As soon as Thanksgiving rolls around, Delawareans bundle up to visit seasonal displays and events in the region. They take houseguests to Longwood Gardens and Winterthur Museum, library and garden. They tuck the kids in the car for the Lewes Lights Tour or take them to Schellville for a snowball fight. But few excursions are complete without a nosh before, after or sometimes during the visit. Here are dining suggestions for 8 annual events and activities.
A Longwood Christmas
A Very Retro Christmas runs November 17, 2023, to January 7, 2024, inside the Conservatory and on the grounds of the internationally acclaimed botanical garden.
Many visitors dine on-site in 1906, the full-service restaurant, or The Café, which offers cafeteria-style service. The mushroom soup in both is a must, and bread served in terra cotta pots is a fun feature at 1906. (The restaurant is named for the year Pierre S. du Pont purchased the grounds.)
Don’t leave dining to chance. If you want to eat at 1906, make a reservation well in advance, and note that you can’t access either restaurant without paying the admission fee.
1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square; 610-388-1000; longwoodgardens.org
There are many nearby full-service restaurants off-site, including Hearth Kitchen. The Italian-influenced eatery is owned by Bryan and Andrea Sikora, who also have La Fia in Wilmington and Crow Bar in Trolley Square.
Wood-oven pizzas are the main attraction, and most have a gourmet flair. Consider the mushroom with truffle, leeks and a mustard béchamel or fig and bacon with shaved red onion. The menu also includes pasta dishes, a burger and wagyu steak frites.
Shoppes at Longwood Village, Kennett Square; 484-732-8320; hearthkennettsquare.com
You could start your day at Hank’s Place, which opened in Kennett Square while the iconic Chadds Ford site is under construction. A flood destroyed the original building, which was Andrew Wyeth’s go-to, and the owners joyfully decided to keep their patrons happy in the interim.
Breakfast is served during opening hours, and lunch/dinner offerings include burgers, salads and sandwiches.
201 Birch St., Kennett Square.; 610-448-9988, hanksplacechaddsford.com
A Brandywine railroad at the Brandywine Museum of Art
Since 1972, families have come to the museum to view the toy train display, which runs on 2,000 feet of track and includes 1,000 pieces. This year, the exhibition runs from November 18, 2023, to January 7, 2024.
The museum’s Millstone Café serves prepared foods and will offer hot cocoa and apple cider during the holidays. Grab one of the 80 seats with floor-to-ceiling views of the Brandywine River.
1 Hoffman’s Mill Road, Chadds Ford; 610-388-2700; brandywine.org
The museum holds the work of the Wyeth family, who frequented the Chadds Ford Tavern for generations. Brandywine Prime Seafood & Chops now occupies the 18th-century house–turned–tavern, and the bar area emits the Colonial charm that permeates the immediate area. Meanwhile, each of the dining rooms on two stories has a particular ambiance. You can’t go wrong with beef, but there’s also a good selection of “surf,” including a raw bar.
1617 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford; 610-388-8088; brandywineprime.com
Yuletide at Winterthur
This year, the artfully decorated trees throughout Henry Francis du Pont’s former home will showcase decorations inspired by Ann Lowe: American Couturier, the current exhibit. Lowe, an African American designer, made Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding dress and gowns for society women. Yuletide runs from November 18, 2023, to January 8, 2024, and the Lowe exhibit ends on January 7, 2024.
No admission fee is needed to eat at the Visitor Center Café, an atrium-like dining room with sandwiches, soups, salads and snacks. During the holidays, the museum will host Santa brunches. Check the website for details.
5105 Kennett Pike, Winterthur; 888-4600; wintherthur.org
For more options, consider Buckley’s Tavern, which is as much a part of the Chateau Country landscape as Winterthur. Pull up a barstool in the tavern or eat in the more formal dining room; the menu is the same. Out-of-town guests should try the mushroom soup. Locals, meanwhile, know to get the spicy Thai soup, which has been a menu staple for decades. If it’s chilly, try the chicken pot pie with a crispy pastry top and chunks of chicken in a velvety velouté.
5812 Kennett Pike, Wilmington; 656-9776; buckleystavern.com
Holidays at Hagley
The ancestral home of the du Pont family and the birthplace of the DuPont Co. dresses for the season. This year’s theme, Treasures and Traditions, runs from November 24, 2023, to January 1, 2024. If you come at night, you can see the mansion, Eleutherian Mills, full of lights.
Bakers will appreciate the annual gingerbread house contest, a display of more than 30 houses in the Hagley Barn. Vote for your favorite.
Hagley no longer has a restaurant in the Belin House, but there are plenty in the Greenville area, including BBC Tavern & Grill, which has fire features and heaters on the outdoor patio. Also open for lunch, BBC serves up its famous nachos—enough for four—which will hit the spot before you head to Hagley.
4019 Kennett Pike, Greenville; 655-3785; bbc-tavern-and-grill.business.site
Pizza by Elizabeths in Greenville is the perfect pit stop between Winterthur and Hagley. Now celebrating its 30th year, the restaurant is famous for pizzas named for famous Elizabeths. (The founders are also Elizabeths.) Start with the tomato soup, which is nearly as beloved as the pies.
3801 Kennett Pike, Greenville; 654-4478; pizzabyelizabeths.com
Holiday lights express
The Wilmington & Western Railroad’s one-hour evening ride on decorated 100-year-old coaches winds through the Red Clay Valley, where many homes are illuminated for the holidays. The December excursions are separate from the Santa Claus Express, but both require reservations (wwrr.com).
The station isn’t far from Feby’s Fishery, the iconic family-owned Wilmington restaurant that still serves orange roughy, Dungeness crab, lobsters and fresh seasonal fish with two sides. There is a food promotion nearly every day.
3701 Lancaster Pike, Wilmington; 998-9501; febysfishery.com
Historic houses of Odessa
Each year, the Historic Odessa Foundation’s holiday exhibit and tour has a literary theme, and for 2023, it’s Account of a Visit from Saint Nicholas. One of the five historic homes in the collection will have vignettes from the book.
Time your visit for the Festive Food hearth-cooking demonstrations, scheduled for December 9 and 12. Costumed cooks prepare an 18th-century holiday meal over a roaring fire.
For your meal, Cantwell’s Tavern is one of the historic properties on the campus, and Ashby Hospitality Group operates the restaurant, which has a Williamsburg–like ambiance. The Sunday brunch is well-known in the Middletown–Odessa–Townsend area.
109 Main St., Odessa; 376-0600; cantwells-tavern.com
Organized by community members, Lewes Lights will release its tour map of lighted homes and businesses on December 1, just in time for the city’s Christmas parade. Visit leweslights.org for more information.
Since you’ll want to wait until dark to start the tour, grab a beer and the made-to-order oyster stew at Big Oyster Brewery. The tomato-basil soup with grilled cheese crostini is another option that will make you feel warm and toasty.
1007 Kings Highway, Lewes; 644-2621; bigoysterbrewery.com
Dinner will depend on your appetite and guests. Families will find friendly fare at Bethany Blues on Route 1, which has a children’s menu and decadent desserts.
18385 Coastal Highway, Lewes; 644-2500; bethanyblues.com/lewes/
If it’s date night, Heirloom has a festive feeling around the holidays, thanks to owner Meghan Lee’s decorating. It also has some of the finest cuisine along the Culinary Coast. For example, December specials have included ginger-and-orange pound cake trifle, layers of vanilla diplomat cream, cranberry curd, crushed Marcona almonds and marinated cranberries.
The restaurant can make comfort food feel like haute cuisine. Take, for instance, free-range Lancaster chicken with mushroom bread pudding, creamed Baywater Farms kale and peppered chicken gravy.
212 Savannah Road, Lewes; 313-4065; heirloomdelaware.com
Schellville’s winter wonderland
Schell Brothers’ enchanted winter celebration is one of the newest holiday attractions, but it’s quickly become one of the most popular. It’s free, but reservations fill up quickly. However, walk-ins are welcome if you’re feeling lucky.
Features include 20 miniature houses with kids’ activities, mini golf, a roller-skating rink, shops, a snow zone with slides and swings, and a sledding hill.
This year, Woody’s Dewey Beach will sell its famous crabcakes, Big Fish Grill will be on-site, and Schell Brothers’ The Coffee House will serve items from its downtown Rehoboth menu. Food trucks will also be on hand.
New this year is the opportunity to rent one of six Alpenglobes for private events, such as birthdays or parties.
View up-to-date information at schellville.com or on the Facebook page.