Cape May: Old-fashioned seaside charm mixes with modern

Cape May: Old-fashioned seaside charm mixes with modern

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Move over, Rehoboth Beach and Asbury Park — another seaside destination is ready to make waves for the LGBT community.

Cape May, nestled at the very bottom tip of the Jersey Shore, has been a favorite vacation destination for people all over the country. Known for its Victorian architecture, pedestrian-friendly streets and great seafood, Cape May is now looking to make itself a name for LGBT couples and families looking for an accepting space to stay.

Founded in 1857, Cape May boasts the title of being the nation’s oldest seaside resort town, highlighted by the more-than 600 preserved Victorian buildings stretched across the 2.5-mile town, which is also home to two-dozen beaches.

Cape May offers activities, food and spirits for myriad audiences — whether it be for families, a couple celebrating an anniversary or another looking to tie the knot.

In the middle of all the relaxing activity in Cape May is Cape Resorts, a division of high-profile real-estate development firm Cape Advisors, Inc. Cape Resorts manages hotels such as Congress Hall, The Virginia Hotel and Beach Shack, as well as others in the Cape May and Atlantic City region. It also runs Beach Plum Farm, which provides a number of restaurants in Cape May with fresh, locally grown and sustainable produce, fruits, poultry and other meats.

While Cape May can be a day trip, it is best to stay for a couple days — a convenient opportunity to get away from the office and live like a royal for a bit.

And don’t let the old-fashioned feel of Cape May fool you: Cape Resorts founder Curtis Bashaw assured us that Cape May and Cape Resorts properties are extremely LGBT-friendly and welcoming.

On the way to Cape May ...

Looking for the perfect place to celebrate an anniversary or a wedding? During our trip to Cape May, we stayed at The Virginia Hotel, an adults-only accommodation. If sipping lemonade on a porch full of rocking chairs sounds like a good time, The Virginia Hotel is the place for you.

Walking into the hotel is like walking into another time (1879, to be specific), with a firewood smell and loads of charm to boot.

The Virginia Hotel has 24 guestrooms, equipped with antique dressers, bed frames and chairs as well as modern fixtures such as a bathtub and shower, television and phone. The Virginia Hotel is home to fine dining with The Ebbitt Room, which serves farm-to-table meals from Beach Plum Farm. A complimentary breakfast is also served to visitors every morning of their stay.

Looking to bring the kids? Across the street from The Virginia Hotel stands the pastel-yellow beauty, Congress Hall.

Congress Hall has been providing travelers with hospitality since 1816 and offers the perfect backdrop, with the ocean in sight.

It is home to restaurants and bars like The Blue Pig Tavern, the Brown Room and the Boiler Room, and boasts one of the best relaxation venues in town, the Sea Spa.

Want more of a “beachy” hotel feel without giving up quality? The Beach Shack is your resort for all things fresh, fun and alternative. The hotel features 65 efficiency-style rooms with even more-attractive ocean views. The Beach Shack also includes a more rustic and casual eating establishment, The Rusty Nail, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Seafood by the seashore

Cape May has an abundance of food options, and Cape Resorts doesn’t fail in the delivery of great ones.

Casual grub can be found at The Rusty Nail, which hits the spot for beach-favorite foods. “The Nail,” as locals call it, is a must for dinner on Mondays (well, any day really). For meat lovers, The Nail hosts Jimmy’s Smokin’ Pig Roast at 4 p.m. Mondays through Sept. 1. The Piggy Platter includes pulled pork, corn on the cob, baked beans, coleslaw and cornbread for $18, while the Porkwich Platter includes a pulled-pork sandwich, baked beans and coleslaw for $15.

The Rusty Nail is famous for its succulent Baja-grilled fish tacos ($15), served with cole slaw, and hot seafood appetizers such as mussels ($11), conch fritters ($12) and the new but incredibly delicious menu item, Beach Plum Farm tempura-style zucchini sticks ($7). For non-seafood lovers like myself, The Rusty Nail offers pasta primavera ($16) is a light dish filled with fresh grilled vegetables, extra-virgin olive oil and parmesan cheese. For you healthy types (you know who you are), the Farm House Salad ($7) will be sure to please your non-guilty appetites, with Beach Plum Farm leafy greens and vegetables. Diners can add grilled chicken, salmon or shrimp to their salads for an additional cost.

The Rusty Nail doesn’t just cater to the two-legged crowd. Dogs of all sizes can enjoy a nice cold Bowser beer, a non-alcoholic, non-carbonated beverage made from chicken and barley, for $4, all-natural pup treats for $3 and other select options to keep your dog healthy and happy.

No one — and I mean NO ONE — does breakfast in Cape May like The Blue Pig Tavern. Holy wow, I can’t say enough good things about this place. The service is phenomenal and the food is impeccable.

The Blue Pig Tavern, located at Congress Hall, provides tastes for those who are craving both sweet and savory. I recommend the stuffed french toast ($11), made with fresh brioche, sweet mascarpone and choice of blueberries, strawberries or bananas. We tried the strawberry and banana, which was scrumptious. The Blue Pig Tavern also whips up a savory Blue Pig Tavern Benefit with two Beach Plum Farm poached eggs, freshly made cheddar scallion biscuit, Canadian bacon and hollandaise home-fried potatoes ($12).

For a romantic dinner, The Ebbitt Room is the place you want.

For appetizers, we recommend the Pale Ale calamari ($11), Beach Plum Farm deviled eggs ($13) and sides of the truffled macaroni and cheese and hand-cut truffle fries ($6 each). For dinner, the pan-seared crab cakes ($34) and the crispy-skinned half-chicken ($28) are perfect paired with a refreshing cucumber Collins, made with cucumber vodka, simple syrup, fresh cucumbers and club soda, or a tart blood-orange Martini, made with blood-orange puree, vodka, triple sec and sparkling wine, both for $12.

Things to do, weddings to plan

Fans of the eat-local movement will enjoy Beach Plum Farm, located just 2 miles from the properties. We recommend going for a self-guided tour throughout the 62-acre farm to visit the free-range chickens and pigs and see where and how the locally grown produce blossoms.

Beach Plum Farm grows lettuce, tomatoes, scallions, leeks, melons, cucumbers, beets and radishes, among other produce, and the free-range chickens provide up to 75 eggs a day and are used just for egg-laying purposes.

Guided tours are one hour and cost $3 per person. These begin at 9:30 a.m. Self-guided tours are available Friday-Sunday.

After getting your hands in the dirt, so to speak, at Beach Plum Farm, the Sea Spa is a perfect remedy. The Sea Spa at Congress Hall provides myriad services including classic Swedish massages, Ocean Memory Marine Rituals, deep-tissues messages and a full-body exfoliation, just to name a few.

What’s better after an hour or so of pampering? Pampering via liquid! The Cape May Winery is just a 10-minute drive from Cape Resorts and, for just $6, one can taste six different wines from the winery and keep the wine-tasting glass. We recommend the Cape May Cabernet Franc for those who like spicy, Lighthouse Riesling for those who like sweet and the Isaac Smith Port for those who like a little chocolate with their wine.

With New Jersey legalizing same-sex marriage last fall, Cape May Resorts has seen an influx in same-sex weddings. Meredith Borrell, wedding and special-events manager, said The Virginia Hotel provides a perfect backdrop for couples who are seeking a smaller wedding with an intimate setting.

The Virginia Hotel can accommodate up to 65 guests for a plated reception and 90 guests for a more casual evening. The Virginia has indoor and outdoor options, and Borrell said ceremonies can be held in either the garden behind the hotel or at the hotel beach. Guests can also be married at the grand staircase, with beautiful stained glass as their background.

Packages for weddings start at $120 per person, inclusive of food and beverages. Couples can also provide accommodations for their parties by reserving The Virginia Hotel and the four Virginia Hotel Cottages, which accommodate up to 20 guests; however, Borrell said, reservations should be made about a year before the wedding.

Borrell said more short-term planners are also welcomed for weddings and accommodations can be made at any of the three Cape Resorts properties.

And what is a Cape May trip without going to the beach? Each Cape Resorts property provides full beach service to guests. Congress Hall and The Virginia Hotel guests can request a cabana for $100 for a full day (8 a.m.-6 p.m.) and $75 for a half-day (1-6 p.m.) during the season, and Beach Shack guests can reserve a cabana for a full day for $50. Guests can also order from a full menu of snacks, sandwiches, beverages and smoothies.

Cape Resorts provide an escape from normal everyday stress while maintaining a down-to-earth approach to life that is worth living — even if just for a couple of days.

For more information on Cape Resorts and amenities, visit www.caperesorts.com.


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