Cape May was founded in 1620 by the Dutch Captain Mey, on the small hook at the very southern tip of the Jersey coast, jutting out into the Atlantic and washed by the Delaware Bay on the west. After being briefly settled by New England whalers in the late 1600s, it turned in the eighteenth century to more profitable farming and, soon after, to tourism. In 1745 the first advertisement for Cape May's restorative air and fine accommodation appeared in the Philadelphia press, heralding a period of great prosperity, when Southern plantation owners, desiring cool sea breezes without having to venture into Yankee land, flocked to the fashionable boarding houses of this genteel "resort of Presidents."
The Victorian era was Cape May's finest; nearly all its gingerbread architecture dates from a mass rebuilding after a severe fire in 1878. Suffering from the fact that increased car travel made it easier to head south and competition from Atlantic City to the north, during the 1950s Cape May began to dust off its most valuable commodity: its history. Today, the whole town is a National Historic Landmark, with over six hundred Victorian buildings, tree-lined streets and beautifully kept gardens, and a lucrative B&B industry. It teeters dangerously on self-parody at times, thanks to its glut of cutesy "olde shoppes," but if you avoid the main drags and wander through the backstreets, you'll enjoy the historical authenticity. The town also boasts good beaches.