Cape May
By Victor Block

After strolling along a lovely stretch of Atlantic Ocean beach that fronts Cape May, New Jersey, my wife and I decided to check out some of the town’s other attractions.

We dropped by the towering lighthouse, which has beamed warnings to ships since 1859. We visited a World War II lookout tower that was built to help aim coastal artillery at German submarines, which ventured too close to shore. We strolled through Cape May Point State Park, an area of dunes, marsh and forest, which is a resting place for sea and shore birds during their annual migration.

All of this was before we immersed ourselves in the primary appeal that brings most visitors to Cape May. That is its renowned collection of Victorian architecture.

Native Americans were there when English explorer Henry Hudson showed up in 1609. He was followed by Cornelis Mey, a Dutch adventurer, captain and fur trader who, during 1611-1614, charted the region and for whom the town is named. By 1630, the Dutch West India Company purchased land from the Native Americans and established a fishing and whaling settlement.

Fast-forward about two centuries and Cape May began to adopt its role as a popular summer destination for well-to-do vacationers from nearby cities. Private wooden cottages and hotels were constructed. The town was promoted as America’s First Seaside Resort.

When a massive fire destroyed much of the town in 1878, it was rebuilt as the architectural treasure it is today. Because the ornate Victorian style was in vogue at the time, many structures exhibit that vernacular, with intricate detailing, gable roofs, round towers and other wild, and at times whimsical, adornments. Deep bold colors add the finishing touch.

As a result of this concentration of Victorian architecture—more than 600 beautifully preserved buildings—Cape May is designated as a National Historic Landmark. It’s the only town in the country to be entirely recognized as a National Historic District.

We spent much time meandering through this eclectic collection of fun and fanciful homes, shops and B&Bs. Our itinerary also included the historic Emlen Physick mansion, the Harriet Tubman Museum, which shared stories of slavery and abolitionist activism in New Jersey, and a stroll down the Washington Street Mall with its incredible line-up of nearly 100 one-of-a-kind shops, galleries and eateries.

Visit Cape May MAC (Museums, Arts, Culture) at to learn more about planning your next trip to this nostalgic and beautiful section of the Jersey shore.