This post contains affiliate links. We earn a small commission at no additional cost to you if you make a purchase.
Cape May Historic District is a dream come true if you love colorful Victorian homes. Honestly, on some of my visits to Cape May, I don’t even buy anything at the boutiques or drink any cocktails at the swanky bars.
Instead I shut off my brain and stroll the quiet residential streets to admire how well these homes have been restored to their former glories.
Fun? Also yes.
Why Take a Cape May Historic District Walking Tour
So is worth taking a Cape May historic district walking tour on your own? Um. Again, I obviously think so, yes!
Cape May is just … so different from the other destinations along the Jersey Shore. What you’re lacking in waterpark rides and wild nightclubs, you’re more than making up for in rich local history that isn’t quite replicated anywhere else.
Taking a historical walk and reading about the buildings ahead of time adds even more richness to your Cape May experience. I know that seems like a lot of work, especially if you’re seeking a beach vacation, but personally, I’m just a sucker for historical walks, having done them all over Europe where I learned a great deal.
Furthermore Cape May is very, very walkable with plenty of sidewalks and other pedestrian-friendly zones.
In many ways, taking your own Cape May Historic District walking tour is a treat, since most cities in New Jersey are friendlier toward cars than people. Strolling Cape May’s streets transports you back in time, and while the past certainly had its issues, wandering the sidewalks without worrying about cars honking at you adds to a relaxed vacation experience.
I hope Cape May continues to become more pedestrian friendly in the future. Walking here is a pastel-color dream.
Top Sights in Cape May Historic District
Below, I’ve listed a couple of gorgeous buildings in Cape May’s Historic District that you will want to check out on one or two walks around the area.
Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list. Cape May has so many great buildings will fascinating stories to tell. Feel free to do you own research and create a walk that works for you and your itinerary in Cape May.
The George Allen House / The Southern Mansion
The Southern Mansion is one of Cape May’s best known buildings. It was built in 1863 for Philadelphia industrialist George Allen and was used as a private family home until 1946.
After falling into disrepair, the entire building was renovated into a gorgeous and award-winning bed and breakfast. You can book a room at The Southern Mansion, but you can also check out the building and grounds from the outside. You’ll seriously feel as if you’re transported back in time.
You will find the Southern Mansion at 720 Washington Street.
Eldridge Johnson House
Eldridge Johnson House or The Pink House is an absolute treat for your eyes, especially if you’re like me and pink is your favorite color! I especially love how this house is decorated for Christmas with stunning pink trees and lights!
This home was constructed in 1892. In addition to its vibrant “princess pink” exterior, this home also has some of the fanciest porch trim in the entire city.
The Pink House is now home to a retail store, so the public is free to go inside and explore.
You can find Eldridge Johnson House at 33 Perry Street.
The Carroll Villa Hotel
Another national historic building is The Carroll Villa Hotel which is one of the most popular places to sleep and eat in Cape May. This lovely hotel, located very close to the beach, was built in 1882 and maintains its Victorian elegance.
Urban legend has it that the original owner, Harry Kulkowitz who also owned Kennmore Art Galley in Philadelphia, won the Carroll Villa Hotel over a game of poker.
At Carroll Villa Hotel, you can also stop at one of Cape May’s most popular restaurants, The Mad Batter, for breakfast or Happy Hour. Just be prepared to wait for a table.
You can find Carroll Villa Hotel at 19 Jackson Street.
The Inn of Cape May
The Inn of Cape May looks like a freaking castle, and something not to be missed on your self-guided Cape May historic district walking tour.
Like the Carroll Villa Hotel, the Inn of Cape May is another gem where you can grab a coffee or a cocktail, and admire the Victorian charm of the property.
You can find the Inn of Cape May at 7 Ocean Street.
Congress Hall has an incredible history. As the oldest seaside resort in Cape May, you’ll discover plenty to see and do within Congress Hall and on the hotel’s expansive grounds.
I personally love to go inside and poke around the shops. As you wander the halls, you’re also able to read all about Congress Hall’s long and fascinating history. It feels like a free museum. If you’re visiting Cape May in summer, Congress Hall is a wonderful chance to escape the heat and cool down in air-conditioned settings.
And don’t forget the pool on your visit! It’s located on the expansive lawn and a historical site in and of itself.
You can find Congress Hall at 200 Congress Place. Trust me, you can’t miss it.
The Emlen Physick Estate
One of the most popular historical buildings in all of Cape May is the Emlen Physick Estate.
Unlike the other properties, the Emlen Physick Estate offers a fully guided tour of the property, shedding additional insight onto local Cape May History. You’ll learn all about how the Physick family lived and worked at their impressive 18-room mansion.
The Emlen Physick Estate also hosts free activities and special events throughout the year. Check their website prior to visiting to decide what experience is best for you.
The Emlen Physick Estate can be found at 1048 Washington Street.
Morning Star Villa
The Morning Star Villa is a total pale green gem. The sea color palette splashed on the exterior of this beautiful 1884 home instantly transports you to the beach.
What I love most about this property is the unique fourth floor that gives the building a cool slanted effect, much like an optical illusion.
The Morning Star Villa is home to private beach condos, so, as always, please respect the owners and renters on this property.
You can find Morning Star Villa at 1307 Beach Avenue.
Other Tips for Your Cape May Walk
Last but not least, I wanted to include some quick, “last minute” tips for your self-guided Cape May Historic District walking tour.
Don’t Forget Your Parking App
Most likely, you will need to pay for parking at Cape May’s Historic District. Cape May literally charges for parking on almost every single street (you can tell I’m happy about that, huh?).
So make sure to download the ParkMobile App ahead of time. And BE CAREFUL with how much you click the app. I’ve been charged twice in the past and it’s incredibly annoying.
Respect Privately Owned Homes
Don’t walk on lawns or cut through backyard of privately owned homes. All private homes will have signs clearly indicating it.
This tip should be common sense, but … you know …
Save Time for a Good Meal
Cape May’s fine dining is unparalleled. As someone who loves food a bit too much, I can honestly say that Cape May has some of the best restaurants in the entire county.
So, if you decide to do your Cape May Historic District Walking Tour later in the afternoon, I recommend also making a dinner reservation to unwind with cocktails and a decadent meal. I mean, why ever not?
Wear Sunscreen, Sunglasses, and a Wide-Brimmed Hat
On a summer day, you need to protect your skin. Need to protect your skin.
If you’re visiting from the south, you might think that New Jersey is chilly all year, but believe me, summer days are hot and the rays are strong. I’ve seen some nasty sunburns over the years, and you don’t want to come home with red and peeled skin for a souvenir.
So, when you’re out admiring pretty homes all afternoon, make sure to wear high-quality sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, and fashionable sunglasses. Not only will you look adorable, but your face will thank me later.
I hope you enjoyed reading all about this Cape May Historic District walking tour! Would you add any stops? Which buildings do you think are the most beautiful? Feel free to share with me.