Cape May has dozens of wonderful places to stay, ranging from small, lovely inns to grand hotels. Rates tend to fluctuate dramatically, even for different rooms in the same inn, so it's worth calling around. Rates are generally lowest in winter and highest over holiday and summer weekends. Most include both breakfast and afternoon tea. Many establishments require minimum stays in season and book up far in advance for the summer months.
Many of Cape May's historic homes have been wonderfully restored and converted into B&Bs. The Mainstay Inn, 635 Columbia Ave. (tel. 609/884-8690; www.mainstayinn.com), housed in an immaculate 1872 Italianate villa, is widely regarded as the town's finest inn. Rates run from $175 to $360 double (the inn is open Apr-Nov). Nonguests can visit the main house by self-guided tour; call for details.
The Fairthorne, 111 Ocean St. (tel. 800/438-8742 or 609/884-8791; www.fairthorne.com), is my favorite. This gorgeous Colonial Revival-style old sailing captain's home is impeccable without being too frilly or formal, and hosts Diane and Ed Hutchinson couldn't be more welcoming. Doubles run $230 to $265; a suite goes for $280. Around the corner is the John F. Craig House, 609 Columbia Ave. (tel. 877/544-0314 or 609/884-0100; www.johnfcraig.com), a beautifully restored Carpenter Gothic inn with a cozy, homey vibe. (Warning: Some rooms have tiny bathrooms.) Doubles and suites cost $145 to $265.
If you consider B&Bs too personal, consider the small, chic Virginia Hotel, 25 Jackson St. (tel. 800/732-4236 or 609/884-5700; www.virginiahotel.com), a large Victorian that's been a full-service hotel since 1879. Fresh off a complete renovation, rooms sport such modern, luxurious amenities as Bulgari toiletries, CD players, and bathrobes; doubles run $235 to $425. Or opt for the attractive and well-outfitted 32-unit, four-building complex known as the Queen Victoria Bed & Breakfast, 102 Ocean St. (tel. 609/884-8702; www.queenshotel.com), whose innkeepers emphasize privacy and keep rates ($105-$495 double) low.
Beach Drive is lined with value-priced motels -- all with pools -- that are ideal for those who prefer to avoid the fussiness of historic properties. A good choice is La Mer Beachfront Motor Inn, 1317 Beach Dr. (tel. 609/884-9000; www.lamermotorinn.com), whose new addition features comfortable rooms ($76-$369) that are big enough for budget-minded families. The rooms in the older building are cheaper but not nearly as spiffy. One floor is set aside solely for adults -- a good choice for couples looking for peace and quiet. The Marquis de Lafayette, 501 Beach Ave. (tel. 609/884-3500), has groovy architecture and sits right on the beach, with simple motel-style rooms and a huge pool. Pets are welcome (rates $109-$519). We're also fans of the Montreal Inn, Beach Drive at Madison Avenue (tel. 800/525-7011; www.montreal-inn.com; rates $63-$369). The Hirsch family, who built the old-school beach motel in the mid-1960s, still runs it and keeps it in impeccable shape. They offer several styles of rooms, from doubles to suites with kitchens.
Simple, Relaxed Luxury -- The most stylishly modernized of the Cape May grand hotels is Congress Hall, 251 Beach Ave. (tel. 888/941-1816 or 609/884-8421; www.congresshall.com). Its motto, "Simple, relaxed luxury," is apparent everywhere from the chic lobby with its yellow walls, sisal carpet, and black wicker furnishings to its sunny guest rooms with gaily striped carpets and Frette linens. In winter or summer, its zebra-carpeted Brown Room lounge is a perfect setting for a glass of wine and a good book (or a flirtation), and its pool and beachfront setting make the hotel the most desirable place for both couples and families. A huge colonnaded porch overlooks the lawn and ocean, and many rooms have balconies. Rooms range from $115 to $450 double.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.