Cape May is noted for the large number of Victorian houses that line its streets. Popularly known as “Painted Ladies” because of their elaborate trims, these present a beautifully harmonious appearance, despite each one being unique at least in its detailing. These houses have led to the town being designated a National Historic Landmark.
The preponderance of these houses is actually the result of a disaster. In 1878 a fire wiped out 30 blocks of the town, including a number of elegant hotels dating back to the start of that century when Cape May first began to attract visitors (hence its claim to be the earliest seaside resort in the country). To replace these a massive building programme was initiated, and for the most part what was built were individual family homes, naturally in the style of the day.
In the 1970s these beautiful houses were under threat of demolition, as with changing times very few families wanted or could afford such large and grand homes. Luckily, although quite a few were lost in the push to modernise, very many more were saved. And as they were too large for today’s lifestyles, most of these have been turned into inns, bed & breakfast accommodation or into apartments like our own Shore S Cape so that today Cape May can continue to welcome visitors. There are larger hotels (and many of these built in a similar style) but it is these wonderful “Painted Ladies” that give the town its real charm and character.
If you want to explore them properly, you can go on a tour organised by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts, or do as we did and pick up their information leaflet to lead you on a self-guided tour. You can also enjoy them from a horse-drawn carriage or on one of the Center’s sightseeing trolley rides see my Things to Do tip). The leaflet, or the commentary on the tours, will help you learn to distinguish between the different styles such as Gothic Revival and Queen Anne, and to know what to look for to be able to identify each. We also learned about which were the historically accurate colour schemes (basically, not white!) and about a few of the people who had lived here in the past.
Of course we got to know the streets that lay between our apartment and the town centre very well, so most of my photos were taken in this area to the south and east of Washington Street Mall in streets such as Columbia and Gurney. But wherever you go in the centre of town you’ll find gingerbread trims, colourful porches and picturesque details that will keep your camera very busy!
Simply Unique Coffee Bar & General Store
This great little shop is located in West Cape May at 479 W. Perry Street. You might miss it if you blink, but it's a must stop. The shop has a fantastic array of specialty food items and coffee by the pound (whole bean or ground for you).
They sell my favorite rum cakes (Tortuga) for about the same price I would pay online, and cheaper than in Key West, and they also carry a full line of Kitchen Kettle Village products from Lancaster, PA (saved me a trip since I was already in Cape May).
The coffee bar sells pastries, breakfast sandwiches, and has a nice expresso drink menu that would rival any big chain.
Soaps and Scents
When we travel I love collecting scented soaps--each time I use them, I think of the place in which I found them. The Italian Garden is a new shop to me, as I've never stumbled upon it on our many visits to Cape May.
It's not on the main street or pedestrian mall, but actually on the street behind the mall. Once inside, a potpourri of scents greet you.
Imported from Italy, hand and body treatments, massaging oils, perfumes, deodorant sprays, face tonics and masks, cleansers, bath foam and shelf after shelf of luxurious soaps accompanied by foams, creams and moisturizers all in the same scents are appealingly displayed.
Lavender, honeysuckle, rose, lily of the valley, green tea, tea and cedar, sandalwood, oak moss, magnolia, vanilla and ginger are just some of the soaps. Scented candles, men's toiletries and anti-aging products can also be found here. You can be sure, I'll be stopping by again when visiting Cape May in the future.
Hours are daily 10am-9pm in summer; weekends in Fall, Winter Spring. Telephone orders taken. moderately priced
The Mad Batter at the Carroll...
The Mad Batter at the Carroll Villa Hotel.
Very polite staff and a balcony where one can dine and enjoy the sunny, warm weather during the Spring and Summer. There was no one favorite. Everything was delicious. Though the Crab Cakes were outstanding.
Casual beachfront dining
This is an informal café on Beach Drive where we had breakfast one morning. There is indoor and outdoor seating, and we chose the latter as it was a warm sunny morning. Wherever you choose to sit though, you need to go to the counter to place your order, which will then be brought to your table.
We only wanted a light breakfast, so both opted for one of Zoe’s home-baked “monstrous muffins” – chocolate for Chris and tasty cranberry and orange for me. Both were very good, but I was less enthusiastic about the coffee which was far too weak for my tastes (a shame, as the price includes free refills). The service was a little on the slow side and a bit disorganised – a lady on the next table had her hot breakfast delivered but waited in vain for cutlery, and when she went in search of it the waitress seemed a bit hurt! But if you’re not in a hurry (which we weren’t) and not fussed about strong coffee this is a fair choice for breakfast, especially if combined as we did with a morning stroll on the beach. It’s also very conveniently situated for lunch and snacks for beach-goers – we had never ate lunch here but the menu seemed to have most things you might want, and take-out is available if you want to have a picnic on the beach.
Prices are very reasonable – the muffins cost $2.75, the coffee $1.55, so you can breakfast for about $5.00. Cooked dishes at breakfast time range from about $4.50 to $8.00, and lunch-time are mostly under $8.00 too.
NB Zoe’s is a seasonal café, open April to October only, and isn’t open at all for dinner.
iMy photos are taken from their website – the first of them shows the Beach Theatre complex in which Zoe’s is located, on the right-hand side.i