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New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the USA. Living here is stressful due to traffic and high cost of living. And high property taxes.
Unsurprisingly, New Jersey’s coastline creates a wonderful temporary escape for everyone in the state. The shore towns, needless to say, are not only popular with NJ state residents, but also with people who live in neighboring states such as Pennsylvania and New York.
And summer seems to be getting even longer with crowds flocking to the beaches before Memorial Day weekend even begins. Thanks to car culture (NJ’s public transportation isn’t great), the Garden State Parkway transforms into a congested mess on beautiful days, causing residents and tourists alike to pull their collective hair out.
Sadly, crowds are part of the package with any popular destination.
Is Cape May Crowded?
And, arguably, Cape May has a longer season than most south Jersey towns, because you can experience far more than just sunbathing on the expansive beaches. Crowds flock to Cape May during the predictable times, namely July and August, as well as weekends in May and June.
However, Christmas in Cape May draws in crowds from all over the state, as well as Spring Break (if the weather is nice) and Mother’s Day weekend. Cape May has delightful shopping streets, boutique wineries, a budding art scene, fascinating history, and delicious food that draws crowds of people throughout the year.
Low season isn’t as predictable as nearby Ocean City and Wildwood.
To tell you the truth, Cape May’s tourist crowds frustrate me at times. I understand visiting Cape May, particularly at popular peak periods, is expensive. I have high expectations too whenever I spend a lot of money on a trip. I mean, who doesn’t? Money and time are both valuable.
However, as someone who’s been coming to the area for over 25 years and has family living here year round, I’ve noticed some incredibly awful behavior from tourists.
Need examples? Littering on dunes. Harassing teenage retail workers until they’re in tears. Drunken and foolish driving. Gossiping and cursing extra loudly in a fancy restaurant. The list of “bad tourist behavior” is endless, haha.
So what can we do about it?
How to Beat the Crowds in Cape May NJ
Sometimes running into crowds is inevitable. At the same time, though, packed destinations don’t always lead to headaches. You just have to plan smartly to avoid the worst situations.
In this guide, I’ve listened a few suggestions about how to beat the crowds in Cape May NJ, particularly in the high summer season.
Visit in the Off Season
Okay, so this first tip obviously has nothing to do with high season. I lied.
For some people, visiting Cape May in the off season isn’t very practical. So, if you’re a teacher or have school aged kids at home, then come to Cape May in the summer completely guilt-free.
However, if you have flexibility built into your schedule, Cape May is delightful to visit in the spring and fall. The weather is mild, crowds are thinner, prices at hotels and bed and breakfasts are lower, and a lot of businesses remain open, especially on Fridays and Saturdays.
Still not sold on this idea? I even have a guide for you if you’re not sure of the best time to visit Cape May — although I don’t think you would be disappointed regardless of when you visit! You’ll quickly understand why spring and fall are my favorites.
Make Reservations Well in Advance
In summer, you need to make dinner reservations ahead of time. I’m talking weeks in advance. Sure, losing a bit of spontaneity is frustrating, but if you don’t make reservations, you won’t have anywhere to eat.
Use apps like OpenTable or directly call the restaurant to have your reservations ready to go ahead of your trip.
Keep in mind some places, such as the Lobster House, don’t take reservations and operate on a “first come, first serve” basis. In that case, check opening hours and arrive early to limit the time spent waiting for a table to open.
Learn to Love Early Mornings
Early in the morning Cape May is all yours. Tourists love sleeping in late. I don’t blame them. Who doesn’t like lounging around in bed all day?
Still, if you want to catch Cape May’s quiet moments in summer, wake up early enough to catch the sunrise on the beach.
You’ll feel rejuvenated and happy to be away from the slumbering crowds. And honestly, the hushed morning hours is when the beach ought to be enjoyed. I much prefer a gentle morning breeze on my face, as I listen to the waves than tourists encroaching under my umbrella and playing their boring music on their bluetooth speakers.
Early morning is also the ideal time to take a jog or ride a bike. Fewer people on the streets.
Avoid Driving on Saturdays in the Summer
Saturdays in summer are “change over days.” Weekly rentals end on Saturday morning, and new arrivals flock to the nearest real estate office for their afternoon check-in. Which means, if you’re able to avoid it, don’t drive in Cape May county at all costs.
To be honest, Cape May City’s small roads are not equipped to handle summer shore volume, and when you add in “change over traffic,” the situation spirals into an absolute nightmare.
If you’re staying over on a Saturday, then I recommend staying at home, or at the very least, walking everywhere you need to go (Cape May City is highly walkable).
And if you’re arriving on a Saturday, then I highly suggest driving in super early in the morning. In my opinion, it’s better to have a few hours on your hands than waste three hours hanging out on the Garden State Parkway in a traffic jam that seems to last until the end of time.
Visit the Beach after Four in the Afternoon
Okay, so if you want to swim, then this tip isn’t super helpful for you. The lifeguards leave shortly afterwards, and I don’t recommend swimming in the Atlantic Ocean without someone watching. Sorry, I just don’t like underestimating the ocean’s power.
However, if you just want to relax on the beach with a book, then go in the late afternoon. A lot of the tourists will be heading back to their accommodation to get ready for dinner, and eventually, you’ll have the sand and sun all to yourself! Enjoy it!
You’ll also have a lower chance of sunburn later in the afternoon, which is another win for going to the beach right before dinner time.
Learn to Pack Your Patience in Cape May
Is Cape May crowded? Yes, absolutely.
Do you need to be a jerk about it? No, absolutely not.
Try your best to be patient on a busy day in Cape May. I mean, a packed day at the beach is still much better than a quiet day at the office, right? And remember: Cape May is popular for a reason. It’s so, so, so beautiful and charming in this shore town, and you don’t want a bad attitude to destroy your visit.
Here are a couple common sense tips for emotionally dealing with the crowds in Cape May.
How to Handle Crowds in Cape May
- Be Kind to Service Staff: Yes, many places are short-staffed. No, that’s not the fault of the overwhelmed 16 year-old who’s serving hoards of tourists ice cream. Sorry to burst your bubble, but you are not Beyonce or Leonardo DiCaprio because you can afford a trip to the Jersey Shore.
- Lay Off the Road Rage: Crowded roads are tough, and New Jersey drivers are aggressive (I know, I grew up here), but don’t succumb to road rage. You never know. The other driver could be violent or crazy. You’re better off swallowing your anger.
- Take Your Time: Is the line long at your favorite ice cream place? Take a deep breath and wait. Maybe read something funny on your phone. You’re also on vacation. Time doesn’t matter as much. Try not to rush or rush others, and go with the flow.
Stay at a Central and Walkable Hotel or Bed and Breakfast
If you want to spend the majority of your time in Cape May, then spend the extra money for a centrally located hotel or bed and breakfast. You don’t want to waste time driving into the downtown core every day for two reasons: traffic and parking.
Trust me, you’ll be grateful that you spent a little more for a central location. Walking to the beach or strolling on Washington Street Mall will make the extra costs well worth it.
I’ve listed a couple centrally located hotels in this post to help jumpstart your research.
Central Accommodation in Cape May NJ
- Angel of the Sea: Award-winning Victorian Bed & Breakfast Inn located opposite the ocean. Experience Cape May in a 1850s Victorian Home. See prices on Booking.com.
- Congress Hall: Stay at America’s First and Oldest Seaside Resort Hotel. Congress Hall is an icon. See prices on Booking.com.
- The Queen Victoria: Located in the heart Cape May’s historic district, this award winning bed and breakfast is open every day of the year, so you’re able to visit Cape May in the off season! See prices on Booking.com.
- The Southern Mansion: Cape May’s largest bed and breakfast offers an opulent experience to all visitors. See prices on Booking.com.
Is Cape May crowded? Yes, definitely. Can you still enjoy your trip? Yes, absolutely!! I hope this post helps you better plan your adventures in Cape May!