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The Lewes Waterfront. Photos by Vicky Schippers.
The Lewes waterfront. Photo by Vicky Schippers.

Delaware's Coastal Towns: Worth a Trip in Any Season



There are all sorts of beaches, each with its own vibe. The Hamptons own fashionable, Atlantic City has its casinos and Coney Island hawks honky talk. But what about the beach communities that don’t receive as much hype?

Two that stand out are the Delaware coast towns of Bethany Beach and nearby Lewes. Their water is just as blue, sand just as white and waves just as wavy as their better-known siblings. They just don’t sport the buzz, and for some travelers that’s just fine.

Victorian Heaven

My husband Jay and I had occasion to go to Bethany Beach for a wedding on a glorious weekend last October. The town looks like something out of the film “Meet Me in St. Louis” -- multi-colored Victorian houses with wraparound porches holding the requisite rocking chairs and hanging plants. The wedding party stayed at the gingerbread-festooned Addy Sea Bed & Breakfast, a waterfront inn quintessentially Victorian in spirit and décor.

The inn has 13 guestrooms, each decorated differently and many with ocean views. True to its spirit, it serves afternoon tea in the parlor lit by a Victorian chandelier and a breakfast hearty enough to last you all day.

As for the town of Bethany Beach with its squeaky-clean atmosphere, slow moving traffic, kids biking up and down the sidewalks and the flag flying from many porches, it’s perfect for families or souls desiring a little respite from the world. It’s easy to walk from Addy Sea to the town’s charming commercial district, notably heavy on ice cream and beach paraphernalia shops.

One of the Victorian houses in Lewes
One of the Victorian houses in Lewes

The Oldest Town in the Oldest State

The wedding wasn’t until early evening so we drove 20 miles to Lewes, which bills itself “the oldest town in the oldest state.” Lewes was founded in 1631 by Dutch settlers who lasted a very short time before going to their reward at the hands of the natives. Even if you aren’t planning to take advantage of the beaches in Delaware, Lewes is worth a trip in any season.

It’s bordered by Cape Henlopen State Park where the Delaware Bay and Atlantic Ocean meet on one side and a national wildlife refuge on the other. Because it’s on the water, Lewes is balmier than inland towns. The fishing – deepwater, surf and fly – is terrific year round. Ditto for biking, bird watching, hiking and camping. In fact for bird watchers, spring is the best season to visit Lewes since that’s when migrating birds return along the coastal highways.

The town percolates in history with restored colonial homes, towers built as lookouts for enemy ships during World War II and a still thriving waterfront. Then there are the shops. Lewes is heavy on charm, low on chain stores (although for the truly shop addicted, relief can be found at a nearby Tangiers Outlet Mall.) In Lewes proper, a mixture of jewelry, antique and bookshops, sporting names like “Biblion – Used Books & Rare Finds”, Ginger Moon Fine Yarns and Antiques” and Habersham Peddler Interiors,” give a feel for the town’s sensibilities.

Roaming the Cemetery

For Jay and me, our favorite stop was St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, which calls itself “the oldest church in the oldest town in the oldest state.” The original building was built in 1681 in memory of its slain earliest settlers, the present one in 1857. Even if the church charged a fee (it doesn’t) it would be worth the price just to roam the cemetery.

St. Peter's cemetery
St. Peter's cemetery

In the church’s vestibule, there is a printed guide to the cemetery markers and wandering the grounds, it’s easy to get a real feel for our colonial history.

The graves include a collection of some of Delaware’s most illustrious citizens, former governors and judges including Ryves Holt, the state’s first Chief Justice whose home, the oldest in Lewes, is open to visitors. In addition to luminaries, the cemetery is a testimony to the harsh life of the early settlers – Captain James Draw who died when his ship foundered on the breakwater outside Lewes (coins from the ship still occasionally wash up after a storm) and Henrietta Stotesburg, a child who died at sea and was brought to Lewes for burial. The oldest gravestones date from 1707.

Dolphins Anyone?

And when you’re ready to leave Delaware’s coast? You can hop on the year round ferry for an 85-minute trip to Cape May, NJ. The ferry has its own special charm and kids love it. Serving local fish, the food bar is cuts above what you’ll find on most ferries, though not to worry about the young ones. They can still gorge on their burgers and chicken fingers.

If you keep your eyes on the water you may be delighted. Jay and I spied two sleek dolphins lazily moving in and out of the water, no worries, no problems. When you disembark in Cape May, you’re yanked 150 years forward into the Victorian era again. But that’s for another article. Take the time to check out this less traveled part of our eastern coast. It’s the proverbial “something for everyone” kind of place, but also a road less traveed.

Further Information:

Addy Sea Bed & Breakfast
99 Ocean View Parkway
Bethany Beach, DE
800-418-6764

October seaside wedding at Addy Sea
October seaside wedding at Addy Sea

Cape Henlopen State Park
42 Cape Henlopen Drive
Lewes, DE 19958
www.destateparks.com
302-645-8983

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church
2nd and Market Streets
Lewes, DE 19958
office@stpeterslewes.org
302-645-8479

Surf Bagel and Deli Restaurant
1030 Highway 1
Lewes, DE 19958
contactus@surfbagel.com
302-644-1822

Striper Bites Restaurant
107 Savannah Road
Lewes, DE 19958
302-645-4657

Cape May – Lewes Ferry
Lewes Terminal
43 Cape Henlopen Drive
Lewes, DE 19958
customerservice@drba.net
800-643-3779

 

 

Vicky Schippers

Vicky Schippers is a retired financial and grant writer who now does freelance writing. She also works as a volunteer tutor and doula.

 

 

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