I love to sip a cup of tea from a vintage china teacup. There is something so soothing about the ritual of having tea this way. I even enjoy the simple process of boiling the water in the kettle, steeping the tea bag, and gently stirring in the milk and sugar. It’s such a doable simple pleasure!
As a busy entrepreneur, I find those simple pleasures occur less frequently, and my tea kettle sometimes doesn’t get poured but, instead, sits on the hot burner filled with boiling water and on the constant verge of a whistle. The longer it boils like this, the less water there is, until eventually all the water is gone. How I hate when that happens! The distractions of work and life take over, and then I have no other choice…it’s time to take the kettle off the heat and refill it with cool water and start the process again.
Sometimes I feel like the kettle left on the burner depleting myself. During those times, I’ve learned that I need to remove myself from the daily demands briefly to replenish and restore. This past summer I found myself “running on empty,” and I decided to regenerate with a long weekend escape to find refuge by the sea and comfort in the sand. The ocean has always been the water that refills my inner “kettle.” My journey to Cape May, N.J., did not disappoint.
Cape May has a long history of replenishing guests by the sea. This sweet spot of land nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay was discovered in 1621 by Sea Captain Cornelius Mey. He promptly laid claim and named the town after himself (spelling has been changed over the years). But it wasn’t until the mid-1700s when roads were built from Philadelphia and Baltimore that people started escaping to Cape May from the big cities during the summer. It was during this time the town earned the title of the “First Seashore Resort.” The 1800s attracted more guests, and hotels and boarding houses grew in number. After the lighthouse and railroad were completed, plots of land sold quickly to wealthy buyers who built summer homes in Gothic, Victorian, Queen Anne, and American bracketed styles. Through the decades, many of the homes were destroyed by fire and storm, torn down for progress, or left in disrepair. But the resurgence of the bed and breakfast industry in the 70s and 80s helped bring back life to many of these old homes, and at one point, the town had over 60 B&Bs. In 1976, Cape May was officially designated a National Historic Landmark City, one of only five in the nation, and the largest collection of authentic Victorian structures in the United States.
I started exploring the town’s picturesque historic district by trolley tour. Charming narration pointed out many of the unique Victorian homes and referred to them as “The Painted Ladies” of Cape May. These wood frame houses embellished with gingerbread, porches, and awnings are painted in a rainbow of colors. Some are private homes while others offer overnight stays in antique decorated rooms. The tree-lined streets were a feast to the eyes with one “painted lady” after another beckoning to passersby. I opted for the combination ticket on the tour that included a stop at the only Victorian mansion in town, the Emlen Physick Estate. The 18-room house has been lovingly restored and is administered by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities. The estate’s 1876 carriage house is now a small gallery, museum gift shop, and tearoom. Here I sat and enjoyed that lovely cup of tea in a vintage china cup, with a scone. It was delightful.
I headed back to town, for shopping at the Washington Street Mall, a pedestrian-only street in the historic district lined with charming shops, inviting restaurants, and a nostalgic 5-and-10-cent store. Ice cream, fudge, seashells, and beach toys are for sale…all the things you’d imagine in a beach town. But Cape May is also home to elegant art galleries and fine clothing and jewelry stores as well. I stopped in an amazing boutique called the West End Garage, a former auto garage turned into a vendor mall filled with antiques, artwork, and unique finds. It was a wonderful stop for quality goods and delightful surprises.
Cape May was recently named one of the “Top 25 Small Towns for Food in America.” One can dine on fresh seafood with fine white linens or grab a hot dog and fries along the beachside promenade. As I walked the promenade, observing several weddings on the beach, I passed a lovely old hotel, The Inn of Cape May. Painted bright white with purple trim, the inn has a large welcoming wraparound porch that was filled with rocking chairs. Here, I took my place and rocked the afternoon away sipping white wine, eating shrimp cocktail, and chatting with hotel guests from around the United States.
Earlier in the day, a volunteer at the Cape May Welcome Center encouraged me to stop at “Sunset Beach” to look for Cape May “diamonds” (quartz pebbles) and watch the sun go down. There, I joined hundreds of others patiently watching the patriotic lowering of Old Glory at a WWII memorial and lookout tower located on the beach. Then, swiftly the sun sunk into the blue horizon, creating orange and pink tones in the sky, followed by cheers of appreciation from the crowd. Such a simple pleasure!
From the sun setting, I went quickly to the moon rising. Just a short drive from Sunset Beach was the Cape May Lighthouse dating to 1859. The lighthouse is 157 feet tall with 199 spiraling steps to reach the top. That night a special “Full Moon Night Climb” was offered to view the rare full September Harvest Moon. I climbed the steps with excitement to arrive at the top breathless and greeted by heavy clouds. Not dismayed, I waited, taking in the view of the ocean and bay below and enjoying the breeze. Eventually the clouds lifted, revealing the anticipated shining moon at eye level. My patience was truly a virtue as the experience was energizing and magical.
Cape May, N.J., had certainly given me a day to remember. It was a day I knew I could look back on when feeling depleted and replenish my energy. The arms of those lovely “Painted Ladies” had wrapped themselves around me like a welcoming friend, and the town and its charming hospitality had restored my soul in a most unassuming way. Thank you, Cape May!
If you go:
- Cape May Welcome Center—www.capemaychamber.com
- Cape May Trolley tour/ Emlen Physick Estate/ Cape May Lighthouse—www.capemaymac.org
- The West End Garage—www.capemayresorts.com
- The Inn of Cape May—www.innofcapemay.com
- Sunset Beach—www.sunsetbeachnj.com
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