The Delaware Beach Lover's Bucket List
Like sands in an hourglass, time at the beach passes too quickly. These are the must-dos.
Taking a stroll through Canalfront Park in historic Lewes is yet another great way to enjoy life at the beach.//Photo by Deny Howeth
► TAKE A WALK ON THE BEACH
The beach is where the soul expands, melts cares, puts you back in touch with the elements. Any beach will do, any time of day, but you can’t beat the sunrise or the sunset for relative solitude and quiet beauty. To catch both in one place, head to the point of Cape Henlopen just after summer ends. The ocean side opens Sept. 1, and the bay side opens Oct. 1. (The areas are off-limits during the summer season to protect endangered birds that nest or feed here, including red knot, piping plover, oystercatcher and least tern.) The point offers views of the two lighthouses and the inner and outer breakwaters.
► FLY A KITE
Long before cornhole and KanJam, there were kites, and breezy, wide-open beaches were perfect places to fly them. It doesn’t matter if you prefer a classic Gayla dime-store model or a two-line stunt kite. Find the goods at Rehoboth Toy & Kite Company in Rehoboth Beach or Tidepool Toys & Games in Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island. For spring fun, check out the annual Great Delaware Kite Festival, held around Easter for more than 50 years.
► TOUR FORT MILES MUSEUM
Cape Henlopen State Park was once the site of Fort Miles, an Army base built to protect the coast during World War II. The Fort Miles Historical Association has transformed Battery 519, under the Great Dune, into a museum with guided tours. Among the highlights are the 12-inch and 16-inch guns that once stood on Navy battleships. (They’re similar to the Army guns that were once on the site.) Outside, wander through the barracks and climb the observation tower—with a clear view all the way to Cape May—part of an 11-tower system used to direct gunfire at enemy ships.
► LEARN THE BACK STORY
Last year, the Lewes Historical Society opened the Lewes History Museum in the old Lewes Public Library on Kings Highway, now the Margaret H. Rollins Community Center. There you’ll find everything from old maps of the area to the uniforms worn by Beebe Hospital medical personnel. But don’t miss the LHS campus on Shipcarpenter Street. The peaceful grounds underwent an overhaul last year. The society also has buildings sprinkled throughout the historic district, including the Cannonball House. Cross Pilottown Road to visit the Lightship Overfalls near Lewes Canalfront Park.
Other area museums to visit:
- Zwaanendael Museum: Modeled after the town hall in Hoorn, Netherlands, this state-run museum commemorates Delaware’s first European colony, Swanendael, which the Dutch established in 1631. It details the Lewes area’s maritime, military and social history, including the wreck of the DeBraak, a British Navy ship that sunk in 1798.
- Milton Historical Society: The MHS is housed in a former Methodist church built in 1857. In addition to managing the collection, the MHS conducts walking tours of the town, once a hub for shipbuilding, canning and holly-wreath making.
- Rehoboth Beach Museum: The Rehoboth Beach Historical Society operates this museum, which is in a former icehouse. Exhibits—often nostalgic, always entertaining—change regularly.
- Ocean View Historical Society: The youngest of the local societies has made remarkable progress in just six years. Like the Lewes Historical Society, it has a campus with historical buildings. It also has a replica of Cecile Steele’s first chicken house, where the world-famous Delmarva poultry industry began.
- DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum: A hidden gem in more ways than one, this museum above Sea Shell City in Fenwick Island houses a jaw-dropping collection of jewelry and artifacts brought up from wrecks off the coast of Delaware and Florida.
► CRACK OPEN SOME CRABS
There are few better ways to spend time with family and friends. You can’t go wrong at the established crab houses, including Lazy Susan’s Hot Fat Crabs in Lewes, which opened in 1984, and Fenwick Crab House, which opened in 1962. In between are The Blue Crab and Mickey’s Family Crab House in Bethany, Claws Seafood House and The Crab House in Rehoboth, and, just north of Lazy Susan’s, The Surfing Crab in Lewes. At most, expect no frills: basic tables or picnic tables topped with brown paper, wooden mallets and loads of paper towels.
► CATCH SOME CRABS
All you need is a simple trap or a length of string, a chicken neck, a net, a bushel basket and a secret spot. That may be the bridge over Canary Creek on New Road in Lewes or a wade into the Little Assawoman Bay at the almost-missed-it parking area in Fenwick Island State Park. We’ll say no more...
► FEAST ON FLICKS
Rainy day? Head to the movies. Your options are limited, but stellar, nonetheless. Movies at Midway in Rehoboth Beach took it to the next level last fall with the opening of The Cube, a 6,300-square-foot space with a 58-by-24-foot screen. The state-of-the-art Dolby Atmos sound system boasts 51 speakers and seven subwoofers. It’s the prime place to catch a summer blockbuster.
If you prefer an indie flick—or the broadcast of a play from the National Theatre in London—head to the Rehoboth Beach Film Society’s Cinema Art Theater. Various film series cover a range of interests, from women’s topics to art and artists to the Jewish experience.
For old-fashioned fun, drive into Dagsboro, where the single-screen Clayton Theatre has been entertaining audiences for nearly 70 years.
► IMMERSE YOURSELF IN ART
More than 100 artists turn out for the Bethany Beach Boardwalk Arts Festival, which traditionally is held the Saturday after Labor Day. Stroll the boards past dozens of tables that feature the best in regional art and crafts. Another highlight of summer is the Rehoboth Art League’s two-weekend show and sale every August. It features some of the best art in the region. Though the venerable art league offers exhibitions all year, the annual sale is the very best reason to visit the beautiful Homestead in Henlopen Acres, an oasis of tall pines between the ocean and Lewes-Rehoboth Canal.
► EAT BOARDWALK FOOD
It may not appear on the nutrition pyramid, but we recognize beach junk as a food group all its own. Douse those fresh-cut Thrasher’s French Fries in malt vinegar and salt. Search out the big clusters of caramel Fisher’s Popcorn, and visit Candy Kitchen for everything from classic candy novelties to salt water taffy. Seaside Country Store in Fenwick Island makes outrageously rich fudge. Dolle’s saltwater taffy and Ibach’s Candy by the Sea chocolates cover all the bases—except frozen custard. They leave that to Kohr Bros. next door—and elsewhere.
► WATCH A METEOR SHOWER
This year’s Perseid event Aug. 11-13 promises to be a beauty, peaking at 60 to 70 shooting stars per hour. There is no better place to see it than a dark stretch of beach. Roll out a blanket, lie back, then let the magic happen. (But remember: Public beaches are off-limits overnight.)
► HAVE A BONFIRE
Was there ever a beach movie without a bonfire scene? A good blaze is as elemental as swimming in the ocean. Enjoy weekly events in Dewey Beach and Bethany. (Marshmallows and sticks provided until supplies run out.) Renters and homeowners in Fenwick Island can apply for a special permit, conditions permitting.
► PLAY ON THE WATER
The protective waters of the inland bays are ideal for exploration by kayak or on a stand-up paddleboard. Outfitters such as Quest Kayak, East of Maui, Delmarva Boardsports, Dewey Beach Watersports, Delaware Watersports and Coastal Kayak rent gear or, if you’d like a guide, lead various excursions. Frequent winds also make the bays perfect places for novice sailors and old salts—check in with Coastal Kayak and Rehoboth Bay Sailing Association for boat rentals—as well as board sailors and kite surfers.
► PERFECT YOUR PUTT
A rousing game of mini-golf is great any time. You won’t lack for options. In Rehoboth Beach, play on the rooftop at Ryan’s Mini-Golf, a boardwalk classic. The throwback course offers throwback prices, and the ocean view rivals that at Pebble Beach. Heading down Coastal Highway from Lewes, you can’t miss the volcano and airplane wreck (formerly owned by local crop-duster Allen Chorman) at Fire Mountain Golf, part of Midway Speedway Park. Chip and putt through lush landscaping at Jungle Jim’s, which has two courses. Practice your best pirate accent at Captain Jack’s Pirate Golf in Bethany Beach. In Fenwick Island, Viking Golf & Thunder Lagoon Water Park promises one of the most challenging mini-golf courses around. You be the judge. No matter your choice, check Facebook or call for hours.
► HAVE MORE FUN
Amusement venues such as Jungle Jim’s and Thunder Lagoon include waterslides and kart tracks with their mini-golf. But the quintessential amusement experience is Funland, where you can watch your kids and grandkids ride the same fire engines, boats and carousel you rode as a tyke. The Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk icon features at least half a dozen of the rides it opened with in 1962, not to mention favorites such as the Paratrooper and new thrillers such as the Super Flip 360. A shooting gallery, arcade games, haunted house and more provide more fun than you can stand in one night—and for far, far less money than any Six Flags park.
BIKERS AND HIKERS ENJOY THE TRAILS AT CAPE HENLOPEN STATE PARK—ESPECIALLY THE GORDONS POND TRAIL, WHICH
► GET BACK TO NATURE
In the shoulder seasons, witness one of the world’s great waterfowl and shorebird migrations at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. During summer, fish one of its ponds or launch at a public boat ramp for a day of crabbing.
In Cape Henlopen State Park, you can fish from a pier on the bay or explore the shoreline from a kayak. Biking or hiking the Gordons Pond Trail or the Junction & Breakwater Trail, which links Lewes and Rehoboth, is a must—an intimate look at the wilder side of the beach. Both trails are part of Cape Henlopen State Park. Visit its Seaside Nature Center for a look at tanks full of local fish and other marine life. Get personal in a touch tank with rays, whelks, horseshoe crabs and other creatures.
Delaware Seashore State Park offers trails on both sides of Del. 1 and the Indian River Inlet.
The Assawoman Wildlife Area has three large land tracts and diverse ecosystems. Look for the protected—and elusive—Delmarva fox squirrel, and keep a sharp eye out for osprey fishing over the bay.
The stretch between the fishing pier and the point at Cape Henlopen State Park is ideal for beachcombing.//Photo by Deny Howeth
► COMB THE BEACH
Eagle-eyed strollers near the Roosevelt Inlet in Lewes often come across sea glass and shards of pottery from the shipwrecks offshore. You might find gold at Coin Beach, just north of the Indian River Inlet, where coins from the Faithful Steward, which wrecked in 1785, occasionally wash up on the beach. Not all that glitters is gold. For some, a unique shell discovered in a tidal pool is also a treasure.
► SAMPLE THE PIZZA
You are either in Camp Grotto, Camp Nicola or Camp Louie’s. If you haven’t made up your mind, try a slice of each. The shops are within 100 yards of each other. Once you’ve decided which is best, join the debates at foodie review sites such as tripadvisor.com. The debate will never be settled, which is what makes it all so much fun.
There are plenty of great places to cast a line at the beach.//Photo by Maria DeForrest
► FISH FROM THE BEACH
Surf fishing was once the national pastime at the beach. Devotees cast before 10 a.m. and after 5 p.m. at municipal beaches. Roosevelt Inlet in Lewes is fair game all day. Surf fishing is also permitted all day at Delaware Seashore State Park, which includes the rip-rapped edges of the Indian River Inlet. For a map of locations, click here. Old Inlet Bait & Tackle can get you rigged.
► ROCK OUT
Two can’t-miss music events have been a mainstay in Dewey Beach for more than 30 years. Thursday nights mean dancing to the music of Love Seed Mama Jump on the deck of the Rusty Rudder. And you never know what might happen during the multiband Saturday Jams at the legendary Bottle & Cork.
► RIDE A BIKE
Early-morning boardwalk cruise, afternoon inlet ramble, evening ice cream run—need we say more?
► PLAY IN THE WATER
Is it a day at the beach without a dip in the ocean?