The New P-Town: 10 Reasons Why Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, Should Be Your Next LGBT Vacation Destination
For years, Provincetown, Massachusetts, has been known as the go-to beach town for LGBT travelers. But what many don’t realize is that there’s an equally welcoming destination in Delaware that attracts thousands of LGBT tourists every summer. See why Rehoboth Beach, a charming coastal town with gay and lesbian beaches, hip restaurants, and a vibrant nightlife, closely rivals its LGBT-friendly neighbor to the north.
The Delaware coast is known for its seafood shacks, where you can feast on spiced shrimp, fried crab cakes, and buttery silver corn. Rehoboth is full of them, but it also has plenty of bistros with a sophisticated, more urban flair. Eden, on Baltimore Avenue, is a local favorite for its pork belly quesadilla and expansive wine list. Nearby Henlopen City Oyster House serves champagne oyster shooters and a cognac-spiked lobster mac and cheese that are to die for. (Just make sure you arrive early; they don’t take reservations.) And here’s an insider secret: At The Cultured Pearl, a sushi restaurant with a roof deck and koi pond, the best thing on the menu is a local specialty—the cream of crab soup.
Even in the middle of high season, there are stretches of this 5,000-acre state park where the only sounds you’ll hear are the pine warblers and the chirping crickets. With multiple access points less than a mile from town, it’s easy to grab a bike rental and take off down the 5.8-mile Junction and Breakwater Trail through the lush marshlands of Cape Henlopen. The 5.2-mile Gordons Pond Trail, which runs closer to the shore, might be a little more crowded, but the payoff is the Fort Miles Historical Area, where you can climb to the top of a WWII observation tower that boasts 360-degree views of the Delaware coast. This well-tended state park is one of the main reasons why tourists return to Rehoboth year after year.
It takes only a minute of wandering through Rehoboth for your sweet tooth to ache. Stumble within a block of Kilwin’s on Rehoboth Avenue, and you might as well make your way inside; the sugary smell of candy-coated apples and maple walnut fudge is impossible to resist. You’ll run into a similar issue down the street, where Fisher’s fragrant caramel corn is served piping hot. On the boardwalk, kids go nuts for The Ice Cream Store, which offers over 100 homemade flavors with zany names like “NETFLIX & Chill” (vanilla ice cream dyed red, with Kit Kats and M&Ms) and “Chocolate I Don’t Give a Fork.” But the better pick is The Royal Treat, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor where the service is as warm as the hot fudge.
Just south of Rehoboth, there are four other resort towns full of tourists. But they all show up here when they want to shop. The Tanger Outlets (one of the only attractions on this list that requires a short car ride) are stacked with top-brand products at discount prices, like Coach, Polo Ralph Lauren, Bose, and Le Creuset. Downtown, independent boutiques offer unique clothing, jewelry, and home decor, including many pieces crafted by local artists. On Rehoboth Avenue, Mod Cottage stocks Kai fragrances (Reese Witherspoon is a fan), Pine Cone Hill bedding, and handmade Mariposa seaside tableware. Uber-trendy Coral Cove is like Anthropologie meets the beach, with bohemian-chic knitwear and bags, mercury glass votives, and fine paper products. On 1st Street, there’s even a men’s boutique (unfortunately named BRASHhh) that offers such goods as Italian leather sandals, French Connection tees, and Duke Cannon skincare.
For travelers who are constantly car-bound, there’s nothing like a beach town where you can barhop on foot. In P-Town, imbibing tourists wander mile-long Commercial Street. Revelers in Rehoboth thread their way through three beachfront blocks, with stops at dance clubs, drag shows, bluegrass pubs, and local breweries. The Blue Moon, housed in an aqua-and-gold Victorian on Baltimore Street, is a fine-dining restaurant by day, rip-roaring discotheque by night. Drag queen karaoke at The Purple Parrot often gets out of hand (in a good way), and The Pond, a pub on 1st Street that’s popular with lesbians, hosts local rock musicians on the weekends. Back on Rehoboth Avenue, Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats, the smallest commercial brewery in the U.S., features live jazz, blues, and folk music. And that’s just scratching the surface—there are enough venues to enjoy a different experience every night of your vacation.
The white sands in Rehoboth are packed with an exciting assortment of all kinds of people. But for LGBT travelers, it’s nice to spend time in a queer refuge every once in a while. Especially one as lovely as Poodle Beach, a wide patch of sand at the southern end of the boardwalk that’s popular with gay men. The beach is always abuzz with gossip and pop music, there’s a vendor serving grilled burgers and strawberry slushies, and the volleyball games are a great way to meet other singles. On the opposite end of town, the beach at North Shores is popular with lesbians. It’s less of a scene on this quieter stretch of waterfront, separated by a long jetty and dotted with WWII observation towers. It’s also easily accessible to Cape Henlopen, if you’re looking to break up your day with a long walk through the lush marshlands of Gordons Pond Wildlife Area.
In 1878, the Junction and Breakwater Railroad constructed a line from Rehoboth to nearby Lewes. Today, a 6-mile-long bike trail exists in its place, providing easy access for tourists in search of some local history. Lewes is the location of the first European settlement in Delaware, founded by Dutch migrants in 1631. The Zwaanendael Museum, named for the settlement, is modeled after a former city hall in the Netherlands, with terra-cotta roof tiles and bright red shutters. This free museum features exhibits on local shipwrecks and lighthouses, as well as the bombardment of Lewes by the British during the War of 1812. The Lewes Historical Society offers tours of the town’s many landmarks, like Delaware’s oldest surviving structure, the 17th-century Ryves Holt House, and the 18th-century Cannonball House (rumored to be haunted). Another notable fact about Lewes: It’s where you can catch the 85-minute ferry ride to Cape May, New Jersey, for an afternoon.
Every Tuesday, farmers, bakers, and beekeepers from all over the Delmarva Peninsula set up shop in Grove Park, near the heart of downtown. They include family-owned Fifer Orchards, celebrating its centennial this year and famous for its blood-red strawberries and stalks of rhubarb. AlaskaWild Seafoods is another regular vendor, selling salmon and swordfish caught in regulated waters monitored by biologists to ensure a healthy fish return. And Celtic Acres, along with organic eggs, has the flowers for a handsome centerpiece. The friendly vendors are happy to provide samples of their delicacies, and local jazz vocalists serenade shoppers.
Rehoboth has plenty of condominiums near the boardwalk’s amusement park, Funland, as well as roomy cottages, both old and brand-new. For luxury stays, Boardwalk Plaza calls itself the “beach house with 84 bedrooms.” Located on the oceanfront, its Victorian vibe transports guests to another era, minus the snobbery. Its fine-dining restaurant, Victoria’s, hosts a traditional tea every afternoon, and the Plaza Pub, its oceanfront lounge, has a walnut bar and cozy leather chairs. In August, a three-night stay in a concierge-floor standard double will set you back $1,200, but you can save in September and October—arguably the loveliest time of year on the mid-Atlantic coast. The only thing missing is a spa. That you can find at the exclusive Bellmoor and Avenue inns, located just a couple of blocks inland, which offer equally luxurious experiences at comparable prices.
There are many residents who live in Rehoboth all year, which means the town doesn’t go quiet once the temperature drops below 75 degrees. In October alone, Rehoboth hosts two major annual events: the Sea Witch Festival, which includes a costume parade (and a costume contest for dogs), magic shows, pony rides, and a broom-tossing contest; and the True Blue Jazz Festival, which celebrates jazz from every era with live performances by such luminaries as Kat Edmonson, Bill Charlap, and other internationally recognized musicians. Even in the dead of winter, couples sojourn to Rehoboth for a romantic weekend at the Rehoboth Guest House, an LGBT-owned, Victorian-style bed-and-breakfast in the heart of downtown.