Cape May Point: Dolphins at Jetties, "The Rips," St. Mary closes, Swim with Caution
Updated: Sep 13, 2021
On my entire walk of the Jersey Shore coastline from Sandy Hook to Cape May, only once did I see dolphins swimming off the beach. Yet, when I reached Cape May Point where the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean meet, dolphins were everywhere in the swirl of currents that attract fish. When I returned a few weeks later, yet more dolphins appeared.
Here is your best chance of seeing dolphins from the beach on the Jersey Shore here in Cape May Point. Walk out to the beach from the eastern side of Cape May Point or from the parking lot at the Cape May Lighthouse State Park and look for a jetty. It's the first jetty you come to after leaving Cape May about a mile and half to the east.
Not far beyond the usually calm waters breaking at the beach, you see currents of these two large bodies of water crashing into each other. The dolphins know a good fishing spot when they see it and are often spotted here. Take time to walk along and keep an eye out for fins breaking the water in rhythmic patterns. Early morning and sunset are often the best time to see the wildlife in the area.
You'll also see plenty of fishermen along the series of jetties that define the beachfront of Cape May Point. Like the dolphins, they are hoping to catch dinner.
The third sign you know you've found a good spot for dolphin watching is that the boats offering dolphin cruises are often right off shore.
While this confluence of currents is ideal for dolphins, these are treacherous waters for swimmers. The locals call it "The Rips" for the rip currents. Pay heed to the signs posted by Cape May Point: Swim near a lifeguard. If you are there off-season and unfamiliar with these waters, do not walk out onto the jetties or allow young children to wander too close to the beach.
(From the vantage point of the beachfront or boardwalk, this is a breezy overview of what you see, where to park and beach access, plus a bit or history and the latest happenings. See map below.)
Buy the #1 NJ Travel Guide:
at the Emlen Physick Estate
Stop at the Gift Shop at the historic Victorian Emlen Physick Estate for autographed copies of the #1NJ Travel Guide, 100 Things to Do at the Jersey Shore. The shop is located at 1048 Washington Street. While there, tour this historic estate or take a trolley ride.
St Mary-by-the-Sea Retreat House closes
The most iconic building in Cape May Point will soon be no longer. It was originally built as the Shoreham Hotel when the area was known as Sea Grove. Later it served as the Home for Aged and Infirm Colored People and was briefly leased to the U.S. Army during World War II. For most of the past century, the building was known as St. Mary-by-the-Sea Retreat house for the Catholic order, the Sisters of St. Joseph. Under the red roof with its simple crosses, it's quiet now. The Sisters closed the retreat and have said they intend to "return this land to nature" instead of using it for future development.
How did Cape May Point get its name?
Originally, the town was known as Stites Beach. In 1867 the name was changed to Sea Grove by Alexander Whilldin who hoped it would become a religious retreat like Ocean Grove or Island Heights in the northern part of the Shore. However, commerce intervened, and four hotels were built, including The Shoreham Hotel which became St. Mary-by-the-Sea Retreat House.
It was part of Lower Township; then it wasn't and eventually became a town in 1908, taking its name from nearby Cape May with a nod to "the point" of the Cape May Lighthouse, which is not part of town.
Owing to its religious heritage, Cape May Point is one of only four towns (including Ocean Grove, Ocean City and Wildwood Crest) that are dry. Unlike those other towns, there are very commercial or entertaining venues in the town, so there the point is nearly mute.
Tips for visiting Cape May Point
What's New: Nothing new to report
Access and Parking: The main access to the area is from the Garden State Parkway which ends at Exit 0. Go straight into Cape May proper on Lafayette and head west along Sunset Boulevard. The main street in Cape May Point is Cape Avenue. The Cape May Lighthouse and the World War II Lookout Tower are not part of the town.
Beaches: Beach badges are required daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Full season badges are $40 for people 12 and older. Weekly badges cost $25. Daily badges cost $10. Badges can be purchased at the beach.
This summer, follow Jersey Shore author and expert R.C. Staab as he walks the entire 139 miles of the Jersey Shore coastline from Sandy Hook to Island Beach State Park, Long Beach Island from Old Barney to the Edwin Forsythe Wildlife Refuge and from Brigantine to Cape May.
Next stop: Sunset Beach at Jersey Shore Walk Mile at the final stop. See profiles of Cape May Parks, Cape May, Two Mile Beach and Diamond Beachand every beach and town along the Jersey Shore at www.jerseyshorewalk.com