It’s been awhile since I’ve written a travel article. These tend to get a lot of new traffic to my page, so I try not to inundate my site with them. Though I have quite a few stories of stories to tell yet, let’s talk about the most underappreciated beaches in the US, the Delaware Coast.
A quick lay of the land: the three main beaches are Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach, and Bethany Beach. There are some smaller beaches as well, and we’ll talk about that at the end of the article.
The first thing to understand is that Delaware beaches are underappreciated – not undiscovered. When you go, you’ll find a lot of the standard fare you would find in most any beach oriented economies. Chain hotels, high-end seafood restaurants, both franchised or independent offerings, bars galore, and trinket shops.
Yes, the boardwalks here are like most anywhere, except maybe not as cluttered with commerce, and not as jam-packed with beach goers, but I assure you it’s busy.
Delaware beaches are unique in some aspects however. In all my travels, I’ve never seen beachfront in the US that was commercialized, but at the same time relatively left untouched. Of the roughly 25 miles of beachfront that Delaware has, there is only one boardwalk structure that I’ve seen that stretches through the beach, and that one does not go out into the water. It seems like most everywhere else a walking pier is an inevitability, but not in Delaware.
Some of you may not like that, others will rejoice in the minimalist approach. I think Delaware has made me appreciate the latter.
Rehoboth is probably the most populated of the beaches, but it’s hard to tell – most beaches in Delaware have official populations under 500, but at any one time there’s tens of thousands of people present in the off-season (winter months), and six or seven times that in-season.
If you’re looking for dinner during the week, or brunch on the weekend (a Delaware tradition) and you’re in Rehoboth, look no further than the Blue Moon Café – they have live performances for brunch, and their menu is ‘what’s what’ of mid-Atlantic sea fare. And the drinks are spot on too, if you’re into that sort of thing!
During the day, popcorn fans will have new haunt. Fisher’s Popcorn started as a family popcorn stand in Ocean City, Maryland – a short drive from the Delaware beaches. But since they opened in 1937, they’ve expanded, and now are all over the mid-Atlantic beach scene, and very prominent in Delaware.
The Blue Hen, Henlopen City Oyster House, and Grotto Pizza are also excellent restaurants in Rehoboth to frequent. Be sure to hit up Dogfish Head Brewings as well, located at 320 Rehoboth Avenue. Their beer has been a standard along much of the east coast and beyond for quite a while now, and there’s good reason for that. And no time along the boardwalk would be complete without a stop at Thrasher’s Fries. They have Old Bay flavored fries, for those that like that sort of thing. But they have many more, and I’ll stick with any of those.
Just south is Dewey Beach, which has several B&B and vacation rentals that capture the Victorian-era architecture and furniture that was popular at the time of the beaches were settled formally.
Aside from that, Fifer’s Farm Market Café offers the tradition of farm to table menu that is so rarely seen on beaches.
If you’re looking to stay with a younger crowd, I suggest The Surf Club Oceanfront Hotel, and if you’re looking to relax more, the Bay Resort offers inlet waterfront with similar amenities.
The Starboard, located at DE 1 and Salisbury St is well known for their Bloody Mary’s….it seems catering to hangovers here is a theme.
While Rehoboth is not at all different from the rest of the landscape, you start to notice as you travel south through Dewey that the character and culture changes up from the typical tourist “fast paced” business sector, to calmer people, brighter skies, and hotter sand. While it’s difficult to capture what these beaches must been like when they first became a community – sometime in late 1800’s – it does feel like a sliver of that old culture can be found somewhere around Rodney Avenue. But I do reserve that for the beach front exclusively – businesses here have taken to more updated trends and desires of consumers.
(Writer’s Secret Spot: Nalu Hawaiian Surf Bar, 1808 Coastal Highway – because you can never go wrong with Guava-glazed ribs and Summer Watermelon salad!)
I know I haven’t described the beaches very much up to this point, and for good reason. I wanted to use this point in time to back fill. Call it a cheap trick.
The beaches in Delaware are special for me, not for any usual reason. I’ve traveled a lot of the country by vehicle. There’s only a handful of States I haven’t spent time in at this point, so while I have blind spots, I feel I have a lot of experience I can draw upon to relate one area of the country to another.
One of the things that really draws me into these beaches is the massive amount of sunlight, sky activity, and ocean activity they deliver to the human eye. When you go, pause, take in the scenery these beaches have to offer. While the summer certainly has its crowds, they are not overpowering to the point that you couldn’t isolate your mind and observe.
There’s a grand sense of peace on this section of our country. The view is like a snow globe, all encompassing, round, but past any sense of limitations your eyes may provide. The view here is remarkable, much like the “Big Sky Country” of Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota.
The sand generally stays warm to hot, so I recommend footwear of some sort, though you’ll be barefoot before you know it.
As you continue south on the Coastal Highway, you’ll immediately exit Dewey Beach and drive over Seashore State Park – which is an eco-habitat and beach of tremendous value. Kudos to the State officials that found a way to protect its most sensitive portion of beach, while still providing direct travel for residents and tourists. Coin Beach sits that far southeast of this State park, garnering the name for all the people with metal detectors that have found coins and other valuable metals at the spot for many years.
The Indian River Marina sits on the southwest corner, where numerous fishing charters work from. Just north of the marina is the Burton Island Trailhead, which also has a kayak launch point. From this portion of the park you can discover the countless inlet waters of Rehoboth and Indian River Bays.
Between idyllic beaches, and calm inlets, the Delaware coast has a lot to offer people up for their own adventures.
Continuing south you’ll wind up in Bethany Beach. The first few miles are all privately owned homes.
After that you reach the city core, and like its sister cities, Bethany has local restaurants that deliver. Mango’s serves Caribbean style fare, but don’t expect jerk chicken that’s authentic to Jamaica. It’s still well done.
Sunshine Crepes offers the French breakfast you’re always searching for. Bethany Blues BBQ might be the most interactive of all. Aside from their standard menu, they have event nights, like Bourbon & Barbecue, and Barbecue Class. Who could go wrong pairing grilled meats with bourbon? And the class says it all, you walk in for dinner that you’re going to learn how to prepare. That’s probably not your typical beach weekend event, right? Bethany has a bustling downtown core, but leaves most of the rest for private residents, though the beaches are open to all. That’s just fine by me, people invested in the community are what make any place worth visiting in the first place.
Bethany Beach offers several public parking lots along the boardwalk, but beware they are all relatively small and fill up quick. Don’t be surprised if by 8:00 A.M. they are already full, and you’re stuck walking from your hotel.
Speaking of which, if you are looking for accommodations in Bethany Beach, I suggest The Addy Sea. It’s a B&B, preserved from 1902, and kept in excellent condition. And did I mention it’s located right on the beach? See, I’m solving your parking woes already!
Marriott has a Residence Inn on the beach too, so if you’re more of the hotel type, there are options.
Continuing south even further puts you into South Bethany and York Beaches – these are not beaches advertised to the public, and generally are difficult to access in any succinct manner if you are not a home owner, but they are very lovely if you can get to them. There is a strip mall in this section of beach, back on the Coastal Highway. In it is one of the finest sushi restaurants you can find on the Eastern Seaboard, Misaki. It is quaint, traditional, and very delicious!
The next stop is Fenwick Island, but as you travel south yet again on the Coastal Highway, you’ll notice a concrete tower on the left side of the road with blue and yellow sign in front of it. This is an observation tower that was built during World War II, and there’s a community organization that wants to make it part of the tourist fodder in the area. You can find them at Restore The Tower. They in fact are restoring multiple towers in the area, to include building a new one to mark a previous tower that was either taken down or destroyed.
As you continue down the highway, you’ll think you’ve seen all you can of the Delaware Beaches, and out of nowhere you’ll come across Fenwick Island.
The first thing you’ll see is Fenwick Island State Park, and its large parking lots on the left side of the highway. Then the community will begin to unfold in front of you.
Just Hooked is a locally sourced seafood restaurant you’ll see first, followed by Jimmy’s Kitchen the next block down, which is as eclectic as anything else in Fenwick Island. The difference between this place the other three locations is that there’s a lot of unique personality in Fenwick.
Sea Shell City is a gift shop specializing in sea shell items, but on their second floor is the Shipwreck Museum, which boasts many items that have drifted onto the shores from ships that were lost at sea.
If you’re tired of restaurants at this point, and want to get your own meals cooking, check out Bahama’s Crabshack & Seafood Market – you’ll be cracking crab legs in no time!
Of course, what trip the beach would be complete without a trip the ice cream shop? Kohr Brothers frozen custard is just a block away from the State line with Maryland. Across the street from Kohr’s to the west, and behind Viking Mini-Golf & Go-Carts is The Island Creamery.
And after all that travel, you’ve probably earned a triple scoop.
Lewes is a city directly north of where we started in Rehoboth, and it does get included in the tourist literature if you research the Delaware Beaches. I didn’t include it because I didn’t go there, and it’s not really on the beach. It has a coast line on the Delaware Bay, and specifically right next to Cape Henlopen State Park. And that park marks the true Delaware coastline along the Atlantic.
If you’re looking to do something a little different, check out the Delaware Beaches. They have quite a bit going on without taking up too much of your attention. You’re there for the beach after all.
Closest International Airport: BWI – Baltimore (Reagan National is probably easier to travel from and to however, as it sets you up for direct access onto Highway 50.) Philadelphia is also a viable option.
How to get there: If you use BWI or DCA (Reagan) follow the highway signs to get onto Highway 50, and drive straight through Salisbury to the coast. This will place you north of Ocean City, Maryland. From there turn north on Coastal Highway, which will quickly place you in Fenwick Island.
If you’re coming out of Philadelphia, head south on Interstate 95 and take Highway 322 across the Delaware River. Take the Highway 55 interchange south, and continue south as it turns into Highway 47 through Erma, New Jersey. When you reach Cold Spring, turn right and head into the Cape May-Lewes Ferry Dock. This ferry ride will take you across Delaware Bay, into Lewes, and from there you can make your to Rehoboth Beach first, and head south.
Have a great time!