of kiddie entertainment and fare. Owner Payton Bowman says that it's 'a stroller parking lot' before the building on Tuesdays, as parents and kids stream into the place. Cabana's is not only a kid joint, though. With cold beer, DJ, dancing, and the best Happy Hour in Cape May, Cabana's on the Beach has something for everyone. The artichoke crab dip in a bread basket is to die for, and so are the desserts.

www.cabanasonthebeach.com

429 Beach Avenue @ Decatur

Cape May

609-884-4800

Aleathea's

Under the purple awnings of the Inn of Cape May is Aleathea's. With superb food, an elegant 1930s-era bar, and antique knick-knacks in the lobby, Aleathea's is the classic and grand seaside experience of days past. With a leisurely atmosphere and waiters that scrape the crumbs from the dark-purple linen tablecloths, Aleathea's is a relaxing and fulfilling dining experience. My son, his friend, and myself all vote Aleathea's as 'The Best of the Best.' I had flounder stuffed with jumbo lump crabmeat, and it was beyond description. The Chocolate Molten dessert is superb.

www.innofcapemay.com

7 Ocean Street

Cape May

609-884-5555 (ext. 226)

 

Aleathea's lovely restaurant at the Inn of Cape May

 

The Lobster House

Overlooking the harbor, with sit-down or takeout meals, The Lobster House is a Cape May landmark. At the heart of the town's harbor, The Lobster House has a commercial fleet, a bustling fish market, a large and varied menu of fresh seafood, a Raw Bar (with tables by the docks), and a 146-foot Schooner Americana where one can enjoy an outdoor cocktail at the bow-shaped bar. The Lobster House is non-stuffy, and parents can feel comfortable with little ones dribbling butter and cracking crabs.

www.thelobsterhouse.com

Fisherman's Wharf

Cape May

609-884-8296

Henry's on the Beach

Another family-friendly restaurant is Henry's on the Beach, with reasonable prices, casual atmosphere, and a kiddie menu. Perfectly located right on Cape May's beautiful main beach, Henry's has plenty of seats both inside and out. Parties of 12 are no problem on the huge beachfront deck, and one might see dolphins while eating breakfast, lunch, or dinner. We did.

702 Beach Avenue

Cape May

609-884-8826

Fairthorne B&B

Built by a whaling captain in 1892, this Colonial Revival-style inn is resplendent with leaded stained glass windows, a graceful wraparound verandah (where I'm sitting now, writing this article. I've got iced tea with a sprig of mint, fresh yellow flowers in a vase on the table before me, a great sea breeze, and clip-clopping horses pulling carriages down the street beside me.) With complimentary beach towels, chairs, and bicycles, the Fairthorne ensures that guests are comfortable, pampered, and satisfied. With a sumptuous signature breakfast that includes fresh fruits, home-baked breads, and an astounding entree, the Fairthorne starts the day off right. Innkeepers Ed and Diane Hutchinson offer tea and refreshments in the afternoon, sherry in the evenings, and delight every moment of the day.

A room at the Fairthorne

www.fairthorne.com

111 Ocean Street

Cape May

800-438-8742

 

The Village Bicycle Shop:

With a sweet selection of cruisers and surreys, the Village Bicycle Shop ensures that you'll get around Cape May in an efficient and relaxing manner. Just don't forget to use the bike locks, and make the kids wear their helmets.

605 Lafayette Street

Cape May

609-884-8500

Mangia Mangia

For great Italian fare at family-friendly prices, try Mangia Mangia. Co-owner Eric Friend exudes charm and he's way beyond cordial, and the pasta - oh, the pasta! - is unbelievably delicious. Our salad was fresh, and the clams perfect. The bruschetta appetizer was one of the best breads I ever had, and my Chicken Florentine was incredible. Apple pie with ice cream topped the meal off perfectly. Mangia Mangia includes a back 'Mafia' room that seats 18 people. The quintessential Italian restaurant, owned by childhood cronies Eric Friend and Edward Dingler, Mangia Mangia is definitely one of the best family restaurants in the area.

110 N. Broadway

W. Cape May

609-884-2429              

A chef at Mangia Mangia cooks up something delicious

www.mangiamangiacapemay.com

  

Peter Shields Inn

In the super-grand eastern part of Cape May resides the stately Peter Shields Inn. A magnificent oceanfront Georgian revival mansion with a baronial entrance, the Peter Shields is a 'Don't Miss' of Cape May. Famous for its South African lobster tail, the restaurant also offers rack of lamb, lobster crab cakes, a mahogany cappuccino bar, and a grand piano.

www.petershieldsinn.com

1301 Beach Avenue

Cape May

609-884-9090

Elaine's Dinner Theatre

We laughed hysterically at 'The Pirates of Plunder Island,' and the food was tasty. I had flounder, and chocolate cake for dessert. Be sure to check out the funky gift shop.

www.elainesdinnertheater.com

 

 

410 Bank Street

The New York Times said that it's worth the drive just to eat here. They're right. Zagat rates 410 Bank Street among the top restaurants in the U.S. Located in an 1840 carriage house, 410 Bank Street exudes shades of New Orleans and Key West. Make reservations!

410 Bank Street

Cape May

609-884-2127

 

Cape May Whale Watcher

The largest and fastest whale and dolphin watcher at the shore, the size and speed of the Cape May Whale Watcher offer maximum viewing with less ride time. On the 3-hour $35.00 afternoon cruise, we saw hundreds and hundreds of dolphins, including one just-born calf. If no sightings are made, riders get a free ride coupon. With several cruise options, visitors can choose between lighthouse cruises, sunset rides, and morning watches. Take binoculars and cameras, as well as sunscreen.

www.capemaywhalewatcher.com

2nd Ave. and Wilson Drive

Cape May

800-786-5445

The Mainstay Inn

This place is majestic and grand and impressive beyond description. The wraparound veranda is the perfect place for morning coffee and the daily newspaper. We stayed in the Sawyer room, and it was very, very quiet. A late-night thunderstorm added a cool ambience, and my teenage son loved the high, high ceiling. The antique furniture is stately, and so are the beds. The bathroom was clean, and stocked with nice products. We climbed the steep steps outside our door to the cupola, which is spectacular at sunrise and sunset. Innkeeper Diane is a whiz in the kitchen, and a good conversationalist.

www.mainstayinn.com  

The Mainstay Inn

 

Cape May Day Spa

With two locations in Cape May, one at Congress Hall and the other just a few blocks from The Mainstay Inn, the Spa is a nice diversion from every day life. I did the Perfect Escape package, and the name was fitting. A lavender scented aromatherapy salt scrub, a relaxing facial, a great massage, and an orchid-pink manicure and pedicure were a rare treat. Heather, Jackie, and Candi were personable and chatty, and the four hours flew by.

www.capemaydayspa.com

607 Jefferson Street

Congress Hall: 25l Beach Avenue

609-898-1003

Touch and Go Massage

Massage therapist Kathy Kint will bring massage to your hotel or B&B. It doesn't get any better than that.

www.touchandgomassage.com

North Cape May

609-972-6260

 

 

Harpoon Henry's

The soup of the day was spicy crab with corn, and my fried grouper was tasty. There's no more spectacular sunset in Cape May than that seen from Harpoon Henry's deck. There's plenty of free parking, and a giant sandbox for the kids. The manager - Roger - is friendly, and so are the waitresses. Harpoon Henry's is owned by Ed Henry, as is Henry's on the Beach. Both places are great.

Beach Drive & Browning Avenue

North Cape May

609-886-5529

Louie's Pizza

Yum. Wonderful pizza, just steps from the beach. Louie's is always bustling and fun, and has won many 'Best Of' awards.

Gurney St. and Beach Ave.

Cape May

609-884-0305

 

Antoinette's Guest House

Spacious suites with full kitchens are a draw at Antoinette's. The guest house welcomes children, and it's obvious from the moment one enters the front door. Piles of kids' books, rows and rows of videos and DVDs, board games, boogie boards, beach chairs. It's like you imagine your Aunt Antoinette (if you had one!) would house you when you visit her beach home. Affordable and clean, Antoinette's is a good bet for families with kids of all ages.

717 Washington Street
Cape May, NJ 08204
(609) 898-0502

 

Speaking of kids: If you've got them with you, Wildwood is a necessary side trip. It's just a hop and a skip away from Cape May, and here are a few things to do there:

Mocean Waverunners

A 10-minute drive from Cape May, one can experience the thrill of a lifetime at Mocean Waverunners. Voted Best of Summer in their first year of business, Mocean offers brand-new, top-of-the-line equipment, along with free professional instruction and a pontoon boat ride out to the largest private riding area in the Wildwoods. With competitive rental pricing, free parking, and special offers, Mocean Waverunners is family-friendly and fun. My 15-year-old son and his friend, 16, loved it. They said it was amazing, incredible, fantastic. I said that it was FAST! The owner is conscientious and pleasant, and so are his employees.

www.moceanwaverunners.com

560 W. Rio Grande Avenue

Wildwood (between Urie's and Boathouse restaurants)

Urie's Restaurant

Go for the all-you-can-eat crabs, served after 4:00. Urie's is a great place for families, with a spacious deck and casual atmosphere.

 

www.uries.net

Morey's Piers & Ocean Oasis

Great rides, and now the new Ocean Oasis waterpark is a draw for families with kids from toddlers to teens. Catering to parents, Ocean Oasis includes beach chairs, cabanas, hammocks, tables, and numerous relaxation places throughout the busy park. More than 100 thrilling rides are featured on the 3 piers, so plan to spend the day.

www.moreyspiers.com

Spencer, Schellenberger & 25th Avenue

(off Exit 4B on the Garden State Parkway)

Wildwood

609-522-3900

Duffer's Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor

Wow. I had the biggest peanut butter sundae - The Peanut Butter Blast. It was enormous, and delicious. The atmosphere is fun, with a train that toots overhead. An arcade awaits next door to the restaurant.

5210 Pacific Avenue
Wildwood, NJ 08260
609-729-1817

 

ThunderCat Speed Boat

Fun, fast, fabulous, and far-out. The boat was built entirely from scratch by the captain and owner. I expected to be terrified, but actually enjoyed the ride. Yes, we did get wet. Yes, we screamed. Yes, I'd do it again. We saw dolphins, and they played in the wake of the boat. CBS news was on the boat, filming. The ThunderCat is fun for all ages.

1001 Ocean Drive
Wildwood Crest

ph: (609) 523-2628

 

The Starlight Fleet

A great family-friendly fishing fleet that guarantees fun, located in the Wildwoods. My guys did a 6-hour trip, which sails at the reasonable hour of 10:00 a.m. The crew was helpful, and the boat was clean and safe. They made it back in one piece (no missing fingers; no shark bites) and were bubbling from the fun.

6200 Park Blvd.

Wildwood Crest

609-729-7776

www.jjcboats.com

 

 

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