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Delaware’s beaches are within easy reach of sun seekers traveling from Washington D.C.; Baltimore, Maryland; Philadelphia and New York’s tri-state area (That’s right, Jersey. There’s more shore down there.) What’s the appeal?
Many of the southern Delaware beach communities in Sussex County have two beach areas, a bayside and an oceanfront. If you’re like me, you enjoy mixing it up on a beach vacation. Spend a sunny summer’s day chasing Atlantic ocean waves during the day. After a much-needed lunch and rest, head over to the Delaware Bay for a kayak or paddleboard adventure.
Want a quieter beach experience? Check out the northern beaches surrounding the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Popular with bird watchers, they offer gorgeous views, scenic bike trails and historic military sites.
It’s all possible on the best beaches in Delaware. Here’s a rundown.
Looking for a classic family beach destination? Then, head to Rehoboth Beach, the granddaddy of the Delaware beaches. Methodists originally established Rehoboth as a summer camp meeting site (like Ocean Grove in New Jersey) in the 1800s, constructing the original boardwalk. The modern version is a mile-long and is routinely a part of Top 10 beach lists.
Families will find traditional amusements, like gift shops, concession stands and the family-owned and operated Funland amusement park. Crowded from Memorial Day to Labor Day, you can have the boardwalk to yourself if you get up for an early morning stroll.
Read More: How to Rent the Ideal Summer Beach House
While Rehoboth is go, go, go, Lewes is more laidback. A traditional coastal fishing town, Lewes (pronounded Loo-is) is located at the intersection of the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay. A popular way to get to Lewes from Cape May, New Jersey, is via the passenger/vehicle ferry. The crossing is 17 miles and takes about 85 minutes. Reservations are required.
Explore the town before or after hitting the beach. Settled by the Dutch in the 1600s, Lewes is proud to be “The First Town in the First State.” Golfers can check out the golf courses in town: American Classic and Midway Par 3.
When you’re ready to swim, head to Savannah Beach or Johnnie Walker Beach. Both have summer season lifeguards, shower and restroom facilities and mobility mats. The Lions Club has beach umbrella and chair rentals at their snack stand at Savannah Beach. Metered parking is in effect from May 1 – September 30 from 9 am to 8 pm.
You can enjoy the best of both worlds at Dewey Beach in Delaware. Enjoy the robust surf on the Atlantic ocean side or wade in the bay’s gentle waters on the other.
If you’re in Dewey Beach on a Monday, head to the beach for free movie nights, sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber also hosts beach bonfires on Wednesday evenings.
And you don’t have to leave your pup behind. Licensed dogs are welcome on Dewey beaches before 9:30 am and after 5:30 pm. Pick up a license for the duration of your stay at the kiosk in front of Town Hall.
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Bethany Beach and South Bethany Beach
Located south of Dewey Beach, Bethany Beach and South Bethany Beach have a more subdued vibe than Dewey or Rehoboth and market themselves as The Quiet Resorts along with Fenwick Island and the inland communities of Ocean View, Millville, Clarksville, Frankford and Dagsboro.
The Bethany boardwalk is charming and the bandstand features live entertainment in season.
The residential feel of The Quiet Resorts area is appealing to multigen families vacationing together. Bethany Beach makes a great destination for girlfriend getaways too. There are a number of excellent dining options in the area, the tax-free shopping is a huge plus and there are attractions like the increasingly popular Delaware Botanic Gardens in Dagsboro for Insta-memories!
Delaware Seashore State Park
Popular with surfers, Delaware Seashore State Park offers every type of ocean fun for families. Camping, surf fishing, lifeguard-protected beaches and spectacular views of the Indian River inlet bridge are some of the many things to do.
The 100-year-old life-saving station gives visitors an overview of the history of water rescues in the area. Pop in if you’re traveling with a teen about to begin that first lifeguard job.
Head to Fenwick Island at sunset to savor the end to a beautiful beach day! Assawoman Bay not only serves up Instagrammable moments, but you can get active by booking a kayak or SUP with Coastal Kayak rentals.
Fenwick Island State Park has an Atlantic oceanfront beach too, with changing rooms and showers, a snack bar and beach chair/umbrella concessions. All Delaware State Park beaches have beach wheelchairs and access mats so everyone can enjoy the sun and fun.
Cape Henlopen State Park
Another of Delaware’s beautiful state parks, Cape Henlopen was once a World War II defense site. This is not unusual. Other popular east coast beach destinations like Georgia’s Tybee Island and New Jersey’s Sandy Hook, were once military installations. Visit Fort Miles at Cape Henlopen after you finish sunning.
Another fun feature at Cape Henlopen is its free bike program. Pick one up at the Seaside Nature Center and enjoy the loop trails at the park.
Located in Milton, Delaware, Broadkill Beach has a remote and isolated feel, due to limited public parking. Most beachgoers stay in the town’s beach vacation rentals and enjoy the splendid isolation.
Surrounded by two nature refuges (Primehook National Wildlife Refuge and Beach Plum Island Nature Preserve), Broadkill Beach offers plenty of laidback adventures, including kayaking, stand up paddleboarding and birdwatching. There’s one general store in town for provisions and beach rentals.
Move past the horror movie name and plan to visit Slaughter Beach if you’re interested in conservation and native wildlife. Founded in 1681, the city of Slaughter Beach prides itself on its designation as a Certified Wildlife Habitat Community, serving as a horseshoe crab sanctuary. The horseshoe crab is the state marine animal of Delaware.
Beach access is near the public parking areas. There’s a bathhouse, playground and pavilion. Slaughter Beach is a popular surf fishing spot. If you encounter a flipped over horseshoe crab, please turn it over. Other wildlife you might spot, include terrapin turtles and migratory shore birds.
Holts Landing State Park
When you need a little waterfront down time, head to Holts Landing State Park. Its location on Indian River Bay is serene. And the activities here are low key. Trails for walking and jogging wind their way through grassy fields and hardwood forests.
Go fishing, clamming or crabbing to catch your dinner. Or engage in non-motorized water sports like kayaking or standup paddleboarding. There’s a pavilion with a fire pit for cool summer nights. And the Friends of Holts Landing State Park sponsor Family Fun Nights and bayside concerts during the summer.
Read More: How to Clean and Preserve Seashells
Getting to the Delaware Beaches
Most visitors to the Delaware beach communities arrive by car, including those who travel from New Jersey via the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. As with all coastal destinations, the summer months mean more people, more cars, more traffic. The central artery connecting the beaches is Coastal Highway (SR 1).
In season, traffic snarls may be unavoidable, but Tina Coleman, Communications Manager for Southern Delaware Tourism, suggests taking a sunny approach. “When you pack the car, pack your Zen, some good music, tasty snacks, then sit back and enjoy the journey. The traffic makes arriving at the beach all the sweeter.”
Once you arrive at your destination, consider ditching your car and hoofing it. I stayed in Dewey Beach at the Hyatt Place on Coastal Highway. The bay beach is steps from the back of the hotel, the ocean’s across the road and there are a ton of drinking and dining spots a short walk away. Biking’s another great option. And Bethany Beach has a very cheap (25 cents!) trolley that will get you around town.
Delaware Beaches in the Off Season
The end of summer is the start of the second season for Delaware beach travel. The pace slows down so you can really appreciate the region’s natural beauty. Bike rides are much more pleasant when you’re not mid-summer sweating. Coleman suggests bundling up for a beach walk. “The dunes are gorgeous, sparkled with frost, and sea glass and shells are churned up by winter winds.”
The good times continue throughout the year with a number of special events. The highlight is Bethany Beach’s Fire and Ice Festival, scheduled for January 27, 28 and 29. It will feature more than 20 LED illuminated ice sculptures celebrating a movie theme with beach bonfires, tastings, live music and fireworks.
Another reason to hit the Delaware beaches in the off season is to take advantage of dining discounts offered by participating Culinary Coast restaurants during the winter months.
Just South of the Delaware Border
Leave Delaware’s Fenwick Island and you’ll arrive in the Ocean City, Maryland, one of the east coast’s most popular beach destinations. It’s got all the razzmatazz you might be looking for in a seaside resort area – a bustling boardwalk, miles of sand for sunbathing and guarded swimming areas plus a vibrant nightlife scene.