Remember when Cape May was just a cloudy-day destination, the sort of place where grandmotherly types sipped tea on doily-strewn Victorian porches, and binoculared birders gathered each fall, and you went only after you’d exhausted all options at the Boardwalk or yacht club? Ah, yesterday.
Today’s southernmost Jersey isle feels entirely different. Thanks to its efforts at preservation, paired with a decade spent championing a more haute form of seashore style, Cape May suddenly seems so relevant, so chic, so right now, so, well, cool. Helming the cool is native son Curtis Bashaw, who’s shined his tasteful light upon old hotel after hotel (Congress Hall, the Virginia, the Star …) and more recently has overseen the transformation of Beach Avenue’s former Coachman motor lodge into the vintage-fresh Beach Shack, a three-story, 65-unit boutique motel starring an alfresco bar, for which the redeveloper himself planted the cedars and marigolds.
The redux property, with its painted-turquoise trim and Bermuda-shorts vibe, combines all the things to love about old-timey, family-friendly beach motels—ocean views, salt-airy suites, a tiny pool, retro yellow bathtubs—with signature Bashaw luxuries like crisp white bed linens, beachside cabana service, and breakfasts of La Colombe, blueberry pancakes and Bellinis. The Shack also has exactly what every island needs in the Rusty Nail, an indoor-outdoor sandy-floored pub that serves conch fritters, corn on the cob, fish tacos, buckets of clams and frozen mugs of beer. The feeling is resort classic — the Jersey Shore, at its very best.
Although there’s no real reason to leave the Shack, you inevitably will, to take refuge in the elegant lounges and salt scrubs at the Sea Spa at Congress Hall, or to indulge in simple seafood dinners at nearby BYOBs Louisa’s, George’s and Sean’s (meals supplemented by the vast selection of crisp French white wines at Collier’s). Or you can climb all 217 steps of the lighthouse at the Point, tour historic homes (this year’s show house on Ocean looks especially promising), golf at an old putt-putt on Beach Avenue, or shop for whale-theme accessories along Washington Street Mall. Add a strawberry daiquiri from the Nail, and what’s old is new, or at least cool, again.
Travel time: Just under two hours from Philadelphia.
Room rates: From $300 in July-August.
The Beach Shack, 205 Beach Avenue, Cape May, 877-742-2507, beachshack.com.