In New Jersey, a trip down the shore and a hike along the Appalachian Trail can happen on the same day. Pizza is better here than anywhere else in the country, music venues are legendary, downtowns are made for strolling and historic sites and museums are in no short supply. Forget the What Exit jokes … we love the Garden State.
So, for those residents — out-of-staters, too — who are ready to make plans after more than a year of being cooped up, we have some ideas for those who would rather grab their car keys or a mass transit ticket than book a flight.
Consider this an insider’s guide to the state, broken down by counties. It’s not an all-encompassing list, and it’s not meant to be. It’s a jumping-off point and then go do some exploring and let your curiosity — and some help from locals — be your guide.
The latest part of our series takes a look at Cape May County.
Railbikers make the trip back to the Cape May Station during the four-mile round trip ride from the center of Cape May to the Cape May Canal. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
If you’ve never heard of railbiking, or, if you have but didn’t know you could enjoy the activity in the Garden State, keep reading. Revolution Rail Company (609 Lafayette St., Cape May | 888.738.9123), which has runs in New York and Colorado, has one in New Jersey, too.
Railbiking allows participants to ride railroad tracks under their own power and explore the outdoors in a “brand new way.”
The Cape May run takes riders from the heart of Cape May for a 4-mile “out-and-back trip alongside the Garrett Family Preserve.”
Riders pedal through the “expansive native wildflower meadows and flora” and have opportunity to see migrating songbirds, raptors and pollinators like bumblebees and monarch butterflies.
Inside the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum at the Cape May Airport in Lower Township, Cape May County. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Located inside a World War II hangar, the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum (Cape May Airport | 500 Forrestal Road, Cape May) offers visitors an opportunity to explore aviation and military history through hands-on exhibits and activities.
Cynthia Mullock, executive director of the Harriet Tubman Museum, gives a tour at the Cape May museum. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
In the early 1850s, Harriet Tubman lived in Cape May working as a cook to fund her missions to guide enslaved people to freedom. The Harriet Tubman Museum (632 Lafayette St., Cape May) functions to “share the inspiring story of this American hero, the rich history of abolitionist activism, and the enduring legacy of the African American community in Cape May County.”
The Harriet Tubman Museum in Cape May. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
The Cape May Lighthouse located in Cape May Point State Park. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Cape May Point State Park (303 County Hwy. 629, Cape May 609.884.2159) is 244 acres of freshwater meadows, ponds, forests, dunes and beach. According to the state, the park is “one of the most popular sites for bird watching in North America and a natural route for migratory birds.”
Located in the park is the Cape May Lighthouse at 215 Lighthouse Ave. The 157-foot structure built in 1859 is still in operation as a navigational aid. Open to visitors daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., those who climb the 199 steps of the cast iron spiral staircase to the top of the lighthouse have the privilege of seeing breathtaking views of the Delaware Bay, Atlantic Ocean, surrounding nature trails, and Cape May Point Borough. Interpretive panels at the lighthouse tell stories of keepers, the surrounding area and how the lighthouse has functioned.
The World War II Lookout Tower in Lower Township Cape May County. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Built in 1942, the World War II Lookout Tower (536 Sunset Blvd., Lower Township | 609.884.5404) – which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places – was used as observation post to detect enemy vessels. Inside the structure, a staircase takes visitors to the sixth-floor spotting gallery where “observers” are on hand to answer questions.
The tower also includes a Wall of Honor that pays tribute to local residents who served during World War II; more than160 veterans’ photos are on display. Changing exhibits highlight varying topics of history related to the tower. An eternal flame on the boardwalk offers opportunity for quiet contemplation.
Primal Executive Chef and owner Mia Chiarella stands inside her oceanfront Cape May restaurant. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Executive Chef and owner Mia Chiarella opened Primal (406 Beach Ave., Cape May | 609.408.1933), a wood-fired grill, in June of this year. She brings major metropolitan Center City steaks to the Shore in addition to the highest quality seafood. Try the 20-ounce dry-aged ribeye or scallops. Arguably the southern most restaurant in New Jersey, Primal is located on the oceanside of the Cape May Promenade where guests can dine with a view of the beaches and ocean with that edgy Center City feel.
Dry-Aged Bone In Ribeye at Primal in Cape May.
Music outside at MudHen Brewing Company. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Founded in April 2018, MudHen Brewing Co. (127 West Rio Grande Ave., Wildwood | 609.846.7918) occupies the site of a former Harley-Davidson dealership, features a full bar and restaurant menu. On tap are about a dozen rotating craft beers that are brewed on-premises. The space features a dining room with large windows where guests can peek into the brewery located behind the taps. Upstairs, there is a lounge with couches, a fireplace and cabaret-style seating.
A garage area with rollaway doors leads to an outdoor seating area, equipped with a bar, fire pits and covered patio sections.
The Forget-About-It hotdog at Maui’s Dog House in North Wildwood. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
As per nj.com’s Pete Genovese, “Maui’s Dog House in North Wildwood offers a head-spinning variety of dogs (try the Horsey dog, with ground horseradish and spicy mustard) and toppings. The place gets so busy it advises reservations on summer weekends. It’s a fun, open-air hangout. One must-try: the salty balls, small potatoes cooked in brine and spices. Bet you can’t eat just one.”
It’s located at 8th and New Jersey Avenues, North Wildwood; 609.846.0444.
Kylo, a 1-year-old husky, American Eskimo and German shepherd mix owned by Alison and Paul Napoleon of Wildwood, enthusiastically licks his scoop of banana ice cream on the counter at Salty Paws Doggie Ice Cream Shop in Stone Harbor. Lori M. Nichols | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Yup, there is an ice cream shop for dogs!
Salty Paws Doggie Ice Cream Treats (276 96th St., Stone Harbor | 610.299.1584) says it is “the first doggie ice cream shop in the country.” According to the website, “Some may say it’s a dog restaurant so pet friendly that our customers can actually sit at tables while enjoying their treats.” Pet owners can “kick back” and watch their dogs enjoy cones, waffle bowls or dishes full of dog friendly ice cream (toppings are available, of course).
Salty Paws’ ice cream flavors include maple bacon, vanilla, pumpkin, blueberry and peanut butter. But that’s not all. There are bakery selections for canines including doggie doughnuts, cookies and cake mix.
Amanda Romo and her husband Chris drink wine at Jessie Creek Winery in Cape May Court House. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
The mission at Jessie Creek Winery (1 Route 47 North, Cape May Court House | 609.536.2023) is to provide its visitors with “the best wines, in small batches … for a unique boutique experience.” But here, there is much more than wine.
What began as a winery and vineyard has been expanded to include a local art gallery where local artisans showcase their works. There is also an inn on the property. The Inn at Jessie Creek is a historic farmhouse that overlooks the vineyard. Originally built in 1846, the inn has been renovated and features five private accommodations.
Mixologist Randi Sabatini makes a Krabby Patty at Nauti Spirits Distillery in Lower Township. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Nauti Spirits Distillery (916 Shunpike Road | Cape May | 609.770.3381) produces handcrafted vodka, gin, whiskey, bourbon and rum using ingredients grown mainly on the 60-acre coastal farm, and other South Jersey farmlands. Using “premium southern molasses” Nauti Spirits mashes, ferments, distills, and bottles its products on site.
Guests are welcome to visit the distillery bar on the farm. There is indoor and outdoor seating here and guests are welcome enjoy spirits with BYO food.
Dan Barry plays at Nauti Spirits Distillery in Lower Township. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Beach Plum Farm in West Cape May. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Established in 2008, the 62-acre Beach Plum Farm (140 Stevens St., West Cape May | 609.459.0121) grows more than 100 kinds of fruits and vegetables as well as chickens, eggs, and hogs. The owners welcome visitors to enjoy the farm’s “quaint serenity.” Visitors are invited to visit the farm’s market, eat from the kitchen and stay in the cottages.
At the market, there’s not only fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs and meats sourced on-site, but local products such as jams, honeys, mixers, spreads, pastas, wines and housewares and gifts such as toys and books.
The farm features a kitchen where there is an “ever-changing menu based on what’s fresh in the fields that morning.” Served here are “homespun breakfast and lunch selections at a picnic table surrounded by greenery and sun.”
Guests who are interested in spending more than an afternoon exploring the open spaces can stay overnight in one of the cottages to “truly experience the rhythm of farm life.” There are five historic cottages and barns situated on the farm. With space to sleep anywhere from six to eight guests, the homes are suitable for a family vacation, reunions or getaways with friends.
Beach Plum Farm in West Cape May. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
A bobcat grooms itself at the Cape May County Zoo. Lori M. Nichols | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
When the Cape May County Zoo (707 Route 9 North, Cape May Court House | 609.465.1000) was created within the Cape May County Park in 1978, the animal population was about 70. Today, the zoo is home to 550 animals representing some 250 species.
In addition to standard admission to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited zoo, there are private guided zoo tours and individual animal encounters with giraffes, camels and reptiles. The zoo also has “adopt an animal” and conservation programs in place.
Shopping in downtown Stone Harbor. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
If you’re looking for small town charm in a seaside location, visit Stone Harbor and its quaint shopping district and restaurants that will satisfy any appetite. There are bookstores, boutiques, galleries, pubs, cantinas, cafes and coffee shops, just to name a few.
Fish Alley in Sea Isle City. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Sea Isle City prides itself on “balancing family adventures, dining, shopping and nightlife.” Downtown there are boutiques, home décor shops and stores that sell beach essentials. There are salons, spas and fitness centers.
And, of course, there is food.
Seafood is what you have a taste for? Boy are you in luck. Sea Isle City is home to Fish Alley, where seafood markets and restaurants are king. The casual dockside dining includes Mike’s Seafood, Carmen’s, and Marie’s.
Jeff Ungvary, senior guard, and Mary Kate Sullivan, 16, a rookie guard, watch over the beach in Cape May. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
When ranking New Jersey beaches earlier this summer they wrote, “We thought long and hard as to whether any beach could dethrone the queen of Jersey Shore getaways. But Cape May’s combination of picturesque sand, idyllic boardwalk, plethora of nearby food and drink options and gorgeous Victorian architecture remains undefeated. What’s not to love? The long trip down to Exit 0? Fine. But that’s all. As some other Jersey Shore beaches blend together, Cape May truly stands out, and above them all.”
People cool off on a hot, humid day sliding down Shotgun Falls at Morey’s Piers’ Raging Waters Water Park in Wildwood.
“The greatest boardwalk of all time is in Wildwood,” wrote Pete Genovese in 2020.
In addition to the famous Wildwood tram cars, there arcades and amusements and much, much more. According to visitnj.org, Morey’s Piers and Beachfront Waterparks (3501 Boardwalk, Wildwood | 609.729.3700), “the largest amusement piers in the world,” includes three family-fun piers with more than 100 amusement park rides and attractions, two large beachfront waterparks, kiddie rides, and roller coasters.
For those who’d rather not ride, there is a resort-themed atmosphere that features beverage service, private cabana rentals with towel service, hammocks, outdoor pool tables, games including chess and backgammon. Naturally, there is plenty in the way of retail and restaurants.
A Sightseer Tramcar runs along the boardwalk in Wildwood. Joe Warner | For NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
The Ocean City boardwalk. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Like many shore towns, the boardwalk is the center of activity in Ocean City. Here, there is certainly no shortage of amusements or attractions. There are rides, miniature golf courses, arcades, movie theaters, a water park as well as scores of shops and restaurants.
In July and August, vendors provide live entertainment for visitors. On Family Night, there is entertainment on every block of the boardwalk. There is live music, magicians, face painting booths, and yo-yo demonstrations.
A few short summers ago, when nj.com’s Bobby Olivier and Jeremy Schneider were ranking boardwalks in the state, Ocean City took the #1 slot.
They wrote, “The perfect balance of old-school and touristy. Big, but not overwhelming. Crowded, but not overrun. Gillian’s Wonderland Pier, Playland’s Castaway Cove (E. 10th and Boardwalk) and OC Waterpark (Plymouth Place and Boardwalk) are excellent attractions, while there is an abundance of classic food options, including Kohr Brothers Frozen Custard. And the boardwalk itself, what you’re walking on, was replaced as part of a five-year restoration project and is in great shape. In the land of Jersey boardwalks, Ocean City simply can’t be beat!”
People enjoy a ride at Playland’s Castaway Cove on the Ocean City boardwalk. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Eric Swanson, owner of East Coast Falcons, holds Diambi, while talking to people on the Ocean City boardwalk. Raptors patrol the skies to deter the seagulls. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Cape May’s oldest original hotel, the Chalfonte Hotel, hosts the Howard Street Ramble on July 22, 2021. Local musicians play at the Ramble every Thursday during the summer, Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Built in 1876, the Chalfonte Hotel (301 Howard St., Cape May | 609.884.8409) is recognized as the oldest original hotel in Cape May. Located two blocks from the beach and steps from the center of town, the Chalfonte offers cottage rentals, suites, guest rooms with “premium and European style baths,” and traditional rooms with shared baths. The hotel’s Magnolia Room Restaurant Southern-style fare and the King Edward Bar known for its classic cocktails, casual ambiance and live music.
Every Thursday evening during the season local musicians gather to jam on the deck, weather permitting, or inside the King Edward Bar for the Howard Street Ramble.
The Queen Victoria, in Cape May, is illuminated in holiday lights, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
The Queen Victoria (102 Ocean St., Cape May | 609.884.8702) is located in the heart of Victorian Cape May – one block from the Atlantic Ocean, historic tours, restaurants and shopping. The inn features three restored 1880s homes and an 1876 gambling parlor with porches and fireplaces.
The Cape May–Lewes Ferry leaves from the Cape May Terminal on Aug. 2, 2021. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
The Cape May-Lewis Ferry travels from Cape May to Lewis, Delaware and welcomes all methods of travel – vehicles, foot passengers and bicycles all year long. The 17-mile trip across the Delaware Bay takes approximately 85 minutes. Stop by the terminal for lunch or dinner at Grain On the Rocks in Lewis or On the Rocks in Cape May.
Elizabeth Degener checks bread as she bakes it in a wood-fired clay over at her family’s Enfin Farms property on Sunset Boulevard in Cape May in this photo from 2017. She sells her bread at a roadside stand in front of the farm.
Arguably some of the best homemade bread can be found along Sunset Boulevard, just outside of Cape May, on the way to Sunset Beach in Lower Township.
Elizabeth Degener, better known as the Bread Lady, sells her wood-fired bread at a little roadside shed at her families Enfin Farm. Get there early because she sells out quickly. For the remainder of the summer she will be holding a pop-up once a week at the farm stand beginning at 10 a.m. Check out Enflin Farms Facebook page to find out when the pop-ups will happen.
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Linda O’Brien may be reached at LOBRIEN@njadvancemedia.com