Guide to Cape May Historic District
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Post updated March 2020
Cape May, NJ is considered by many people to be America’s oldest seaside resort. Located on the southern tip of the Jersey shoreline, people have been vacationing here since the 1700’s. But don’t confuse the city of Cape May (yes, it’s technically a city and not a town, though it bursts with small-town charm) with the rest of the Jersey shore – this is not your Snookie kind of place!
What sets Cape May apart from other Jersey towns – or any other beach town for that matter – is its sheer number of Victorian houses and buildings. It has the highest concentration of Victorians after San Francisco, no small feat! A little history of the city explains how this came to be: in 1878, a fire destroyed 30 blocks of the then-town, devastating the area. The town quickly re-built itself with the modern style of the day, later known as the Victorian style.
The Victorian era is made up of various architectural styles including Queen Anne, Gothic revival, Italianate, and French Second Empire. Walking around the Cape May historic district is a real treat, where everywhere you go, these styles shine through and give the town its own character. Stained glass windows, decorative trimming, turrets, front porches and bay windows all make up the design of the houses. Bright colors abound as well, lending a happy feel to the streets (though I learned that back in the day, the color of choice was muted browns, and not the colors of the rainbow…how times have changed).
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In 1976 Cape May was designated a National Historic Landmark, and included the entire city. With its newfound title, the city made great efforts to restore and protect the buildings that make it truly a unique and historical place to visit. Apart from the wonderful architecture, horse-drawn carriages weave in and around town, gas lamps dot the streets, and old-school trolleys can be seen giving tours. We took one of the trolley tours – the Historic District architecture tour – and it was one of everyone’s favorite activities. It’s a great way to see and get a feel for the town, and our guide was excellent.
Most everything in the Cape May historic district is within walking distance, making the town easy to get around. Though Cape May is a city, it looks and feels more like small-town Americana. Adorable streets are marked by mom and pop shops, nostalgic candy and ice cream stores, and a plethora of old-fashioned looking b & b’s, inns and hotels. Practically everywhere you look is one of these historical inns, including the Virginia, the Hotel Alcott, the Macomber, the Chalfonte Hotel, and Congress Hall, to name a few. Everyone is sitting and hanging out on the front porches, one of my favorite things about the town. Often times you don’t actually see people rocking away on their porches, but in Cape May you do! (though not pictured here as I didn’t actually take photos of the people!)
You can walk from the center of town to the beach and promenade, where you can find restaurants such as Uncle Bill’s Pancakes, arcades, pizza joints and some of the bigger hotels with ocean views. People are running, biking and walking along the boardwalk; it is everything you think of when you think of a classic American beach town. The one twist: all of its Victorian era architecture. Cape May really is like no other seaside town! Take a visit and see for yourself, and go back in time.
If you enjoyed this, you may also enjoy my posts Guide to Cape May Wineries and Cape May, NJ: Images of Independence Day Done Right!
Want to read more about New Jersey? Check out this guide!
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Linking up with FARAWAY FILES, THE WEEKLY POSTCARD and CITY TRIPPING
Wow, charming indeed. Great photos.
Thanks so much.
It’s just gorgeous, this is the kind of place I could wander around for hours. Stunning architecture and I love the porches with the rocking chairs.
I know, me too. Looks so relaxing!
OH.MY.GOD! Could this town get anymore friggin’ ADORABLE!?? Pinned, Stumbled & sent to my mom so that next time we’re home, we make a road trip here! haha #FarawayFiles
Haha – thanks Lori!!! x
What a charming town! We are heading up to Boston to visit my brother in a few weeks and we want to visit some cute Eastern seaboard towns while we are there… too bad this town is too far for a day trip 🙁 #farawayfiles
Next time :). There are so many cute seaboard towns in the Boston area. Where are you driving from?
He’s in Cambridge so we will be driving from there and most likely head north 🙂
Wow, this is just adorable!!
Isn’t it? Thanks!
I am a fan of small towns (or old towns) and have a list of those by state. Cape May is at the top of the New Jersey portion. Having family in New York, I do not loose hope of touring this place (and others) one day. I have to convince my boss of letting me move to a fully virtual position (which makes sense for the type of work I do).
What a great idea to make a list by state. I’m going to copy that!
This town looks like it belongs on a movie set it is all so beautiful, colourful and well maintained. I am drooling over the minature house letter box you have so nicely photographed. #FarawayFiles
Don’t you love that mailbox? I thought it was so cute!
I love it
What a fabulous post, Corey, and I have to say I love your pin design – it’s as bright and colourful as the town itself. who wouldn’t want that on their pinterest board?! This town looks so cheerful and fun, almost like the set design for a film. I’d absolutely love to visit. Thanks so much for sharing on #FarawayFiles. I’ve saved this everywhere for when I go.
We passed through New Jersey so many times but never stopped to explore it. Now that I see your post I feel I missed a lot. Cape May looks particularly attractive because of all those Victorian houses. Which town did you like the best? #TheWeeklyPostcard
Cape May looks like it was the inspiration for Disneyland! It just oozes old world charm with all the colourful houses and flower baskets. I love the house with its matching post box the best. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles
Aww how cute is this place! I never knew somewhere like this existed in New Jersey. As a huge Bon Jovi fan growing up, this state has a soft spot in my heart, but now I want to visit it more than ever! #citytripping
Haha – I love Bon Jovi. I was supposed to see them in concert at MSG in NYC this spring, but he cancelled! Had bronchitis. The make-up date was during our spring break and everyone was away we were so pissed! New Jersey may have a rep, but there’s def some gems to be found ;).
I’d never heard of Cape May before this, but now I want to go straight away. It’s absolutely beautiful! Like stepping back in time! Your photos are breathtaking, thank you.
Thank you so much! I really didn’t know much about it until a few years ago..New Jersey and “quaint” don’t really go hand in hand. So we were thrilled to have visited such a historical gem of a place!
How wonderful is this!? Gorgeous colors, and your photos are stunning! They almost make me want to make a return to NJ for a visit… almost! #theweeklypostcard
Haha – I know right. It’s definitely much different from the rest of Jersey!!
That’s for sure! 😘
How charming! I love all the colours. It definitely looks like a sweet place to visit.
I very much enjoyed looking at you beautiful pics of all the gingerbread houses in Cape May. It was very nostalgic for me as we used to take the Cape May/Lewes ferry there every summer years ago when we spent 2 weeks at Rehobeth Beach.
Thanks so much for reading – glad I could stir up some nostalgic memories!
OH I just love Cape May! We used to drive out there when we lived in Philadelphia when my boys were wee. You can take the ferry from there across the Delaware Bay to more fun on the Delaware shore – places like Dewey Beach and Bethany Beach! You are bringing back such good memories – thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles – Erin
I haven’t been to the beaches in Delaware since my 20’s. About time to revisit!
I was born and raised in Philly. I only got to go to Cape May once. That is when I joined the Coast Guard. Coast Guard boot camp is in Cape May. I did not see much or really any of the town. Too bad I didn’t it looks fabulous.
Just means you have to get back there, Jim!