If you love towns with rich theatrical history, colorful festivals, and old school traditions that Cape May, New Jersey is known for, then here are 15 similar towns that share the same values and vibes.
Cape May is the quintessential Victorian seaside town on the Jersey Shore. The town has a rich history that has been lovingly preserved, and it is dotted with quaint cottages, antique hotels, and beautiful yet subtle summer homes. With old school traditions like saltwater taffy, family-owned stores, and cotton candy, it is the ultimate beach town experience.
Located on the Cape May Peninsula, where Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic, Cape May is one of America’s oldest holiday towns. Its close-knit community comprises a population of less than 4000, but that explodes to almost 50 000 in the summer months when the tourists descend.
The Cape May beaches are a regular feature on Top 10 lists, and several local attractions will suit many tastes. The gingerbread architecture and heritage sites will thrill history buffs and pop culture fans who can indulge in the annual jazz and film festivals. For the more discerning art lover, the town is rich with theatrical history and Home to the Cape May Equity Theatre, the Robert Shackleton Playhouse, the East Lynne Theater Company, and the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities.
Cape May does not come cheap and is one of the most expensive vacation towns, costing an average of $253 per night. As a result, its economy relies heavily on tourism and hospitality.
1. Montauk, New York
Montauk is a hamlet on the easternmost point of Long Island. It is a renowned tourist destination and has the largest commercial fishing fleet in the state. In addition, there are six state parks in Montauk and ranches that tourists can visit to enjoy outrides and take in the picturesque views, plus it has world-class beaches and golf courses.
Like Cape May, Montauk has a small population (less than 4000) that explodes during the high season. However, they both also have humid, subtropical climates with mild summers and cool winters.
Montauk is a typical fishing village. Unlike Cape May, its architecture is colonial Dutch. Its name comes from the Motaukett, an Algonquian tribe that lived in the area.
At an average daily rate of $312, Montauk is the most expensive beach destination in the United States.
2. Chincoteague, Virginia
Chincoteague is a small town in Accomack County and includes the mainland and Chincoteague Island. While it is mainly a tourist destination relying heavily on income from the hospitality industry, it is also famous for its seafood industry, exporting oysters, clams, crabs, and fish. Located on a bay, its beauty lies in its magnificent sunrises and fishing village charm. The area is also famous for its locally-named Chincoteague ponies – a wild horse breed native to the area.
Chincoteague Island’s population is similar to Cape May’s, with around 4000 people. They both have beautiful beaches that entice bathers during the humid summers and a charming Victorian small-town feel.
Although Chincoteague is a popular tourist destination, it doesn’t reach the volumes that Cape May experiences, and it is a lot more affordable.
The average cost per day is around $210
3. Duck, North Carolina
Unassumingly nestled along Route 12 in the northern Outer Banks is a quaint, quiet, and charming beach town that you may just find creeping into your heart. The Town of Duck, North Carolina, is a coastal hamlet with deep blue waters and beaches, wooded wetlands, maritime forests, and spectacular panoramic views. Duck’s natural beauty and all-American small-town charm create a similarly warm atmosphere to what you might experience in Cape May.
This cozy seaside oasis has a population of just under 600 – a far cry from Cape May’s 4000. But in peak vacation season, that booms to as high as 20 000. Duck is peppered with small, independent businesses and mom & pop stores. Popular destinations include the Duck Town Park and Boardwalk.
Duck is a family vacationer’s dream, with rustic bike trails, kayaking in the sound, white, sandy beaches to take in during the hot summers, incredible shopping, and legendary donuts.
The average cost per day is around $260.
4. Rehoboth, Delaware
Rehoboth, Delaware, is a coastal town with a classic, all-American aesthetic, located on the scenic edges of the Delaware Shores. You can take idyllic walks along the ocean-front boardwalk, enjoy a little quiet contemplation, or family fun on one of the town’s phenomenal beaches. You could even head to the local amusement park.
With a population of around 1600 off-season, Rehoboth’s population soars to about 25 000 during the summer peak rush. Like Cape May, there is a lot of old-school charm on offer, complete with saltwater taffy and ice cream shops. But Rehoboth is better known for its popular party scene, which especially picks up in summer. Travel reviewers have often suggested that it’s more about the beach in Rehoboth than commercial attractions.
Rehoboth has fewer chain hotels and congestion than Cape May does, even in peak season. And because Delaware is a tax-free state, there are no beach-tag fees. So, in the summer, Rehoboth springs to life with concerts in the bandstand, a choice of kids’ activities, and even occasional movies on the beach.
There is also plenty of natural beauty in the surrounding area, with state parks framing the outskirts of Rehoboth and Dewey Beach. This makes Rehoboth an excellent destination for hikers, campers, cyclists, and birdwatchers.
The average cost per day is around $270.
5. Tybee Island, Georgia
Just 20 minutes from downtown Savannah, you’ll find the pristine, white sandy beaches of Tybee Island, Georgia. Tybee Island is known for its diverse ecosystem, consisting of Atlantic shorelines and natural marshes. And if you look carefully, you may even catch a glimpse of a dolphin or two in the water.
There are old forts to explore, a historical lighthouse to admire, and museums to lose yourself in for history fans. Tybee Island’s population is a modest 3400 or so. But that changes in the summer when tourists flock to this historical town to enjoy the beach and local attractions.
Tybee Island is one of the most historic sites in the United States, with plenty of old Victorian charm, much like Cape May. The Island is known for being a little quieter than Cape May and other similar destinations, though, making it a better fit for travelers who prefer peace and quiet on their getaways.
The average cost per day is around $310, making it one of the more expensive destinations on this list.
6. Sanibel Island, Florida
Temperate Sanibel Island on Florida’s Gulf of Mexico side is excellent for romantic getaways, family trips, or outdoor adventures. With 15 miles of unspoiled beaches, a mix of scenic bike paths, and a wealth of bird, fish, and plant species, you won’t even need to stop at any traffic lights in this town. Why? Well, because there aren’t any. Just ask any of Sanibel Island’s 7300 or so residents.
The reason for the lack of roadside illumination is, some of Florida’s seaside communities have lighting codes to protect the sea turtles along beaches. The codes limit street lighting to curb the unnatural brightness on the shoreline.
Natural sights and sounds are Sanibel Island’s biggest draw. In that respect, you’ll find it’s not quite as full of commercial attractions as Cape May. It’s a paradise for anyone on the back of a bicycle, though.
Collecting seashells on Bowman’s Beach is a popular pastime, as the Island is known for the incredible variety of shells washing up onshore. There is even a National Shell Museum to visit. You could also go animal spotting at the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, explore Sanibel Lighthouse Beach Park, or have a lazy lunch on Blind Pass Beach.
The average cost per day on Sanibel Island is roughly $250.
7. St. Augustine, Florida
With its Spanish colonial history, St. Augustine’s is rich in old world history and is the oldest town in the United States to be continuously inhabited. With a population of just over 14 000, the town enjoys hot summers and mild, dry winters. St. Augustine is the birthplace of the late, great Ray Charles. It boasts 43 miles of magnificent beaches. Water sports are a major attraction, and the town draws golfers from around the world. Their biggest industries are agriculture, oil, gas, and mining.
Like Cape May, St. Augustine hums during the summer months, and the streets and shopfronts have an old-school charm.
The most significant difference lies in its larger population, at three times the size of Cape May. Although its history is evident in the architecture, the style is remarkably different and intensely European.
St. Augustine is slightly more affordable than Cape May, with your stay averaging around $240 per night.
8. Ogunquit, Maine
Ogunquit means “Beautiful place by the sea” in Algonquin; and its ivory sand and expansive coastline are unlike the usual rock shores of Maine. It is a feast for those hungry for culture, with an abundance of antique stores, theatres, and art galleries. It is also a gastronomical wonderland, famous for its wine bars and lobster shacks. However, Ogunquit has a humble population of only 1577, and most of the residents commute or work from home unless they are involved in retail within the town itself.
The town shares the same humid summer and cold winters you would experience in Cape May and is a favorite spot for fishing enthusiasts.
Although its population is smaller than Cape may, it is far less dense, and much of Ogunquit lies more than 40ft above sea level due to the rocky cliffs.
Ogunquit is reasonably priced. Compared to similar towns, it averages about $175 per night.
9. Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington
This tiny island village is near Seattle and is accessible by seaplane or ferry. It is painted with quaint bookstores and restaurants. And the beaches engross those who enjoy whale watching and nature hikes. Friday Harbor has a population of 2500 – more than double what it was in the early 80s; and its most significant industry is hospitality. Construction and retail aren’t far behind. Friday Harbor has warm, dry summers that lovers of sailing and the natural beauty.
This town captures Cape May’s small-town charm and is a haven for those who love to fish and enjoy ambling around on a lazy weekend.
Friday Harbor will not give you the boardwalks and beach days you can expect in Cape May; however, its beaches are remarkably untouched and rocky, teeming with wildlife, and the feel is a little more modern than the old East Coast towns.
On Average, you’ll pay around $210 per night when you visit.
10. Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
Carmel-by-the-Sea is a charming, fairy-tale town and a melting pot of Native American culture, with a sprinkling of Spanish and Gold Rush era history. American icon Berry White was born in Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Clint Eastwood served as mayor from 1986-to 1988. In the early 20th Century, Carmel was an artist’s colony, and it is still a haven for those who love arts and culture. Its population of 3220 are mainly involved in the tourism industry, but it is still a retreat for artists and writers who want a tranquil space to create.
Small and close-knit like Cape May, Carmel by the sea is also famed for its beaches and quaint, local eateries.
While Cape May lines the Atlantic, Carmel enjoys crystal clear, warmer Pacific water, and the more western town atmosphere is very different from Cape May’s Victorian feel.
Expect to pay around $280 per day in Carmel.
11. Port Aransas, Texas
Port Aransas has proudly named itself “The Fishing Capital of Texas”, and fishing drives its economy, along with tourism. It is popular with those who love the more adventurous activities travellers can enjoy at the coast. Deep-sea fishing and diving excursions are popular, and its marshy ecology is teeming with birdlife. Port Aransas has a steadily growing population (currently at about 4200), and it enjoys mild winters and warm summers.
Port Aransas is similar in size and population, compared to Cape May, and it has a variety of boutique hotels and cute stores.
Hugging the Gulf of Mexico, the waters of Port Aransas are warm and gentle, quite unlike Cape May, the architecture has a lot of the Civil War era charm you might expect further south.
Port Aransas is quite affordable, however, as you can expect to pay about $200 per day.
12. Cannon Beach, Oregon
Known for its beautiful white sands and seasonal puffin colony, Cannon Beach is one of the Pacific Northwest’s crown jewels. National Geographic named Cannon Beach one of the 100 most beautiful places globally. Haystack Rock, standing 235ft out of the ocean, is accessible on foot during low tide. The economy relies almost entirely on tourism, hospitality, and retail, with a third of its population of 1778 involved in one way or another.
Like Cape May, Cannon Beach is often featured on lists of the best small towns in the United States, with the finest beaches and atmosphere. It may be on the extreme opposite of the country to Cape May, but these two towns are similar in several ways.
Having said that, Cannon Beach offers so much more than just a beach town vibe. Framed by beautiful cliffs and old forests, it is a natural wonderland. Regulations help preserve the town by preventing overdevelopment, and preserving the natural resources,
When visiting Cannon Beach, expect to pay around $205 per day.
13. Newport, Rhode Island
Newport is famed for its magnificent mansions and was the summer haven for business gods such as the Vanderbilts, the Morgans, and the Astors. The Kennedys also have ties to Newport, and the historic Gilded Age mansions are a major attraction. Newport has a large population compared to others on the list, with over 25 000 residents. Its primary industry is hospitality, but its naval base employs 4200 people.
With the Atlantic seaboard in common, Cape May and Newport enjoy a similar climate coastline. They also share a jazz history and draw music lovers to their annual festivals.
Newport is, however, significantly more populated and has a much more colonial feel. In addition, it is considerably bigger and has more full-time residents, whereas Cape May has grown significantly over the summer months.
The average daily cost of visiting Newport is $165
14. Nantucket, Massachusetts
Nantucket is an island just off Cape Cod, famed for its white dunes, surfing, and shabby chic buildings. It’s named for the Nehantucket tribe that inhabited the area at the time of European settlement. Although the economy was initially built on the whaling industry, it is now a tourism mecca, with much of its industry tied to education, healthcare, and manufacturing. With a little over 14 000 residents, the population expands during the summer months, drawing tourists to its beaches, museums, and art galleries.
Nantucket shares Cape May’s beach culture and Victorian-style homes. It also relies heavily on its summer visitors. They both attract many tourists and have featured in pop culture over the decades.
The beaches are less accommodating for those who just enjoy a good swim and sunbathing as it has many coarse shells and steep cliffs. The deliberately worn-out style of Nantucket architecture is also less quaint yet equally endearing.
Nantucket is an expensive choice, averaging about $320 per night
15. Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
Martha’s Vineyard was the setting of Steven Spielberg’s classic, “Jaws”, although it was given the fictional name of “Amity Island”. Although it has a population of over 17 000, it is very much a tourist town, and those numbers grow exponentially during the summer season. As an island, it is surrounded by beautiful beaches and attracts bathers and boat lovers. Although the economy is driven by tourism, it also has a large fishing and construction industry.
Despite its larger population, The Vineyard has the same old-school charm, with mom & pop stores popping up everywhere. In addition, its mild winters and beautiful summers make it a comfortable choice at any time of year.
Cape May is significantly quieter, and its season lasts much longer than Martha’s Vineyard. Cape May’s location also makes it easier to access other small towns and tourist spots during your visit.
Martha’s Vineyard is a pricey option, averaging $284 per night.