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Day-tripping Cape May: The cleanest beaches, antiques and a romantic lighthouse

Sometimes you just have to get away — but not that far away. Philadelphia is a three-hour drive or train ride from so many places. You can go, spend a day and come back that night. No hotel required. This summer Billy Penn will highlight the best places to go for these “Day Trips” every Friday.

Cape May is your stop for just about everything when it comes to the Jersey Shore, not the least of which is luxury and tranquility. Being the farthest point on the Jersey Shore has kept away some of the crowds and noise requisite with many other beach locations. The Travel Channel calls Cape May the “aristocrat of beaches.”

Certainly, our founding fathers would agree with that statement. They vacationed in Cape May back when Philadelphia was still the capital of the U.S. This rich history remains, with several Victorian-era structures dotting the landscape.

Nowadays in Cape May, you can eat at nice restaurants, shop at antique stores and, of course, just beach it up. Oh yeah: Some dude also just caught an 800-pound shark off Cape May. Maybe you’ll get lucky and catch a really big fish.

How to Get There

By car you’re looking at a drive of about an hour and 45 minutes, if there’s no traffic. A bus option exists, but it takes about four hours. So you’re better off hitching a ride somehow unless you want to turn your day trip into a week trip.

Cape May wraps like a horseshoe on the coast of New Jersey, so you can choose to see the shore on the Delaware Bay or the Atlantic Ocean.

Costs/tickets

Some of the beaches have free parking nearby; others charge. To get onto beaches, you’ll probably need to buy a day pass for $6. You can buy them at any beach. See here for more information.

Beach guide

This is a beach town, so we’re assuming for at least part of your day you’ll want to lay around in the sand, catch some sun and wade in what is generally regarded as the cleanest, clearest water in New Jersey. They try to keep it classy, too: no alcohol is allowed. Here are several of the best-known beaches in Cape May.

  • Broadway: Known to be for the locals, so go there and try to fit in.
  • Poverty Beach: Gets its name because supposedly it used to be the beach for “the help.”
  • Sunset Beach: Known for its beauty but not the best for swimming.
  • The Cove: This one feels a lot more like Seaside Heights. Come here for a wilder time.
  • The Point: Unlike Cape May city beaches like Broadway, Poverty and the Cove, the Point faces the Delaware Bay (they face the Atlantic). It’s a little more peaceful than the city beaches.

What to do other than the beach

  • Birding: If you love birds, Cape May is the place for you. A bunch of them migrate to Cape May and stay in its marshes, swamps and grasslands. A perfect way to combine bird-watching with the beachy atmosphere is the Birding By Boat Wetlands Wildlife Safari.
  • Hiking: Cape May Point State Park has three trails, ranging from half a mile to two miles. Try the Blue Trail for the longest hike of two miles and the opportunity to walk through several different habitats, including beach dunes. Higbee Beach is a great place if you like beach dunes, too. It’s much more secluded than some of the other beaches for better and for worse — you might see some people sunbathing in the nude.  
  • Romance: Cape May Lighthouse is the surefire way to impress a significant other. It’s a trek to the top and costs $8, but the view is as good as it gets for the Shore.
  • Shopping: There’s a mall but who goes to a mall for a day trip away from Philly? Go to Cape May and look for antiques. TONS of stores offer the knick-knacks you never realized you needed.

Top restaurants/bars

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