• Alex Gerlach

A Pedacito Of An Evening In Cape May, New Jersey

Updated: Jun 19

One of my goals after returning from my study abroad trip was to spend some time traveling within the U.S. before jumping on a plane and crossing the ocean. After exploring so many beautiful and exotic places in Europe, I started to wonder why there was so little of my own birthplace that I had seen.


And I think when you become so familiar with your environment, you become blind to the treasures and hidden wonders all around you.

Sunset Beach, Cape May, New Jersey
Sunset Beach, Cape May, New Jersey

I took about 1,500 pictures on my first trip to Norway back in 2016. And every night, my family and I would gather around the TV and go through the pictures I took that day. I remember my cousin telling me how much they enjoyed seeing their country through my eyes because it reminded them of how beautiful their home was.

A beautiful lake in Askim, Norway surrounded by a green forest and blue skies
A beautiful lake in Askim, Norway surrounded by a green forest and blue skies

And that got me thinking about my own home. Why am I always so desperate to find adventure in other places, when adventure is found everywhere? Why not save some money on a plane ticket and drive myself to something to satisfy my need for a change of scenery?


So, I started making trips to various parts of my own state. Today, I'm going to tell you a little about my evening in the charming beach town of Cape May, New Jersey.


The Rusty Nail Bar & Grill

After walking around the zoo for a couple of hours we were pretty hungry and managed to find this trendy restaurant and beach bar: The Rusty Nail. Located right across from the beach, the restaurant is actually part of the Beach Shack Hotel, a popular coastal lodging and "retreat for beach lovers."


The Rusty Nail has been an iconic surfer bar and restaurant in the community since the '70s. It was a popular hangout for lifeguards and surfers who coined it "The Nail."

We were seated in this industrial, warehouse-type room that was open to the outside where there were picnic tables, a stage, and even a bonfire surrounded by sand. The vibe was extremely relaxed but the service was pretty timely. We waited only 15 to 20 minutes for our meals.

The Rusty Nail was a great stop after a day spent on our feet. The food, the speedy service, portion sizes, and cost-friendly prices helped create a wonderful, well-rounded experience.

Sunset Beach

We didn't really go to Cape May with any sort of plan other than going to the zoo and most likely getting food. In fact, that was the plan because I was in the middle of writing a post for a client. But we decided to just take a drive with no clear destination in mind.


We pulled away from The Rusty Nail and followed the road along the shoreline. We passed a few houses, some businesses, and a few interesting historical and natural landmarks in the area. With a vow to stop on the way back, we reached the end of the road and found Sunset Beach.


One of my favorite things is watching the sun set on the horizon, something I didn't think you could see in New Jersey. Well, Sunset Beach gets its very name from the beautiful sunsets that color the sky.

One of the cool things about Sunset Beach is that it's actually the site of the Wreck of the SS Atlantis, one of the most famous of twelve concrete ships during WWI.


Unlike traditional ships, which were made of wood and steel, concrete ships were made with steel and ferrocement. These materials were more readily available and cost-effective but lacked durability.


Little did I know, Cape May has an interesting military history and legacy, which was further revealed just down the street from Sunset Beach.


Fire Control Tower No. 23

As promised, we stopped at the tower we passed on our way to the beach. It wasn't open for us to explore inside, but there were informational signs outside that explained the underlying history.


The tower was actually built as a part of Fort Miles, a World War II installation located in Delaware. The tower was built with a sophisticated system inside for aiming guns.


Peering in through the windows, I could see parts of the panels, wires, and old-looking knobs of the old equipment. This is the only tower in New Jersey that survived the war intact.

The Nature Conservancy

Aside from the military history of Cape May, I noticed there is a huge emphasis on the conservation of nature and restoring the shoreline. Continuing our path back, we pulled into The Nature Conservancy, a 200-acre bird-watching sanctuary with trails leading through the wetlands to the beach.


Before hitting the trails, there is an archway with information about the conservancy and conservancy efforts over the years. There was even a picture comparing the progress of the shoreline restoration project after much of it had disappeared. There is also a small shed that has a living roof, something I have only ever seen done in Norway.

Downtown Cape May

We decided to squeeze in a stop downtown for ice cream before starting our hour drive home from Cape May. Despite feeling a sudden spark of inspiration for the post I was trying to write, I got out of the car and walked along the quaint, paved streets and charming, old-fashioned


We stopped at the famed Kohr Bros. ice cream shop for frozen custards to snack on while we explored the many unique, family-owned businesses. My favorite part of the downtown area was how colorful and inviting it was. There was plenty of space for mingling and outdoor seating that was friendly and fostered a sense of community.

Cape May is just one of the few places I finally visited in my effort to find the hidden wonders of my own state and country. What I didn't realize was how rich in history this small town would be, and I only just touched the tip of the iceberg.

 

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