Delaware manages to pack a lot (including space to stretch out) in its 25 miles of Atlantic-facing shoreline. Each beach community has its own personality, while three state parks with both ocean and bay frontage provide abundant spots for cycling, water sports and nature exploration.
Not only is this a great destination for anyone seeking a summer beach vacation, but the compact nature of the location also makes it a terrific spot for families with diverse interests.
Beach towns: Each with their own personality
Lovers of history will appreciate the town of Lewes (pronounced “Lew-iss”), billed as “the first town in the first state.” Founded in 1631 as a Dutch colony, Lewes is situated where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean at Cape Henlopen.
Be sure to stop in at the Zwaanendael Museum before exploring the town on foot. The reconstructed Dutch-style structure houses exhibits on the town’s past, providing context for the many historic buildings scattered along its streets.
Rehoboth Beach is among those rarest of places: a beachfront community that still manages to be full of small-town charm. Delightful Craftsman-style cottages line the shaded side streets, and hotels are of the small, independently-owned variety.
Drive into town along Rehoboth Avenue, a wide, tree-lined boulevard anchored by a large gazebo (we told you it was quaint!) at the beach. Restaurants, high-end boutiques and antique shops line the avenue which is peppered with small pedestrian alleys that lead off to even more delightful retail nooks and crannies.
A traditional boardwalk runs along the roughly one-mile length of town. However, only the central 5-6 blocks are devoted to classic beachfront treats: pizza, French fries, ice cream and, of course, salt water taffy.
Young kids will squeal on the carnival-style rides at Funland, while their older siblings can crush it in the adjacent games arcade. The remainder of the boardwalk is fronted by small hotels and well-kept homes tucked into the grassy dunes.
Those looking for a livelier atmosphere will appreciate Dewey Beach, the two-block-wide strip of land between the ocean and Rehoboth Bay. Sidewalks ensure easy walkability between the hotels, restaurants and bars along the bustling Coastal Highway and bay front.
Dewey is an excellent place to indulge your love of watersports. Rent a jet-ski or stand-up paddleboard, or even go parasailing for a bird’s-eye view, before coming back to earth to enjoy a cocktail while watching the sun set over the bay at the back deck of the Hyatt Place hotel.
The towns along the southern end of Delaware’s coast dub themselves the “Quiet Resorts,” which is an apt moniker. The mostly residential community of Bethany Beach has a main avenue that resembles a mini version of Rehoboth: shops, snack bars and restaurants line the three blocks leading to the beach.
The boardwalk is a pleasant six-block stroll among the dunes. Fenwick Island, the state’s southernmost beach town, was incorporated in 1953 and retains a mid-century beachfront charm, with houses lining the streets to the beach.
State parks in abundance
A significant stretch of shoreline dedicated to state parks ensures a wide range of activities at the Delaware beaches. At least half of the state’s Atlantic coast is public lands; additional bay-facing frontage provides more than enough room for nature lovers to explore.
At the Atlantic coastline’s northern end, Cape Henlopen State Park offers miles of trails through oceanfront scrub and inland ponds for foot traffic and cyclists. The trail is a favorite of First Lady Jill Biden, who recently cycled the trail as part of her 70th birthday celebration.
World War II buffs will enjoy exploring the Fort Miles Historical Area and the remnants of the U.S. military installation that stood guard over the mouth of the Delaware Bay to protect it from the German navy. In addition to an interpretive museum, visitors inspect barracks, a gun battery and artillery park. Additional WWII-era concrete observation towers can be spotted up and down the coastline.
Farther south, Delaware Seashore and Fenwick Island State Parks straddle the Atlantic Ocean and inland bays, providing endless opportunities for watersports and nature exploration. History lovers can visit the beautifully preserved Indian River Life Saving Station in Delaware Seashore State Park. This circa-1876 building details the important – and dangerous – work undertaken by the United States Life-Saving Service (precursor to the U.S. Coast Guard).
Those looking for something a bit more 21st-century in terms of structures will appreciate the suspension bridge over the Indian River Inlet in the park; completed in 2012, this state-of-the-art span has a dedicated lane for bikes and pedestrians.
A Culinary Coast, plus an “ancient” brewpub
Love the beach, but get a little bored with boardwalk grub? Not to worry at Delaware’s beaches. The area is chock-full of terrific eateries, thanks to a collection of chefs who fled the frenzy of big cities in search of a more laid-back lifestyle – and access to abundant locally-sourced provisions.
The waterfront Bluecoast on the bay in Bethany has been a staple of the Culinary Coast for more than 20 years. All the seafood is terrific, but we confess to having a soft spot for the crab deviled eggs – just the right combination of old-school and contemporary.
Looking for organic? No problem at Good Earth Market and Organic Farm, where you can eat right where much of the produce is grown (and purchase some to take home). If fun food in a laid-back setting is more your speed, grab a burger or some fish tacos at the Big Chill Beach Club overlooking both the ocean and that fabulous bridge at Indian River Inlet.
And if brewpubs are more your scene, you’ve come to the right place. Southern Delaware is Dogfish Head country: they’ve been fermenting grains – and serving great food to go along with it – since 1995, long before the brewpub concept was a twinkle in many others’ eyes.
Stop into Dogfish Head’s original “ancient” brewpub right in Rehoboth or, better yet, take a trip a few miles inland to the “mothership” brewery, tasting room & kitchen in nearby Milton. It’s worth it just to see the funky Steampunk Treehouse!
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