Home Best of Guides Why The Southern Mansion in Cape May is Worth a Stay

Why The Southern Mansion in Cape May is Worth a Stay

by Yiwei Gu
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As one of the oldest seaside resorts in America, Cape May has long been the playground for Philadelphians and New Jerseyians. Since the pandemic, it has been rediscovered by travelers from around the country. Visitors are often charmed by the tree-lined historic downtown, abundant natural beauty, and the bed and breakfast scene, which was already famous before the pandemic. Starting in the 1990s, many of the area’s Victorian homes have been restored and converted to guest houses. Each one is unique. Some are cozy and intimate, others luxurious and grand. The Southern Mansion in Cape May, one of the most popular properties in the area, is a beautiful bed and breakfast located at 720 Washington Street — and it’s worth the visit. Read on to get a sneak peek into The Southern Mansion in Cape May.

The Southern Mansion Cape May

(Photo credit: @southernmansion)

A Historical Property

The Southern Mansion Cape May

(Photo credit: @southernmansion)

The property was first built in 1863 by the Philadelphia industrialist George Allen as a vacation home and it remained in the family’s ownership until the 1940s. At that time, Cape May was primarily a regional vacation destination thanks to a direct railway route that ran daily between Philadelphia and Cape May. In 1994, another family from Philadelphia, the Bray-Wildes, took notice of the then-abandoned property while vacationing in the area and realized its potential. They took it over, and after a series of renovations and rebuilding, opened the bed and breakfast in 1997.

The Southern Mansion Cape May

(Photo credit: @southernmansion)

“We were able to recover 85 percent of the original furniture,” Denise Denise Najera, General Manager of The Southern Mansion, told The Montclair Girl. This proved to be extremely helpful in understanding the Victorian-era aesthetics and restoring the architectural elements. The chandeliers, poster beds, and artworks all speak to the property’s 150+ years of history.

The Guest Experience

The Southern Mansion Cape May

(Photo credits: @southernmansion)

The B&B has 24 rooms, each with its own Victorian-style decor. The sizes and amenities differ, with rates ranging from around $400+ a night for a stay in the summer (two people, directly booking on the official website). The most basic rooms (“Standard”) feature antique furniture, a double shower, and TV, while larger, more “luxurious” ones (the “Superior” rooms and the Master Suite) come with amenities such as museum-grade furniture, soaking tubs, large sitting areas, balconies, and/or porches.

The Southern Mansion Cape May

(Photo credits: @southernmansion)

Guests rave about the complimentary breakfast. There is a made-to-order menu, with hearty entrees such as omelets and French toasts. Guests can help themselves to coffee, tea, juices, pastries, and fruit. Special dietary requirements can be accommodated.

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“It is more than just a bed and breakfast,” Denise said, referring to the personalized touches. “We try to provide a family-like experience. There are a lot of one-on-ones with guests.”

The Southern Mansion Cape May

(Photo credits: @southernmansion)

The B&B has plenty of on-site parking, and all of the beach towels and chairs guests could need. The beach itself is a five-minute walk away. Guests can walk a few minutes to the Washington Street Mall for restaurants, shopping, and people-watching. The Mansion has a sister property nearby, the Willow Creek Winery. The Winery is open for lunch, dinner, and tastings and has frequent live music performances.

Things to Do in the Area

cape may nj

The entire Cape May area has experienced a tourism boom. With many international hot spots less accessible, travelers are rediscovering domestic destinations not only for weekend getaways but also for long-distance trips. “Before the pandemic, we got many returning guests. Now we see guests from as far as California and New Mexico,” Denise said. Although the town is the busiest in summer, the tourism season runs all the way to December. Below are some ideas for things to do in the area.

Walk Around the Historic Downtown

cape may nj

The historic downtown of Cape May is a registered National Historic Landmark with over 600 Victorian-era houses. For a casual, self-guided walking tour, start from Emlen Physick Estate, a Victorian-house-turned ethnography museum. Walk south and appreciate the mansions and cottages with their elegant torrents and porches along the way. Don’t miss the Washington Street Mall, a three-block area full of small shops and eateries.

Visit a Vineyard

Cape May Winery Vineyard

(Photo credits: Cape May Winery & Vineyard)

Although not California yet, the New Jersey wine industry is quickly gaining recognition both home and abroad. The Cape May Peninsula is one of the state’s four American Viticultural Areas (in order to qualify, a place has to meet Federal standard in terms of climate, soil type, elevation, etc.), and is home to many vineyards that experiments over 40 grape varieties on New Jersey soil. Many offer wine tasting tours. Check out Willow Creek Winery & Farm, a sister property of The Southern Mansion, which offers tastings, tours, and a farm-to-table restaurant. Another popular property is Cape May Winery & Vineyard. Visitors can join wine tasting tours, try different wines on tap by the glass, and sample tapas in the restaurant.

Enjoy the Natural Beauty

The Cape May area has some of the best beaches on the East Coast. Even those visiting outside the sunbathing season can enjoy a variety of activities such as fishing and hiking. Cape May is a popular destination for birding, as there are several migratory birds that pass through the area. There are several locations for birdwatching, often with guided events, such as the Nature Center of Cape May and the Cape May Bird Observatory. Check out the Cape May Point State Park, where visitors can climb the Cape May Lighthouse and observe wildlife along the park’s many trails. If the weather is nice, finish your exploration at Sunset Beach for a glorious sundown. 

Chase Whales + Dolphins

Cape May Whale Watch

(Photo credits: @capemaywhalewatch_researchctr)

Whales and dolphins are often spotted in the waters near Cape May. Several local companies offer guided cruises that take guests out to the sea to watch these beautiful animals at close distances. Frequently recommended operators include Cape May Whale Watch, which offers tours of various lengths (2.5 hours to 8 hours), routes, and activity levels (fishing tours available) from May to September. Another popular operator is Spirit of Cape May, which in addition to whales and dolphin watching, also offers dinner cruises and hosts private parties.

Beach Plum Farm | 140 Stevens Street

Beach Plum Farm

(Photo credits: Beach Plum Farm)

Beach Plum Farm is a 62-acre working farm. Over 100 types of produce are grown here, and the farm supplies many of Cape May’s restaurants. The farm started in 2008 and the market and kitchen were added in 2016. Guests can visit the property to explore and enjoy the scenery, shop in the market, or enjoy breakfast or lunch from the kitchen. There are special events nearly every weekend, designed to showcase each season’s bounty. Dinners at the farm are ticketed, BYOB events where guests are treated to a five-course menu of dishes prepared with (literally) farm-fresh ingredients.

Cape May Stage | 405 Lafayette Street

The 130-seat Cape May Stage offers an intimate theater experience in a former Presbyterian Church building dating back to the 1850s. It produces 3 to 5 plays every season, which runs from May to December, featuring mostly contemporary works by both established and rising artists. The 2022 season has four productions, including a highly acclaimed The Lifespan of a Fact, about a real-life editing room saga. The theater also hosts stage readings, musical events, and special sessions for children. 

Cape May Railbike | 609 Lafayette Street

Cape May Railbike

(Photo credits: Cape May Railbike)

The premise is a little wild: ride a recumbent bicycle on an abandoned railway track through a nature preserve. It all makes sense once guests arrive and get going. The railbikes come in twos and fours, making this a fun activity for families, too. Knowledgeable guides take guests on a four-mile out and back ride through the Garrett Family Nature Preserve. Riders will learn about the natural surroundings and the history of the area. Reservations are required and seats are limited.  

Restaurants

Blue Pig Tavern | 200 Congress Place

Blue Pig Tavern

(Photo credits: @bluepigtavern)

This American-style restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner inside the Congress Hall hotel. But don’t let its location fool you – the Blue Pig is a destination on its own. The menu focuses on seasonal, locally-grown ingredients. The atmosphere is laid-back but the service and food are both top-notch. There are cozy fireplaces indoors and big windows to let in natural light. There are even some bistro tables outdoors on Congress Hall’s porch — a memorable spot for a cocktail and some shrimp cocktail.

Exit Zero Filling Station | 110 Sunset Boulevard

Exit Zero Filling Station

(Photo credits: Exit Zero Filling Station)

Exit Zero used to be a gas station but has found new life as a bar, restaurant, and live music venue. The team behind Exit Zero opened its first restaurant, Exit Zero Cookhouse, in 2015. Three years later, it moved across the street on Sunset Boulevard and morphed into Exit Zero Filling Station. It started with the restaurant operating a small kitchen next to the fully-operational gas station and then during the pandemic, added vintage trailers so diners could socially distance themselves. Now, the gas station has been shut down and the space is fully committed to being a restaurant. There is outdoor seating in addition to the vintage trailers, and live music most nights. The Filling Station serves pub-food-style classics in addition to Asian-inspired curries and rice dishes. There’s even a pup’s menu so Fido can enjoy a meal along with the family.

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Out There Coffee | 315 Ocean Street, Unit 22

Out There Coffee

(Photo credits: @outtherecoffee)

Owners Craig and Nikki founded Out There Coffee with the goal of providing people with a way to connect and positively impact others. In addition to the excellent coffee, the cafe has superfood lattes, smoothies, milkshakes, and other snacks, including gluten-free baked goods. We like the Cashew Later, made with coffee, whole cashews, and coconut oil.

Madison’s Bakery | 701 Beach Avenue, 505 Carpenters Lane, 1202 Route 109

Madison’s Bakery

(Photo credits: @madisonsbakerynj)

This charming bakery is run by a local family and everything tastes homemade because it is. Madison’s Bakery claims to have ‘the best buns on the beach,’ so you’ll have to order one and find out for yourself. The bakery serves donuts, cakes, and other assorted pastries. The cinnamon buns taste just like Christmas morning. All three locations serve La Colombe coffee.

The Southern Mansion Cape May

(Photo credits: @southernmansion)

Keep up with the latest from The Southern Mansion by following its Instagram.

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