Most of Delaware’s more than one dozen popular beaches are situated to the south of Delaware Bay, all offering enriching encounters with the natural world along the Atlantic coastline as well as exciting old-fashioned pastimes that are a wonderful way to make memories.
The Delaware shore’s cottage-filled beach communities, home to typically no more than a few hundred to a few thousand year-round residents, are part of a lowland landscape that includes picturesque growths of trees and tall grasses, marshlands, and fishing towns. Moreover, they are ideal locations for birdwatchers, who can view shorebird migrations in stunning detail with a good pair of binoculars. The atmosphere at each beach is slightly different, each offering its own special character to appreciative locals and tourists.
Remember a few basic tips: Other than at Rehoboth Beach and the other seaside towns that are filled with boardwalk eateries and activities, it will be best to bring your own food and drinks since the natural wonders of plants, flowers, birds, and sea-swept scenery take center stage amid roads less-traveled. Some attractions may only be open seasonally, or they may be operating under pandemic conditions, so check ahead.
Also be sure to bring insect repellent and observe current social distancing, masking, and other public health measures.
1. Rehoboth Beach – Old-fashioned family fun
Rehoboth Beach is a family-friendly dream of a seaside resort town, offering arcades, an classic east coast beach atmosphere with plenty of souvenir shops, and charming walks along its boardwalk banked by sun-soaked sands. Rehoboth is a relaxed, laid-back generations-old town that can still offer a sophisticated experience in its many one-of-a-kind restaurants and cocktail bars. And Dolle’s famous salt-water taffy, gooey fudge, and caramel popcorn make the day complete. (Dolle’s recently transitioned from its century-old location at 1 Rehoboth Avenue into a partnership with Ibach’s Candy by the Sea, only 100 yards farther down the boardwalk.)
On the boardwalk, Funland features 20 pay-as-you-go rides, including bumper cars, along with more than a dozen midway games, a video and pinball arcade, and more. The Boardwalk Plaza Hotel offers longer-term stays amid a Victorian decor updated with modern conveniences.
2. Bethany Beach – Fun at a slower pace
Bethany Beach brings its own distinctive low-key style to Delaware’s leisure-time mix. Located south of Rehoboth Beach, Bethany also calls to visitors looking for a family-focused day of sun, fun, activities, and treats. Its broad boardwalk, which winds for half a mile along the beach, takes visitors past opportunities to enjoy tax-free shopping, play a round of mini-golf, and find delicious seafood and refreshing ice cream. Local favorite restaurants, such as Bluecoast Seafood Grille, offer quality waterfront dining set against sunset views. Perucci's Italian Restaurant is a family-owned gem that is also a family favorite.
Bethany Beach’s numerous specialty shops feature bicycle and jet ski rentals, as well as surfing gear for enjoying the waves. Summertime events fill the calendar, such as the weekly Bonfires on the Beach and Movies on the Beach in the early evening.
The many beach houses that dot the coastline along Bethany Beach provide larger groups of friends and family with a convenient way to enjoy a getaway together, while lodging in and around the area includes both chain hotel brands and unique venues like the 12-room Addy Sea Historic Oceanfront Inn.
3. Dewey Beach – Nightlife by the sea
Dewey Beach, adjacent to Rehoboth Beach, is a smaller and quieter alternative, but one that bills itself as having a “rock-and-roll soul.” Like its neighbor, Dewey offers myriad opportunities for strolling, shopping, and dining, but it is especially noted for its nightlife. Its sophisticated but relaxed clubs and bars serve up craft beers and cocktails, with venues like Bottle & Cork hosting exciting live music events.
Of special note for visitors to Dewey is its many music festivals, which include a Sea Witch Halloween & Fiddler’s Festival that begins in Rehoboth Beach and spills over into Dewey Beach.
Dewey Beach is also a favorite for visitors who enjoy its May and October community sidewalk sales, beach bonfires, and casual activities like beach yoga.
4. Fenwick Island – History set against scenic splendor
The town of Fenwick Island includes a state park with a surrounding beach, offering numerous opportunities for kayaking, paddleboarding, sailing, and other water sports, as well as swimming, walking along the boardwalk, and enjoying the array of colors in the sunsets on Assawoman Bay. The small barrier island town was, during the days of World War II, a part of the Delaware coastal defense network, and a concrete observation tower from that time can still be seen in the park.
The Fenwick Island Lighthouse is a historic site. First put into operation before the Civil War, the 87-foot-tall white brick lighthouse tower was equipped with a then-state-of-the-art Fresnel lens capable of being sighted from as far as 15 miles out to sea. The Friends of the Fenwick Island Lighthouse typically run tours from May through September.
5. Delaware Seashore State Park – Doorway into the wild
The close to 3,000 acres of Delaware Seashore State Park, about midway between Rehoboth Beach and Bethany Beach, offer multiple beachfronts to enjoy. Surfers especially have found much to love here, as have fishing and boating enthusiasts.
There are reserved areas for surfing and fishing, and a designated launch site for non-motorized watercraft. Convenience stations offer access to snacks, showers, restrooms, and rentals of items including umbrellas and rafts. Summer brings in the season of special family education programs in the park.
Park visitors can also hike (yes, hike) to Burton Island Nature Preserve starting at the Burton Island Trailhead. The nature preserve, known as the most remote location in all of Delaware, is isolated, quiet, and filled with a variety of wildlife and plants. Boardwalk trails span ecologically sensitive marshlands, home to numerous turtles and nesting birds. A hike through the nature preserve on Burton Island and the bird-rich Thompson Island can easily fill an entire day.