Follow the sun and fun in DE beach towns
Bethany Beach, Dewey Beach, Rehobeth Beach and Lewes – all are inviting seaside villages
With their location on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay the string of beach towns on Delaware’s southern shore have a long maritime history that played a vital part in defending our country during World War II. Today they are thriving beach communities, popular retirement areas and small business centers. From Fenwick Island, the southernmost Delaware beach town to Lewes in the north, it’s less than 30 miles so you can easily explore and enjoy the family-friendly areas and discover the towns’ distinct personalities. In early days the area was known for its fishing industry and shipwrecks off its coast, but today you’ll find both quiet and lively beach towns and popular getaways. Most beaches have lifeguards and bath houses and all an easy drive from nearby east coast cities like Baltimore, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia.
Over the years we’ve visited the shore several times in summertime and off-season and always find something new to explore. Most recently we took a south to north trek beginning on the Delaware-Maryland border at Fenwick Island, a quiet coastal town on a barrier split and the last town before crossing from Maryland to Delaware. A boardwalk and beach line the Atlantic shore with motels, inns and vacation rentals, a popular choice for families. The Discoversea Shipwreck Museum there gives an overview of the scope of the dangerous shoreline with exhibits of thousands of recovered shipwreck artifacts. You can launch a kayak or small boat from nearby Little Assawoman Bay and explore the calm waters there.
As you drive north on highway 1, the Coastal Highway, from Fenwick Island you’ll pass specialty shops and restaurants, but just a block to the east are settlements of summer beach houses on the Atlantic shore, with those on the west overlooking Little Assawoman Bay.
South Bethany and Bethany Beach
The charming Bethany settlements are inviting with a beautiful beach area. Bethany Beach has a popular boardwalk spanning the beach with an iconic clock and clusters of walkabout food, beach gear shops and restaurants overlooking the beach. For .25 cents a ride you can take a trolley to get around so bring quarters.
Just north of Bethany you see an expansive bridge over the Indian River Inlet, an impressive site, with bookend Delaware Seashore State Parks. The park has campgrounds at two locations one on each side of the Indian River Inlet that accommodate a variety of camping units, from tents to large recreational vehicles. There are cabins for rent at the Indian River marina in the park. With six miles of ocean and bay shoreline park visitors enjoy shore fishing or casting a line from the rocky jetty and watching boats travel in and out of the Indian River Inlet.
The Indian River Life-Saving Station was built there in 1876 for use by the United States Lifesaving Service. The museum is the fully restored station with maritime exhibits and historic reenactors who periodically demonstrate turn-of-the-century techniques to rescue passengers and sailing ships in distress.
For information on the Bethany-Fenwick area go to www.thequietresorts.com.
Just north of the state park and inlet is the small town at Dewey Beach, which invites quiet sunbathers and not-so-quiet revelers for a lively night life of entertainment. We like the Bottle & Cork sign calling itself the “Best rock and roll band in the world”.
With its bayside clubs and live music and eclectic restaurants Dewey is considered funky by some, and the best of the beach towns by others.
We noticed parking signs for “Fishing” along the Coastal Highway where you can pull off the road onto a sandy parking area, park your vehicle, unload your gear and do some surf fishing. (You need a permit.) Tower Beach, another fishing spot notable for its WWII watch tower on the beach is easy to spot.
Rehobeth is just a few miles north of Dewey Beach and in the news as the summer Camp David for President Biden and his family. Rehobeth is known for its busy boardwalk lined with restaurants, shops, hotels and amusements and wide sandy beach.
We picked up the section of the Delaware Junction and Breakwater Trail along Kings Highway (US9) and joined joggers, bikers and parents pushing strollers before reaching Lewes.
For Rehobeth and Dewey Beach information go to www.visitrehobeth.com.
The early history of Lewes goes back to Dutch settlers who arrived in the 1600s but perished. They are remembered at the Zwaanendael Musuem, a showcase for Lewes area maritime, military and social history. Lewes was known for its menhaden fishing industry, an oily fish used by Native Americans to fertilize crops, then by European settlers for lamp oil. By 1938 Lewes was known to have an impressive fleet and the largest processing plant in the country.
Delaware’s spotting observation towers
With the rise of World War II eleven concrete bunkers were built between 1939 and 1942 to stand guard on the shore of the Atlantic and Delaware Bay to site enemy warships off the coast. The spotting observation towers were triangulated to determine the exact location of a ship; it’s a far cry from the GPS we all take for granted on cell phones. At Cape Henlopen State Park you can see the tower and museum located at Fort Miles military installation. The park also features biking and hiking trails, a nature center and lighthouse along with lovely stretches of beaches.
Shoppers enjoy the eclectic stores and walkable town of Lewes that runs along the Lewes-Rehobeth Canal. Savannah Road runs through town leading to the town’s popular beach making it a popular beach vacation. Pilottown Road parallels the canal with a waterfront canal park with tennis court and ball field and the Overfalls, a lightship that served as a floating lighthouse at the mouth of Delaware Bay.
Lewes is also the western terminus for the Cape May to Lewes Ferry so many vacationers combine both destinations in their plans.
In town we’re always intrigued by the private homes at Shipcarpenter Square, a community of 1720 to 1880 structures that were moved from their original sites and restored. Nearby in front of the Lewes Historical Society you’ll see a large Menhaden Net Reel, a giant net used to encircle a school of menhaden for processing.
The beach towns of southern Delaware have a unique mix of history and recreation all revolving around the water that surrounds them, which makes the area so enjoyable to visit.
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