While many monied folks head to exclusive beach spots like the Hamptons and Martha’s Vineyard in summer, we're thinking about the Jersey Shore for more affordable sand and sun on the East Coast. Don't worry, we've no intention of hooking up with Snooki and her pals -- instead, it's off to the historic seaside resort town of Cape May. Just three hours from NYC and less than two from Philadelphia, this laid-back spot is a more affordable alternative for beachside cabanas, frosty cocktails, and boardwalk diversions. Here's how to enjoy the destination without breaking the bank.The Budget Beach Hotel
There’s no shortage of B&Bs, hotels, and inns in the area, but the 65-room Beach Shack has just the right vacation vibe. While the teal, orange, and pink facade is a throwback to its 1960s beginnings as the Coachman motel, the property's revamp has brought rooms that are bright and clean and that fit up to six. Set aside some time to lounge by the Rusty Nail bar's sandy fire pit, a nightly gathering spot for lifeguards, surfer dudes, and the cocktail crowd. You may hear a live band belting out reggae tunes or a father-daughter duo who belongs on "The Voice." Bonus for those traveling with pets: The Beach Shack provides furry friends with cots, water bowls, frisbees, and other treats. Considering the amenities and its location right by the ocean, rates around $229 this month are a solid deal.
Fun Food Finds
Breakfast is big around these parts -- you need to fuel up before a beach day, especially to swim or stand-up paddle in the chilly Atlantic Ocean. Get a hearty start at the Blue Pig Tavern, a former 19th-century gambling parlor. Here, we’re partial to the Blue Pigs in a Blanket dish, made of two pork sausage links wrapped in blueberry buttermilk pancakes that's topped with powdered sugar, butter, and maple syrup ($10). It’s also hard to resist ordering a freshly baked cheddar scallion biscuit on the side ($4), but you can always take it to-go for a snack later.
To indulge in the requisite oceanside greasy fare, hit up Hot Dog Tommy’s. When you see the line for snaking down the road well before the 10:57 a.m. opening time, you know you’re taking part in a streetside favorite. The Potato Tornado ($4) -- a bowl of mashed potatoes, chili sauce, sour cream, and cheddar cheese topped with pepper bananas -- is the must-try along with the Berks brand wieners. Tommy likes to keep things moving and has some rules, namely: be ready to order, bring cash, and don’t dare to ask for cooked onions.
And don't forget about the popcorn, which just seems to agree with the boardwalk air. You might think strolling in and buying a bag would be a quick process at the Cape May Popcorn Factory, but be prepared to be amazed at the 25-plus varieties on hand. Those with a sweet tooth might want to try the green apple or watermelon, two unusual but surprising palatable flavors. If savory is more your style, give the garlic on white cheddar, cajun, or taco flavors a shot. Cones are $4.50 each.
Looking for the typical t-shirt or mug for friends and family? Not here. Instead, take home what seaside settings are famous for (and what is now New Jersey’s official state candy): salt water taffy. Fralinger’s, an Atlantic City institution, has one other location here boasting dozens of varieties from vanilla to banana. And not only do they sell mocha taffy, a flavor difficult to find, they're also generous with samples.
An easy, cooling way to explore Cape May's quaint houses and cobblestone streets is by bike. Beyond the main roads and side streets, we recommend going just two miles from the town center to the 62-acre Beach Plum Farm. Over 100 varieties of fruit and vegetables are produced here, many which make their way to the area’s restaurants, and free self-guided tours are available Fridays through Sundays. After you get the lay of the land, head to the Farm Stand to see the chickens, pigs, and greenhouse, then stock up on fresh berries, greens, and fresh honey from the dozen beehives on site.