Cape May, New Jersey is a charming Victorian seaside retreat that can be found at the southern most point in the Garden State. It's quite different than the Jersey Shore towns made famous by the awful MTV show of the same name. There are no cookie cutter blocks of shore houses, night clubs or tired amusement parks. Instead Cape May is a historically rich town with trolley tours, jazz festivals, enchanting and unique bars, clean beaches and awesome foodie spots. It's the beach gem of New Jersey and it's also dog friendly. You will know you have graced its threshold when the Garden State Parkway dwindles down the miles and deposits you at Exit Zero.
Sunset off my parents back deck
Where's da beach?
It's this way!
Cape may has a diverse selection of beaches and shoreline. Some of these areas are off limits to dogs leashed or not, at all times due to nesting areas of some endangered bird species (Cape May Point State Park and Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge). Some beaches have specific seasons in which dogs are only permitted at select times. But there are a few areas that you can officially and unofficially enjoy your dogs on/off leash at all times of the year.
Cape May City Beaches run from the Cove to the Poverty Beach
Cape May City beaches (as pictured above) only allow dogs on the beach and promenade from November 1st to March 31st. I will say that you will see people in the evenings or early morning running with or walking their dogs on the promenade outside of that specified time. I'm by no means telling anyone that they should do that, rather I'm just letting you know that I've yet to see someone get ticketed or thrown off the promenade for walking their dogs…..me included. With that said don't even try to sneak them on the city beaches in season. You'll get bounced pretty fast.
There are two spots that you can officially and unofficially run your dogs. The first place is Higbee Beach which is a 1.5 mile strip on the Delaware Bay. This section of beach has very small waves and on calm mornings looks more like a lake than a bay that leads to the ocean. Beach tags are not required and their are no life guards. In fact once you past the jettys there are basically no people at all. The three photos of Cleo and Luna posted so far were all taken on Higbee beach at the height of the season and you'll see there is no one there. Officially Higbee is open to dogs from September 1st to April 30th. Unofficially people run their dogs there all year round. In fact early in the morning when strolling down the beach the only other people you will see other than the occasional surf fisherman is another person walking or running their dog. When I used to own Cleo and Luna they found Higbee to be a beachy sanctuary. Sagey only got to visit once when she was 10 weeks old or so.
How to get there
Red dot marks the spot! Take New England Rd until it dead ends in a small sandy parking lot. You have two options at this point. Pull straight into that parking lot and take a path through some woods, over some dunes and onto the beach about halfway down. Or before entering the parking lot make a right and follow the sandy road until it deposits you in another parking area across from the Cape May Ferry. Walk out towards the water and follow the path to the left that leads out to the jetty. When I was an official east coaster and would go here on a regular basis I would typically leave the pointer pack on leash and walk them at heel until we were past the temptations of the surf fisherman near the jetty and then I would cut them loose. Please remember to bring plenty of water for your dogs, a ball to play fetch with and bags for their poop. Letting your dog poop on the beach just means your a jerk. Don't be a jerk. And keep in mind in high season you will see a ton of birders in this area. Please be respectful of them and do not allow your dogs to run in the dunes....only on the beach or you will end up being the person that makes this unofficial spot off limits for everyone else.
Lower Township Beaches
The next place you can run your dogs on the beach "officially" all year round are the lower township beaches highlighted above in brown. Your dogs have to be leashed on this beach at all times. There is also a rumor that there is a woman who pretty much watches and waits for you to take your dog off its leash and calls the cops on you. I guess some people have nothing else better to do with their time. But if your OK with your dog being on leash then its definitely worth checking out. To get to the Lower Township Beaches follow directions to the Cape May - Lewes Ferry terminal and before turning into the complex make a right. Drive north and parking for the beaches will be on your left.
Cape May Dog Park
How to get there
There is also a Cape May Dog Park but in my humble opinion it's not worth the time and effort to visit. It's very small, there is no shade, parking can be hassle in peak season and the City of Cape May makes you jump through some serious hoops to be eligible to use it. Dog owners must apply for a dog park tag that costs $20 seasonally or $10 weekly and you must have the tag visible at all times while using the park. To apply for a tag you must fill out an application at the Cape May City Clerks Office on Washington Street. You will have to present current vaccination documents, your dog license, and sign a acceptance of risk and liability form to be considered. This is probably why no one is ever at the dog park. For the record I'm not thumbing my nose at the city requirements. They make perfect sense from a responsibility standpoint but if your commandoing in for a quick weekend getaway it just seems like an awful lot to ask of people who only want to drop in to the park for 30 minutes. The dog park is located at 705 Lafayette Street if you want to check it out.
Throwing beers back at the Nail
My Cape May days used to begin with a hearty run down Higbee beach complete with sand romping, ball retrieving and a good amount of swimming because this of course makes for tired GSP's. We all know tired GSP's are happy GSP's. But other than beach excursions there is plenty to get out and do around town with your pups. Here is a quick list of places your welcome to bring your dogs and also where you probably shouldn't go.
Places you can and should go:
The Beach Shack at the Rusty Nail: The photo above was taken here. I used to love to cruise in with Cleo and Luna and order some brewskies and kick back around a fire pit with my toes in the sand and listen to some sweet live music. You can head up to the bar to order your own drinks or munchies or wait for a waitress to swing by and grab your order. They even cater to your pooch by making dog food and dog beer available for purchase. My only warning is that in high season as you can see above it can be hectic and can be loud. People love to pet your dogs especially kids so if your dog is aggressive, gets social anxiety or isn't confident in situations like these then this is not the place for them. Luna always had a blast here never holding back from treating herself to a little sand digging. It was always my favorite place to take them in Cape May and its located at 205 Beach Ave. In addition, Wyatt also loves the Rusty Nail and we have appropriately dubbed our favorite watering hole in Bozeman the Nail West in honor of its magnificence.
There are several other restaurants that have either sidewalk or patio seating available where your dog is welcome to join you. There are several places in town but these are the ones I would recommend:
The Mad Batter - located at 19 Jackson Street (Get the fresh squeezed lemonade it's off the chain)
The Blue Pig Tavern - located in the corner of Congress Hall on the corner of Congress Place and Perry streets. Good breakfast spot. Get the mimosas. Mimosas make any morning better.
Zoe's Beachfront Eatery - located at the corner of Beach and Stockton Place across from Convention Hall on the Promenade. Another good breakfast spot.
Lobster House (raw bar) - located behind the Lobster House restaurant which is at 906 Schellengers Landing Rd. Wyatt and I agree that its a gem of a spot on the Cape. So bring your pooch (on leash) and sit out on the dock by the schooner and watch the fishing boats come in and out while enjoying some refreshing adult beverages. My favorites here are the New England Clam Chowder, crab claws with spicy mustard and clams casino.
Sage Pups only trip to Cape May in January of 2014
Cape May is pretty welcoming when it come to places to rest you and your pets head. Here are some recommendations for overnight accommodations:
Billmae Cottages and Billmae Cottage Too - Owners Bob and Linda Steenrod have several offerings for pet friendly cottages. There website even says, "Periodically we have Yappy Hour on the wrap-around porch, where dogs and owners get to meet and have treats". There locations are on Washington Street and also on Lafayette Street.
The Highland House - Located at 131 North Broadway is actually in West Cape May not far from my parents house. They have a fenced in play area for four legged guests.
Palace Hotel - Located at 1101 Beach Ave this hotel sits right across from the beach. My brother and Sister in-law stayed here several times with their Bassett Mr. Fisher while my parents were rebuilding their house this past year. There is a $25 fee per night per pet.
Marquis de Lafayette Hotel - Located at 501 Beach Ave this hotel sits right across the street from the beach and is a couple block walk from the outdoor mall. Pets are welcome on the first floor only in special pet suites.
The Beach Shack Hotel - This is the hotel portion of the Beach Shack that I described above when discussing the Rusty Nail. They are located at 205 Beach Ave right across from the beach. They have a limited number of pet friendly rooms.
And be sure to check out VRBO for pet friendly vacation homes and condos for rent.
I decided to write this post and put it out now because it's one week before Memorial Day weekend. In my family we always celebrate this weekend in Cape May together. It's our tradition and it's something I have looked forward to for the last 20 years. This Memorial Day will be the first year that I will be in MT forging new traditions. Next weekend we take off for a camping, hiking and fly fishing extravaganza with Sage. Check back for a blog update on those adventures.
So that should for the most part cover it! Activities, beaches, bars and accommodations. All you need for a bang up weekend with your best dog friend in Cape May. Enjoy and let me know how you make out!
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