Delaware beach towns: Hotels, ice cream, more

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In its 28 miles of Atlantic beachfront, top-rated nationally for water quality, Delaware offers a spectrum of vacation lifestyles, close enough together that you can sample them all. (From the Queens border to to the beach town of Lewes is about four and a half hours’ drive.) Check out Lewes, Dewey Beach, Rehoboth and Bethany Beach.  Let the sunshine and ice cream and pilgrimage begin.

Lewes Beach

Lewes' beach is on the bay, not the
(Credit: Alamy/joel zatz)

Founded in 1631, Lewes bills itself as “The First Town in the First State” and has the redbrick churches and shops and maritime charm to go with it. Its beach is on the bay, not the ocean, but attractive ocean shores are found right next door at 5,193-acre Cape Henlopen State Park (no entry fee.

WHERE TO STAY: The boutique Hotel Rodney is full of quirky vintage charm, with a glass-block wall, zebra rug and carved elephant chairs in the lobby; there’s also a cozy bar and free coffee. (142 Second St., 302-645-6466, hotelrodneydelaware.com, from $149)

 

Lewes shops

Founded in 1631, Lewes bills itself as “The
(Credit: Alamy )

WHAT TO EAT: After that bike ride, you’ll want a tall ginger lemonade at Nectar Cafe and Juice Bar (111 Neils Alley, 302-645-5842, cafenectar.com), where the menu ranges from a vegan cauliflower “steak” to an excellent pot roast sandwich. Try a lobster pizza and a kale-brussel sprout salad on the patio at Half Full (125 Second St., 302-645-8877, halffulllewes.com), and pursue the ice cream obsession at Kings (201 Second St., 302-645-9425), this reporter’s favorite. Remember these words: butter brickle.

WHAT TO DO: Lewes is made for strolling. Top stops include the Zwaanendael Museum of Delaware history (102 Kings Hwy., 302-645-1148); the beautifully kept old graveyard at St. Peter’s (Second and Market streets); and the selection of jigsaw, crossword and other puzzles at Lewes Gourmet (110 Front St., 302-645-1661). The ferry to Cape May, New Jersey ($10, kids under 6 free, capemaylewesferry.com), is an 80-minute cruise with lighthouses, seabirds and dolphins. Bring bikes or rent them — the trails at Cape Henlopen State Park wind through dreamy wetlands and connect to the Junction and Breakwater Trail through farmland and woods down into Rehoboth.

WHERE TO STAY: The boutique Hotel Rodney is full of quirky vintage charm, with a glass-block wall, zebra rug and carved elephant chairs in the lobby; there’s also a cozy bar and free coffee. (142 Second St., 302-645-6466, hotelrodneydelaware.com, from $149)

Rehoboth Beach

Rehoboth Beach is essentially the capital of the
(Credit: Alamy/Danita Delimont)

Rehoboth Beach is essentially the capital of the Delaware coast, a classic beach-and-boardwalk scene that’s No. 1 with vacationers from D.C. and has special appeal for restaurant mavens.

WHERE TO STAY: There are rentals to suit all parties and purses on vrbo.com, and a couple of hotels right on the boardwalk: The Boardwalk Plaza (2 Olive Ave., 302-227-7169, boardwalkplaza.com, from $296) and the Atlantic Sands (101 North Boardwalk, 302-227-2511, atlanticsandshotel.com, from $340), both with swimming pools. The 1940s vintage Shore Inn (37239 Rehoboth Ave., 302-227-8487, shoreinn.com, from $100) caters to gay visitors.

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Rehoboth Beach boardwalk

Dozens of boutiques, two outlet malls and no
(Credit: Alamy)

WHAT TO EAT: You won’t find a beach town with better restaurants than Rehoboth, many more than you can get to in one trip. This year our favorite was Salt Air (50 Wilmington Ave., 302-227-3744, saltairrestaurant.com), with specialties ranging from a pork chop brined in sweet tea to one of the prettiest, most satisfying vegetarian plates anywhere.

WHAT TO DO: Dozens of boutiques, outlet malls and no sales tax make Rehoboth Beach a magnet for shoppers. You can continue the retail therapy at the Dogfish Head Brewery (320 Rehoboth Ave., 302-226-2739, dogfish.com), serving exclusive microbrews, small-batch gin and vodka, and a classic brewpub menu. It also has a kiosk full of cute merch.

Dewey Beach

Dewey’s beaches are alcohol-free and offer special treats
(Credit: The Washington Post / Getty Imag/AJ Chavar)

Known throughout the Delmarva Peninsula as Party Central, with a string of open-air bars packed day and night with young revelers, Dewey has more going on than just guzzling. For one thing, it’s a dog-lover’s paradise. Pooches are allowed on the beach before 9:30 a.m. and after 5:30 p.m.; you’ve never seen more bounding, leaping, sniffing and wagging in one place. “These dogs are living the dream,” one pet-owner said. 

WHERE TO STAY: Dewey Beach is where we found our dream condo on vrbo.com; $3,000 a week in high season and worth every penny. There are motels galore for those who are saving their money to spend on margaritas.

Bethany Beach

Having begun life as a Christian retreat in
(Credit: Visit Delaware)

WHAT TO EAT: Casual cafes and takeout abound. Try Baked (2000 Coastal Hwy., 302-212-5202, bakedindewey.com) for lattes, sweets, breakfast and lunch; and Sugar Monkey (1705 Coastal Hwy., 302-227-2498) for crepes and frozen yogurt. Compare the fresh, hot doughnuts at Wings to Go (1814 Coastal Hwy., 302-227-9555) with those up the road at the Fractured Prune (20214 Coastal Hwy., 302-227-0747, fracturedprune.com). A local contender in the homemade ice cream competition is Vanderwende’s (23 Bellevue St., 302-858-8003, vanderwendefarmcreamery.com).

WHAT TO DO: Dewey’s beaches are alcohol-free and offer special treats for kids: bonfires with giant marshmallows (Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 7-9 p.m.) and family films on the beach (Mondays at 8:30 p.m.; schedule at beach-fun.com/dewey-beach-info/dewey-beach-activities).
 

Bethany Beach

Sandwiched between Bethany and Ocean City, Maryland, is
(Credit: Alamy /William S. Kuta)

Having begun life as a Christian retreat in 1900 (and remaining dry until 1984), pretty, sparkling Bethany Beach is a quieter, more conservative take on the boardwalk empire. Almost everything here rents by the week, so the family feel dominates.

WHERE TO STAY: The Marriott Ocean Suites is right on the boardwalk and has an upscale terrace restaurant (99 Hollywood St., 302-539-3200, marriott.com/hotels/travel/rehri-bethany-beach-ocean-suites-residence-inn, from $492).

 

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