Jersey’s last two shore points couldn’t be more different. Wildwood is actually three adjacent municipalities on one island: tidy North Wildwood, brash and busy Wildwood, and upmarket Wildwood Crest. You’ll find free, wide beaches, a boardwalk that dwarfs Ocean City’s, a cache of vintage motels that have their own architectural designation (Doo-Wop) and a friendly vibe. Cape May has a healthy fishing industry and year-round blue-collar locals, but visitors are more likely to experience the city’s tony side. The cape is populated by multimillion-dollar Victorians fronting the sea, high-end restaurants, flashy boutiques, luxury hotels, and visiting celebrities like Tina Fey and Oprah.
Despite hosting the SS Atlantus, a concrete WWII-era shipwreck jutting out of the water and one of Cape May’s best-known tourist attractions, Sunset Beach is often sleepy. The crescent-shaped stretch of sand sits where the ocean and the Delaware Bay meet. There’s a snack bar, easy parking, and a souvenir store that always lets you use its bathroom. On Fridays and Saturdays, Enfin Farm’s bread stand sets up on the road leading to Sunset Beach. A loaf of chocolate-lavender or oatmeal-molasses bread baked in the outdoor clay oven makes an ideal beach snack.
The area’s best restaurant consists of little more than a kitchen-equipped trailer and row of blue-and-red picnic tables lined up along a set of Intracoastal docks on the Rio Grande causeway linking Wildwood and the mainland. Hooked Up Seafood is family- and fisherman-owned, meaning all the grilled, blackened, or fried swordfish, mahi, tuna, fluke, and John Dory they serve, they catch themselves. On the island, Poppi’s Neapolitan pizzas and hefty Parmigianas are served by a staff that’s sweet and friendly no matter how busy the restaurant is (often very). Just north of Cape May on the Delaware Bay, Cape May Point is an idyllic neighborhood home to the charming Red Store, an accomplished BYOB focused on Jersey products. The chef even makes his own sea salt from the water just outside his door.
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Stretching two miles through the center of town, the Wildwood Boardwalk is packed with roller coasters, waterslides, midways, go-kart tracks, snack stalls and T-shirt shops selling shorts with “Jersey Girl” emblazoned on the back. For more grown-up entertainment, Irish bars like Keenan’s and Westy’s are institutions in North Wildwood; many have live music and draw multigenerational crowds. Something fancier? In the Crest’s exclusive Diamond Beach enclave, Bungalow No. 7 at the Icona resort has a loungey beach bar with fluffy chaises, fire pits, and cocktails.
Wildwood’s best Doo-Wop motel is the StarLux, a Space Race–era confection with a glassed-in lobby, big pool, and an exclusive partnership with the boardwalk’s major amusement piers and waterparks. In Cape May, historic Congress Hall is the luxury benchmark; they provide loungers on the beach across the street, and much of the food served in the restaurants come from the hotel’s nearby Beach Plum Farm.
A print from local artist Victor Grasso, whose artwork appears in the Cape May magazine, Exit Zero. Subjects include stylized octopuses, pirates, lifeguards, and mermaids. You can find them at the SOMA NewArt Gallery on Perry Street.
You wake up thinking, let’s go out for pancakes! A great idea. Unfortunately, everybody else has this same great idea. So if you want to go out to breakfast—especially at places like Uncle Bill’s, Mad Batter or the Red Store, which is as good in the morning as it is at night—set your alarm and get there early.