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Is modern life getting you down, Internet Stranger? Would you like to experience a more glamorous time, before cell phones and the internet? Then head on down for a perfect 24 hours in Cape May itinerary! Cape May, New Jersey is one of the most charming, old-fashioned seaside resorts on the entire East Coast. Stepping into Cape May is like stepping back to the Roosevelt administration–the Teddy Roosevelt administration.
Join me for a 24 Hours in Cape May itinerary, and I’ll show you how to kick it 1907-style!
24 Hours in Cape May Itinerary
Where to Stay?
In some American cities like Minneapolis or Phoenix, I prefer to stay at chain hotels. Cape May is not one of those cities. You need to lean into Cape May’s quaint charm and stay at a bed and breakfast. I could not recommend the Angel of the Sea Bed and Breakfast more highly. I got an amazing breakfast made to order every morning, plus wine and cheese in the evening AND cakes and tea at teatime. A traveler on a budget would basically never need to go out for a meal if they stayed here! And it has a flawless location right by the beach.
Plus it looks like the sort of the place Glinda the Good Witch would go on a beach vacation. Keep in mind that during high season, Cape May requires people to purchase affordable beach tags to go on the beach. So ask at the front desk for information about how and where to purchase these passes. No one wants to get kicked off the beach.
24 Hours in Cape May Itinerary
Morning: Trolley Tour/Physick House
Though Cape May is a small town, it’s too spread out to see all the main attractions on a walking tour. That’s why I recommend taking an adorable trolley tour to start our 24 hours in Cape May itinerary instead. For the best bang for your buck, get the combination Trolley tour/Physick House estate tour. This will occupy your whole morning and give you a chance to see the only Victorian house museum in Cape May. You can get ticket information on the trolley website, but tickets have to be purchased in person.
I don’t want to spoil all the trolley tour’s secrets, but I will give you a taste of the wonders to come with…
Three Fun Facts: Cape May Trolley Tour
1) What is Cape May Famous For?
Lots of things! But one reason people come from all over to visit Cape May is to see the adorable Victorian houses in every imaginable color. You’ll notice that many of the houses are decorated with wood trim cut into elaborate shapes. Our guide, whom I shall call Mr. Springsteen, said that this trim is called gingerbread.
People have been flocking to Cape May since the 18th century for summer vacation. That’s why it’s the country’s oldest seaside resort. Why every major celebrity from President Benjamin Harrison to John Philip Sousa has spent time here! It’s on the very cutting edge of the turn of the 20th century.
Of course, people are people and they don’t always know how to leave well enough alone. In the 1960s some very clever genius decided that it would be a good idea to modernize Cape May and build “beautiful” “brick” “buildings” like this one. Thankfully the trend did not catch on and most of the buildings you’ll admire in Cape May are still done in the Victorian gingerbread style.
2) Does Cape May Have Any Historical Importance?
Yes! And not just because of Benjamin Harrison. Cape May was possibly a stop on the Underground Railroad, and Harriet Tubman herself definitely spent time here. She worked as a cook in Cape May and spent the money she earned to help enslaved people escape to freedom.
But Harriet Tubman wasn’t the only important figure in the Underground Railroad who spent time in Cape May. The brown house above was home to Robert Smith, arguably the richest black man in America in the 1840s and 50s. Mr. Smith made his fortune in fuel like lumber and coal in Pennsylvania. He had more than one home; the one above was his summer home.
Mr. Smith gave some of his fortune to supporting the Underground Railroad and helping enslaved people reach freedom in Canada. He even used his trains to help hide enslaved people. His house was recently rediscovered and restored, so be sure to walk by and observe it more closely after the trolley tour.
3) What’s So Special About the Physick Estate?
So many things! And once Mr. Springsteen and his trolley drop you off here, you’ll get a guided house tour from a guide with the Mid-Atlantic Center for Arts and Humanities, or MAC for short. From what I could understand, MAC rules Cape May with a fist of iron. Its presence can be felt all over the town. In Cape May, they don’t say Big Brother is Watching, they say MAC is watching.
The Physick Estate’s architect was Frank Furness, who was arguably the most famous American Victorian architect. He was a mentor to architect Louis Sullivan, who in turn mentored Frank Lloyd Wright. So if there’s no Frank Furness, there’s no FLW! Bow down before him, architecture nerds! The home belonged to a wealthy gentleman named Emlyn Physick and his widowed mother. The house doesn’t have anything to do with physics.
The Physick Estate is full of fascinating period features. I especially liked seeing how the lighting had been modernized throughout the years. Mr. Physick always had to update and have the most modern “gasolier” possible. A gasolier is just a chandelier that is powered by gas instead of candle.
But the coolest object in the house is this glass dish for celery. Yup, that was the only use for the dish–to display celery. Not carrots or bell pepper, just celery. You know you have too much money when you have a different dish for each vegetable.
24 Hours in Cape May Itinerary
Now that the guided tour is finished, let’s continue our 24 hours in Cape May itinerary by doing the three best things to do in Cape May: eating, shopping, and rambling around looking at cute buildings. We will start by eating! Get ready to party like it’s 1899 with…
Approximately Top 5: 24 Hours in Cape May Itinerary
1) Lunch at the Mad Batter
We’ve been exploring Victorian buildings all day. Now how would you like to dine in one? Let’s pop in The Mad Batter, one of the most popular restaurants in Cape May. There can be a long wait for a table, but if you’re a solo diner and willing to sit at the bar, you’ll get seated faster. (Couples willing to sit at the bar will get seated faster too.)
I strongly recommend their championship crab cake sandwich. There’s no breading that I could taste, just succulent fresh crab. I’m not one hundred percent sure why they call it a championship crab cake. I assume it means that it won a crab cake contest, not that it’s Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World. I mean, it would be wearing a belt if that were the case.
If you’re up for a day drink, and why wouldn’t you be at the seaside, wash it all down with a sassy Bloody Mary!
2) Kohr Brothers Frozen Custard
I usually don’t like to get dessert in the same place where I eat lunch. That’s not because I’m trying to eat healthy! It’s because I would rather get to try two different places to eat instead of one. So for Lunch Dessert, I grabbed a chocolate peanut butter swirl frozen custard at Kohr Brothers. Frozen custard is like ice cream, but better because they add eggs so it’s richer. This is the most refreshing and satisfying dessert you could have on a hot Cape May day.
Also the staff is incredibly friendly. In fact, I almost got the frozen custard for free because I paid with a ten and the girl behind the counter tried to give me a ten as change. Fortunately I am an honest travel blogger, and I told her about her mistake. Unless she was trying to bribe me with frozen custard in exchange for a good review. No bribe necessary!
3) Shopping on Washington Street Mall
Washington Street Mall is the best place to go shopping in Cape May. It’s a pedestrian-only street, which makes it one of a very few places in New Jersey where cars aren’t welcome. (The other is the backroom of the Bada Bing Club.) Not every shop is amazing, but there are plenty of great stores where you can get local goods. My first stop was at Quirk & Co, which sells local products. The girl behind the counter pointed me towards other great shop stops.
Casale’s Shoes is a great place to pick up some new sandals for your Jersey shore experience. The staff is extremely friendly–it has the feel of a family-run business. And I always get compliments on the metallic pink Birkenstocks I picked up here.
Finally if you’re looking for a cute new swimsuit or beach accessories, stop at Givens. Everything here looks like it belongs on the French Riviera, but the goods are a lot more affordable than a flight to Cannes.
4) Congress Hall
You really can’t miss Congress Hall when you visit Cape May. I don’t mean that just because it’s important. I also mean that Congress Hall is too large to miss. As you can see, I could not fit the entire building in one photo. It used to be called The Big House before it was named Congress Hall.
It was also called Tommy’s Folly because it was the brainchild of a man named Thomas Hughes back in 1816. He wanted it to be a successful boarding house. But the locals thought it was too big to be successful. Who’s laughing now? That’s right, it’s Tommy’s ghost! Cower in fear, sunbathing mortals!
Congress Hall is still a resort, but even if you’re not staying here, you can still walk through. The interior is covered with American flags. Congress Hall is proud of the fact that many United States presidents have visited here. In fact, it used to be known as the Summer White House. Five presidents have stayed here, starting with Franklin Pierce, a president you have probably never heard of.
5) Cape May Stage
Do you support the arts? Of course you do, Internet Stranger! You’re a kind and caring person! Well, if you want to support the theater in Cape May, take in an afternoon show at the Cape May Stage. They regularly have plays from May to October, with an extra holiday show in November and December. Cape May is close enough to New York City that the actors are professional quality, but the prices are much more affordable than theater tickets in NYC.
Plus Cape May Stage sells artisanal chocolate bars to raise funds, and if there’s one thing that’s better than supporting the arts, it’s supporting the arts and eating delicious chocolate at the same time.
5) Relax at Angel of the Sea
We need to take advantage of all those amenities, Internet Stranger! Let’s head back to Angel of the Sea so we can snack on some complimentary cakes and tea.
On a hot day, you can even get iced tea! How convenient.
It will take some time before the wine and cheese comes out, so just step right on over to the beach next door to the hotel. At this point in the afternoon, the crowds should have cleared out and you can relax with nothing but the waves and sand to keep you company!
Then head back to Angel of the Sea for your free wine and cheese! They don’t skimp on the veggies, dips, or meats either! You could seriously make an entire dinner of these treats. But don’t do that! We have an amazing dinner ahead on our 24 hours in Cape May itinerary.
24 Hours in Cape May Itinerary
Evening: Dinner at the Red Store
If you’re enjoying your 24 hours in Cape May itinerary during the warm weather months, you need to go to the Red Store. (If the Red Store isn’t open, I suggest getting dinner at the Washington Inn instead.) The restaurant serves a tasting menu only, so it’s not for picky eaters since you can’t choose what you get. But the chef, Lucas Manteca, is a James-Beard award winning chef, so you should just put yourself in his very capable hands.
The menu changes constantly, so I can’t tell you exactly what you’ll get, but I can tell you what to expect. Chef Manteca has Argentinian heritage, so he likes to start with an empanada filled with seasonal ingredients. Mine was filled with spinach and ricotta. The exterior was perfectly crunchy, not soggy or heavy at all.
Next is the appetizer. This was fluke sashimi with cucumber. It was light and refreshing, the perfect treat for waking up the mouth.
After the light appetizer, we had a heavier nettle and sunchoke soup. One thing I liked about this tasting menu is how nicely it went back and forth between stronger and more delicate dishes. Also sunchoke just sounds like the perfect thing to eat at a seaside resort.
We went back to something lighter with the salad course, made with Jersey asparagus, ramps, eggs, and duck. It tasted like spring in a bowl, even if “Jersey asparagus” does sound like a code word for a disturbing sex act someone would do on Jersey Shore.
For the main course you do have a choice between meat and fish. After all the eating I’d done that day, I wanted something lighter so I chose fish. The fish of the day was halibut with honey carrots and yucca with fresh white cheese. I enjoyed the combination of the sweet carrots and the salty yucca and cheese. I don’t always finish my sides at a restaurant, but these were so tasty I needed to eat all my veggies. The only question was did I have room for dessert?
Silly! That’s not a question! We get another nod to Argentina with a dulce de leche pudding with fresh blueberries. New Jersey is actually the blueberry capital of the US, according to the NJ legislature. So dulce de leche pudding with blueberries is an example of that elusive Argentina-Jersey fusion cuisine. And it tasted way better than that taste combination has any right to!
My apologies to the Red Store for my blurry photos, and thanks for the delicious dinner! I’ll stop making fun of New Jersey for at least two weeks in your honor!
That’s a 24 Hours in Cape May Itinerary!
What would you do on a 24 hours in Cape May itinerary? Do you own a celery dish? And can I make it two weeks without mocking the Jerz? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while this article is about how to have a perfect 24 hours in Cape May itinerary, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY have a 24 hours in Cape May itinerary. If you’re looking for another 24 hours in Cape May itinerary, click here.