I like to think I know from beaches. I grew up in California, spent summers in Tahoe, and racked up several dozen sunburns in Hawaii. I thought I would always live on the West Coast – kind of felt stuck to be honest – and wouldn’t see the rest of the country except on trips.
Then – like about half of us living in Greater Richmond – I got the call to relocate. And many boxes later I’m tickled to call myself a Virginian. But I was a bit surprised by something I found living on the East Coast. Beach loyalists! It seems everyone we meet has a beach they deem The only place to summer. You’ve got your Outer Banks devotees. Your Virginia Beach-is-good-enough-for-me crew. Your Sandbridge outfit, the Myrtle Beach contingent, the Hilton Headers, and so forth.
I’m not married to a beach per se; I like to keep my options open. Case in point: Last summer I met something new. This beach goes by the nickname the Nation’s Summer Capital and the many DC folk who have focked to it for decades apparently agree.
Rehoboth Beach – and the beaches flanking it, Lewes, Dewey, and Bethany – are lined in white sand and sit on the hem of the second smallest state in the land, Delaware. Now before you assert, “You’re kidding me. I’m not driving to Delaware!” I have two words for you – time travel. Yes, you too can spend your vacation circa 1960. Back when cars wore fins, Jackie wore pillboxes, and Tvs wore rabbit ears.
Welcome to the beach that developers forgot. Somehow the mega-hotels-this, product-placement-that folks bypassed the Delaware shores. Nobody visited, looked around, and declared, “Say! Why not put ten thousand hotel rooms here?” Or if they did, they didn’t get away with It. Instead many long-time families own various establishments throughout the beach communities and hire college kids in the summers to throw the switch for the bumper cars, run hotel front desks, lifeguard at hotel pools, and wait tables.
Rehoboth Beach – my current find – is adjoined by a vibrant boardwalk and bustling Rehoboth Avenue with restaurants, boutiques, and upscale memory shops (that’s code for souvenirs). Rehoboth Beach has everything a family could want for a quintessential day at the beach like clean Sand, enthusiastic surf, but not so enthusiastic that you’re terrified for the kids – and a wholesome atmosphere where your beach neighbors aren’t, uh, next to naked.
You have friendly college students rushing to set up lounge chairs and umbrellas. Meaning no schlepping. You’ve got dolphins leaping in the surf and pelicans flying overhead. And the mom in me was thrilled to see little spigots sprinkled throughout the boardwalk for cleaning sandy tootsies, plus sparkling bathrooms with about a zillion stalls each.
My nine-year-old boys were immediately drawn to the beautiful Rehoboth boardwalk. Here, Funland – a classic seaside amusement park – owned and operated by the Fasnaught family since forever, screams summer fun for the kids. Bumper cars, old-fashioned arcade games, and a beautiful carousel mean you’ll need serious muscle to shoehorn the kids out of this spot.
The boardwalk is also home to many restaurants, popular pizza stops, and happy browsing where you can shop a favorite like Ann Taylor or check out one of the Avenue’s Cool boutiques.
The town of Rehoboth itself is sweet with well-kept cottages, tidy lawns, art galleries, more restaurants, and several fabulous hotels. Rent beach bikes or even a quadra-cycle and take one of the “seven best Rehoboth beach rides” that the friendly staff at Bike to Go will happily point you towards. (BiketoGo.com) Or hop the Jolly Trolley, a shuttle that runs between Rehoboth and Dewey beaches making over a dozen stops daily from eight to two in the morning. Tickets are cheap at around $2.50 a person; just a dollar for kids five and under. JollyTrolley.com
And the dining? Well, to call what we did dining would be a stretch. Scarfed is more like it. Just a block off the strip we scarfed at Nicola’s – owned by Nick and Joan Caggiano since ’71 – serving fattening, delicious, and awesome pizza. Nicola’s atmosphere is just as fantastic as its menu with a train circling overhead, kids’ menus, high chairs, and crayons for the crabby. NicolaPizza.com
One afternoon we scarfed frozen custard. If you haven’t had the pleasure, frozen custard is essentially eggs added to Ice cream making a particularly creamy dessert. The custard is made on property and, in rehoboth Beach’s case, comes in many fun flavors. My husband also downed thrasher’s Fries and declared them something unintelligible that sounded positive. We could have scarfed dolle’s salt Water taffy, grotto’s Pizza (nicola’s contender and a hands-down favorite among many), and mountains of cotton candy, but we were practicing remarkable self-control.
But when your body is crying out for something real, beeline it for the greenman Juice Bar & Bistro. Now if you’re thinking Berkeley and Birkenstocks, don’t. Or do. Or maybe both. The vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians, and even the carnivores are well-fed at greenman’s. Chicken and turkey sandwiches, meatball sliders, and plenty of vegan and vegetarian offerings like baked tofu sandwiches and noodle salads make this menu rock. Wash your meal down with a shot of wheat grass or a traditional strawberry smoothie at the juice and smoothie bar. Note: the word’s out on this place so arrive well before meal-hour and a stop here to pick up a beach picnic would be genius. GreenmanJuiceBar.com
Once you leave the beach part of rehoboth and venture onto the main strip – the Coastal Highway – you’ll exit the sixties and find yourself back in the world of Walmart, Kmart, and Cracker Barrel. In this larger part of rehoboth you’ll find huge combination water-and-miniature golf parks and lots of shopping.
And speaking of shopping, delaware is one of five states with no sales tax. Nada. Believe me, i looked. So buy for the holidays, for back-to-school, for an upcoming birthday, or something for yourself. Maybe. And i say maybe because prices on many items, including restaurant bills, seemed a little high to me. But not always, so keep an open mind to the possibilities. And to make it easy on you, the tanger Outlets are on hand – a goliath of an outlet mall. TangerOutlet.com/rehoboth
But if squeezing some learning into your kids’ trip is music to your ears, make the pleasant thirty-minute drive to Fort delaware where you’ll be ferried out to an island once served as an honest-to-goodness Civil War prison. For history-lovers, the place is a treasure. You’ll meet incredibly dedicated docents who Practically stepped out of 1864, hear a real Civil War cannon fire, and see names and dates carved on the walls by the Confederate soldiers who lived their last days here. It’s poignant and sad, with just enough educational value to make it worth the trip without requiring a whole day, depending on your kids’ ages. So before you take four hours to visit this historical gem, keep this in mind: anything under ten is dicey. If there’s a chance they’ll gripe through the tour, dump the prison plan and find water. Beach or pool. Toss kids in. Rinse and repeat for best results. (Just trying to save your elder-self from a regrettable outcome.) DEStateParks.com/ park/fort-delaware
Like the beaches virginians love, the delaware shores enjoy their own reputations. Rehoboth is just right for family. Dewey offers more by way of nightlife. Lewes is quiet and draws couples and retirees. Bethany Beach is the only destination for the locals and the well-heeled dC folk who call it quaint, quiet, and stunning in its beauty. Bethany has a small boardwalk with restaurants and shops, but minus the amusement park-hoopla of rehoboth.
Truth be told, i think it’s not only wonderful, but important that richmonders are bonded to a particular beach. After all, these wild areas need devoted communities who will love and preserve them for our childrens’ children. The more you love something, the more you protect it. Lake tahoe’s sapphire-blue clarity was once slipping in quality and it has made a beautiful comeback because people cared.
The truth is, the atlantic seaboard is awash in breathtaking beaches, historical beaches, even vintage beaches – in delaware and beyond. Take it from this transplant: You live beside a magnificent coast. Get out and explore it! Mingle a little. Maybe this is the summer to think outside your beach.
If You Go:
At just under four-and-a-half hours away from Richmond, a visit to Rehoboth Beach is perfect for either a full week or even a long weekend. You won’t find a Ritz-Carlton or a four-star on the Delaware coast, but what you can reserve in Rehoboth Beach will impress. Keep in mind that if you visit in mid-to-late May or mid-to-late September when the crowds are not around you’ll score a deal. (And that advice holds true for most vacation spots.)
If you’re vacationing with the extended family and need to keep all ages smiling, you want the Bellmoor Inn & Spa owned by the Moore family who’ve resided in Rehoboth for decades. The Bellmoor – likely the cushiest stay in Rehoboth – offers an easy two-block walk to the beach, a nice-size outdoor pool for the kids, an adult pool, a hot tub, a library with oodles of reading material – even a game room for the kids with nary a Wii or Xbox, but plenty of entertainment from decades past – like chess, LIFE, and the like.
The afternoon tea, lemonade, and cookies are wonderful and the lavish breakfast buffet looks like a spread from House Beautiful, offering the works like French toast, quiche, and sausage. Breakfast can be enjoyed in the avian-themed Florida room or, even better, in the garden where Adirondack furniture, flowering trees, and tinkling fountains beckon. Deluxe rooms start at $299 weekday and $399 weekends in mid-July, but climb to $369/$479 in mid-August. Garden rooms with a cottage-feel and overlooking the beautiful garden start at $259/$359 in mid-July. Mid-week September prices drop to $149 per night. TheBellmoor.com If nothing will do but being smack on the beach you want the Boardwalk Plaza Hotel – owned by the Zerby family. The indoor pool is unique and something to see (in a good way); the surf can be heard from the hotel’s outdoor hot tub, and the two parrots who live in the lobby are hilarious: a persnickety African grey and a darling baby sun conure.
But a friendly heads-up: The hotel’s decor is full-on grandma. The Boardwalk calls it Victorian-themed. Whatever you want to call it, the hotel is brimming in antiques and floral. While the ambiance at first seemed a trifle strange, I quickly came to love the place. The beds’ hospital corners, the extendable clothesline in the shower, the uber-solid black-out shades standing guard against the morning sun all made me feel like I was staying with someone who cared. Summer rates start at $294 per night for two in a standard room. Additional people over age six are twenty dollars per. An oceanfront suite in July can go for upwards of $599. BoardwalkPlaza.com
If you want to keep your trip as affordable as possible, and still be ultra-close to the action, you want the Avenue Inn & Spa. The rooms, very motel-like, but in a squeaky clean, somewhat upscale way, are amply sized with a fridge and a microwave and a washer and dryer sit on each floor. The indoor pool is smallish, but my boys thought it was awesome, and the hot tub is bubbly and sits under the stars. Many rooms have patios that overlook the bustling and picturesque Rehoboth Avenue and the entire stay is an easy block from the beach. Summer rates start at $259. AvenueInn.com