By Ashley Breeding, Angie Gray, Dan Metz, Natalie Orga, and Andrew Sharp
It’s too cold, you say? There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.
Take your winter up, up and away with Blair’s Ballooning in Newark (blairsballooning.com). Daily rides carry passengers across the landscape, giving new perspectives on a world many Delawareans traverse daily. The ride takes 40 minutes to an hour, give or take for winds, weather or a home visit from a certain well-known Delawarean in a big white house. Rides get snapped up fast, so be sure to book sooner rather than later.
Looking for someplace to get away? Find it at one of Delaware’s escape rooms. Visitors are trapped in a room with themes from fantasy (Sorcerer’s Quest at Axxiom Newark) to history (The Testament of Tesla at Novus in Middletown) and past (Blind Tiger Speakeasy at Adventureland in Middletown) to future (In a Galaxy Far Away at Great Escape in Newark), and will have to follow clues to find their way to freedom before time runs out. It’s a thrilling puzzle experience for any occasion, and some visitors even dress up and add an element of play-acting to the challenge.
When the beaches get chilly, it’s the perfect time to head south. Tanger Outlets or Rehoboth Avenue can feel like an afterthought for a summer beach daytrip, but those stores outlast the heat, waiting for your crowd-free midwinter shopping spree. If you want to add a unique element to a downstate adventure, ride the Cape May–Lewes Ferry. When you’re done, visit some beachside gems like Heirloom, a fine-dining Lewes experience in old Victorian home, or Henlopen City Oyster house in Rehoboth.
Warm hearts and bellies by donating your time or money to a local meal program or food bank. In Delaware, 93,900 people are facing hunger—30,920 of them are children. Acts of service are some of the most helpful and fulfilling ways to relieve the hunger crisis and connect with your community. The Food Bank of Delaware and Hope Dining Room in Newark welcome volunteers to fulfill a variety of essential needs, from serving hot meals to preparing food bags to deliver to shelters. Studies show that giving to others may boost the hormone dopamine, which in turn makes you feel good, too!
Brimming Horn Meadery (brimminghornmeadery.com) in Milton serves up something sweet to turn up the heat. The Viking-themed honey wine creators offer a unique flavor in more ways than one: Their award-winning flavors are a delight, and their tasting room is inspired by a Viking mead hall. In addition to more traditional meads, they serve “session meads,” ciders and fruit wines. Hungry patrons can pair their drinks with a bite from their food truck, Hammer and Horns, serving the meadery’s twist on traditional bar food.
Grab a ride and slide into fun! Everyone has their secret spot, but we have some special mentions. Brandywine Creek State Park is a popular launch spot for all ages, with plenty of room to share (and to come to a stop). For a little more thrill, check out Monkey Hill in Wilmington’s Brandywine Park, with its deep incline. Just be ready to stop when you run out of hill. Options are limited downstate, but we hear there’s some good all-age sledding at the Smyrna Little League Ballfields across from the middle and high schools. Just stay off of the sand dunes or risk a serious fine.
Kent County towns and cities have banded together to help curious visitors travel back in time through their Delaware’s Quaint Villages (visitdelawarevillages.com) program, which highlights more than 300 years of history through landmarks and natural sights. Catch a show at the Smyrna Opera House, built more than 150 years ago. Stop by the John Dickinson Plantation, built in 1739, to learn about the state’s history of slavery and liberation, or the Amish countryside outside of Dover for living history, shopping, and delicious food. Or just wander one of Kent County’s beautiful parks and preserves.
If you only have time to do one thing downstate, choose “everything.” Delmarva Discovery Tours (delmarvadiscoverytours.com) takes the planning out of a full day of adventure and activity. They provide a list of ready-to-go tours, from their Antiques Trail Tour to Breweries and Beer Gardens to family-friendly farm tours.
You might not think of visiting a botanical garden in the winter, but Hockessin’s Mt. Cuba Center (mtcubacenter.org/programs) offers a variety of classes that can launch you early into a world of spring greenery, flowers and bumblebees. Learn to attract bluebirds to your yard with nest boxes, and get tips on pruning and other garden skills. One class even teaches how to do landscape design from scratch, and at the end you’ll take home a usable plan.
Knitting winter accessories is a fun hobby that will also keep you toasty warm. For beginners, scarves and hats are easy projects that will busy those hands while binge-watching Yellowstone. Plus, once you master the art, you’ll never need to buy another gift. Check out classes at the Lewes Public Library or The Yarn Maven in Smyrna.
Craving a furry companion but not ready to commit to adopting? Experience the joy of having an animal in your life by fostering a pet temporarily. Contact local shelters and rescue groups, such as Faithful Friends (faithfulfriends.us) and the Humane Animal Partners (humaneanimalpartners.org), to see who needs a home—chances are, you’ll never want them to leave.
A little self-care goes a long way. At Zen Spa in Fenwick (zenspafenwick.com), owner Stacey Wetzstein wants clients to “leave the world behind” when they come through her doors. (For a richer experience, leave your cellphone behind.) The spa is full service, but we recommend a massage or CBD-infused facial for the most intense relaxation.
Why limit yourself to doing fun fall activities in the fall? There’s no law against bonfires and hayrides in February (although you might need to wear an extra layer or three), and Milburn Orchards in Elkton (milburnorchards.com) will host your party. You won’t be able to get freshly grown apples, but the orchard offers bonfire packages of various sizes.
Gray days are followed by the icy cold of the long night. Welcome to what winter tries to pass off as “daytime.” Some people get extra depressed in the winter, termed seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Researchers haven’t nailed down exactly what causes it, but they agree it seems related to winter’s lack of light. Since the invention of electric lights, though, we no longer have to depend on the weather. It’s true that basking under a 60-watt bulb doesn’t quite have that sunny day effect, but now there’s light therapy. It uses a light box, which provides extra bright light for regular time periods every day. While experts have different theories on why light affects us so much, including that light influences chemicals like serotonin and melatonin that regulate our brains, many agree that light therapy can help. Eric Johnson, Ph.D., a psychologist with Compass Mental Wellness Services in Seaford, says UV light provides vitamin D, which helps regulate mood and deal with depression. Light therapy can also help keep a regular sleep schedule even during winter’s weird dark-light hours. He recommends consulting a medical provider when starting light therapy for guidance.
A piping-hot mug of cider or hot toddy, frankly, just won’t go over the same way in July. So take your chance while you have it to really enjoy the little things that make winter better. Get warm to the core at a sauna. Cuddle up with a good book and a blanket at the end of the day. Or set aside a regular time to paint, draw or work on a crossword puzzle. This summer, the lawn mower will be demanding your attention, but for now you can relax and listen to the cold rain on the windows.
For some reason—the arctic wind that cuts like a carving knife, perhaps—the temptation is strong to lounge indoors during the cold-weather months. But fresh air and exercise are essential to mental health and mood. Exercise boosts endorphins—commonly referred to as your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters—and can help reduce stress by reducing cortisol and increasing dopamine, the happy hormone. Not up for a 5K? That’s OK—even a short walk is better for you than zero exercise.
Rockwood Mansion, built in 1851 for Joseph Shipley and eventually deeded to New Castle County, is known for its beautiful Rural Gothic Revival architecture—and apparitions of former residents, long passed. Sure, you could come for a history or garden tour, but if excitement is what you’re after, consider the paranormal tour (newcastlede.gov/431/Rockwood-Park-Museum), offered monthly. Walk the property with an expert as they show you how to operate ghost-hunting devices like EMF meters and dowsing rods and guide you on how to communicate with the dead.
Perk up with a dual-activity outing that includes brunch and duckpin bowling. At Wilma’s in downtown Wilmington, the URL (goodtimewilmas.com) says it all. Warm up with New Orleans–style staples (Crab Cake Benny, Chicken and Waffles) and then hit the lanes for a “lighter” version of bowling—the ball and pins weigh a lot less—that spells fun for the whole family.
Picnics aren’t just for grassy meadows—clear a spot by the fire on your living room floor and re-create a favorite summertime spread. Charcuterie boards are all the rage and pair well with mulled wine or hot cider. Make it extra special by hiring Wilmington’s Kelly Van Sickle (Say Cheese by KV) to prepare the board of your dreams. And don’t forget to add s’mores to the dessert menu.
Needing a weekend getaway? Look no further than Berkeley Springs. Tucked in the West Virginia mountains, less than three hours from Wilmington, this unique little town bubbles with rejuvenating thermal waters. Not only are hot springs relaxing but they are also known to detox your skin and improve blood flow.
They say laughter is the best medicine, and what better way to dose than a comedy act? The Boulevard Live Entertainment Restaurant in Dover (theboulevardde.com), the Milton Theatre (miltontheatre.com) and the Bellefonte Brewing Co. Brandywine in Wilmington (bellefontebrewingcompany.com) are just a few places that feature them.
This Latin dance style originated in New York in the 1960s, combining elements of Cuban, American and Puerto Rican dance. Not only is salsa great exercise but it’s also an exciting, sensual experience that can help improve self-confidence and burn off stress. Take the Lead Dance Studio in Hockessin (taketheleaddance.com) and the Blue Ballroom in Wilmington (blueballroom.net) are two places you can learn this spicy new skill.
Those long nights can feel isolating; build bonds even when you’re alone by penning handwritten letters to friends. Rehash old memories or catch them up on new events. It’s never too late to remind someone how important they are to you, and it’s a gesture that they’re sure to treasure. Feeling creative? Add a doodle or customize your stationery with everything from stickers to hot wax seals. Find memorable selections of stationery at Whimsy in Greenville (whimsygreenville.com) and Smyrna Cards and Gifts (smyrnacardsandgifts.com).
Related: 20 Tips to Become Your Best Self in Delaware This Year