For some of the best mid-Atlantic beaches, head to Lewes and Rehoboth in southern Delaware and Cape May in New Jersey. Both regions offer wide, white sand beaches plus the bonus of nearby state parks that preserve acres of natural scenery.
Lewes, an historic 375-year-old town on the Delaware Bay, borders Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware’s largest beachfront park. The facility attracts swimmers in search of quiet shores as well as hikers who like the gentle nature trails that wind past dunes or lead inland through pinewoods and cranberry bogs. The park is also a prime spot for pier fishing and crabbing, time honored Delmarva traditions.
Prime Hook Wildlife Refuge, a 10,144-acre site about 10 miles north of Lewes, features a seven-mile canoe trail and paths the overlook salt marsh, ponds and grasslands. In spring and fall, the refuge is a top spot to watch the thousands of migrating birds.
Lewes, busy in summer, is not as crowded as Rehoboth. Even though Rehoboth proper occupies just one-mile square, the oceanfront town buzzes in season with 100 eateries, specialty stores and a wide, mile-long, old-fashioned boardwalk, chock-a block with sun and sand worshippers. For generations kids have been coming to Funland on the boardwalk to ride the carousel, steer bumper cars and play Skeeball.
Shoppers looking for some time out of the sun, flock to the outlets just outside of Rehoboth on Route 1. The 130 plus off-price name shops include L. L. Bean, Brooks Brothers, and Polo Ralph Lauren.
It’s easy to get from the Rehoboth and Lewes to Cape May, NJ. Just board the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, located one mile west of Cape Henlopen State Park. The 90-minute boat ride gets you out on the water with the wind in your face. If visiting Cape May for the day, park in the Lewes lot and buy a round-trip foot passenger ticket. In season, a shuttle whisks you into Cape May and back in time to catch the return shuttle. If staying longer, drive your car onto the ferry.
For many shore goers, Cape May is the jewel in New Jersey’s crown of beaches. The wide sands attract families and sun worshippers and the concrete path the fronts the beach for several miles lures strollers. Nearby Cape May Point State Park, another major birding spot in spring and fall, features trails to dunes, marshes and ponds, a lighthouse whose 199 stairs lead to the top for panoramic views, plus a beach.
Cape May’s two other draws: its Victorian atmosphere and its good food. After a disastrous fire in 1878 destroyed many of Cape May’s large hotels, residents quickly built “cottages” to lodge the guests arriving next summer. Many of these have been lovingly restored to their turreted, bay-windowed and gingerbread-trimmed beauty.
Decorated with period antiques, many of these properties serve as bed and breakfast inns, offering romantic accommodations for couples. Families, however, will be more comfortable in the big hotels such as Congress Hall or better yet, the motel-like properties, or apartment units. Across from the beach, La Mer Beachfront Inn offers 141 rooms with microwaves and refrigerators.
Along with the typical beach fare of pizza, pancakes and French fries, Cape May serves up some good tasting meals, including those at 410 Bank Street and at the Washington Inn, two of New Jersey’s noted restaurants.
Whether you prefer quiet nature trails, bustling boardwalks, Victorian inns or notable meals with your beach days, southern Delaware and Cape May, the southernmost point in New Jersey, can deliver.