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May 17, 2024

Cape May: What you need to know about the beaches and things to do there this summer

Do you need a beach tag? When is the 2024 Tomato festival? When are lifeguards on duty? And answers to other questions about the southernmost Jersey Shore town.

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cape may sunset beach Michaela Althouse/PhillyVoice

Sunset Beach, above, is located where the Atlantic Ocean becomes the Delaware Bay and is known stunning solar displays at the end of each day. Below find more information about Cape May, like beach tags prices, events taking place this summer, and more.

More than just beaches and boardwalks, Cape May has one of America's 100 most charming Main Streets, according to one recent ranking.

The three blocks of Washington Street, which are closed to vehicles, feature more than 75 boutiques, fine dining restaurants, bars and other businesses. The popular mall is nestled amid the Victorian landscape of Cape May's resort community, which dates back to the mid-1700s. The street ranked No. 61 on the list by photo platform Mixbook, which was compiled from a survey of 3,000 people.

Here's a guide if you plan to visit Cape May this summer:

What are some things to do in Cape May this summer?

When you're looking for something to do in Cape May this summer, there are several sites that maintain calendars of events, including, the Greater Cape May Chamber of Commerce and Cape May City's municipal website.

The unofficial start of summer begins Memorial Day weekend with the Cape May Music Festival at 7 p.m. on May 26. This free concert by the Atlantic Brass Band takes place at the Rotary Bandstand, 400-498 Lafayette St.

Here are some of the highlights taking place during the summer of 2024:

Strawberry Festival, June 1: In addition to featuring its honorary fruit, this annual event brings local artisans selling jewelry, pottery, woodwork and much more. 

Harborfest, June 29: There will be live music, vendors, beer gardens and nature programs at the family-friendly event on Delaware Avenue. 

Tomato Festival, Aug. 31: The event planners for the celebration at West Cape May's Backyard Park require all vendors to have something tomato-related in their booths. Proceeds from the festivities will benefit the WCM Shade Tree Commission to protect and improve the tree canopy.

What are some attractions in Cape May?

The Cape May Lighthouse: Built by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1859, the lighthouse has welcomed more than 2.5 million visitors since it opened to the public in 1988. Tickets are required — $12 for adults, $8 for children 12 and younger — to climb the 199 steps and capture the view of the Delaware Bay and Atlantic Ocean.

Sunset Beach: The point where the Atlantic Ocean becomes the Delaware Bay is known for more than its stunning sunsets. Since 1973, daily ceremonies have been held here during the summer to raise and lower flags from the caskets of veterans. And the wreck of the SS Atlantus can been seen off the coast.

Congress Hall: The Victorian-era beachfront hotel was a popular vacation spot for politicians – hosting four presidents (Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Ulysses S. Grant and Benjamin Harrison) during the 19th century. Now it is equipped with high-end resort amenities – from spa treatments to fine dining to luxury suites. 

Do you need a beach tag in Cape May?

From May 1 through Labor Day, beach tags are required for anyone 12 and older on the beach while lifeguards are on duty, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Cape May's beach tags are available as daily ($10), three-day ($20), weekly ($25) and seasonal ($40) passes. Discounted seasonal passes were on sale for $30, but the deadline to buy the tags at the cheaper price passed on April 30.

Cape May also offers free beach tags to active members of the military and veterans. Those are available with proper identification at the tax office at Cape May City Hall (643 Washington St.), the city's Beach Tag Headquarters (704 Beach Ave.) and the kiosks along the promenade at Madison Avenue, Gurney Street, Howard Street and Broadway.

Seasonal beach tags can be purchased at the tax office inside city hall. All other tags can be purchased at the promenade  kiosks and every beach entrance.

When are Cape May's lifeguards on duty?

The Cape May Beach Patrol is on duty full-time from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily from July 1 through Labor Day.

The beach patrol covers all 2 1/2 miles of the city's beach with guard stands about every block from The Cove north to the South Philadelphia Beach. Above that, lifeguards are stationed about every other block to Poverty Beach. The Cape May Beach Patrol has a map of guarded beaches on its website.

What are the rules on Cape May's beaches?

Coolers, food, tents, umbrellas and canopies are allowed, but alcohol is not permitted. Public restrooms are located about every half mile (see this map), and there are showers along the promenade where people leaving the beach can rinse off.

While dogs are allowed from November-March, only verifiable service animals are permitted on the beaches during the summer. Smoking and vaping is prohibited on all Cape May beaches, as are grills and bonfires.

When the lifeguards are on duty, surfing is permitted on specific beaches: Poverty Beach, The Cove, Gurney Street Surfing Beach and the South Queen Street Beach. Also during guarded hours, fishing is only allowed on the unguarded beach east of the Brooklyn Avenue storm pipe.

The beach patrol also advises the holes dug in the sand should not be deeper than the "waist level of the shortest person around the hole" and they must be backfilled before leaving the beach.

More information about Cape May's beach rules is available on the beach patrol's website and FAQ page