Just because it’s cold and snowy doesn’t mean that you can’t still enjoy a visit to the beach. Granted, you’re probably not going to want to do any swimming or sunbathing, but visiting beach towns during the off-season lets you enjoy beautiful seasonal areas without all the chaos and hordes of people. The past two Novembers we’ve visited Montauk on Long Island, but this year we headed down the shore to enjoy a wonderful, wintry weekend in Cape May, NJ!
Where to Stay
It doesn’t need to be warm outside to enjoy gorgeous ocean views from your room, and when you visit the beach in the off-season, that view is going to come at a fraction of the price! One of the perks of off-season travel is that hotel rooms are typically deeply discounted, and we always enjoy being able to stay in places that would normally be out of our price range during the season.
For example, during our recent visit to Cape May, we stayed at the Sandpiper Beach Club. It’s right next to the beach, and our room had a view of both the pool and the beach from the back patio. The room we booked will run you $600/night in the summer, but we were able to book it for less than $200 (and actually, we got it for $0 because we had earned a free night from Hotels.com after booking our past 10 nights through their site).
The Sandpiper Beach Club was beautiful, and we were bummed to be there for only one night. We had a one-bedroom suite with a full kitchen, which we didn’t have any reason to use on this particular visit (though it looked like it would do the job just fine if we had wanted to use it!) It’s in walking distance to plenty of bars and restaurants, as well as the Washington Street Mall with all its cute stores and shops.
There are also several adorable old Victorian mansions that now serve as bed and breakfasts, and you will find amazing deals on AirBnB this time of year, too. Personally, we tend to prefer the amenities that hotels offer when we travel, but no matter where you stay, consider an off-season visit to Cape May to get the most bang for your buck!
What to Do
When visiting seasonal destinations in the off-season, you’ll want to check in advance which attractions are still going to be open during your visit. Many stores, restaurants, and attractions may limit their hours to weekends only. And in the winter, you can pretty much expect that mini-golf, ice cream shops, and beach-front food kiosks aren’t going to be available. This was certainly true in Cape May, but there was still plenty to see and do!
Our first day started with sunshine and blue skies, but it was CRAZY windy and cold outside. On our drive down from NYC, we took the long and meandering route so that we could drive as close to the shore as possible. If you’ve never been “down the shore” before, take advantage of the quiet season to drive along the beach because, unlike in the summer, there won’t be any traffic!
There are tons of cute towns between NYC and Cape May where you can stop along the way, and if you find yourself in need of a snack, stop in Asbury Park and grab a sandwich from Speakeatery on your way south. We went there on a prior drive down the shore, and it was soooo good.
Shortly before reaching Cape May, we made our first stop at Jersey Shore Alpacas, which was about 10 miles from our hotel. We weren’t sure we were in the right place at first because you basically just pull into someone’s driveway when you arrive. Out back, though, they have a barn and several pens filled with about 20 different alpacas!
The farm is only open on Saturdays during the off-season and it’s free to visit, though they certainly appreciate any donations you’re willing to give. You get a little baggie of carrots and then one of the owners will walk you out to meet the alpacas, which you can feed right out of the palm of your hand!
We learned that alpacas are not particularly fond of getting a pat on the head, but a couple let us do it stealthily while feeding them a carrot. We also had to feed them simultaneously so that no one got jealous and started spitting on us! They’re such doofy looking creatures, but they were also very sweet. And those eyes! So pretty and thoughtful.
Despite the fact that they have a constant stream of visitors, all but a few of the alpacas were pretty sociable and seemed happy to come over and say hello to us. (I’m sure the fact that we were offering them carrots didn’t hurt.)
There is also a nice gift shop in the house with all kinds of products made from alpaca wool, and I got myself some nice, warm alpaca wool gloves (note that most of the products aren’t actually made from their own alpacas’ wool, other than some dryer balls and a few cat toys). All in all, we were rather delighted with our visit here, so if you’re in Cape May, I highly recommend stopping by and saying hello to the adorable alpacas!
After meeting our new furry friends, we went out to explore some more of Cape May. We wandered through town, admiring the lovely Victorian homes and horsedrawn carriages and then made our way over to the Washington Street Mall.
Clearly, the Washington Street Mall is where all the off-season tourists were spending their day because it’s the only place in Cape May where we saw anything resembling a crowd. We popped into a couple stores, and we particularly enjoyed our stop at the Cape May Peanut Butter Company. They have multiple varieties of nut butter, several of which you can sample! We also bought one of their homemade peanut butter cookies. Yum!
Next, we headed up to the Cape May Brewing Company to try out some flights of their beer. They have a pretty big selection of beer on tap, a couple of which I really liked. We didn’t linger since it was very crowded and there weren’t a lot of places to sit, but it’s worth checking out if you don’t mind a crowd and prefer a brewery with a lot of options.
The next day, we headed straight for Cape May Point State Park because we knew that was where the Cape May Lighthouse was. What we didn’t know, though, was that there were also a few very well-maintained trails throughout the park, as well as a very cool old World War II bunker that was built on the beach in 1942. We walked along the beach for a while and went to explore the bunker before we got too cold and decided to move inland.
We picked up one of the walking trails from the beach and then worked our way through the park. There are tons of birds here, as Cape May is a common resting point for birds as they migrate south for winter. There were even a couple guys there with telescopes, keeping an eye out for any birds passing through. They add them to a tally board so you can see just how many birds have been counted there during the season.
Afterward, we headed over to the Cape May Lighthouse and climbed the 199 steps up to the top. By the time we got there, we saw that there was a full-on drizzle blowing all around us and fog was starting to roll in, but there were still some nice views. And hey, at least we got a workout on our climb up!
We left the park and found a road that ran along the coast through several very adorable little neighborhoods. Not long after, we made it to Sunset Beach. During the season, Sunset Beach has nightly celebrations around sunset, but in the off-season, it’s mostly deserted.
We primarily wanted to go there to see the sunken concrete ship called the SS Atlantus. Back in the 20s, a storm came through, causing the ship to sink where she is today, and you can still see bits of her sticking out the water. If that’s not exciting enough for you, though, you can also stroll the beach in search of “Cape May Diamonds” or climb the World War II lookout tower.
And finally, before leaving Cape May and driving back to the city, we made one last stop at the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum. This place really surprised us! For starters, it’s huge! It occupies an entire airplane hangar, and there are airplanes and helicopters from nearly every decade on display here (several of which were even used in combat).
It was really cold inside, and we discovered this was due to the fact that the hangar door was open. Turns out, there were even MORE planes outside! There are also tons of videos near the planes if you want to get more info about them, and the best part is that you can even get inside several of them!
And I don’t mean just your kids – you can, too! Though, you may wish you’re kid-sized before trying to squeeze into some of those planes. Anyone visiting Cape May should take a couple hours (at least) to visit this museum. And if you DO have kids, they’re definitely gonna love it!
What to Eat and Drink
All of that sightseeing is bound to make you work up an appetite but have no fear because tons of places are open in Cape May during the off-season. We were only in town for one night, so we didn’t get to sample too much of the local fare, but we really enjoyed everything we did try.
For starters, we were so famished upon arriving in Cape May, and we immediately made our way over to the Exit Zero Filling Station for some lunch. We weren’t sure what to expect because their menu is a random mix of comfort food and Indian curries, but the options sounded just interesting enough to make the place worth a try. And ohhh myyy, are we glad we did. We shared two entrees: the shrimp and lobster mac and cheese and the fried chicken sandwich.
The sandwich was really good, but it was nothing compared to that mac and cheese. It was life-changing mac and cheese, and I fear that no other mac and cheese will ever satisfy my palate in quite the same way ever again. And there were 3 massive shrimps and several lobster claws in it, too, so they weren’t being chintzy with the seafood either! Top it all off with a yummy seasonal cocktail and you’re set for several hours.
We enjoy a good game of pool at a local bar when we travel, and our bartender at Exit Zero recommended a place called Jake’s Bar and Grill in the Villas. It’s only about 15 minutes from Cape May, so we went out there later that evening to play a few games of pool and have a beer. This is definitely a locals’ place, but we had a great time and were made to feel very welcome despite being tourists.
We weren’t very hungry yet, which is sad because Jake’s has a prime rib special on Saturday nights and it looked A-MAZING. If their prime rib tastes as good as it looked and smelled, then it must be out of this world. And the fact that this place was packed to the gills with a waiting list tells me that folks in town know they’re onto something good here.
Instead, we headed back to the hotel to ditch our car and later that evening we walked down the street to the Rusty Nail. This place was huge and must be even bigger in the summer when they have all their outdoor tables set up, too. The bar in the main room was massive and wraps around in a rectangle that allows you to sit on any side of it.
There was a cover band setting up to play, so we grabbed a few seats at the bar and ordered some drinks and food, all of which were delicious. And the band ended up being pretty decent, too! The Rusty Nail is only open on the weekends in the off-season, but there was a decent-sized crowd spending the evening there, particularly over by the fireplace.
The next morning, a large brunch was needed to get us ready for our day and George’s Place did not disappoint. My husband got bacon, eggs, and pancakes, and I got a massive breakfast quesadilla. Seriously, it was huge and way more food than one person really needs, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t finish every last bite (ask for sour cream with it – yum!) It’s cash only (in case that’s a deal-breaker for you) and it’s also a pretty tiny place, so be prepared for a wait if you’re a larger group.
My first trip to Cape May was fantastic, and I was glad to get to see it during the quieter and more relaxed pace of the off-season. It’s not even a three-hour drive from NYC, so it’s easy enough to do a Saturday/Sunday if that’s all the time you have to spare. That’s all we had, but we enjoyed every minute of it and look forward to a return visit in the future!
Do you travel during the off-season, too? What’s your favorite place to go when all the other tourists are relaxing at home???