The Jersey Shore has a lot of connotations, mostly negative ones about clubs and wild night life. However, for the second year in a row, we’ve found that the shore town of Cape May, and even the surrounding areas we branched out more to this time, like Wildwood, are more down to earth, relaxed, and family-friendly than just about any other beach town. For our second annual trip with the whole family for the end of summer, we fell in love with the town and the other families that visit Cape May and the beaches.
I’m not sure we would have ended up in Cape May last year or this summer if COVID hadn’t kept us from hoping on a plane and going somewhere. We love our international trips with the boys and poor Arlo hasn’t left the country yet in his year and a half. Every time a picture comes up from our Spain, Portugal, Norway, or London trips, I get nostalgic and wistful that we haven’t been able to do anything similar since 2019. But instead of discovering new places and experiences around the world, we’ve enjoyed discovering the joys of relaxation and family time in our own home state.
One of the things the pandemic has led to is more Americans discovering the beauty of the wide range of places around our country. With so many reasons to stay at home and shift to road trips and day drives, many have been discovering previously undiscovered greatness much closer to home. For us, that’s been the Jersey Shore, especially down south at Cape May. Far from the crazy towns the Shore is known for, Cape May has beautiful beaches, a short but nice boardwalk, and a perfect family friendly pedestrian street with a variety of shops.
As the oldest resort town in the country, Cape May doesn’t focus on modern shore staples like rides or water parks. Instead, there’s a single non-themed mini-golf course, one arcade, and far more in the historic main street. Horse drawn carriages and trolleys are the main draws for families. There are a few chain ice cream stores, but there are far more local owned businesses like an ice cream sandwich shop, creperie, and cafes. There’s a zoo, aviation museum, and the newly opened Harriet Tubman museum.
The beach isn’t crawling with jacked Jersey Shore extras, it’s basically all families. And even better, many of the families stay for the same Saturday through Saturday rental week, so the friends made on the beach are there the whole time. The boys are far more social than us, so they quickly made friends with the other 4-6 year olds and we got to know the parents across the whole week. While we tended to be the only psychos on the beach before 9am to get the best spot, the same group of other families tended to end up around us. The kids even managed to jump from family to family, giving each set of parents a bit of a break while others kept a closer eye on them all. It meant our week with pretty much every day, all day on the beach was actually a bit more relaxing than days we’ve gone by ourselves.
For a different experience, we even made the short drive up to Wildwood and the boardwalk this year. We were apprehensive because we thought it would be more crazy, but it turned out to be family friendly fun too. We enjoyed an great walk along the boardwalk which included a slice of pizza that took me back to childhood trips to Ocean City from Mack’s Pizza, and picking up some boogie boards for the boys. We also spent a few hours at the pier amusement park riding pretty much all of the rides the boys could go on and the ones we could do as a family, even the baby. Naturally we had to top it off with some fried oreos.
And it’s not only the beach that makes Cape May the perfect spot for our family vacations. This year and last, we loved visiting the Cape May County Zoo in the middle of the week when we needed a day’s break from the sun and sand. Considering it’s free (suggested donation), it’s a pretty expansive zoo with a ton of animals. The boardwalk section with the largest animals including deer, llamas, bison, elk, zebras, giraffes, ostriches, and large cats is a highlight, though the boys also loved watching the capybaras amble around and play.
There are also plenty of worthwhile excursions for parents too. Cape May Brewery, the historic village and brewery at Cold Spring, and the breweries up in Avalon are worth visits and have great outdoor space. This year we liked the food and outdoor fun and ambiance at Exit Zero Filling Station so much, we went twice. The spicy lobster noodles were the standout, though seriously every single thing we ate was delicious. The live music and activities for kids like a little golf set, cornhole, and giant tic tac toe helped keep them entertained while we waited.
The biggest highlight of the whole trip was probably our walk around the Cape May Lighthouse and bird sanctuary in the rain. We had left the walk to our last day last year and had to keep it short while Hershey waited in the car. This year we went in the middle of the week and had an incredibly fun walk with the boys enjoying spotting different birds and naming all of the flowers. They even got to ask some of the volunteer bird guides some questions about the birds flying around the ponds. An osprey seemed to follow us around the trails as we made our way around the park.
We never planned on Cape May becoming a vacation destination we’d go to multiple times. The pandemic helped us rediscover it after a brief trip there before the boys were born. Now though, after our second year straight making it our primary summer vacation destination, I can see us heading back year after year. I see why so many families have a tradition of returning there year after year. We’ll be one of those families now. I am thankful for the pandemic forcing us to explore closer to home and consider Cape May for our family vacations in the future.