By Jeff and Stephanie Sylva
The beach resorts of Southern Delaware have long been a popular summertime destination for many, but what we discovered during a recent trip to the area is that in addition to the relaxing beaches of Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island or the bustling beaches of Rehoboth and Dewey Beach, Southern Delaware’s coastal towns have a wealth of other attractions and activities that make Delaware’s southern coast a great year-round destination. With a wonderful blend of history and heritage, arts and culture, and natural beauty—as well as its close proximity to a number of major metropolitan areas—Southern Delaware offers some wonderful treasures to discover and explore.
A Rich History and Heritage
And where do we begin a look at the region’s history but in Lewes—”the first town in the first state.” Located where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, Lewes has miles of beautiful ocean and bay beaches; and, as a result of its special relationship to the sea, Lewes has a rich, historic maritime heritage, which is presented on a series of interpretive signs along the Maritime History Trail. The Lewes Historical Society’s collections also relate the colorful and proud past of Delaware’s oldest town, as does the Zwaanendael Museum, which was built in 1931 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the state’s first European settlement: the Dutch whaling colony of Zwaanendael. The museum is housed in a replica of the City Hall of Hoorn, the Netherlands. Contact the Lewes Historical society for more information at (302) 645-7670 or visit www.historiclewes.org
More maritime heritage is evident in Lewes’s two historical lighthouses, the Delaware Breakwater East End Lighthouse and the Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse. Preservation efforts by the Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation enable visitors to journey to these lighthouses and tour them, where they will hear of their rich history and accounts of great storms, shipwrecks and harrowing vigils to keep the light burning. A trip to the top of the lighthouse offers spectacular views of the coastline. Information on these tours can be found by contacting the Lighthouse Foundation at (302) 644-7046 or visit www.delawarebaylights.org.
Other historical sights worth exploring in the Lewes area include the Overfalls Maritime Museum and Fort Miles Historical Area. The museum is actually the Lightship Overfalls, the last lightship built by the U.S. Lighthouse Service. Built before World War II, the lightship is one of seven lightships in the country still open to the public for guided tours. Call (302) 644-8050 or visit www.overfalls.org for more information. Fort Miles was one of the largest and most heavily armed coastal fortifications ever built. Located in what is now Cape Henlopen State Park, Fort Miles was key piece in the nation’s coastal defense during World War II. The fort, including a World War II observation tower, is now open for tours. For more information call (302) 644-5007 or visit www.fortmiles.org.
A short drive down the coast will take you to two other maritime museums, the Indian River Life-Saving Station Museum located on route 1 north of the Indian River Inlet, and the DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum in Fenwick Island. Step back in time at the Indian River Life-Saving Station and learn about shipwrecks and the brave men who risked their lives responding to them over 100 years ago. Tour the restored 1876 Station that has been outfitted with the equipment used by the crews to save shipwrecked mariners in a time when rescues were made by “iron men in wooden boats.” Call (302) 227-6991 or visit www.destateparks.com/irlss for more information. The DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum contains maritime artifacts from local shipwrecks, as well as a large collection of sea life and shells from around the world. The collection of shipwreck and recovered artifacts is one of the largest in the Mid-Atlantic. Admission is free, but donations are welcome. For hours of operation call (302) 539-9366 or visit www.discoversea.com.
Activities—So Much to Choose From
Southern Delaware is home to over 25 miles of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay, 12 miles of which are contained within State Parks. Two bustling beach towns that have long been popular are Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach. We found Rehoboth to have plenty of options in addition to its great beaches. The mile-long boardwalk is great for an early-morning
jog or bike ride, or perfect for that romantic evening stroll. The boardwalk, recognized as one of the “best in the country” by the Travel Channel, offers dining, shopping, accommodations, and amusements for kids of all ages. Downtown Rehoboth offers a great blend of specialty shops, boutiques, and award-winning restaurants. Serious shoppers will love the Tanger Outlets, with over 130 tax-free outlet stores with name brand merchandise. Dewey Beach, a sandbar community that stretches only two blocks wide between the Atlantic Ocean and Rehoboth Bay, is a water sports enthusiast’s mecca, with skimboarding, surfing, kiteboarding, windsurfing, catamaran sailing, and kayaking available to get you out among the waves.
For those seeking a more serene beach experience, Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island, “The Quiet Resorts,” pride themselves on being some of the few remaining resorts not overwhelmed by commercialism. These resorts’ friendly small-town atmosphere, together with miles of pristine beaches, offers visitors, especially families, a perfect place to relax and enjoy all of the tranquility of a quiet beach community.
In addition to the great beaches of Southern Delaware, a wealth of activities is available. A number of marinas in the area offer boat rentals, fishing charters, tall ship cruises, and whale and dolphin watching tours. From fishing on a quiet pond to trolling the deep waters offshore, the choice is yours. Many of these charter services are available in Lewes, such as Fisherman’s Wharf at (302) 645-TUNA or www.fishlewes.com; Angler’s Fishing Center at (302) 644-4533 or www.anglersfishingcenter.com, and Lewes Harbor Marina at (302) 645-6227. Other marinas include Rehoboth Bay Marina at (302) 226-2012, and Indian River Marina at Delaware Seashore State Park at (302) 227-3071 or www.destateparks.com.
Kayaking and canoeing are a great way to experience the area’s many ponds, rivers, and estuaries. Naturalist-led outings are regularly offered through several of the state parks such as Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Kayak and canoe rentals are available at most of the state parks—call (877) 98.PARKS or visit the state parks website for more information. Local outfitters are also available for rentals and guided tours. Coastal Kayak at (302) 539-7999 or www.coastalkayak.com is one. We enjoyed a rather unique kayak trip with Quest Kayaks—their Pints and Paddles excursion took us on a paddle on the Broadkill River, where we observed a number of bird species including bald eagles, herons, and egrets. After our paddle we toured the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, where we viewed the original as well as new brewing equipment and the new brew house. The tour was capped off with a refreshing tasting session in the tasting room—a perfect way to end our kayaking experience! For information on this and other Quest Kayak adventures call (302) 644-7020 or visit www.questfitnesskayak.com.
Another great way to explore and enjoy the great outdoors of Southern Delaware is by bike. Bike To Go, located in Rehoboth Beach, offers a wide variety of bike rentals and equipment and also provides great information on a number of bike tours for all levels of ability, a number of which avoid heavily trafficked routes. Call (800) 245-8587 or visit www.BikeToGo.com for more information.
A very popular activity in the area is eco-tourism, as birdwatching, ecology tours, and nature centers are plentiful. Delaware Seashore State Park conducts an Inland Bays Ecology Tour that we found very informative and interesting. Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge (302-684-8419 or primehook.fws.gov.) on the western shore of Delaware Bay is an outstanding spot for birdwatchers, as are Cape Henlopen State Park, Assawoman Wildlife Refuge, and Trap Pond State Park (302-875-5133). Nature centers such as DuPont Nature Center in Milford (one of the best spots for observing spawning horseshoe crabs—302-221329 or www.dupontnaturecenter.org), the Center for Inland Bays (302-227-2800) near the Indian River Inlet, Seaside Nature Center (302-645-6852) at Cape Henlopen State Park, and the University of Delaware, College of Marine Studies (302-831-8083 or www.ocean.udel.edu,) in Lewes offer great opportunities to learn more about the area’s eco-systems and man’s relationship to them.
Although many people think of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry as simply a means of transportation from southern New Jersey to southern Delaware, it can actually be a fun activity. The ferry runs year round and has an expanded schedule in the summer months. In addition to a scenic ride across Delaware Bay, passengers can enjoy a number of scheduled events and programs connected with the ferry ride, such as guided trolley tours of Cape May or Lewes, the World War II Trolley Tour and The guns of the Delaware, a marine naturalist program, a “Rock the Boat” cruise, a Lighthouse Pete’s Family Fun Cruise, or a Cape May County Zoo Trip. Some of these events are included in the price of the ferry ride. For more information on these and other ferry trips, as well the ferry schedule and prices call 800-643-3779 or visit www.CMLF.com.
Still looking for more to do? How about a round of golf? Two great public courses are The Rookery, located nine miles north of Rehoboth Beach (302-684-3000 or www.rookerygolf.com), and the beautiful Baywood Greens, located 15 minutes from Rehoboth Beach (888-844-2254 or www.baywoodgreens.com). Other area activities include amusements parks at Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk, Viking Golf Theme Park and Thunder Lagoon on Fenwick Island, Jungle Jim’s River Safari Water Park (302-227-8444 or www.funatjunglejims.com), and the Pirates of Lewes Expeditions, a swashbuckling pirate adventure of fantasy and fun that includes water cannons, painted faces, sailor sashes, treasure maps and sunken booty (302-249-3538 or www.piratesoflewesexpeditions.com).
In addition to the craft brewery tour and tasting at Dogfish Head in Milton (302-684-1000 or www.dogfish.com), the Nassau Valley Vineyards near Lewes (302-645-9463 or www.nassauvalley.com) offers free self-guided tours in the winery’s five galleries and tastings. Pack a picnic and enjoy the pastoral setting on the 116-acre farm.
Arts and Culture
Southern Delaware may have plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy in its beautiful natural surroundings, but this doesn’t mean the area lacks cultural events. Art galleries abound in Bethany Beach, Fenwick Island, Lewes, and especially Rehoboth Beach. A listing of galleries, as well as information on performing arts and theaters, can be found in the Southern Delaware Tourism Bureau’s publication “Southern Delaware—Discover Our Treasures,” the bureau’s official visitor’s guide and vacation planner. Visit the bureau’s website at www.VisitSouthernDelaware.com to obtain a copy and for more information on a variety of topics including information on dining, accommodations and the area’s annual events and festivals, such as the Autumn Jazz Festival.
Other sources of information about the art scene in Rehoboth are the Baltimore Avenue Studios En Masse (BASE) which can be found at www.baseartists.com and the Rehoboth Art League at www.rehobothartleague.org.
Be sure to check the schedules for the Rehoboth Beach Bandstand Summer Concert Series (they’re free!) at www.rehobothbandstand.com; the Freeman Stage at Bayside entertainment schedule at www.freemanstage.org; the Coastal Concerts in Lewes, a series of world-class classical music concerts, at www.coastalconcerts.org; the Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra at www.midatlanticsymphony.org; and the Rehoboth Beach Theatre of the Arts, which presents live shows and tribute bands, at www.rehobothbeachtheater.com.
Coastal Delaware—Great Year Round
Rehoboth and the other coastal towns are great during the summer months, but don’t forget about the off-season. We went in mid-May and loved walking the boardwalk, paddling the Broadkill River in kayaks, and experiencing an eco-tour on Rehoboth Bay without the crowds. With all of the historical, cultural, and naturalist activities available, plus fabulous shopping, restaurants, and great discounts on accommodations, off-season is a great time to visit Southern Delaware.