First of all, I’m a big fan of visiting anywhere in the off-season, especially if you don’t have to spend a ton of money to get there. I don’t like crowds and off-season is a good time to get a feel for a destination to determine if you want to return when restaurants and attractions are in full swing. Since I live in New Jersey, driving “down the shore” is not a big expense for me, so my kids and I took advantage of the empty towns and beaches to really explore the Cape May area at the southern tip of Jersey.
We stayed in Wildwood at the Days Inn with an ocean view. The hotel is a bit run down and in need of updating, but you get that a lot in beach towns. If you’re spending your days at the beach and you just want a cheap bed to sleep in, the Days Inn is fine. On another visit to Wildwood, we stayed in the lovely StarLux boutique hotel, which I highly recommend if you visit in the summer. It has a beautiful pool and hot tub, the location can’t be beat, and there’s an amazing ice cream shop right across the street. The rooms are small, but recently renovated, the retro vibe is super cool, and the staff is wonderful. The photo below is the view from our room. I could sit outside the room, work on my laptop, and easily watch the kids in the pool.
Getting back to our winter visit, we drove down to Cape May (an easy, and scenic, 20-minute drive from Wildwood) and found five delightful ways to spend a cool-weather weekend.
1. Have breakfast at the Mad Batter. This award-winning restaurant is a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. Quirky and artsy, the name is apropos – we definitely felt like we had walked into Alice’s Wonderland. Their Orange and Almond French Toast is to die for.
2. Stroll the mall and stop in the Cape May Popcorn Factory. The Washington Street Mall is a three-block outdoor shopping area that’s great for window shopping and snacking. Some stores were closed, but the kids and I had a blast sampling yummy and unique popcorn flavors such as chocolate, blue raspberry, caramel, and white cheddar. (Update: Cape May Popcorn Factory is permanently closed as of 2018.)
3. Visit the Cape May County Park & Zoo. Small and cozy, this zoo is surrounded by beautiful gardens and park facilities. For the kids, there’s a playground and train and carousel rides. It’s open year-round and it’s free!
4. Climb the Cape May Lighthouse. We had an extremely foggy day, so we didn’t pay to climb up in the lighthouse. But that didn’t ruin our visit. At Cape May Point State Park, we enjoyed hiking trails, wildlife sightings, and collecting shells along the shore.
5. Watch the sun set at Sunset Beach. Even in barely 50-degree weather, this was my kids’ favorite stop. We spent a lot of time choosing our souvenirs at the tchotchke-filled gift shop. We witnessed a post-wedding photo session. We talked about the shipwrecked USS Atlantus. Mostly, we dug in the cold, wet sand searching for Cape May diamonds.
While our off-season trip to the Jersey Shore did not include bathing suits, swimming, ice cream, or even much sunshine, we enjoyed a slow-paced weekend that was the perfect opportunity to explore the area without the crowds.