Your Guide to Visiting Cape May in the Fall
Get your fill of farms, charm and natural wonders.
This jewel of a Shore town — all postcard-perfect beaches, Victorian facades and adorable antiques shops — has a wild side the summer crowds miss: The flora and fauna and farms of autumn are beyond idyllic.
Where to Stay
Cape May is loaded with fantastic lodgings, from the stately Congress Hall Hotel to many charming bed-and-breakfasts to resorts like La Mer, which just added a slew of oceanfront rooms. But you should know about a few newer spots, too: Beachy-chic Lokal Hotel, a “micro resort” that opened last year featuring eight apartment-style suites (and a firepit!), is open year-round, while the breezy 11-room Boarding House hotel offers weekend stays from Columbus Day through December. The handful of Beach Plum Farm cottages — the latest additions to developer Curtis Bashaw’s epic Cape Resorts empire — are characteristically enchanting, while newcomer Blue Sky Farm provides guests with a single gracious little farmhouse and saltwater pool surrounded by acres of wild protected land and lush flower gardens. Co-owner Kate Egan, best known for her jewelry/gift/flower shop Egan Rittenhouse in Philly, runs occasional daytime workshops out of the house, focusing on meditation, flower arranging, yoga and more.
What to Do
The hiking here is glorious. Try the popular Higbee Beach Loop Trail, which takes you roughly three miles through beach, woods and wildlife preserves, or call Cape Resorts to join up with the guided two-mile hike to Davey’s Lake, a destination the company calls “Walden Pond with grit.” Boating is big, too: Whale-watching and fishing trips from local boating companies are easy to find through December, though you should also seriously consider just paddling your own kayak through the captivating wetlands. (Check Miss Chris Kayaks, Aqua Trails or Cape Kayaks for full-moon tours, birding tours and more.) Finally, a must: The brand-new Harriet Tubman Museum — one of Smithsonian magazine’s 10 most anticipated museum openings of the year — is a small but powerful paean to the heroine of the Underground Railroad, who has a fascinating history in Cape May, which was part of her escape route for enslaved people as well as a hub for abolitionists in the 1850s.
Where to Eat
The pandemic put a dent in Cape May’s lively food scene, but myriad outdoor dining and takeout options are still in full swing, and one place you’ll definitely want to hit is Beach Plum Farm. The prix-fixe alfresco dinners here get a lot of attention, but don’t overlook the simpler (but gorgeous) breakfast scene. Meantime, longtime favorite Louisa’s is serving its farm-to-table food for (not your average Shore) takeout, while the old standby Lobster House remains a worth-it destination for oysters, crab claws and a bottle of wine at its open-air Raw Bar. Other sure bets: Madison’s Bakery for sticky buns; the Red Store — a general store, coffee shop and restaurant with a James Beard Award-nominated chef (and pretty patio seating); and Enfin Farm’s “Bread Lady,” Elizabeth Degener, who sells fresh, fluffy artisanal loaves. Follow @enfin.farms on Instagram to see when she’s baking.
Where to Drink
So many options: Veuve and tuna ceviche on Congress Hall’s new Grand Lawn and Veranda Bar? Clam strips and cocktails at the beachy Rusty Nail? Or Harry’s Ocean Bar and Grill, with its giant patio and ocean views? All of the above? Beer lovers, meantime, will appreciate the tours and taps at Cape May Brewery (or Gusto, or Cold Spring … or any one of a number of brewers from the remarkably robust local beer scene).
The Cape May Zoo is open year-round. Or really score some points with a private tour at Jersey Shore Alpacas, where visitors make fast friends with the sweet-natured species.
The birds! Cape May is world-famous for the thousands of migratory birds that flock to the town each fall in a parade of plumage and song. Visit the Cape May Bird Observatory to get in on a birding walk. Or at the very least … look up!
Published as “Cape May” in the “Off Season” guide to the Shore in the September 2020 issue of Philadelphia magazine.