Stretched along 25 miles of ocean and bay shoreline, Delaware's five beach towns -- Lewes, Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach, Bethany Beach, and Fenwick Island -- have their own personalities and ambience.
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With such a quaint little town to keep your attention, you just might forget there's a beach in Lewes, just on the other side of the canal. Metered parking at the beach is available. There are also bathhouses and lifeguards in season. The water is calm and the sand white. The best beach is at Cape Henlopen State Park (tel. 302/645-8983; www.destateparks.com/park/cape-henlopen), 1 mile east of Lewes. Admission is $8 per out-of-state car -- and it's worth it. The beaches are never wall-to-wall with bodies as they can be in Ocean City. Even the water at the confluence of Delaware Bay and the ocean seems calmer. You can take a walk or ride a bike on a nature trail here and look for shorebirds.
Rehoboth & Dewey
Swimming at Rehoboth's and Dewey's wide sandy beaches is one of the area's top activities. All the beaches have public access and are guarded, but there are no bathhouses.
At Rehoboth, look for the NO SWIMMING signs between Brooklyn Avenue and Laurel Street that warn against swimming near two sunken ships. Though the ships have been cut down to the waterline, it's best to avoid this dangerous spot. Tip: Rehoboth offers complimentary "Beach Wheels," wheelchairs designed for beach use, at the boardwalk and Maryland Avenue or Laurel Street. They're available on a first-come, first-served basis. Call tel. 302/227-2400 for details.
Just south of Dewey is perhaps Delaware's finest, quietest beach. A narrow strip of land between the ocean and Rehoboth and Indian River bays, Delaware Seashore State Park (tel. 302/227-2800; www.destateparks.com/park/delaware%2Dseashore) offers ocean waves and quiet bay waters. Besides 6 miles of beach -- two of them guarded from 9am to 5pm in summer -- there's a 310-slip full-service marina and boat ramp, plus 500 sites for RVs and campers. Part of the beach is set aside for surfing. Unguarded beach is available for surf fishing. With a yearly license, you can drive onto the beach. With a day pass, you can walk on. Concessions are available at the guarded beaches. Admission is $4 for Delaware cars, $8 for out-of-state vehicles. Note: The Indian River Inlet Bridge is being replaced; construction is expected to last until 2011. Besides creating noise, dust, and traffic snarls, this will result in the closure of some camping facilities and limit some fishing. See www.destateparks.com for updates.
Bethany & Fenwick
Bethany's public beach is small and can be very crowded. Visitors staying in oceanside houses and condos have their own private beaches, in most cases, and don't have to worry about crowds as much. You'll hear about dolphin sightings all around the Delaware beaches, but they're quite common here. The beach in front of the boardwalk is free and open to the public. It is guarded from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day, Monday through Friday from 10am to 5pm, weekends and holidays from 9:30am to 5:30pm. There are large, clean bathhouses behind the bandstand. Bethany Resort Rental (tel. 800/321-1592 or 302/539-6244) operates a rental concession on the beach, with 8-foot umbrellas, surf mats, boogie boards, chairs, and more.
Fenwick, on the border with Maryland, has more public beaches than Bethany. It's slightly more relaxed than Ocean City, but not as quiet as Bethany. Its claim to fame is the very narrow but long Fenwick Island State Park (tel. 302/227-2800; www.destateparks.com/park/fenwick-island), where you can watch the sun rise over the ocean and later watch the sun set over Assawoman Bay. The 3-mile beach offers public space for swimming, sunbathing, surf fishing, and surfing. Facilities include showers, changing rooms, a first-aid room, lifeguards, a gift shop, picnic tables, nonmotorized boat rentals, and refreshments. Admission is $4 for Delaware cars, $8 for out-of-state cars. Entry is free weekdays in spring and fall and all week in winter. Hours are 8am to sunset year-round.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.