8 Most Charming Bed and Breakfasts in Cape May
Though considered by many to be America’s oldest—and most charming—seaside resort, Cape May, New Jersey, has often been overshadowed by its flashy neighbor to the north, Atlantic City. But its picturesque Victorian homes, Insta-worthy beaches (and noteworthy birding sites), and old-timey shops are reason enough to make Cape May your next summer getaway. To help you truly appreciate its simple pleasures, we’ve rounded up seven of the town's best bed and breakfasts (plus one historic hotel) from which to take them all in.
Jen has been a staff editor at Architectural Digest, Travel + Leisure, and Martha Stewart Weddings, and her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Afar, and Elle Decor. When she's not snowmobiling in the French Alps or tasting scotch straight from the barrel in Scotland, she's at home in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.
Cheerful striped cabanas line the shore at Congress Hall, the 200-year-old Federal-style grande dame that is widely considered New Jersey’s best inn. Following a seven-year, $26 million renovation, the sea-inspired rooms and public spaces are every bit as graceful as they were when John Philip Sousa serenaded guests on its Great Lawn—though modern concessions are visible at every turn, including Tesla charging stations for those with electric cars. The full-service Sea Spa utilizes natural ingredients (algae; seaweed) sourced from the Atlantic, but for ultimate relaxation, secure a rocking chair overlooking the waves on the back veranda.
John Wesley Inn
The grand gestures of the Victorian generation endure at the gingerbread-style John Wesley Inn. The Gothic 1869 structure, one of the original historic Stockton Row houses, includes seven guest rooms and two adjacent carriage houses outfitted with era-appropriate furnishings. As in days past, breakfast is served on silver in the wainscoted dining room, while the parlor room remains an ideal spot for reading by the fire. The inn goes so far as to supply towels, chairs, and coolers for visits to the sea, just half a block away; upon your return, an outdoor shower provides the ultimate warm-weather indulgence.
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Housed in an 1879 landmark building with gingerbread trim, the 24 rooms at the Virginia Hotel—Congress Hall’s more intimate sister property—exude preppy charm thanks to walls clad in floral paper, velvet club chairs, and beds dressed in crisp white linens. Even if you haven’t booked an overnight stay, you’ll want to reserve a table at the Ebbitt Room, the hotel’s romantically lit farm-to-plate restaurant, which uses fresh ingredients from nearby Beach Plum Farm. A short stroll to Congress Hall provides access to beach yoga or boot camp classes, as well as rentable bikes for rides to downtown’s quirky shops.
Mainstay Inn and Cottage
The living room of the Mainstay Inn, formerly an 1872 gentleman’s gambling club, looks a lot like your grandfather’s drawing room, complete with antique rugs, retro hurricane lamps, and tufted furniture. The aesthetic continues upstairs, where some of the six guest rooms feature grand Victorian-era beds and are named after famous statesmen who visited or summered in Cape May, including Ulysses S. Grant. (You’ll find six more rooms in a cottage next to the main house.) Though the beach beckons just a block away, you’d be better off enjoying a leisurely breakfast among the hydrangeas in the leafy side garden.
Carroll Villa Hotel
On a lively stretch of historic Jackson Street, Carroll Villa occupies a landmark 1882 building that feels like a modern boutique without the attitude. All 19 rooms nod to their heritage with Victorian-leaning furnishings, cozy textured quilts on the beds, and a nautical palette of dreamy blues, grays, and yellows. After dropping your bags, grab lunch at next-door neighborhood staple Mad Batter before hitting the town, where you can shop for beach-inspired jewelry and accessories at the Whale’s Tale, browse works by local and regional artists at galleries like SOMA New Art and the Cape May Artists’ Co-Op, or sample homemade saltwater taffy at the Original Fudge Kitchen.
The Peter Shields Inn & Restaurant
Recalling the elegant seaside boutiques of the Hamptons or Cape Cod, this splurge-worthy waterfront stunner, in a 1907 Georgian Revival mansion, has some of the toniest amenities in Cape May: there are claw-foot tubs and working fireplaces in many of the nine rooms, wine and cheese is served every afternoon on the awning-covered patio (from your perch, you’ll likely see dolphins riding the waves), and the namesake restaurant is one of the country’s most acclaimed spots for fine dining. More of an early bird? Hop on one of the inn’s fleet of bicycles and venture to Cape May Point Lighthouse. On your way, be sure not to miss The Red Store, a charming café and general store, for farm-fresh omelets and sandwiches by James Beard–nominated chef Lucas Manteca.
The Queen Victoria
With its turreted façade, brightly shingled roof, and striped green awning, the Queen Victoria looks like something out of a storybook. Set over a series of three Victorian-era homes and a 1876 gambling parlor, the inviting bed and breakfast has 35 rooms and suites that are furnished with period-appropriate antiques and covered in wallpaper from a historic series designed for the queen herself. The inn’s central location makes it a convenient base for exploring downtown’s shops and galleries, but if the rocking chairs on the porch and scattered throughout the gardens aren’t enough to lure you into a lazy afternoon, perhaps those on the rooftop sundeck will.
Built in 1867 by renowned architect Stephen Decatur Button as a summer residence for a wealthy Philadelphian, The Harrison balances the spirit of a bygone era with modern luxury. A cool gray palette dominates in each of its nine elegant guest rooms, which are highlighted with damask wallpapers, marble baths, mahogany furniture, and hardwood floors. Equally chic are the main parlor and dining room, where you can enjoy house-made scones and pastries at the inn’s daily Victorian high tea—that is, if you prefer not to sip on the porch outside, which overlooks the sightseeing routes of traditional carriages and trolleys.
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