By Eileen Smith Dallabrida, Pam George, Rachel Swick Mavity, Roger Morris, Susan Towers and Amy White
Delaware may be a small state, but it certainly isn’t lacking in amazing adventures awaiting you just outside your door.
Let’s take a stroll through the First State as we explore 25 things we love about Delaware.
People visit the Delaware beaches for more than sun and sand. They also want to savor and sip. Eastern Sussex County has so many independently owned restaurants, breweries, farmers markets and specialty shops that dining is now a tourist attraction. Indeed, in 2011, Southern Delaware Tourism (visitsoutherndelaware.com) copyrighted the slogan “Culinary Coast,” in order to recognize the incredible sprawl of exciting eateries from Lewes to Fenwick Island.
The coastal hospitality industry lives up to the hype. The beach is the home of James Beard Foundation Award nominees and winners. Sam Calagione, the founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery (dogfishhead.com) was honored with the award, as was the late Matt Haley, who started the Rehoboth Beach–based SoDel Concepts (sodelconcepts.com), who was recognized for his humanitarian work. SoDel Concepts now has 16 restaurants under the guidance of Scott Kammerer.
With the influx of new residents, the restaurant scene has expanded inland.
The diversity has also increased. There is something for every appetite, whether you’re craving sushi, steak, samosas, crabs or corned beef on Jewish rye.
Before suburbs and big box stores, Delawareans visited farmers markets to select seasonal items for their dinner tables. More recently, discerning home cooks—and professional chefs—have returned to that practice for fresh food and to highlight the bounty of Delaware.
Consumers have a wealth of options in Delaware, from the Wilmington Farmers Market in the city’s business district to the Rehoboth Beach Farmers Market in Grove Park. Each market has a personality. For instance, the Co-Op Farmers Market is an offshoot of Newark Natural Foods, which pioneered the health food movement in New Castle County when it opened in 1967.
The Historic Lewes Farmers Market, founded in 2006, is a producer-only market with the mission to help small farmers, educate consumers and save the land. HLFM has a sustainable agriculture conference scholarship, and its vendors donate excess products to help feed the hungry.
For a list of farmers markets in the state, visit agriculture.delaware.gov/communications-marketing/farmers-markets-guide.
When June rolls around, Delawareans start to crave spanakopita, dolmades and calzones—in that order. That’s because it’s time for the Wilmington Greek Festival at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church (holy-trinity-greek-festival.square.site) and St. Anthony’s Italian Festival (stanthonysfestival.com).
The back-to-back events are full of flavor, and they’re not the only ones that use food to salute a heritage or an area’s history. For instance, the Delaware Saengerbund, a German American society, holds Oktoberfest (delawaresaengerbund.org/v5_Oktoberfest.shtml) in the fall. The event is famous for beer—not surprisingly—along with grilled sausages and men in lederhosen.
In Wilmington, St. Hedwig’s Polish Festival (sthedwigde.org/66) is a must-do event for people who prize homemade placki (potato pancakes), while pierogies are the star of the Sts. Peter & Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church Bazaar (sspeterandpauluoc.org/bazaar.html). (Stuffed cabbage gets equal billing.)
In Sussex County, known for its farms, produce is the main attraction. The town of Wyoming’s Peach Festival (wyoming.delaware.gov/peach-festival) is typically in August, and the Apple-Scrapple Festival (applescrapple.com) in October honors one of America’s favorite fruits. The event is in Bridgeville, home to apple-grower T.S. Smith & Sons Farms and the birthplace of RAPA Scrapple.
Newcomers who tell friends they’re headed to the Delaware shore should expect a correction. The shore refers to the New Jersey coastline; Delawareans go to the beach. Even better, indicate which town you’re visiting. Although strung together like pearls, the resorts—and their shorelines—are not the same.
Lewes (leweschamber.com), which boasts a beach on the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, is known for small-town charm and history. Rehoboth Beach (beach-fun.com), the largest resort, has a boardwalk, arcades and the most in-town accommodations. Dewey has been dubbed a college party town, but you’ll spot an abundance of small children and retirees these days. Below the Indian River Inlet are the family-friendly Quiet Resorts: Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island (thequietresorts.com).
Together, these areas have won awards for clean water, family-friendly amenities and scenic trails.
All of that beach time might leave you wanting a nice floppy hat or kimono. Find an amazing variety of beach-and resortwear at the numerous local shops throughout the state. Looking for vintage collectibles? Try The Zeppelin & The Unicorn on Silverside Road in Wilmington. If you’re in southern Delaware, you can’t miss Blooming Boutique, which offers a wide variety of resortwear and personalized items. If you’re strolling through downtown Dover, be sure to stop into Forney’s Too! The fun shop offers fine jewelry and a bevy of unique collectibles. It is a great place to purchase a gift!
Given that parts of Delaware are on the Atlantic Ocean, you’d expect to view stellar sunrises, and you would not be disappointed. But in many locations, it is the sunsets that are Instagram-worthy.
Lewes Beach is situated such that the skies turn fire engine red or pale lavender at sunset. (It also benefits from breathtaking sunrises.) Book a sunset tour to motor past the two lighthouses off Lewes’ coast. Cape Water Tours and Taxi is one option (644-7334; capewatertaxi.com).
The sun drops down behind the back bays, and the Rusty Rudder (227-3888; rustyrudder.com) and the rebuilt Lighthouse Dewey Beach (227-4333; lighthousedeweybeach.com) are prime viewing points on Rehoboth Bay. Or pack a picnic and head to Tower Hill Road on the bay side, located between Dewey Beach and the Indian River Inlet.
Speaking of the inlet, take a seat at Big Chill Beach Club (402-5300; bigchillbeachclub.com) in Delaware Seashore State Park and watch the sun go down behind the Charles W. Cullen Bridge, which glitters with cobalt blue lights at night.
Up north, Brandywine Creek State Park has rolling hills that overlook pastoral vistas. For city lights, try the Wilmington Riverwalk or the park around the Newark Reservoir, which has benches for prime viewing.
Delaware has numerous spots that are for the birds, literally. For instance, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge and Prime Hook
National Wildlife Refuge were created as welcoming stops on the Atlantic Flyway. The respites have become as appealing to humans as they are to birds.
Located in Kent County, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge (fws.gov/refuge/ bombay-hook) was founded in 1937 and encompasses nearly 16,000 acres along the Delaware River. Horseshoe crabs scuttle onto the sand to lay the eggs that provide food for shorebirds. To the south, the 10,144-acre Prime Hook refuge (fws.gov/refuge/prime-hook) was established in 1963 under the Migratory Bird Conservation Act. Hunting and fishing are allowed, but most visitors aim their cameras at the plentiful fauna and flora.
Other refuges worth noting include the Russell Peterson Wildlife Refuge riverfrontwilm.com/directory/russell-w-peterson-wildlife-refuge) in Wilmington, an oasis in an urban setting, the Assawoman Wildlife Area (stateparks.com/assawoman_bay_state_wildlife_area_in_delaware.html) in Frankford and the Nanticoke Wildlife Area (dnrec.alpha.delaware.gov/fish-wildlife/wildlife-areas) in Seaford.
Whether your idea of a hike is a walk on the wild side or a walk on the mild side, Delaware has plenty of designated trails for happy wandering. Most of them are well maintained and well marked within the network of 16 state parks from the Pennsylvania border to the southern beaches. In total, there are more than 60 individual park trails that cover over 150 miles of walking, ranging from the rugged northern hills of White Clay Creek to the flatlands of Trap Pond. Several walks are less than a mile in length, while others cover several miles that take a couple of hours or more to cover.
Some trails are historic in nature, with vistas of old water-driven mills, buildings that date back to before the Revolution and timeless beaches. For individual trail information, go to www.destateparks.com/trails.
Also check locally for city and county parks in your area. And don’t forget the First State National Historical Park on the east side of Brandywine Creek, which contains about 20 miles of hiking trails (https://www.nps.gov/frst/planyourvisit/upload/beaver-valley-access2-map.pdf).
Don’t like to walk alone? The Wilmington Trail Club (www.wilmingtontrailclub.org) can help guide your experiences. The group hosts multiple hikes monthly, all led by a volunteer, with various lengths, degrees of difficulty and speed (slow walk, fast walk). Joining the first two hikes is free. After that, membership is $18 per year.
When Gov. Jack Markell, an avid cyclist, was in office, he vowed to create an interconnected trail network to encourage Delawareans to spend more time outside. For his efforts, one trail now bears his name. The 5.5-mile Jack A. Markell Trail connects the Wilmington Riverwalk with the city of New Castle, and it’s one of many that twine through the state. The paved Michael N. Castle Trail, which runs alongside the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal, is also named for a past governor.
Rail-to-Trails include the Junction and Breakwater Trail between Lewes and Rehoboth. This popular path for bikers and walkers now connects to the Georgetown– Lewes Trail, which has six completed trail links. Five more are coming.
Running from Bellevue State Park near the Delaware River to Alapocas Run State Park and into Brandywine Park and Brandywine Creek State Park, the Northern Delaware Greenway Trail consists of various individual trails managed by different entities. It flows through suburban, urban and wooded sections and passes some of the area’s well-known attractions, including the Rockwood Museum and the Brandywine Zoo.
Visit Delaware (visitdelaware.com) features a list of trails and parks organized by activity.
Since 1829, the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal has been a familiar feature of Delaware topography, both as an actual body of water and as a mental dividing line between the rolling hills of the northern section of the state and the flat farmlands and beautiful beaches of southern or lower Delaware. Within this canal zone, which is shared with Maryland, lie small towns with restaurants and shops, rural land to hike alongside the thoroughfare and, of course, a cut-across waterway between the two bays for pleasure boats.
On a busy day, canalside diners might look up from their crab cakes and see a huge oceangoing vessel slowly passing by, full of colorful containers stacked several stories high. The present-day canal is without locks—a sea-level body of water—and on frigid winter days, ice floes can be seen advancing and receding with the tides.
Located about 18 miles south of Wilmington, the state’s largest city, and about 35 miles north of Dover, the capital, the 14-mile-long canal came into being in the early 19th century as a way for cargo vessels to sail between Baltimore and ports in Wilmington and Philadelphia without taking the more than 300-mile voyage around the Delmarva Peninsula’s southernmost Cape Charles. The canal has gone through several upgrades and iterations and is now managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. It is 450 feet wide and 35 feet deep.
Six bridges cross the thoroughfare—one at Chesapeake City in Maryland and one each on Delaware Routes (from west to east) 896, 1, 13 and 9, as well as a railroad bridge at Kirkwood.
It’s not surprising that Wilmington, Delaware’s largest city, is a hub for business, dining and the arts. However, the state is sprinkled with historic and cultural downtown districts.
Many areas, including Wilmington, have undergone a resurgence. Market Street, which runs through the heart of downtown Wilmington (downtownwilmingtonde.com), is now an example of the live-work-play approach. New apartment buildings are steps from the Grand Opera House, The Queen theater, restaurants and office buildings.
Historic districts in New Castle (newcastlecity.delaware.gov) and Lewes (ci.lewes.de.us) give visitors a glimpse of the state’s past while offering modern amenities, and Newark (newarkde.gov) is much more than a college town. The city is now a destination for people of all ages.
As the suburbia around Middletown (middletown.delaware.gov) has expanded, more people are discovering the town’s charming downtown. And there are so many small towns in Kent County that the tourism corporation promotes the area as “Delaware’s Quaint Villages” (visitdelawarevillages.com).
The best part? These destinations are all within easy driving distance for weekend exploration.
Many of Delaware’s downtowns also boast active historical societies. During the summer and into the fall, these societies host numerous history walks, home tours and yes, even ghost walks. A few to try: Old Swedes Historic Site (oldswedes.org) in Wilmington, Haunting in History tours in New Castle (newcastlehistory.org), the haunted Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island in Delaware City (destateparks.com/park/fort-delaware) and the ghost walking tours in downtown Lewes (historiclewes.org).
You don’t have to be a spring chicken to be a Blue Hen. The University of Delaware offers an Over-60 Tuition-Free Degree program, which provides free tuition to state residents age 60 or over. Students have the option to hit the books full time or part time. The benefit is open to both undergrads and graduate students, and there are no worries about student loans.
Would-be scholars must apply to UD and be admitted to the university. UD will waive the requirement for taking the SAT exam. Graduate students don’t have to take boards, either.
Nationwide, a handful of schools, including Clemson and the University of Maryland, also offer free tuition for seniors. But most other schools have strings attached. Several won’t provide free tuition to students who are working full time. Other programs begin later, at age 62, 65 or when the student reaches full retirement age as defined by Social Security.
Delaware is the most generous state in waiving tuition. In addition to UD, Delaware Technical Community College also gives students over 60 a free ride. Delaware State University offers classes without charge to students 62 and older. There are a few costs involved. Students must ante up for textbooks and service fees.
From major stars to up-and-coming singers-songwriters, performers have a stage throughout the First State. To be sure, Delaware is a concert destination in part thanks to the Firefly Festival (fireflyfestival.com) in Dover. But even before the nationally known event began, musicians appreciated the diversity of Delaware’s concert halls.
In Wilmington, The Grand Opera House (652-5577; thegrandwilmington.org) has won kudos for its acoustics, architecture and friendly size. Down the street, The Queen (400-7020; thequeenwilmington.com) is a former movie theater that reopened as an event space in 2011.
Other historic theaters include the Everett Theatre (232-6338; everetttheatre.com) in Middletown, the Smyrna Opera House (653-4236; smyrnaoperahouse.org) and the Milton Theatre (684-3038; miltontheatre.com).
For large-scale al fresco performances, there is the Freeman Arts Pavilion (436-3015; freemanarts.org) in Sussex County, and intimate venues include performances in the 160-year-old Arden Gild Hall (ardenconcerts.com), which has hosted significant recording artists.
Outside of these venues’ regular seasons, catch a headliner at the Delaware State Fair (398-3269; delawarestatefair.com) in Harrington and Bally’s Dover Casino Resort (ballysdover.com), which features live performances in the Rollins Center.
Food trucks were a novelty when they first hit Delaware’s roads in the early 2000s. Today, they are a staple at festivals and events. The colorful vehicles bring food to breweries, wineries and meaderies, and several have home bases along busy highways. Since the pandemic, they’ve also become regular sights in neighborhoods.
The cuisine covers the spectrum, with fusion flavors reigning supreme. For instance, Kapow (635-0041; kapowtruck.com) sells Asian tacos and rice bowls, and Mojo Loco (226-3866; mojoloco302.com) offers Korean beef tacos, Cubanos and Cajun chicken tacos.
Burgers are big. Burgers by Wildwich (898-5335: wildwich.com), for example, is often parked on Concord Pike in Brandywine Hundred, while Smashmouth Burgers (236-1092; smashmouthde.com) now has a residency beside Big Chill Surf Cantina (727-5568; bigchillsurfcantina.com) in Rehoboth Beach. Taco Reho, which previously occupied the spot, has slipped into a bricks-and-mortar space, which often happens in the food truck world. Still, many of these operators keep their trucks fueled and ready for the road.
No matter where craft beer lovers live in the country, they’ve likely heard of Delaware. The state is home to Dogfish Head Craft Brewery (dogfish.com), which has been featured on TV shows and in national magazines. The brewery, which opened in a Rehoboth Beach brewpub in 1995, is not the state’s only success story. Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant (ironhillbrewery.com) started in Newark in 1996. Today it has a string of locations from Pennsylvania to Georgia.
Not all the state’s breweries were born here. Founded in Annapolis, Fordham Brewing moved to Dover in 2003. Meanwhile, Old Dominion Brewing Co. was founded in 1989 in Ashburn, Virginia. The breweries joined forces in 2007, and Delaware benefits from their consolidated operations as Fordham & Dominion Brewing (678-4810; fordhamanddominion.com).
Small breweries throughout the state are ramping up to meet the demand. Revelation Craft Brewing Company (212-5674; revbeer.com) started in a small building in West Rehoboth and has a summer satellite location at Hudson Fields. The business recently purchased the former 16 Mile location in Georgetown with plans to open a larger location there in the future. Meanwhile, Dewey Beer Company (227-1182; deweybeerco.com), a brewpub, now has a brewing facility and tasting room in Harbeson, complete with pizza food truck.
The scene is so vibrant that the Delaware Tourism Office has created the app “Delaware on Tap.” Go to visitdelaware.com/de-on-tap.
A herd of milk cows would not have looked at all odd more than two centuries ago in 1796 when the Mitchell farm was established near what is now the intersection of North Star and Little Baltimore roads just southwest of Hockessin. Nor would horse-drawn farm wagons being drawn over unpaved roads.
The cows stayed around until 1961 when they were sold, and the farm turned to growing other animals and other crops, all increasingly surrounded by suburban development. But the cows were the right idea to begin with, and they returned to the farm in 1995. In 1998, the Mitchell family opened Woodside Creamery (www.woodsidecreamery.com), and lazy summer afternoons and evenings in North Star have never been the same. Families gather under the trees in the picnic area adjacent to the rustic creamery sales room to eat cones and drink milkshakes, each made possible by the Mitchells’ herd of tan-skinned Jersey cows in the nearby pasture.
At any one time, there are more 30 or more flavors available, from motor oil to banana to cherry vanilla. Owner Janet Mitchell cites chocolate, peppermint chip and cookie dough as crowd favorites for milkshakes. Ice cream cakes and pies are available, and homegrown beef cuts have been added to the menu.
Delaware has other local creameries, including Hopkins Farm Creamery (hopkinsfarmcreamery.com) near Lewes and Vanderwende’s with locations in Bridgeville, Greenwood, Dewey Beach and Fenwick Island (vanderwendefarmcreamery.com).
If sultriness were a restaurant, it would be Middletown’s decadent, Big Easy–inspired, bourbon-forward 1861. It takes but one step inside this small, speakeasy-esque 100-year-old building to be swept into owner Ashley Stratton’s painstakingly curated vibe of soul, with amber lights, golden accents, a dope soundtrack and luxurious vintage seating. And can we talk about the food? Next level. While the bountiful bourbon—a cornerstone of the restaurant’s concept—is doing its heady, dizzying work on the inside, warm yourself on the outside too in The Pit, the sexiest, most coveted seat in the house.
The romantic, semiprivate space will send you back in time to the Jazz Age, with gilded mirrors, black-and-gold foil fleur-delis wallpaper, fading vignettes of people long past and an ornate, tiled ceiling. Of course, it all plays second fiddle to the roaring fire and inlaid mahogany that makes this table “the table.” It’s the kind of place you’d find F. Scott, Ernest and Zelda if they dropped into town. Cuddle up next to your date for a romantic night out or stretch out on one of the luxe leather benches alone and do you. If bourbon isn’t your jam, pair the fire with a Bee’s Knees—we’re convinced it is one of the best cocktails in the state.
The First State is full of firsts and unique experiences. Two events that stand out are the Zombie Fest in Milton and the Faerie Festival in Rockwood Park.
Whether you’re a faerie, pirate, gnome or troll, the Faerie Festival has something for everyone. Picture little ones dressed up with fairy wings, donning pointy gnome hats and enjoying the sunshine on a grassy knoll. The festival features live storytelling, music, crafts and even a costume parade.
In October, it’s time to walk like the dead in historic downtown Milton. Zombie Fest was created in partnership with Milton Theatre and has stalked through the streets for a couple years. At one point, it was in danger of leaving town, but the powers that be resurrected the popular event this past year.
Enjoy pirate performances, street performers, ghoulish treats and deals at local shops, including at Ogre’s Grove comic bookstore, and a costume parade. Fun for the whole spooky family.
There surely must be a powerful creative energy born from Delaware’s dramatic skies because art festivals thrive in almost every part of the state. Luckily, Delaware Division of the Arts keeps good track of what’s going on because it’s almost impossible to remember them all.
Perhaps the largest is the Brandywine Festival of the Arts, which takes place on the weekend after Labor Day along the Brandywine River in Wilmington. This event draws artists from around the country into a colorful array of outdoor booths.
Other Wilmington area haunts are not to be outdone. You have the Bellefonte Arts Festival in May, Art on the Green at Battery Park in historic New Castle in September, the Fair in the Village of Arden over Labor Day weekend and the Hagley Craft Fair in October, just to name a few.
Dover, the state’s capital located about in the center of Delaware, boasts three art-centric festivals. One is “Positively Dover,” an African American festival that has been coined the signature event for the city of Dover. It is held each year on the fourth Saturday of June on the Legislative Mall. Arts are combined with music and song.
Making your way down the state, be sure to stop in Milford for the Big Draw Festival hosted by Mispillion Art League in October. This festival is part of a national event.
Perhaps inspired by the beauty of the ocean, we find art festivals in every beach town. The Rehoboth Art League holds several events, including the two weekends of outdoor festivals each summer where artist tents cover the League’s lovely, historic grounds in Henlopen Acres. Lewes has the Mid-Atlantic Sea Glass & Coastal Arts Festival in June. Bethany has its Bethany Boardwalk Arts Festival in September and Dewey has its Dewey Beach Arts Fest in May.
When it comes to film, Delawareans have something going from north to south. This year, a new film festival is emerging in Wilmington while the Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival celebrates 24 years of continually drawing audiences to the state’s popular beach area.
The Dirty Popcorn Black Film Festival is scheduled to take place in August at the Delaware Art Museum. While the date hasn’t been finalized for this pilot event, about 35 independent films already have been chosen, with others on the way. Submissions are still being accepted. Wilmington-based Jet Phynx Films has organized the event to provide a platform for filmmakers of color from Delaware and around a region that includes New York.
Rehoboth Beach Film Society is deep in the planning process for its annual Independent Film Festival and for the three other festivals it presents each year.
For the first time, the Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival will be divided into two smaller versions of itself instead of one big festival. Venues are the Film Society’s Cinema Art Theater on Dartmouth Drive in Lewes and the Unitarian Universalists of Southern Delaware location on the Lewes–Georgetown Highway in Lewes. The first part will take place from April 18 to 23. The theme has yet to be determined. The second one will be a traditional independent film festival and will take place from November 7 to 12.
The annual Rehoboth Beach Jewish Film Festival, which began in 2016, is planned for this summer. Check the Rehoboth Beach Film Society’s website for dates. The film society is partnering with the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice to present the Rehoboth Beach African-American Film Festival from May 5 to 8. This festival began in 2018. Details are also being confirmed for the Delaware LGBTQ+ CINE-brations. It’s going to be quite a film year.
During the pandemic, more people turned to the outdoors and camping to get away safely, and Delaware’s campgrounds and parks reaped the benefits. Delaware State Parks offers camping at five of its locations: Lums Pond, Killens Pond, Cape Henlopen, Delaware Seashore and Trap Pond. Bring your RV, camper or tent, or rent a cabin.
Each of these state parks offers a unique glimpse into the natural wonders of Delaware. Kayak among baldcypress trees and enjoy birdwatching at Trap Pond, or take in the beach views from your campfire at Cape Henlopen.
Looking for an active adventure? Try the Go Ape treetop adventure course at Lums Pond or hike around the state’s largest freshwater pond.
Those with young families might enjoy camping with Yogi Bear at Jellystone near Milford. This park offers hiking, swimming, paddling and more with a focus on fun with your family.
The First State is not known for its high peaks or mountain views. In fact, it is one of the lowest-altitude states in the U.S. At 447.85 feet above sea level, the highest point in Delaware is called Ebright Azimuth—Ebright because of the street where it’s located and azimuth from an angular measurement in a spherical system.
Delaware’s high point, located in New Castle County, is only 100 feet higher than Florida’s highest, so the First State has the second-lowest high point in the U.S.
The thing we love about our high point is that you can easily “hike” up to it. Once you make it up, there’s a bench to rest on. If you aren’t feeling up to the walk back down, a bus regularly comes by to transport you home.
It is certainly an “only in Delaware” trek!
Related: Take One Last Summer Hike in Delaware With These Essentials