Cape May's historical homes beckon visitors

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CAPE MAY, N.J. -- If you like sand dunes and salty air, you're sure to fall in love with this quaint little village at the southern tip of the Jersey shore.

Cape May, a National Historic Landmark, is the pearl in the oyster for seaside tourism in New Jersey, whose long stretch of coastline has its share of honky-tonk boardwalks and cluttered beaches.

Three-and-a-half hours from New York, Cape May is the best known of a handful of quiet seashore communities that pop up out of the sand along the Atlantic Ocean -- from Spring Lake at Exit 98 on the Garden State Parkway all the way here to Delaware Bay.

Cape May boasts more than 600 restored, Victorian-style buildings. One is the Emlen Physick Estate, headquarters of the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts (MAC), a preservationist association that sponsors trolley and walking tours of the historic district.

On a visit, make the Emlen Physick Estate, with its stick-style architecture, your first stop. It's located at 1048 Washington St. and has brochures and attendants with all the information you need about tours and events going on this season.

This year, two of Cape May's most popular tours have been rolled into one. Inns and Outs of Cape May, a combination of MAC's guided walking tour and historical house tour, runs Thursdays beginning at 11 a.m. from May through July. The 90-minute cruise costs $10 per person.

With the coming of spring, festivals explode in Cape May.

The 15th annual Cape May Music Festival begins its four-week run May 23. Concerts will be held in Cape May Convention Hall, Beach Drive at Stockton Place, and the Episcopal Church of the Advent, Washington and Franklin streets, every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday through June 20.

Orchestra/jazz/pops concert tickets cost $20 ($10 for students and $15 for senior citizens). Chamber music concerts are $15 ($5 for students, $10 for seniors).

Among the many other events coming up are the Victorian Fair (June 12, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., on the grounds of the Physick Estate, with free admission and parking) and the five-hour Delaware Bay Lighthouse cruise (May 8 and 22; June 5 and 26; July 9 and 23; Aug. 6 and 20; Sept. 11 and 25; and Oct. 9).

Passengers board the Cape May Whale Watcher at 1 p.m. for a cruise past six Delaware Bay lighthouses, most visible only from the water. The $65 per-person cost includes the cruise and a buffet lunch.

New this year is the Winery Cellar Tour and Tasting at the Cape May Winery, Saturdays from April 24 to May 29 and Wednesdays from June 15 to Sept. 1. Cost is $20 per person.

Many of the Victorian-style homes here have been converted into hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and restaurants.

The Virginia Hotel in Cape May's central historic district.The 24-room Virginia Hotel in the central historic district has room rates that range from $165 to $295 midweek, single or double, through June, and $195 to $425 weekends through mid-June.

Virginia Hotel also owns 2 Atlantic Terrace, the first in its new venture of full-house weekly rentals operated under the name Cape May Cottages.

The property sleeps up to 16 guests and has four floors and three terraces. But if you want to rent the renovated 1891 home ($7,500 per week), you'll have to book now for summer 2005.

Rates at the Virginia Hotel and 2 Atlantic Terrace are commissionable at 10% to travel agents. For more information, call (800) 732-4236, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.virginiahotel.com.

For information about MAC's year-round schedule of tours, festivals and special events, call (800) 275-4278 or (609) 884-5404 or visit www.capemaymac.org.

To contact Destinations editor Margaret Myre, send e-mail to [email protected].

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