cape may historic district
via Flickr/mbtrama

When I think of New Jersey, I basically picture a Bruce Springsteen song come to life. To be fair, I’ve only spent a comparatively small amount of time there, but still. Anyways, after spending some time swooning over pictures of New Jersey’s Cape May Historic District, I can safely say that my view of New Jersey has shifted dramatically. It looks like a neighborhood of life-sized dollhouses, done up in ornate and colorful Victorian architecture. So, basically, this town of storybook homes is a world away from a Bruce Springsteen song.

cape may historic district
via Flickr/ Shinya Suzuki
cape may historic district
via Flickr/Terry Ballard

The Historic District claims to be America’s first seaside resort town and covers some 600 buildings over 380 acres. It’s one of the country’s largest collections of original 19th-century frame buildings left, so exploring the neighborhood really does feel like going back in time. Cape May also claims to be the country’s first and oldest seaside resort town. If you’re looking to bask in the antique vibes of a really historic hotel, Cape May is the place to be.

cape may historic district
via Wikimedia Commons
cape may historic district
via Flickr/tlsmith1000

People started building summer cottages in the 1850s, and hotels soon followed. Railroads passing through bolstered its popularity as a seaside destination. Through the 1900s and until the 1920s (when Atlantic City started to become the cool place to visit) bungalows and mansions popped up across town. Despite a devastating 1878 fire that ravaged the town, some buildings survived, and even more gorgeous painted ladies were rebuilt. Luckily, hundreds still survive today.

 

cape may historic district
via Wikimedia Commons

 

cape may historic district
via Flickr/tlsmith1000

Today, many of the historic homes are now hotels, inns, and bed and breakfasts. The oldest building that’s been operating as a hotel is The Chalfonte, built in 1876 and renovated most recently in 2009. It’s not hard to picture what these hotels looked like in their heyday; yachting, croquet, and opulent parties were the usual past times.

A few of Cape May’s Victorian inns, hotels, and B&Bs on Roadtrippers

cape may historic district
via Flickr/Zepfanman.com
cape may historic district
via Wikimedia Commons

It’s especially interesting when you compare Cape May to Wildwood, which is less than 10 miles north. Wildwood is basically the 1960s version of Cape May, with its own historic district, this one loaded with neon-lit, fake palm tree-studded motels and motor lodges instead of Victorian cottages and grand resorts. They’re both incredibly fascinating places worth visiting… But Cape May is, and always will be, the OG seaside town.

cape may historic district
via Wikimedia Commons
cape may historic district
via Wikimedia Commons
cape may historic district
via Wikimedia Commons
cape may historic district
via Wikimedia Commons
cape may historic district
via Wikimedia Commons

Header image via flickr/mbtrama

A few more one-of-a-kind neighborhoods…

Wildwood is a neon seaside paradise filled with fake palm trees

There’s a totally authentic Bavarian village clone in the Pacific Northwest

Ida Grove is a strange Midwestern town home to a bunch of Medieval castles

 

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5 COMMENTS

  1. My husband and I visited Cape May last June before getting on a cruise ship to Bermuda. We lived every minute we were there. We stated at a hotel across the street from the beach and you could walk everywhere near by. We will definitely think about returning.

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