A Thriving Community on the Delaware Coast
By Christopher Ludgate
GoNOMAD Senior Travel Writer
The Southern Delaware Coast is a somewhat remote treasure that perhaps is more well-known to those adjacent to the Atlantic Corridor.
Sometimes, when I am waxing on about it, people have only the vaguest notion about it, yet it’s had so many gems to discover with each visit that it’s earned a place in my top domestic escapes.
Go with the Flow at Bethany Beach
I woke for an early sunrise jog at Bethany Beach to burn off the indulgent feast the night before at Big Fish Grille in nearby Ocean View. The radiance of the dawning ocean view from our perched room just behind the grassy dunes at the historic Addy Sea Bed & Breakfast revealed a promising forecast.
Despite the threat of rain that night before, Big Fish was full of animated patrons – both family and happy hour imbibers - having fun along with its bubbly and outgoing staff delivering much seasonal deliciousness, making it so easy to unwind in its beachy atmosphere. Steve and I didn’t want to leave.
“We’re very easy going people around here. It’s too nice to let anything get in the way of going with the flow, have some good eats… and fun. Rain will pass,” our server, Jen, said warmly.
It was refreshing just to be in good company and see everyone having a good time amid the warm heavy air and the massive full-lunar glow outside. Summer was in the air.
A.M. Yoga was in full flow along that stretch and the beach-combers smiled warmly as we paced our stride in the water’s ebb heading back to the turn-of-the-century Victorian mansion.
The earlier serenity we had left in the cozy, antique-filled house was replaced by a lively full-house having at the generous breakfast buffet, which Steve and I pulled modestly from - opting for iced-coffee on the shaded, peaceful wrap-around porch, chilling on the big rocking chairs listening to the waves and the seagulls.
On the Front Lines of Community
The scorching sun was unquestionably looming as we made our way to check out the new Big Chill Beach Club along Coastal Highway by Indian River Inlet Bridge. The massive new festive facility boasts a seasonal Mexican menu and cocktails on the upper-level.
The Umbrella Deck was a burst of color in the bright sun over-looking packed sands, offering respite and a variety of refreshments to the swell of sunbathers.
Like the night before, the friendly crowd had an engaging jovial vibe with conversation and cocktails flowing breezily under the bar’s awning.
Community Oriented Club
Gregg Rosner, Front of House Manager at Big Chill, who had just re-relocated back to the Delaware Coast, illuminated us as to the community-oriented contributions the local club is involved in.
“It’s a symbiotic relationship with respect to preserving our community’s eco-system, which is suffering in parts – and very vulnerable to rising sea-levels. For example, the money made from the parking lots gets filtered back into the community and put towards cleaning up and preventing local pollution. It puts the community on the front lines,” Rosner shared with us as we watched the surfers arrive below.
We careened along the coast and checked into The Atlantic Sands which greeted us with one of the best panoramic views of Rehoboth Beach from our beachfront balcony. A perennial favorite for many visitors, the Sands has undergone recent upgrades including a lounge, the Atlantic Boardwalk Grille, and Sandcrab Beach Bar where guests were enjoying the evening fire-pit as a fickle breeze finally set in.
The coastal community is as tight-knit as it is easy access to many of its newer charms. So we headed a few minutes up to Dewey Beer Company Brewery & Kitchen where we met Assistant Brew-master, Maura Colucci, who let us watch her in action with the tanks before having us set-up for a flight at happy hour.
The brewery has a rotating seasonal menu for both the kitchen and at the tap bar, while also offering growler cans of such favorites – like the oaty Why Me, Huh? (7.8 AVB).
With restaurant competition tough on this foodie coast, we were pleasantly surprised that their seasonal menu was diverse and so much more than bar food.
But competition aside, the community element is strong at Dewey Beer Co. In collaboration with Revelation Craft Brewing, the breweries hold annual races to benefit local causes.
“We have a beer here and run 4 miles for our fundraisers and come back for more,” Colucci playfully informed us.
During a little joyride to ever-charming Lewes – America’s first town, in the first state - we pulled into The Crooked Hammock, a unique brewery that has grown exponentially in just three years thanks to the teamwork of Founder, Rich Garrahan, with Brand Manager & Brewer, Jon Schorah.
While grateful to the tourists and the community embracing the craft brewery, they also give back.
“We’ve done Beers for Bravery in honor of the local Fire Department, EMTs, and Police,” Garrahan informed proudly. Recently, another benefit of Brandywine SPCA helped efforts to relieve "the worst case of animal abuse this state has ever seen."
Musical equipment was being set up inside the colorful beer garden which was lively with a full-house and colorful artwork by local artists, Laura Erikson and Paul Carpenter. The six-packs in a corner donned distinctive and playful artwork for each brew, which Schorah described to “have no extracts used in the process at all.” The ‘backyard brewery’ was complete with an area where we could enjoy an Actively Fishing or a Beach Escape on the hammocks.
Wet & Wild
The hot air was stifling and still. It was not promising for our windsurfing session at Delmarva Board Sport Adventures one afternoon, so we figured to give their SUP eco-tour a try. Why not?
We got oriented by the friendly staff, and we were off. And at precisely the time we began paddling out to our eco-tour area that wind-surfing weather arrived. And then the wakes kicked up from the jet-skis out in Rehoboth Bay. And then one-by-one - Splash, splash, splash – off the boards we dropped.
Of course, we got back up. But that wind was not having any of it. And neither was I. That was my comical intro to SUP. But people love it!
The ecological programs at Delaware Seashore State Park gave me the opportunity to take a ride with their scout trainees to get a taste of what they experience.
We met Laura Scharle, the state park’s Interpretive Programs Manager, for a briefing with a crew of about a dozen.
“Our park offers a wide range of educational and recreational programs all year long; kayak eco-tours, guided hikes, boat tours, historic-reenactments, children’s programs, beach driving,” an enthusiastic Scharle explained while en route to setting out to paddle through the archipelago to explore Burton Island Nature Preserve.
As our kayaks approached the north side of the island, the wakes grew restless under our boats and thrashed against the salt marsh where we took refuge with fiddler crabs while Scharle entertained us with ghost-lore of Burton Island.
After a light rain shower, the sun broke thru and we saw the fascinating horseshoe crabs in prime mating season and learned that these are one of the oldest animals on the planet dating back 445 million years.
We caught glimpses of the natural habitats of songbirds and water birds such as black-crowned night heron, egrets, and osprey nests the scouts are on hand to observe and protect.
Beach Bum Diversions
Still eager to explore activities and nature beyond the beach, we booked a Paddles & Pints tour affiliated with Dogfish Brewery through Quest Kayak.
We met our guide, Matt Carter, and soon slid our top-seat kayaks into the still water of remote Broadkill River, an ideal spot for scenic ecotourism out of the glaring sun.
In a meditative rhythm, we paddled and glided along with the ducks, enjoying the peace and sounds of bird calls while being amazed by the sites of the Blue Herons, Ospreys, and woodpeckers.
The newly opened Lefty’s Alley & Eats kept us entertained – and cool - “living life in the fun lane,” as Manager Jenny Barto joked. But aside from being a large-scale restaurant & bar and hi-tech bowling alley, there is an arcade jam-packed with the alluring glow of games that could have any adult regressed to adolescence or keep any kid left to their own devices while adults knock down some pins …and pints.
After decadent French toast and a Bloody Mary at one of Rehoboth Avenue’s newest restaurants, Egg, we meandered into Yesterday’s Fun Vintage Toys & Games and picked up some nostalgic memorabilia. The place is like a museum and flooded my head with great childhood memories I had previously forgotten about.
We headed along Coastal Highway to the Indian River Life-Saving Station Museum. Built in 1876 as a U.S. life-saving service in answer to the abundance of shipwrecks along the perilous coast, the weathered station has been restored in great detail.
Inside we toured with guide, Jesse, who showed us an intimate peek into how sailors lived, how they worked, and the hardships the maritime precursor to the U.S. Coast Guard experienced.
It might look like a tiny piece of it, but it was an amazing glimpse into a not too long ago history.
Contributing Editor Christopher Ludgate is a travel & culture journalist based out of his native New York City. Chris combines his multi-faceted professions and is ever drawn to adventure and creative outlets. His travel writing pursuits have lead to working with publications such as Passport Magazine, LAX in-flight, AIR Chicago, FLY Washington, and, of course, GoNOMAD.com. Chris is an award-winning filmmaker with films in distribution and screenings around the globe.