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Trip Report Cape May Getaway

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11 Days in Cape May, NJ
A big thank you to those who answered questions I posted here and in the Lounge. I was concerned about the water temp of the ocean. I had a lovely trip.
Cape May is said to be the oldest seaside resort in the United States. I was introduced to a little inn 2 blocks from the beach by a friend that I met at a writer’s weekend in 2009 who grew up in Cape May and stayed there each year. The inn is fairly bare-boned, like a European pension(e). I had a room with a bed, adresser, writing desk & chair, end table & lamp, closet &sink. Bathroom down the hall, large, with a claw foot tub. There is access to a kitchen and all its contents and a frig. The inn has 2 big porches, and an off-the-street parking lot. Here we go! It is a lot of detail, but I can't seem to help myself.
Day 1 Sat 6/25
I was quite surprised to find no traffic on a weekend afternoon and made good time. I arrived late Saturday afternoon, about 3:30 June 25, stashed my groceries in the frig, changed into my suit and headed straight over to Sunset Beach, and in the water by 4:15. This is on the bay side. Sunset Beach is known for two things, an unobstructed view of the sunset on the ocean at the southernmost point of New Jersey, and the Cape May Diamonds, quartz smoothed by the ocean and sand and washed ashore.

I took my novel of choice, Helen of Troy, my chaise lounge, ice water and a towel. You drive right up to the beach and park. As I entered the beach, I saw a woman who looked completely relaxed. I smiled, and said “You look the way I hope to look tomorrow.” She grimaced and said she didn’t speak much English. When I said I thought she spoke well she dismissed me by saying she didn’t understand much & turned back to her magazine. As her grandchildren ran around the beach, it came out that they were French-speaking Belgians, and I felt the sting of an opportunity lost - to speak French. My last trip to Europe- put together here with the aid of my fellow Fodorites - was to France & Belgium, and I spoke only French for 9 days. That sting was quickly replaced by one of a jelly fish. My first time ever being stung, I felt a feathery angel hair against my calves. Can you believe it? In June! and in water maybe 70 degrees waters. I talked to 2 fisherman, and they confirmed. I had Off with me. When the sting took hold, I was back on my beach chair - I thought it was a deerfly or something, but the Off took the pain away, lucky for me.

I enjoyed a relaxing few hours on the beach, and despite all the groceries I brought, I decided to have a hamburger french fries and root beer at the beachside grill. I sat on the deck and then stayed for the sunset ceremony. Every evening in the summer, they have a sunset ceremony where they honour a veteran, read a brief bio, and then play Kate Smith singing G-d Bless America, an instrumental version of Star Spangled Banner, and then Taps as they lower the flag for the night. I don’t mean to be critical, but I think this would be a lot more effecting if they had a vocal recording of Star Spangled Banner, because people would sing along, and I know for me, the last 2 lines always get me choked up. The host keeps you on your feet for about 30 minutes with some long announcements in-between, but I did it once, and enjoyed being amoung people in this patriotic wave of sentiment. I knew it was the big Saturday night, but I was really bushed from a busy week. So I turned in early.

Day 2 Sunday- I couldn’t get up, slept in until 9, slipped right into a swimsuit. It is a glorious clear-blue sky day. Breakfast was 2 Cha Siu Bao, the first of my Trader Joe’s treats ( steamed pork buns), fresh blueberries, and great house coffee.
10:00 a.m. THE TRADITIONAL SETTING OF THE RADIO STATIONS CEREMONY
This is how I mark that I am officially away on vacation when I travel in the States. I have a digital radio headset and I scroll through all the stations from 88 to 107 and set all the radio stations for the duration of the stay. I went in for my first dip and met two sisters and their great dogs, including Mona the Wonder Wheaton. Later, standing by the water I met a regular visitor from outside Philly. We chatted for a while, I warned her about the jelly fish, she suggested the ocean side (D'oh! I didn't remember this was the bay!) where the water will be cooler and less calm, and they should be less a problem. I referred to the station-setting ceremony, and she laughed and said I saw you doing that! We later exchanged emails and may try for lunch in Philly and to coordinate a weekend visit back to Cape May. I get this a lot, and one of my few rules for vacation is to live in the moment, to know that most people mean it when they say it, and often have sincere intentions, and enjoy it for the connection that it is, and have no expectations.

I am hot and hungry. I left my little cooler a block down in the car under towels. I walk toward the car, stopping in the gift shop to see what the cape may diamonds actually look like - I was never sure last year, and it was time to see if I was getting it right. They had a little dish of before, and then jewelry to show you the “after” once they were tumbled. This is actually very time-consuming, tumblers are not cheap, and neither are the tumbling rocks, I had researched this online the week before vacation around the same time I did my "trial pack", so I had resolved to buy a finished product. I was just looking for today - 6mm stud earrings set in sterling, the rocks were clear and lovely. They did not have the fire of diamonds, or even the color & sparkle of cz - those earrings I kept losing one of every time I bought - but were clear & pretty. If I got a pendant or ring, though, I could see the stone, but the pendants were not as nice, they were plain. Anyway, I went over to a little tray of rings, and selected 2 and a blue and gold bracelet. There was a family behind me and the woman at the counter asked me to step aside- twice. She said "you are looking at the golf gifts; this family is waiting for theirs". I didn’t understand. I moved, and she said the basket was little trinket gifts earned by getting holes in their mini-golf course next door. She pointed to a bent down paper sign 99 cents Golf Gifts. Oh, I said, I guess I’m a cheap date. I had just been looking for a little ring for my thumb, and they had one on like an elastic cord and pretty carved floral panels. I took that and the bracelet. As I turned away, I saw on a dummy displaying a shirt scarf and strand of pearls. I uncoiled it, it had to be at least 60”. It looked real, like the potato pearls from China, like the river pearls I bought in Mexico ( another Fodorite-aided trip). The tag says $19.99. I have only a few singles with me. I ask the woman at the counter if she can put them aside for me until tomorrow. It’s that same “golf gift” woman. I say they look so real, and she agrees but says they are not. I point at the grooves in the pearls - that’s really amazing. I get to my car, the inside of the cooler is nice and cold my fruit drink still partially frozen, and I have a nice salad of steamed chicken breast, romaine, green peppers, cukes, tomatoes, half a wheat pita, and a nice bunch of red globe grapes, my favorite, small with crunching skins, and quite chilled. I return to the beach, walk, take quick dips, read a magazine and listen to music, feeling myself unwind and relax until 7, leave before the sunset ceremony. Dinner - gnocchi in marinara sauce - from TJ’s, very nice, augmented by beautiful mini meatballs from the inn’s housekeeper, and haricot verts with baby peas, also TJ‘s as well as Renee Barber Cataluna white wine light and crisp, which I share with my hosts. I had a little walk, and sated from dinner, it was safe -because he always details his meals - to begin Robert B. Parker’s last novel, Painted Ladies.

Day 3 - Monday. I didn’t set an alarm, and woke up with a start and a gasp when I saw my wristwatch - 11:35! How could I have slept so late? Oh, wait, it’s upside down, it is five minutes before 7. I get washed & dressed in capris and a tee shirt. Breakfast is cheerios and courtesy of the inn, macadamia coffee. It is quite overcast, so I decide to reorganize the car. The inn proprietor suggests I can use his garden house. I work steadily for about 2 hours - I know!- but I am happy and enjoying the labor; it is soothing. On my last day before my vacation, I got a virus on my work laptop and had to run it over to IT in the corporate offices. Instead of doing those last minute tasks, like organizing the car back seat and trunk, I ended up stuck in Fri eve southbound traffic. So it is very nice to be out in the fresh sea air, doing this very ordinary chore. I put all the beach chairs and beach umbrella together, I vacuum the car, clean all the little nooks & crannies with a little instrument, Armorall the inside, and Windex the mirrors and window. Then I blast the car with the hose, and use warm soapy water, and the big sponge from the trunk to wash it down. The car looks beautiful. And now I can find everything. And the skies are beginning to clear. I go inside for a snack of pita bread and sweet sausage. Now it looks like it will pour any minute. My knees hurt. I go to my room and stretch out with the Spenser novel, until it clears, when I go and walk the Washington Mall, a wide promenade. I have no luck finding a hat I like, with a brim neither too wide nor too small, and all the dresses are rayon. I want cotton, silk or linen. I take a quick dip at Sunset Beach, dinner is tilapia and salad. I called my friend and left a message that I was here. She called back and invited me for dinner to see her new cottage on Wed Eve. I read on the porch and turned in by 11. I am very, very tired, I think I am just worn out. My last vacation was a week of painting my place, not exactly restful, and no change of scenery, which I find essential to rejuvenation.

Day 4 Tues. I sleep in ‘til 9 again. Breakfast is the steamed pork buns, blueberries and sour cream and green tea. I walk to the end of the Washington Mall to the booth. I decided to buy a MAC membership - it includes the several trolley tours and historic walking tours I'd be buying tix for anyway, and so pays for itself. I decide to take a combination trolley tour of the historic district and the Physick Estate. Unfortunately, I let them squeeze me into the last seat, and it is in the midst of a family with 3 screaming kids, one of whom gets his diaper changed on the bus, pretty unpleasant. The estate is fascinating, and I learn some new architectural terms - I never heard of the “stick” style, and also a decorating process that begins with an “L” ? and is wood pulp pressed and painted - it looks like pressed tin ceilings, and pocket windows - I‘d of course seen pocket doors, which slide into the wall, and disappear - windows which slide all the way up, allowing people to walk from inside the house right out onto the porch. I immediately thought of that Sake story with the girl telling tall tales to the visitor about the hunters, and they walk in through the window, and the guest looks like he’s seen a ghost. It was an amazing tour and all the guides are very knowledgeable.
I return home, it is early afternoon. I thought about having lunch there on the mall, but I brought so much with me. Lunch out back on the picnic table - I won't do that agian during the day, porch is cooler - is 4 TJ’s pork shumai, cold London broil on pita with tomato, haricot verts and fruit punch. We had some sprinkles when I was on the trolley tour, but there was no sign of rain now. I don’t’ know why I thought we were 5-6 blocks form the beach, so I persisted in going to the bay and sunset beach. Put on my new swimsuit, black with 4 narrow raised diagonal stripes in aqua, purple, and royal blue, and my wonderful new sarong from Target (in the scarf section, actually, $13.99) - a geometric dotted design of navy, deep purple, lighter purple and white, with little mirrored disks at the border, a silk-cotton blend that feels like heaven and beautifully complements both my new purple & black swimsuits. It is a find that made me very happy. I get to the beach at 2, and get a space right in front of the gift shop, And it was pouring down rain - what‘s so great about the lounge chair - no worries of being on the wet ground. So I ran into the gift shop and asked if they still had the pearls set aside. I figured they probably heard that all the time, and people never come back, so they are probably gone. A man behind the counter explained to a father & daughter to my left about a lifetime guarantee on a collection of rings; you don’t even have to come back, mail the ring, and we send you a replacement. He turns to me, I guess you heard my speech? I nod, and I tell him how lovely the pearls are, how real they look. He is the owner. His eyebrows go up, They ARE real. But the woman told me they were not. He is quick assume it was the young girl, there today, but I say no, I don’t see her here, and describe the older woman. I wouldn’t mind if she were corrected, as she was quite curt with me. I don’t say that, figure it will take care of itself. I ask if there are others and why the price, he said he bought out an end lot and could sell them for $100 each. I worked part-time in a jewelers that specialized in pearls, and he certainly could get $100- $200 for strands that long. I run one across my teeth - it feels gritty. I decide that I don’t care - that they are an excellent buy if they turn out to be costume. I have never seen strands this long. And I just saw that Chanel cruise wear slide show with all the layers of pearls. I buy the strand of white, and 2 in pale pink, one to put away as a special gift, if the occasion arises. I also buy a mermaid bottle opener, that looks like oxidized iron for $3.99, and a pair of Cape May Diamond studs, all together $102 - for 3 strands of pearls, earrings set in sterling, and a mermaid. They give me a lovely zippered tote for my treasures. It has stopped raining. I head for the deck of the Sunset Grill and had a mango water ice - that must be a Philly/South Jersey thing, because I’ve never heard of them - sort of like an Italian ice. Then, on to the beach with Helen of Troy. I manage to get in some laps in the bay unmolested by the jellies. It‘s so lovely out, I decide to forego a trip to the farmer‘s market, even though I know there will be fun live music and people milling about. I leave the beach at 7:30, after the sun is setting Home again, I see I got a lot of color between 5-7, even though I had sunscreen on, so I take a long cool bath in the claw foot tub. A late dinner at 8:30 is TJ’s palek paneer with my own brown rice and shredded chicken breast, the last of the blended grapes Spanish wine, cookies and ice water. I am sun & wine sleepy. I chat with some fellow guests, and turn in around 11.

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    Day 5 Wed, I relaxed reading on the porch and then headed down to the beach on the ocean side. It was wonderful and refreshing, the waters calm, but enough waves to body surf. I drove to my friend's cottage for dinner. It is very charming, a beachy decor without trying too hard, white walls, pickled white wood floors, whites and blues all around, some wonderful furniture finds. A marvelous "room of one's own" she served shark & tuna steaks and a lovely spinach salad with fresh corn kernels and other surprising ingredients. I brought a light crisp white wine. We had a nice eve of catching up.

    Day 6 Thursday I spent a full day at the beach, starting at 9:30- it was one of those crystal-clear blue-skies days right from the start. I buy a season pass badge for $25, since the weekly passes only run from Sat to Sat, and I will be staying through next week. The sand is so powdery and soft, the water so delicious, you can sort of see your feet, it's not that clear, but the sand underfoot in the water is soft, not shells. I don't see any jellyfish. I am reading Helen of Troy, I am pretty sure she is taking some liberties with the tale, but it's well written and not a bodice-ripper, and the characters come alive. Yesterday, I flirted with a cabana boy; actually it's his business. When I see him this morning, I vow to just say hi, and not greet him by name, I always fear looking stalker-ish, but he gives me a big smile and wave and greets me by name, so I do the same. The day passes languidly. Dinner is salad and palek paneer, yum! Tonight I step out to a local bar for a beer. It is dull. A few people talk to me, but the band is only fair -with a weird mix of songs from Elvis to Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, the bartender gives me a beer with lime flavouring (blech!) and I conclude that dragging my lounge chair on & off the beach was more fun than this outing, but I am still glad I went.

    Day 6 Friday- I am so happy! A trip to the bird observatory & they instantly identified the bird I saw at my local park's lake! I am not a birder, so didn't even know how to begin looking it up- had only seen the bird twice, 3 years apart. The guy there flipped right to a picture, yes! shaped like a gull, with gray beak but yellow legs & feet, deep (french) blue at head (raised almost like a mohawk) and wings, and dove-grey, with a long blue plume from the tip of his head to the length of his body. It's a night heron. He said it is unusual I would see it in daylight, as they usually rest in trees during the day, and would not usually be inland where I live. After that he lost interest in me, & I couldn't get him to put down his blackberry and help me choose some new & used books. Odd, because when I called earlier, I was assured someone there because their primary function was as a shop & to sell books & related birding items. I gave him 3 chances, and left without buying a book. I want to help support a place that offers a service, but I'm not going to beg to pay 2x more than I would on Amazon. I headed over to the beach, see my cabana friend and get a smile. I have a wonderful afternoon riding the waves, even do a few laps. I am really enjoying the country music radio stations. By me, the songs are all sort of artificially country-flavoured, "this is what it's like to be country", "we're gonna get drunk" "we girls are gonna get wild", but there is more of a mix of old & new, and more story telling or simple love songs here. The stations are South Jersey and Delaware. Tonight, my friend comes to the inn for dinner and we go out to hear music at an open mic night, and she will try to get me to sing.

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    cmcfong- oh, thank you- glad you enjoy. I am going to head out to my local lake, now, and then on to the glamorous task of laundry, but I will post the rest of the trip throughout the week.

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    Friday eve - a nice dinner of spinach-feta pie and veggies, and a lovely light prosecco, and my friend & I go out to Pilot House for the open mic, some really good singers and guitar pickers. We have a sweet earthy muscato while we listen. I couldn't get up and singer after these real performers, and just wanted to enjoy them.

    Day 8 Sat July 2 - Trying not to think of it as my vacation nearing its end. I go out early and walk to the bakery, but there's no baguettes out yet, so I buy some long rolls for a sandwich for the beach - it's awful! like those cheap rolls that are like cotton in your mouth! Oh well. It's a sparkling claer deep blue-sky day, so I go to the kitchen, make a nice breakfast and spread out stuff to make lunch for the beach. A couple who just arrive return a phone call from one of their kids, and learn that their 15 year old nephew kept pushing his father to go back out with a friend, a new driver, and the father finally relented. The car went off the road, and all 4 passengers were killed. We are all startled to silence. I sit forzen at the table. After they leave, I pack up and head out for the beach, try to shake it off., feeling so miserable for that father. A full day in the water, and then the lighthouse, and to see the birds at the deck after, and I watch the swans. A light dinner at the inn, a nap. The big Saturday night - I try Boiler Room at Congress Hall, but it is loud, crowded, and impossibly hip & I get hit on a few times, so I went over to a casual bar for beer & music. Back home, I go back downstairs to the main floor- I am starving, but the kitchen is locked, so I can microwave anything. I make myself a cold platter from what I have in the guests' frig.

    Day 9 Sunday- awakened at 6 am by thunder, roused myself at 7 to check the car - I'd left the back windows cracked & borrowed books on the back seat - caught it just in time! Whew! I have a muscle jumping behing my left knee & along my calf, and I take two motrin, and when the rain stops in the later morning, I head to Sunset beach, for a photograph project I have in mind - I have been invited to do a one-woman art exhibit later this fall; it comes out well. I see 2 guests as I come back to the inn a husband & wife who've been coming for over 15 years, and we share the picnic table outside for dinner, and laugh for about 2 hours, great fun. I shared a bottle of white wine, and some of my dinner, and they passed around some coconut rum, fairly lethal stuff, and some good stories. The we walked down the mall together, the wife occasionally looping her arm through mine, we got fudge samples, went in a few shops, enjoyed the mild night air, it was nice. I made my goodbyes and they walked around a bit more. I was going to go out to Pilot House for live music, but it had been such a perfectly lovely evening and night - when you travel alone, well, for me, anyway, I sometimes hesitate to go out on my own after I have had a great & full day. By now it was 10:30, and I am thinking, that's good enough. I don't like to mar the good with feeling isolated or lonely, just to say I went out. Turns out I was right, I went to happy hour there on Monday, and just had to fend off some regular who honed in on me; fairly harmless, but still, I thought it would be more of a general comaraderie at the bar. After his friend sent us a round, I took a few polite sips & left, lucky bartender I overtipped a bit, but she was good- service was great and friendly, and the spring rolls, wings and crab cakes were good too. I should have stayed and just had dinner there, but fiends at the inn asked me to join them for the annual bbq at Congress Hall, food was burnt & bad, I was worse for wear & tear, and went back to the room. My friend called & met me at the inn to watch the fireworks from the upstairs porch, along with about 6-8 other guests, it was perfect. I thought it was a very short program, and none of us could believe that was the finale. I drank 2 huge bottles of water. My friend joked about "the chimes of Cape May" - the local expression for the sound of bottles being throuwn out.

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    Love your report! Water ice (okay, it's "wooder ice" in pronunciation) is indeed a Philadelphia thing, and can be quite delicious.

    I really like Cape May, although I'm generally only there in the off or shoulder season. There are some great little shops!

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    thanks Amy! If they had them here, I'd order a "wooder ice" right away, or as the Phila contingency of my family would say "ride away". And I know what you mean - my travel to Europe has mostly been shoulder season. I was happy to be able to go to CM in season.

    edit: "friends" at the inn, not fiends- he's in his second career, as a chef/caterer, and we shared meals at the picnic table that week.

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    thanks for the report.

    makes me miss the beach right now. :(

    For the jellyfish stings, I've heard meat tenderizer to white vinegar. For years, I kept a small spray bottle of white vinegar in my beach bag (with kids). Since we haven't yet had a sting, it must be the lucky charm!

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    surfmom I've heard both of those too! My first time ever being stung.
    Day 10 4th of July - I did finish Helen of Troy by Margaret George, and it did not disappoint - she knew just when and where to end it.

    Day 11 - the final day Tuesday July 5. I intend to sleep in but I am awakened by a constantly slamming back screen door as some guests make an early start. I feel pretty good, probably from all that water I drank. I get up and pack everything else I won't need for today. I was smart enough to pack my suitcase on 4th of July eve when I returned from the beach, so the last day went smoothly. I went down for breakfast, made goodbyes to a few departing guests, arranged for a later checkout. Took an early walk & then a nap in my nice cool room, and then walked back down to the promenade, had an orange & vanilla twist ice cream (mmmm) and took the historic trolley tour again, the one where I missed a lot of the narration with the screaming kids seated around me. The tour had a slightly different focus too & I really enjoyed it. I came back, changed and drove the 2 miles to Poverty Beach for a last dip, spent a few hours. I went back to the inn, showered and changed, and headed over to the Farmer's Market, where I got a platter of 4 ribs, delicious light homemade cole slaw and baked beans and listened to a blues rock band do Clapton and ZZ Top songs. A very smooth trip home, but a few days to recover.
    What I liked: the slower pace, the sea air, the wonderful ocean, the architecture, the country music, and the people. What I missed: my cat, my own marvelous mattress, the strong water pressure in my shower, local radio shows.

    The funniest thing about the radio stations down there - they never ever announce the time. For a city person, that is just very odd.
    So, that will have to last me until December, unless I sneak away for a long weekend in August. I'm already tempted. Happy travels to all.

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    Annetti - thanks for reading, glad you enjoyed - I'll insert more line breaks next time!

    Beyond lots of water & an aspirin before bed, my cure for a hangover on the day after, is cold milk with chocolate ( syrup or Ovaltine). What's yours?

    Here's one of the poems:

    The Chimes of Cape May

    The clink of bottles
    being poured into recycle bins
    behind bars and restaurants
    all around town,
    11:30 at night, 2 a.m., 6 in the morning,
    clinking bracketed
    by slams of screen doors
    Sh!
    We're trying to sleep up here,
    me, and the three margaritas,
    oh, my poor head.
    Sh!
    Just a few more hours
    for me to block out the light
    before I begin my day.

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