Above: sunset on the Congress Hall Lawn (courtesy Cape Resorts)
Like Montauk in the Hamptons, Cape May is the end: the picturesque tip of New Jersey’s tide-washed peninsula. It is here that the state’s 172-mile Garden State Parkway terminates, past the frat-boy posturing (Seaside Heights), bedazzle (Atlantic City), and honky-tonk (Wildwood) of other Jersey Shore towns. Exit 0, as it’s called by locals, smells of salt air and cedar and looks like a Dickensian village by the sea — if Dickensian villagers dined in James Beard-caliber restaurants.
People may flock to the Hamptons to be seen, but Cape May days are whiled away on private, breezy porches by the likes of Oprah, Tina Fey, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. They’re spent sipping hand-squeezed lemonade to a soundtrack of rustling dunes 25 yards from surfing dolphins, or watching boats come into port from a paddleboard in the 100-year-old harbor. They’re spent cycling past roadside produce stands and gardens of lemon verbena, browsing authentic nautical merchandise (read: no pastel starfish) from the town’s eponymous shop, Exit Zero, and lingering over seven-course meals at the quaint-but-sexy restaurant Red Store.
Bikes can be hired to visit Beach Plum Farm (courtesy Cape Resorts)
Congress Hall, built in 1878, is home to a Gatsbyesque lounge, a Manhattanesque club, a manager who remembers your name, and 106 plush rooms, nearly all with ocean views. On the property’s lawn sits a row of Adirondack chairs overlooking the beach and the osprey-dotted sky above it. Stay one night, and you’ll see why congress hall has made Conde Nast Traveler’s Top 100 hotel list for the last two years. 200 Congress Place; CapeResorts.com
The Ebbitt Room, located in the boutique Virginia Hotel, plans its menu around ingredients available from its 62-acre Beach Plum Farm, where produce, honey, and eggs are harvested, and hogs and lamb are raised for unadulterated meat. the vibe is beach-meets-white linen sophistication; executive chef Anthony Micari covers both bases, roasting bones for marrow butter between sessions on his paddleboard. 25 Jackson St.
The area boasts several under-the-radar (for now) wineries worth checking out. Stop by Hawk Haven Vineyard (HawkHavenVin.Wordpress.com) for Sangria Sundays, when they feature live music and made-to-order crepes. Or linger with a bottle on the deck overlooking the vineyard at Cape May Winery CapeMayWinery.com.
The pièce de resistance of a honeymoon in Cape May? Full-moon kayaking via Aqua Trails. Take a guided tour of surrounding tidal inlets, or have the equipment delivered to your room. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch the light show provided by bioluminescent jellyfish. AquaTrails.com