Two by two a pod of some 40 dolphins arced through the water like a double chain of joyful chorus dancers. Enthralled by the Disneylike performance, the seaside crowd in Bethany Beach, Delaware, stood still in awe. For my family and me beaches are our happy places with their healing mix of sun, sand and soothing waves. Add shore critters, good restaurants and a balcony overlooking the ocean, and we morph into contented vacationers. Although summer is prime time, fall brings relatively warm water, fewer crowds and lower lodging fees.
For my family and me beaches are our happy places with their healing mix of sun, sand and soothing waves. Add shore critters, good restaurants and a balcony overlooking the ocean, and we morph into contented vacationers. Although summer is prime time, fall brings relatively warm water, fewer crowds and lower lodging fees.
Southern Delaware’s coast, encompassing 25 miles of ocean and bay shoreline, has been attracting explorers for centuries. In 1631 the Dutch established the whaling settlement Swanendael in what later became Lewes (pronounced “Lewis”), thus birthing the first town in the first state. Rehoboth, the grande dame of Delaware beach towns, bustles with a milelong boardwalk, hundreds of condos and many hotels. Thirteen miles south of Rehoboth, Bethany Beach shines as the “quiet resort.”
But quiet, as we learned on our first trip to Bethany Beach, doesn’t mean boring or bad. The beach town delivered good surprises. We reserved five nights at the Bethany Beach Ocean Suites Residence Inn after discovering that Rehoboth’s hotels and lodgings were either booked or required weeklong stays, unfeasible for my daughter and her family and for my husband and me.
Weary from a medical procedure, I craved easy. Not having to schlep blankets, pillows and towels to a rental-by-owner lodging was a plus. The hotel provided linens, cleaned rooms and featured a complimentary breakfast, an onsite restaurant and an oceanfront location. We sat on our balcony enjoying sea breezes with our morning coffee, watched kids flying kites in the afternoon and saw locals playing sand volleyball in the evening.
Being steps to the sand also made it easy for James, age 6, and Charlotte, 4, and their parents, Ann and Michael, to tote pails, shovels, beach towels, a blanket and a shade umbrella. We strolled with our toes in the ocean, sculpted mud pies into castles and dinosaurs, collected shells, searched for sea glass and splashed in the water. We also grazed Bethany’s two-block-long main drag for craveable beach eats, a family tradition.
We devoured a basket of crispy funnel cakes covered with powdered sugar at Steve’s Sugar Shack. Lili’s Place served fresh, made-to-order pizza. James and Charlotte devoured their pepperoni pie, and my vegan cheese and vegetable pizza bested a similar pie we order from our hometown of Washington, D.C., Maureen’s cake pops captivated James and Charlotte, and Ann liked the shop’s vegan ice cream.
Although we found fun food for lunch at the shore, we want tasty meals for dinner. Bethany Beach surprised us with its varied array of good restaurants. We dined on Italian fare in DiFebo’s plant-filled courtyard. My daughter and I split the huge cioppino filled with fresh clams, mussels, crab and shrimp.
At Off the Hook we especially liked the corn-crusted mahi and the blackened swordfish. Mac and cheese and chicken tenders satisfied the kids. Since Ann’s a barbecue fan, we ate at Bethany Blues, a bar and restaurant with an extensive bourbon menu and a roster of barbecue plates, smoked platters and sandwiches. Both kids munched the chicken tenders, and James felt like he had gotten away with something when he was able to watch sports on the wall televisions while he ate.
We knew Bluecoast Bethany had to be good when we pulled into the parking lot at 4:45 p.m. and nabbed the last spot. After us diners parked on the road’s shoulder. The fresh-cut fried calamari and the blackened tuna proved exceptional, and my pan-roasted grouper with watermelon and cantaloupe was tasty. Dessert was a divine nectarine and red plum cobbler with cinnamon ice cream.
Did I mention the camels, wallabies and kangaroos? We got up-close to those animals as well as owls, a lynx, a Watusi cow, tortoises, roosters and others at Barn Hill Preserve, Frankford, near the beach. My husband and I visited without the rest of the family since we couldn’t pry them off the sand.
How you respond to the preserve depends on how you feel about animals in captivity. Even though we wished some enclosures were bigger, the animals served as ambassadors, capturing the attention of the adults and kids. We learned about each species and sometimes quirks about a resident’s personality. Stimulated by scents, Sasha the Eurasian lynx especially likes Obsession by Calvin Klein.
As long as you don’t kick the kangaroos’ and wallabies’ soccer balls — the creatures don’t share — you can pet their surprisingly soft fur, a rare treat. Barn Hill also offers swimming with otters. As always, be careful. Animals are animals, and you must listen to the guides.
If you do all of these things or none of them at all, Bethany Beach is about the best place I can think of for a family getaway.
When You Go
Bethany Beach Ocean Suites Residence Inn by Marriott: www.marriott.com/en-us/hotels/rehri-bethany-beach-ocean-suites-residence-inn
Lili’s Place: www.lilisplacebethany.com
Steve’s Sugar Shack: 100 Garfield Parkway (no website)
Off the Hook: www.offthehookbethany.com
Bethany Blues: www.bethanyblues.com/Bethany-beach
Bluecoast Bethany: www.bluecoastbethany.com
Barn Hill Preserve: www.barnhillpreserve.com/barn-hill-preserve-delaware-2
Bethany Beach and Southern Delaware: www.visitsoutherndelaware.com