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On The Way To Cape May

Article and photos By Jim Schlett

Great escapes from our hectic,
busy pace of life are easily reached from the Dulles region.

Within a pleasant 3-4 hour drive is one of our country’s greatest and oldest resort destinations, “America’s seashore resort,” Cape May, New Jersey.  Many folks associate getting to Cape May with a popular song from years ago, perfectly named, “On the Way to Cape May.”  This catchy song became a summer ritual on the drive to the Jersey Shore for thousands of people.   

Cape May is at the southern point of NJ, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Delaware Bay.  From the DC area, there are two ways to make the journey by car.  One is about a 3 ½ hour drive up Interstate 95 and then along several state roads once in NJ.   The second way is a drive to Lewes, Delaware followed by a beautiful ferry ride across the Bay to Cape May.  Those arriving from northern NJ or NY would follow the NJ Parkway to the end and take Exit Zero!  Yes, there is an Exit Zero!  

Those visiting Cape May for the first time, will find a world of lodging available…from stately Victorian Bed & Breakfasts (B&Bs) to motels, historical hotels, and modern resorts.   

Cape May is a charming beach community that has attracted tens of thousands of visitors who return annually.   In fact, the summer population jumps dramatically, especially on weekends.  Spring and fall can be ideal times to visit with smaller crowds and delightful weather with less humidity.  One of the reasons for that increase of visitors is that the city has been named one of the best beach resorts on numerous occasions over the past decades, including an accolade from the Travel Channel. 

For many folks, in addition to the world-class beaches, one of the real attractions of Cape May is the outstanding historical Victorian architecture.  The architecture is so impressive that the entire city of Cape May has been designated as a National Historic Landmark due to the number of such buildings and houses.   This designation is for the continued preservation of approximately 600 houses and buildings.  These houses are often referred to as “Painted Ladies.”  The only city in the United States with more Victorian architecture is San Francisco.   

There is much history in this city.  Interestingly, there are numerous indications that Cape May was part of the “underground railroad” that assisted enslaved people on their journey to freedom.  Freedom fighter Harriet Tubman was in Cape May frequently helping others to escape slavery.  

As you approach the city, the salty smell of warm ocean breezes permeates the air.   The inviting beaches offer surfing, fishing and just time to unwind and people watch.   In the late 1800s, several US presidents vacationed there and the town for a time became known as the “President’s Playground.”  There is a world of options to explore while you are there: the Lighthouse, the Boardwalk, birding activities, biking, parasailing, ghost tours, Congress Hall, (a historical hotel that occupies an entire city block), carriage rides, golfing, music and film festivals, concerts, whale watching, wineries, boat tours, and trolley tours to name just a few.  Due to all the activities and the influx of vacationers, there is a great variety of world-class restaurants. 

To walk many of the city streets is to step back into another time, especially at dusk when the lights create a mystical glow.  There is even a special activity each evening at sunset at the southern end of the Boardwalk, where TAPS is played to honor America’s military and veterans; it is well worth your time to experience this event.  Stay for a while and enjoy the many pleasures of Cape May!

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