Only 48 miles apart, these two coastal New Jersey towns are as different as night and day. My recent trip concluded with time to experience each place in just enough detail.

I spent a little less than four hours in Atlantic City. I visited Trump Plaza and gambled a bit, then walked the famous boardwalk along the ocean, buying another round of “happy crap” and sampling salt water taffy before gambling a bit more at Caesar’s. It was a beautiful day on the eastern seaboard, and now I can say I’ve walked the boardwalks “from coast to coast.” I had a great afternoon, and emerged a few bucks ahead, too!

Cape May, however, stole my heart. I had two full days to prowl the streets, so to speak, while my traveling companion was at work. And I enjoyed every minute!

Cape May has an ‘off season,” a concept as unfamiliar to me as Halloween without the candy… Here it was, the last week of October, and I walked by storefront after storefront sporting signs thanking everyone for a wonderful summer and saying they’d return next spring. I estimate a full 60 to 70% of businesses were closed for the winter… In October!

But I had a ball anyway. The shops that were open were having great sales. And since there were a scant number of “tourists” browsing through, the shopkeepers had plenty of time for idle conversation, which happens to be a specialty of mine.

Turns out that Cape May was originally named Cape Mey, after the Dutch sea captain Cornelius Mey who first explored the area in the 1600s. When the British arrived, they changed the name of the place to reflect the English spelling.

A trolley-tour of the historic district was one of the highlights of my visit. Cape May boasts over 600 Victorian style homes, and the tour guide told many interesting stories as we passed by numerous “homes with history.” No two homes were alike, either in design or paint color choices, and the intricate “gingerbread” woodworking was spectacular.

On the corner of Jackson and Washington is the Jackson Mountain Café, so named because it is the highest point in the area, a full 14 feet above sea level. The amicable guide joked that someday they may put in a ski lift.

Just out of town is the Cape May Lighthouse. A large Coast Guard station is nearby. For a few minutes, it felt just like home, with a cloudy temperature in the mid-fifties and a murky-gray ocean washing shells upon the beach.

I was quite at home in Cape May, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to visit there during the “off season,” when the “tourists” are not so prevalent. It was fun to walk their concrete “promenade” (winter storms destroyed the wooden boardwalk so many times the walkway is now paved), and watch the fishermen cast lines into the surf.

We flew out of Philadelphia the next morning, bidding a fond farewell to the East Coast for now. Already I’m anticipating our next adventure!