1. Where to Stay
For classic luxury, reserve at the Mainstay Inn (from $155), a former private gambling club that has been meticulously restored to full Victorian glory. Period furnishings are in every room. Book the Henry Ford room with its private back porch.
Pick the Queen Victoria (from $130) for its generous breakfast buffet. The two-story Crown Jewel Suite, with private entrance, is one of the most romantic places to stay in Cape May.
A Victorian B&B, John F. Craig House (from $165) offers free bikes and beach chairs. Take your breakfast in the dining room or the glassed-in porch and return for tea (or wine) at 5 p.m. The owners’ collections of Lionel trains and bawdy figurines are displayed throughout the house.
The Fairthorne Cottage (from $214), a former whaling captain’s 1882 home, now offers intimate accommodations. Most rooms come with a fireplace.
For people who prefer small hotels, the 108-room Congress Hall (from $100) is a seaside classic. Many of the hotel’s twenties fixtures and windows were fully restored during a 2002 renovation. Ask for a room with an uninterrupted view of the shore.
2. Where to Eat
The tiny Louisa’s Café (104 Jackson St.; 609-884-5882) takes reservations for the week beginning at 4 p.m. on Tuesdays and is often fully booked by 4:30. The menu changes daily — hope fresh-caught flounder is on it.
Moonfish Grill (416 S. Broadway; 609-898-1600) is only months old, but it became a fast favorite with residents. Go for the great sushi or more traditional fare (try the Moonfish Kettle of seafood in a custom-made copper pot). Moonfish is BYOB, so pick up wine at Collier’s on Jackson Street.
The romantic Ebbitt Room in the posh Virginia Hotel boasts a Wine Spectator–award-winning list. Try the veal tenderloin topped with lobster; stay for the sticky toffee pudding.
The Lobster House may seem touristy, but locals show up for the live three-pound lobsters and red-checked tablecloths; cocktails in the schooner docked outside are delightfully retro.
3. What to Do
Buy tickets at the booth in the Washington Street Mall and hop aboard a red-and-green trolley for a narrated tour of the Victorian district. You’ll stop at the Emlen Physick Estate, an 1879 Victorian home complete with a séance room and earthly guide. Walk the beach to Cape May Point to climb the newly restored 1859 lighthouse.
4. Insider’s Tip
Cape May’s wide, sandy beaches are a main tourist attraction, so locals retreat to a nearly deserted piece of coastline in North Cape May. Follow signs to the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, but instead of going left to the ferry terminal, go straight. Then turn right on Beach Drive.
5. An Oddball Day
The Phantom Ball, held on the Saturday closest to Halloween (this year October 28), draws visiting fans of Victoriana, locals, and the city’s gay population. The ballroom at Congress Hall will be packed with guys dressed like Charles Dickens and plenty of Queen Victorias. $20 admission; cash bar.
The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts compiles a calendar of tours and events in the historic district.
Cape May Magazine covers the area’s restaurants, real estate, and news for residents and visitors.
Find local bars, bands, and nightlife at Cape May After Dark.