It’s the holiday season! And what better way to continue to celebrate the upcoming Christmas and New Years holidays than by spending time at the New Jersey shore! Over two weekends in December, my wife and I returned to two favorite shore stops: Cape May and Sandy Hook. Cape May, America’s oldest beach resort town, has been my shore destination of choice since I was a child. A few years ago, my wife introduced me to the beauty of Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook, a 27,000-acre wilderness and historic district along the Atlantic Ocean, overseen by the National Park Service.
So join us on a holiday season journey to the shore! Along the way, we’ll see some amazing wildlife, eat great food (as always), and share some updates from our readers.
Cape May at Christmastime
If you’ve read the blog more than once, this location should be instantly recognizable: Cape May, New Jersey. Located at the southern tip of New Jersey, the area was first explored in the early 1600s, and has been a beach resort town since the mid-19th century (via Wikipedia).
With little traffic on the roads, we headed toward the shore, figuring on a leisurely night of Christmas shopping in many of the stores that dot the downtown section of Cape May.
We arrived just in time for a gorgeous sunset.
Cape May is ostensibly an island, separated from the mainland of New Jersey by the Cape May Canal. You access the island by way of two bridges. As soon as we crossed the Route 162 bridge, we encountered a police road block – we had stumbled into the 2021 West Cape May Christmas Parade. Taking detour after detour, we slogged our way toward the Washington Mall area, and encountered thousands of people who were waiting for the parade, eating out, and shopping. So. Many. People.
We decided to make the best of it, and once we found a parking spot (needless to say, we had a good hike), set off to explore the holiday offerings. Congress Hall, a resort hotel built in 1821, looked resplendent.
After doing some Christmas shopping amidst the hordes of tourists, we decided to call it a night, pick up dinner, and head to my family’s shore house. Once again, Fish and Fancy fulfilled all of our seafood takeout needs. If you’re keeping score at home, I had the crab cakes, my wife had the seafood combo (grouper, scallops, and shrimp), and we shared a calamari appetizer. How was it? Delightful!
Although a bit chilly, we encountered beautiful weather the next morning.
And of course we started our morning with takeout from Uncle Bill’s Pancake House. I was so hungry by the time I got the food home that I forgot to take a picture! That’ll be pecan pancakes for me, and gluten-free pecan pancakes for my wife. Yum!
After breakfast, we decided to hike through the South Cape May Meadows bird and wildlife sanctuary. Operated by The Nature Conservancy, the Meadows is an important stop for migratory birds along the Atlantic Flyway. The Flyway is a major north-south route for migratory birds in North America (via Wikipedia), and Cape May is a natural resting point on their yearly journey.
One of the trails takes you to the beach, where we had a fantastic view of the Cape May Lighthouse.
I caught these swans with my camera as they soared overhead.
Last year, I purchased a Canon EOS 5d Mark IV camera – this pro-level dSLR is easily the best camera I have ever owned. It can be endlessly configured to suit the needs of the photographer, and I recently discovered a tweak to the autofocus settings that seems to better fit my shooting style. These geese made for a good test subject with the new focus settings.
My wife spotted this majestic great blue heron sitting in the marshland. I trained my camera on it and waited, hoping for a dramatic takeoff… and waited… and waited… and waited…
My (and my wife’s) patience was finally rewarded when the bird took off and zoomed by. This is one of my favorite bird photos that I’ve ever taken.
Before leaving, we took a quick detour to take a “glamour photo” of my Accord beside the Cape May Canal. Although I’m fastidious about my car’s appearance, I’m happiest when there is sea spray on the paint and beach sand in the floor mats. It’s a 2-door coupe with the soul of a beach buggy.
On the way home from our trip to Cape May, my car crossed 187,000 miles. However, that would not be the end of the Accord’s milestones this month, as we had another trip planned a few weeks later… Sandy Hook
After a fun weekend in southern New Jersey with family, my wife and I set off for Gateway National Recreation Area – Sandy Hook, a preserved wilderness that juts into both the Atlantic Ocean and Sandy Hook Bay.
Earlier in the weekend, my wife had seen reports online of seals, snowy owls, and fox activity in the park. We headed out in the late afternoon to try to spot some of this elusive wildlife.
In the summertime, there is frequently a line of cars waiting to pay the entrance fees to the park. In the off-season? No lines, and no fees!
As we drove through the park, we saw a group of people clustered by the side of the road. We parked the car and walked over to see what caused the commotion. A pair of wood storks had landed in Sandy Hook. These birds are native to far warmer climates, and are typically found in Brazil, Central America, and Florida. Cold weather destinations like New Jersey are not where these birds ordinarily migrate.
The wood stork was once known as the “wood ibis,” although it is not a member of the ibis family (via Wikipedia). After snapping a few photos, we set off to continue our exploration.
The previous day, seals had been spotted sunning themselves on the jetty near Officer’s Row, the former homes of US military personnel who inhabited Sandy Hook when it was an active military base. Alas, we would encounter no seals, no snowy owls, and no sly foxes. Sigh.
Rather than sulk at our misfortune, however, we tried to make the best of it, such as taking photos of Sandy Hook Light. Built in 1764, it is the oldest working lighthouse in the United States (via Wikipedia)…
…and the Accord had its mandatory “glamour shoot” on the former Fort Hancock military base.
On the way to check out Battery Gunnison (more on this later) we passed the entrance to Gunnison Beach, New Jersey’s only legal clothing optional beach (i.e., nude beach). With temperatures in the low 30s and a gusting wind, our clothes stayed securely on our bodies!
Fort Hancock was a major gunnery base, with artillery trained on the entrances of New York Harbor to defend it from enemy attacks. Battery Gunnison (named after a US Army engineer killed by Native Americans in Utah in the mid-19th century) features two 6-inch guns which were designed to track and destroy smaller, fast moving targets.
During World War II, Battery Gunnison operated on 24-hour duty, with rotating crews manning the guns to defend New York against possible attack. Battery Gunnison was decommissioned in 1948 and left to the elements, until 2003, when a volunteer organization began slowly restoring the gun battery to its former glory, intending it to serve as a living history monument of an era long gone (via Wikipedia).
With New York City visible in the distance, you can see just how critical this gun battery emplacement was to defending allied shipping during World Wars I & II.
After leaving Battery Gunnison, we drove to the northernmost tip of Sandy Hook, where we had a terrific view of the Manhattan skyline.
This reed grass made for a cool subject…
…and was even cooler as the sun set in the background!
We were treated to a gorgeous sunset over Sandy Hook Bay.
As dusk descended, I managed to grab a shot of Navesink Twin Lights. Built in 1862, these two lighthouses stand 246 feet above sea level. Navesink Twins was also the second stop when my wife and I completed the 2018 Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey.
After our latest weekend adventures, my Accord now sits at less than 12,000 miles until the big 200,000… onward! And You Get a Car Update! And You get a Car Update! And You Get a Car Update!
Before closing, I wanted to share some readers’ automotive updates and pass along some news about the cars in our garage:
My friend Steve sent me this cool shot of his 2017 Honda Ridgeline behaving exactly like a Ridgeline should – off-road, covered in dirt, taking Steve and his family on a hiking trip. Readers may remember Steve as my co-pilot for a drive up Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. His Ridgeline, bought new, is now at 63,000 miles. Thanks for the update, Steve!
Meanwhile, High Mileage King (and friend) Justin has crossed yet another milestone – 880,000 miles is in the books as he and his 2003 Honda Accord coupe begin their assault on 900,000 miles. Remember, folks, this Accord is still running on its original engine. To quote Darth Vader: “Impressive. Most impressive.”
Meanwhile, my Accord had its first mishap in quite a while, although it was only a minor snafu. For a few weeks, the low tire pressure light kept coming up on my dashboard. I’d fill the tire, and within 4-5 days, the light would come back on. I took the car to BC Tire in Piscataway, New Jersey, where I bought my most recent set of tires. The culprit was a small nail, which was removed and the tire was repaired. The shop also balanced the wheels, as I had a slight vibration at high speeds. The cost out the door? $0. Gotta love good customer service!
Meanwhile, Grace, our Jeep Grand Cherokee, hasn’t been making too much news lately. We’re saving her up for a big road trip later this week. Grace did, however, cross the 75,000 mile threshold recently. She got a trip to the mechanic last week for a pre-road trip checkup, where she passed her stem-to-stern inspection with flying colors. Onward!
Finally, I wanted to pass along some holiday wishes and share this image of my Dad’s neighbors… this family is definitely taking a low-key approach to Christmas decorations, right? Wrapping Up
While I always love to spend time at the Jersey shore, the Christmas season is an extra-special occasion to visit. From shopping, dining, and taking in the beautifully decorated Victorian homes in Cape May, to getting away from the stores and photographing wildlife in Sandy Hook, the Jersey shore can certainly help you create whichever holiday memories you seek!
Thanks, as always, for coming along on yet another journey down the open road ahead, and stay tuned for a monster road trip adventure in the coming weeks!
And from the offices of The Open Road, best wishes for happy holidays, Merry Christmas, and a good New Year.
‘Til next time.