Cape May was recognized as one of America’s top 10 beaches by the Travel Channel and its beach was ranked fifth in New Jersey in the 2008 Top 10 Beaches Contest sponsored by the New Jersey Marine Sciences Consortium. It is also known as one of the best beaches on the Middle Atlantic coast.
Cape May began hosting vacationers from Philadelphia in the mid 18th century and is recognized as the country’s oldest seaside resort. Following the construction of Congress Hall in 1816, Cape May became increasingly popular in the 18th century and was considered one of the finest resorts in America by the 19th century. In 1878, a five-day-long fire destroyed 30 blocks of the town center and, as part of the reconstruction efforts, replacement homes were almost uniformly of Victorian style. As a result of this and of more recent preservation efforts, Cape May is noted for its large number of well-maintained Victorian houses — the second largest collection of such homes in the nation after San Francisco. In 1976, the entire city of Cape May was officially designated a National Historic Landmark as the Cape May Historic District, making Cape May the only city in the United States wholly designated as such. That designation is intended to ensure the architectural preservation of these buildings.
Cape May is generally low-lying; its highest point, at the intersection of Washington and Jackson Streets, is 14 feet (4.3 m) above sea level. Cape May borders West Cape May Borough, Lower Township, the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay. The Cape May–Lewes Ferry provides transportation across the Delaware Bay between North Cape May, New Jersey and Lewes, Delaware.
Cape May has become known both for its Victorian gingerbread homes and its cultural offerings. The town hosts the Cape May Jazz Festival, the Cape May Music Festival and the Cape May, New Jersey Film Festival. Cape May is the home of the so-called “Cape May diamonds”. They show up at Sunset Beach and other beaches in the area. These are in fact clear quartz pebbles that wash down from the Delaware River. They begin as prismatic quartz (including the color sub-varieties such as smoky quartz and amethyst) in the quartz veins alongside the Delaware River that get eroded out of the host rock and wash down 200 miles to the shore. Collecting Cape May diamonds is a popular pastime and many tourist shops sell them polished or even as faceted stones.