Beachbound in Dog-Friendly Delaware’s Off Season

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Ella and I strolled the boardwalk, enjoying the wind-in-our-hair freedom of ocean breezes and the lack of crowds on a mild spring weekend at Rehoboth Beach in dog-friendly Delaware. Gulls called, waves lapped the shore and we could taste salt in the air. All was serene until my 90-pound, 1-year-old Newfoundland caught the aroma of Thrasher’s French Fries. She lunged off the footpath, dragging me toward the kiosk where she propped her paws on the takeout window’s ledge, tongue out and ready to order her bucket of the thick-cut, peanut-oil-fried staple of Rehoboth Beach.

Off-season beaches are a dog lover’s delight, especially when mild weather evokes our desire to play on lightly populated beaches with our K-9 companions. As in many U.S. beach destinations, in Rehoboth, four-footed friends can prance the seaside promenade and romp in the sand from the beginning of October through the end of April. My husband and I rented a pet-friendly house across from the boardwalk for a five-day, multifamily getaway that included two busy toddlers and two devoted dogs.

Every morning, Ella proudly bounced along the boardwalk with us. My daughter’s 13-year-old West Highland Terrier preferred snoozing on the deck. Later in the day we all looked forward to time at the beach.

We soon learned we could turn our backs on our puppy, Ella, who reveled in the sandy play area and longed to spread her joy. She rooted in sand with her nose until she sneezed, rolled in a damp mixture the kids had created for building castles and shook mightily to send water and debris flying everywhere. Nearer the ocean’s edge, Ella dug her paws into the sand like a crazed cartoon pooch and barked at the waves, odd behavior for a Newfoundland — a breed born to swim and perform water rescues. Since Ella was still a headstrong pup, we didn’t coax her. Before she paddles into the Atlantic, we want to be sure she will return from the surf when called.

In many beach areas, local and state governments maintain parks that preserve coastal habitats while allowing public access. About 10 miles from Rehoboth, Cape Henlopen State Park sprawls on nearly 5,200 acres where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. The park features 6 miles of shoreline, wide dune-bordered beaches, loblolly pine forests, and hiking and biking trails that wind through meadows, tree thickets and along the shore.

With our toddlers safely entrenched in their Rehoboth Beach sandcastle construction site with others in our party, my husband and I took our pooch to explore Cape Henlopen State Park, whose beaches are also dog-friendly in the off-season. Ella strutted along the sand with us, sniffing the air contentedly.

To cap our shore day, we stopped for ice cream at Rehoboth Beach’s Salty Paws. The chalkboard listed the day’s specials — vanilla, coconut, blueberry and peanut butter. But should we top the treat with chicken, liver, lamb or beef? Salty Paws only serves dogs, rewarding them with lactose and sugar-free yogurt and goat’s milk creations in flavors such as maple bacon and blueberry peanut butter.

We had no idea what Ella preferred as this was our first doggy ice cream store, so naturally she taste-tested. That went a little too well. Ella slobbered down a spoonful of vanilla, nearly eating the spoon before I pulled it from her mouth. Clearly settled on that flavor, we topped her treat with dehydrated chicken and bacon crumbles that were enthusiastically inhaled.

Back at our rental, we ate takeout dinner on our patio with a whole grilled lobster from Chesapeake & Maine, grilled crab cakes and rockfish from Big Fish Market, and fish tacos from Stop N Go Tacos, but Ella didn’t go hungry. She happily caught chunks of tilapia, crab cakes and rockfish that we tossed her way, but when she eyed our lobster, we had to draw a line. Instead, we promised her another trip down the boardwalk to Delaware’s dedicated doggie ice cream bar.

When You Go

Thrasher’s French Fries: www.thrashersrehoboth.com

Cape Henlopen State Park: www.destateparks.com/beaches/capehenlopen. Vehicle entrance fees: $5 in state, $10 out of state.

Salty Paws: www.saltypawsrb.com

Stop N Go Tacos: www.stop-n-go-taco.business.site

Big Fish Market: www.bigfishgrillmarket.com

Chesapeake & Maine: www.dogfish.com/restaurants/chesapeake-maine

Visit Rehoboth: www.visitrehoboth.com

Southern Delaware Tourism: www.visitsoutherndelaware.com