Live Like a Native: Delaware Must-Dos
A long list of fun things to do in the First State.
Photo by Steve Legato
Toast our great wine. Both Nassau Valley Vineyards and Pizzadilli Vineyards are producing some very good vintages. The younger Harvest Ridge Winery is winning awards left and right. And if you’re lucky enough to live within striking distance of the Pennsylvania line, you can skip to the vineyards and wineries of the Brandywine Valley.
Merman? Indeed: half-monkey, half-man. See it at the Zwaanendael Museum in Lewes.
Dine in The Green Room of the Hotel du Pont. Notice the servers’ white gloves. Examine the vaulted ceiling. Savor delicious food and wine. Have a macaroon. These days, truly fine is simply too rare.
Party on. From Rehoboth’s Sea Witch Halloween celebration and Lewes’ Mid-Atlantic Sea Glass and Coastal Arts Festival to the Apple Scrapple Festival in Bridgeville and Community Day in Newark, we find great reasons to celebrate.
Go to St. Anthony’s Italian Festival on the closing Sunday for Mass in Italian, followed by the Festa Patronale procession, when statues of revered saints travel through Little Italy.
Enjoy other ethnic festivals—Polish, Greek, Latino and more. Wilmingtonians love to share their cultures. That’s not to mention big celebrations by the Indian, Korean and Chinese communities.
Wander Old New Castle. See The Strand and Market Green much as they existed in the 1700s. On Day in Old New Castle in May, tour some of the most historically significant homes in the state.
Do the Halloween Loop in Trolley Square. With so many tipsy, costumed revelers, it’s as close to Carnival as you’ll get in this part of the world.
Speaking of Trolley Square, don’t miss St. Patrick’s Day at Kelly’s Logan House. It’s probably the state’s oldest St. Patty’s tradition.
Grab a hot chocolate at the Middletown Volunteer Hose Co., then stake a spot on Main or Broad to watch the whacky New Year’s Day extravaganza known as The Hummers Parade.
Catch a concert at The Grand Opera House. Whether you are into the symphony, jazz, rock ’n’ roll or country, the acoustics are amazing. Look up—the ceiling murals of the muses and gilding are unlike any you’ll see in Delaware.
Canoe through a swamp of bald cypress at Trap Pond in Laurel. Primeval barely describes the experience.
Eat at the beach. Delaware’s Culinary Coast has become a destination for talented chefs, ambitious restaurateurs and foodies with high expectations. (They are never disappointed.)
Visit the wildlife refuges at Prime Hook or Bombay Hook during the height of the fall migration. Few places host as dense a population of waterfowl. Snow geese can white out the sky.
Visit Hagley Museum to learn about water power on the Brandywine, then tour Eleutherian Mills to see how some members of the du Pont family lived over a span of 150 years. The property is exquisitely beautiful.
On the second Sunday of May, attend Point-to-Point at Winterthur. Prepare your best tailgate party. Be named tops by celebrity judges. For the next year, enjoy your new status as Delaware royalty.
"The Mermaid" by Howard Pyle at the Delaware Art Museum
Go to the Delaware Art Museum. Find “The Mermaid” by illustrator Howard Pyle. Look at the blue of the ocean. Wonder if you’ve ever seen color so translucent.
Help trim the sails on the Kalmar Nyckel. Imagine you are one of the first 24 European settlers in Delaware. A summer sail out of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry Terminal gets you out on the ocean for a taste of sea travel in the 1600s.
Visit Dewey Beach during the annual Greyhounds Reach The Beach in October. It’s a gathering for greyhounds, owners and dog lovers. At dawn, humans and hounds converge on the beach. You will never see so many greyhounds in one place.
Pry the shells off a few Delaware Bay blue crabs at Sambo’s Tavern in Leipsic. Owners Ike and Elva Burrows buy directly from the watermen who tie up at their dock. Eating there is arguably the most authentic local dining experience in the state.
Steamed Delaware Bay blue crabs at Sambo's Tavern
Sit at the counter at Charcoal Pit and order a burger and a milkshake. Better yet, get the Kitchen Sink—20 scoops of ice cream with every sundae topping you can imagine.
Do the first-Friday Wilmington Art Loop. It’s a great way to support local business and artists. Visit downtown spots, where you can be part of the revitalization of Wilmington.
Take a Polar Bear Plunge. If you can’t do, then watch. The looks on everyone’s faces as they come out of the water is enough for you to be glad you’re wearing a coat.
Join 20,000 other Fightin’ Blue Hens fans for an afternoon of tailgating and football at Delaware Stadium, or join the crowds of Hornets at Delaware State University. Don’t miss the marching bands.
Sit behind the home dugout for a Wilmington Blue Rocks game. Bring a ball or program and a Sharpie for autographs. You never know which player will make it to the bigs.
Take a walk at stunning Longwood Gardens. Or, better yet, go during the holidays and see the amazing light display. For a more natural experience, see the native gardens of the Mt. Cuba Center.
See a show at one of the following: UD’s Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware Theatre Company, OperaDelaware, The Playhouse on Rodney Square, the Schwartz Center for the Arts, Clear Space Theatre, World Café Live, or Smyrna Opera House. And don’t miss First State Ballet Theatre.
Slurp oysters and munch egg salad sandwiches at the male-only Georgetown Fire Company’s annual Oyster Eat in February. Ladies do their thing the same night at the Lewes Fire Department’s Shrimp Feast. Traditions don’t run any deeper.
Drive your four-wheeler onto the beach for fishing at Cape Henlopen. Big stripers run in the fall. After you’ve caught your limit, pull into the park’s campground, pitch a tent and grill your catch of the day.
No election is over until Return Day on The Circle in Georgetown. Watch the bitterest of rivals bury the hatchet (or not) as they ride together in a parade of traditional carriages. Get there early for your share of the roasted ox.
Did you know Delaware was the first state to conduct a trial by a jury of peers? It’s just one of the many firsts in the First State. Learn more at the Delaware History Center, the state archives, and our sports halls of fame.
Fort Delaware gets the glory, but you can also poke around Fort du Pont in Delaware City, Fort Miles at Cape Henlopen and Fort Saulsbury near Slaughter Beach.
Relive your childhood at Funland on the Rehoboth Boardwalk. The place still has the same boats, planes and fire trucks you enjoyed as a kid. A Nic-O-Boli or Grotto Pizza is mandatory, as are Thrasher’s fries and Dolle’s caramel popcorn.
Visit Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island during an October weekend, when local ghost hunters lead paranormal investigations. The stories of unexplained knocking and footsteps—especially in the kitchen area—are legendary.
The annual Nanticoke Powwow, held in Millsboro each September, is a glimpse of our bygone native culture, as well as traditions from tribes across the country. The music and dancing is transfixing.
Attend the Delaware State Fair. Enjoy a chicken dinner in the Grange Hall. Catch the tractor parade and a grandstand concert by top country music artists. Pet baby goats and chicks.
Tube or paddle down the Brandywine. During the relaxing two-hour tour, take in the local wildlife and sip on your favorite beverage. If you see a rope swing dangling from a tree—you know what to do.
Climb Rockford Tower. You never knew there were so many trees in Wilmington.
Make a day of it at Indian River Inlet. Scour Coin Beach with a metal detector to uncover treasures from a long ago shipwreck. Go after a big storm, when the sand has been churned and the booty has been freshly stirred.
Stroll down the cobblestones of Monkey Hill and duck into the Brandywine Zoo. The otters are almost always worth the price of admission.
Handline for blue crabs at the old Love Creek Bridge in Long Neck, at Holt’s Landing off Del. 26, the bulkhead at Camp Barnes in the Assawoman Wildlife Area, or Rosedale Beach. Tying chicken necks to a string has never been so fun.
In October, tour research vessels, touch sea life and eat sea life at UD’s College of Earth, Ocean and Environment campus in Lewes during the annual Coast Day. The crab cakes and oyster fritters are worth the trip.
Go to the state capital and tour Legislative Mall and The Green. The iconic Legislative Hall defines our history—and our future.
Go sledding at Brandywine Creek State Park. It’s all downhill from the visitor center. No run is longer, and no tableau is more Currier & Ives. In Newark, take your Flexible Flyer to the Carpenter Recreation Area of White Clay Creek State Park.
Try rock climbing at Alapocas Cliffs via top ropes and a belay partner. This is our own El Capitan.
Drive Del. 9. from the Reedy Point Bridge to Dover Air Force Base, the scenic byway winds past farms, marshes and woodlands, revealing the best of coastal Delaware at places like Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge.
NASCAR/Photo courtesy of Dover International Speedway
Attend a NASCAR race either in spring or fall at Dover International Speedway. Snap a photo with Miles the Monster, then hit the hotel and casino for dinner at Michele’s and some slots.
Shop for every kind of treasure at Spence’s Bazaar in Dover. Find everything from vinyl records to used tools. See the show on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Since the 1740s a ferry has operated on the Nanticoke River at Woodland, just west of Seaford. Today the Woodland Ferry runs from morning to dusk daily.
Hit a classic breakfast place for your foundation meal: Helen’s Sausage House near Smyrna for terrific sandwiches of—what else?—and Kozy Korner on Union Street or Angelo’s Luncheonette on North Scott Street in Wilmington for good food and a regular sighting of local movers and shakers.
Explore Delaware’s Spencer churches, and learn about Peter Spencer, who founded African Union First Colored Methodist Protestant Church and Connection, more commonly known as the A.U.M.P. church in 1813, which led to the African Union Methodist Church (A.U.M.) and the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church (U.A.M.E.)
Head to Main Street in Newark for hip shopping, adventurous dining and, yes, Saturday-night cruising.
Visit Barratt’s Chapel near Frederica, which was the Cradle of American Methodism. Then see Carey’s Camp Meeting between Millsboro and Gumboro to experience a bit of disappearing Delaware.
Taste the popcorn at Auburn Heights Preserve in Yorklyn. The secret to its superiority is the steam-powered popper it’s cooked in. Then sea your little engineer on the 1/8-scale live steam railway for a round trip on the Auburn Valley Railroad. Don’t miss the large collection of vintage Stanley steam cars.
Get low. We are, on average, 62 feet above sea level, making us the lowest state in the nation. Those who seek relief from coastal flooding, head to highpoint Ebright Road: 447.85 feet above sea level. Only Florida’s high point is lower.
Tour Chateau Country to see how the other half once lived. Start at Winterthur Museum Garden and Library on Kennett Pike. On Rockland Road see how Pierre Samuel du Pont III designed his Georgian-style Brantwyn to look like Bois-des-Fosses, the du Pont estate in Chevannes, France. A tour of neighboring Nemours Mansion includes views of the world-renowned gardens and meticulously restored interior. Granogue, another du Pont manse, is still privately owned, but you can glimpse its dramatic roofline from several vantage points on Beaver Valley or Smith Bridge roads.
Take a self-guided walking tour of First State Heritage Park in Dover. Delaware’s first urban history park links important cultural sites from the Johnson Victrola Museum to Legislative Hall. Visit the Biggs Museum of American Art to see one of the state’s finest private collections. And see the beautifully preserved State House Museum.
Tour the five houses owned and operated by the Historic Odessa Foundation. Spend extra time at the Corbit-Sharp House, a 22-room brick structure built in 1774 by William Corbit, owner of a tannery on Appoquinimink Creek. The holiday tour in early December is a good time to visit.
Say goodbye to summer. The annual Bethany Beach Jazz Funeral lures mourners to the boardwalk each Labor Day to join in a wailing procession, accompanied by two jazz bands. Pallbearers carry a casket with a mannequin corpse that represents summer.
Visit the Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village on Dupont Highway in Dover to get a glimpse of our farming past. Thousands of objects from the 1800s are displayed.
Honor our own jazz great at the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival every June in Rodney Square. Free concerts feature the hottest jazz, funk and blues musicians alive.
The Brandywine River Museum offers a unique collection of American art and celebrates the famous paintings of the Wyeth family.
3rd Wave Brewery in Delmar/Photo by Kevin Fleming
Have a beer. We have a host of great local breweries: Twin Lakes in Newport, 16 Mile in Georgetown, 3rd Wave in Delmar, Mispillion River in Milford, Fordham & Dominion in Dover and the mighty Dogfish Head in Milton.
Frightland, on U.S. 13 just south of the canal, is a must-do in October. Walk-through attractions like the Crazy Corn Maze and a hayride provide plenty of thrills and chills for all.
Swim at the beaches. They’re clean. The Natural Resources Defense Council ranks Rehoboth and Dewey as No. 1 for having the cleanest swimming water in the country.
Experience Separation Day. New Castle’s biggest party celebrates “the three lower counties” seceding from Pennsylvania in the 18th century, thus making us Delaware. It’s one great parade, and one great fireworks display.
Shelter your money. Vehicles such as the Domestic Asset Protection Trust keep your money safe from some creditors, and the income is tax-free for residents.
See the Delaware Symphony Orchestra. In a state blessed with great community orchestras such as Newark and Dover, DSO stands out as a regional leader.
Look for our celebs: Aubrey Plaza from “Parks and Recreation” and actors like Johnny Gallagher, Ryan Phillippe, Valerie Bertinelli, Andrew and Elizabeth Shue.
Hike our section of The American Discovery Trail. The country’s first coast-to-coast, non-motorized recreational trail begins at Cape Henlopen State Park, cutting through 44 miles of mostly farmland before continuing through 14 more states to Point Reyes National Seashore outside San Francisco.
A horseshoe crab on Delaware Bay
At the height of the full moons in May and June, go to Big Stone or Bennetts beaches to see the profusion of spawning horseshoe crabs. It happens nowhere else in the world. Watch your step.
Go to a gala. From Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition’s Northern Lights of Life and the Delaware Horticulture Society’s Rare Plant Auction in the Longwood Gardens Conservancy to the White Party at the Indian River Life-Saving Station Museum for the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation, our big nights out are special, indeed.
See Bethel. You’ll have to love the townies—all 199 of them—who move there to live in this 18th-century shipbuilding center. That, or just really lovely historic homes.
Go shopping. It’s tax free. The fact never gets old.