Cape May
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Traveling In The USA - New Jersey - Cape May
Victorian Cape May
The less things change -
the more they stay the same.
By Tom Ryan

True story: I am on a Cape May postcard that’s been sold in Southern New Jersey gift shops for 30 years. Well, not me exactly, but my arm, and the fishing rod I’m holding. While I might be a disembodied appendage, there’s no mistaking my dad who’s standing behind me; and my grandparents, watching from the rocky shore. The photo was taken on Sunset Beach, at the southernmost point of the state of New Jersey.

I was fishing for Jaws, and my dad was standing close by just in case I caught him. While I’d like to think the photograph was taken for its Rockwell-esque depiction of a father and son fishing, we were just an afterthought, bystanders to the focus of the photo – the concrete ship the S.S. Atlantus. With its dark, angular silhouette jutting awkwardly out of the sea, the S.S. Atlantus sunk on June 8th 1926, 150 feet off the Cape May coast, and now stands as one of Cape May’s most visited attractions.

Cape May itself is a lot like the S.S. Atlantus, sinking deeper into time but still retaining much of its original Victorian charm. The city has a rich history and is considered the oldest seaside resort town in America, with visitors and vacationers coming from the not-too-distant cities of Philadelphia and New York since the mid-1700’s. Two hundred years later, on May 11, 1976, the city was designated as a National Historic Landmark, and now people from around the country – and around the world – come to Cape May for a slice of Americana.

As a child, my parents used to take me to Cape May nearly every year, and there are still some things that stick indelibly in my mind, like the sweet smell of oven-roasted nuts and saltwater taffy at Morrow’s Nut House, and the vibrant colors of the gingerbread-style eves of the town’s famous Victorian houses. Even if you’ve never been to Cape May before, there’s no escaping the sense of nostalgia that you feel when strolling the brick-lined walkways of the airy Washington Street Mall and hear the clip-clop, clip-clop of the horse-drawn carriages.

I’m a sucker for nostalgia, and as soon as my daughter was old enough, I wanted to make sure she had a chance to experience and savor all the sights and sounds of this history-rich city that I so loved in my own youth; 2-years-old seemed the perfect age! Toddlers love Victorian history, right?

For me, the best time to visit Cape May is the spring or fall, preferably before Memorial Day weekend, and after Labor Day. Bear in mind that Cape May is a summer town, and some shops and attractions are only open during the warmer months; however, arriving slightly off-season will ensure that many destinations will still be open and you won’t be fighting the summer crowds. Another benefit is that the room rates, whether you’re staying at a hotel or B&B, will be significantly cheaper than they would during the height of tourist season. We set a date of May 23rd for our arrival, and began looking for lodging.

I’ve stayed at many Cape May hotels, including Congress Hall and the Montreal Inn, and most are well-maintained and well within walking distance of the beach. But this time around my wife and I, with daughter in-tow, decided to rent a condo unit for a week. This would allow us some creature comforts, including a full kitchen and dining room, while also giving us a central command post from which to plan and execute our mini adventures throughout town. With a little searching on the internet, we found a listing for a unit at a condo complex called Cape Roc. The unit was owned by Carl and Linda Buck, two friendly New Jerseyans who own a few rental properties in the area. The rental price of the unit was under $700 for the week and was within our budget for accommodations. It addition to offering a number of at-home features, the condo also had an on-premise heated swimming pool and was situated less than a block from the beach.

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