Every time Labor Day comes around, I look up and think, What happened to summer?
And then I remember it’s still summer at the beach. The ocean beaches of Maryland and Delaware are emptier now that the families with school-age children have gone home. Most hotels and restaurants stay open until Columbus Day weekend.
So, for a few more sunny, warm weeks, the beach is mine. There’s a place for my umbrella with a perfect view of the surf. The boogie-boarding kids have skipped town, leaving that warm water all to me and a few toddlers. And when it’s time to leave the beach, I know I can get a table at restaurants jam-packed a few days ago.
And if the weather isn’t perfect, I know I’ve got rainy-day options. More on that later.
Maryland and Delaware are blessed with a variety of ocean beaches.
Ocean City, Maryland, becomes the second largest city in Maryland for a few summer weeks with crowds, traffic and lots of noise. Then it settles back into its small town vibe for the fall “shoulder season.” Only the Boardwalk, a 2 1/4 mile stretch of hotels, saloons, eateries and souvenir shops, keeps up Ocean City’s honky-tonk reputation. All of its ocean beaches are public. Park yourself in the sand and you can stay forever (but no nighttime sleeping on the beach.)
For real peace and quiet, I know I can go see the ponies and the windswept sand dunes of Assateague Island. Once you cross the Verrazano Bridge (really, that’s its name!) you’ve left hotels, restaurants and shops behind. Both the Assateague Island National Seashore and Assateague State Park are open. The state park has a few amenities in season; off season, you can find a restroom and a parking space.
You’ll most likely see the famous wild ponies grazing near the marsh or wandering along the seashore. One may even give you a good looking over when you stop. Take pictures, admire these dappled charmers but don’t touch them. And definitely don’t feed them. They bite and people food makes them sick.
Delaware likes to say Fenwick Island and Bethany Beach are the “quiet resorts.” And compared to Ocean City and even Rehoboth, this is true. Fenwick Island looks like Ocean City extended but its Fenwick National Seashore draws surf fishermen along with the water babies. The bay side is a great spot for watching the sunset, too.
Bethany Beach is indeed quiet, with its short boardwalk and tiny main street. Its few restaurants offer and assortment of cuisines to fit a variety of pocketbooks. As for nightlife, head to Rehoboth or Ocean City after dinner. This used to be a church retreat center and there are still no bars here.
Dewey Beach, a little spit of beach between Bethany and Rehoboth, is party central for many. It is famous among the young for its nightspots. On Columbus Day weekend, the greyhounds take over. Greyhounds Reach the Beach has been a dog-themed tradition for more than a decade. You don’t have to bring a dog to enjoy these gentle canines. They and their humans are happy to see you.
The bustle of Rehoboth keeps it busy into the fall. It has the best shopping at the beach, plus three shopping centers filled with outlet stores. Its restaurants are legendary. Families like its old-time atmosphere and LGBT beach-lovers flock here because of its open attitudes. If the beach, the shopping and the restaurants aren’t enough, fall festivals here celebrate everything from jazz to fiddlers to cinema.
Lewes isn’t exactly an ocean beach located as it is on a the edge of Cape Henlopen which marks the opening of Delaware Bay. The town, which is Delaware’s oldest, celebrates its Colonial and War of 1812 history, along with its seafaring days.
A visit to the beach often includes a stop here for the shopping, the restaurants and a walk among so much history. Its beach on the bay is quiet, with the water much calmer than you’ll find at the other nearby beaches.
If I end up at the beach on a cold or rainy weekend, I’ve got some other options.
Outlet shopping is probably the Number One rainy-day activity here. And no wonder. Tanger Outlet Centers stretches for two miles down Route 1 with 150-plus stores in three centers.
Scenic drives are lovely even when the weather isn’t. The Cape to Cape Scenic Byway stretches from Cape Henlopen in Delaware to Ocean City and onto Berlin and Snow Hill. Part of Delaware’s Wine and Ale Trail is nearby with stops at Dogfish Head Craft Brewery (always a fun tour and tasting) and Nassau Valley Vineyards (Delaware’s first winery).
Rehoboth has spas. If the weather is bad, a massage or facial can be very good.
Salisbury is home to the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art. Art lovers who have never seen duck decoys or waterfowl carving raised to an art form have got to stop here.
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© Text Mary K. Tilghman
Kite and Assateague photos by Gina Truitt
Delaware Beach photos courtesy of Southern Delaware Tourism
Observation towers photo by Kevin Flemming