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Cape May Point: St Mary's Rescued from Demo. Fishing. "The Rips," Dolphins Where the Waters Meet

St. Mary as viewed from the ocean looking toward Cape May Point

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. 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.


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 with lighthouse in the background

St Mary-by-the-Sea Retreat House Saved from Demo!

Last year, it appeared that the most iconic building in Cape May Point would most certainly be demolished. But St. Mary-by-the-Sea has been saved from demolition.

Originally, St. Mary's was 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. Last year, under the red roof with its simple crosses, it was quiet and empty. The Sisters closed the retreat and said they intended to "return this land to nature" instead of using it for future development.

But then local residents formed a nonprofit and convinced the Sisters to sell it to them for $5.5 million to create a scientific research center. A mortgage was taken on the Cape May National Golf Club to make the purchase, and the money was loaned to Cape May Point Science Center, LLC. This is a new non-profit that is seeking to raise money and create partnerships to advance scientific study of Cape May's role in the New Jersey eco-system.

Cape May Point literally in the shadow of the lighthouse

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: See info about St. Mary's.

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.

Amenities: None

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.

Follow Jersey Shore author and expert R.C. Staab as he recounts his 2021 walk of every beach along the 139 miles of the Jersey Shore coastline from Sandy Hook to Cape May. Read all updated stories at


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