Cape May, New Jersey

A Victorian-era time capsule down the Shore.
Block Island, Rhode Island
Ocean Grove/Asbury Park, N.J.
Cape May, New Jersey
Great Barrington, Mass.
Salisbury, Connecticut
Milford, Pennsylvania
Mount Desert Island, Maine
Margaretville, New York
Victorian charm: The Chalfonte Inn


Cape May, the country's oldest oceanfront resort, was a vacation getaway for P. T. Barnum, Civil War generals Robert E. Lee and William Sherman, and even Abe Lincoln. After a fire destroyed most of the whaling village in 1878, it was rebuilt with Victorian gingerbread-style houses. The city was designated a national historic landmark in 1976, and the nineteenth-century charm has been preserved; slate sidewalks are lit by gaslights and surrounded by intricate plantings and flower gardens. "There's just a wonderful character about it," says one yearly visitor.

Things To Do: All of Cape May's beaches are open to the public for a small surcharge ($17 for the season, $4 for the day; children under 12 are free). The boardwalk is a little tame by Jersey Shore standards, but the one in nearby Wildwood is loaded with amusements. Grown-ups who've had their fill of the Ferris wheel can make the 30-to-45-minute trip to Atlantic City or easily fill afternoons in Cape May antiquing, bird-watching, biking, golfing, boating, or taking historic-house tours.

Social Scene: For the "cottagers," as the folks from Philadelphia, Baltimore, and D.C. who've summered in Cape May for generations are known, socializing revolves around private tennis, yacht, and beach clubs. "They do the martini cocktail-hour thing," says a New York weekender. The rest settle for leisurely dinners at 410 Bank Street or the Pelican Club, which overlooks the ocean from the penthouse of the Marquis de Lafayette.

What's New: On June 7, Congress Hall, one of the oldest hotels on the beachfront, will reopen after a three-year renovation, sporting a Tiffany-blue ballroom and a zebra-print lounge.

Property Values: The fantasy of living in a turreted Victorian home complete with cupola and gazebo is what drives the real-estate market here. "Cape May houses have to have clashing colors," says a New Yorker who visits every summer. "Bright canary yellow with hot-pink shutters. Velvet couches and crystal chandeliers. Everything has something dangling off it -- tassels and bows. It's so bizarrely flamboyant and fun." A Victorian within walking distance of the beach (few are actually on Beach Drive) will set you back at least $600,000. A single-family home on the water will be in the $1 million–$1.5 million range. During the season, most properties are rented on a weekly basis. Beachfront condos or large Victorian bungalows go for $1,250–$4,000 a week. A six-bedroom Victorian cottage within walking distance of the water goes for $4,800 a week, but $7,000 is not unheard of. A three-bedroom ranch is $2,500.

Recommended Realtors: Homestead (609-884-1888 or, Tolz Realty (609-884-7001 or for sales listings only), and Manzoni Realty (609-898-8200 or

Weekend Visits: A stay at the Chalfonte (888-411-1998 or; doubles start at $135) is a classic Cape May experience: The oldest hotel in town, it has no A/C (ceiling fans and ocean breezes suffice) and few private bathrooms. Locals rave about a garden brunch at the Mad Batter (609-884-9619). For an old-school raw-bar spread, get your bib on at the Lobster House (609-884-8296), which also has a fish market and a docked schooner where guests can sip their cocktails.

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Photos Courtesy of The Chalfonte Inn.
From the June 3, 2002 issue of New York Magazine.