Vacations in Delaware can range from a traditional family beach trip to an adults-only getaway. Here’s a roundup of the fun things to do in Delaware, from kid-friendly attractions to historic sites.
Delaware is uniquely positioned to be considered part of two different multi-state tourist regions. To the south, it’s the “Del” in the DelMarVa peninsula, with Maryland and Virginia. And the Brandywine Valley to the west spans Delaware and Pennsylvania. The perk to vacationing in Delaware? It’s small. So, whether you’re spending a couple of days or a week, you can get to the beach, hit a couple of museums and still have time for a leisurely walk in the woods. Here are many of the fun things to do in Delaware to help you plan your vacation.
Start the Day on the Bethany Beach Boardwalk
The Delaware beaches are wonderful any time of day, but I always enjoy having a boardwalk to myself in the morning. The one in Bethany Beach is particularly lovely. Although the cute shops like the independent bookstore Bethany Beach Books might not be open, summer street parking is free until 10 am.
You’ll share the promenade with strolling seniors getting their morning exercise, sea birds looking for breakfast and lifeguards finishing their pre-duty warmups before heading to the local WaWa for lattes and egg sammies.
Taste Ice Cream Fresh from the Cow
Head to the University of Delaware campus and look for signs for the UDairy Creamery. Agriculture students serve up the freshest homemade ice cream. I still dream about the cone I enjoyed during a college visit years ago.
But, if you ask Delawarians about their favorite ice cream, they’ll send you to the Woodside Farm Creamery. I stopped there on my way home. It delayed me long enough that I hit a traffic jam and thunderstorm. Was it worth it? Oh, yeah. The ice cream’s so dense, it feels like you’re taking a bite out of a filet mignon.
Spend the Day at Delaware Seashore State Park
Think of an ocean-related activity. Surfing? Swimming? Kayaking? Hiking? If you can dream it, you can do it at Delaware Seashore State Park. Operated by the state government, Delaware Seashore State Park offers all of the amenities you’d expect, including lifeguard-protected beaches from Memorial Day to Labor Day, plenty of bathhouses and concessions.
Take a Spin on the Funland Carousel
No trip to Rehoboth Beach is complete without a trip to Funland, the classic amusement park. Family-owned and operated since 1962, Funland has everything you could ask for on a breezy summer night. Let the kids beat you at Whack-a-Mole, ride the teacups and indulge in a froth of cotton candy. Reservations are required for entry into the ride section of Funland. Information’s available on the website.
Learn About Delaware Wildlife
Delaware has an abundance of critters and is serious about protecting them for generations to come. There are both federal- and state-operated wildlife refuges and each offers different types of activities and educational opportunities. Three of the most popular are:
- Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge
- Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge
- Russell Peterson Wildlife Refuge
Or take a naturalist-led eco-cruise and explore inland waterways and wetlands on the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal. You might see bald eagles, herons and osprey and you’ll learn how the fiddler crab got its name. The eco-cruise, offered by Cape Water Tours in Lewes, lasts an hour and a half and prices range from $28 for adults to $22 for kids 11 and under.
Chill at Crooked Hammock Brewery
Whether you’re spending time in Lewes or just passing through to sail on the Cape May ferry, make time to grab a bite to eat and a brew at Crooked Hammock. The interior is similar to most craft brewery restaurants. Choose instead to sit outside in the Crooked Hammock backyard.
With hammocks, fire pits and playground, it feels like your neighbor’s backyard. And the food’s what you’d expect at a block party. Wash it down with one of their lighter alcohol beers. Thoughtfully, Crooked Hammock offers half pints which I feel is the right size for lunch. I fell in love with coconut-tinged South to Somewhere and brought home a case. There’s also a cool Instagram set. Tag your photos #HammockStateofMind.
Tour the Air Mobility Command Museum
If your trip to Delaware includes a visit to Dover, include a stop at the Air Mobility Command Museum. There are over 30 aircraft on display and you can climb aboard some of them.
The museum is dedicated to preserving the history of airlifts and air rescues. Open from Wednesday – Sunday, the Air Mobility Command Museum also offers a popular summer camp program for budding pilots.
Sip the Suds at Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Dogfish Head is one of the most popular and widely available craft beers. The local brewing facility is in Milton, Delaware, and, if you’re in the area, plan a stop for a taste. Driving? No worries. Try their latest creation, Lemon Quest. It’s a non-alcoholic wheat brew and was a huge hit with the pregnant mom sitting next to me at the Dogfish Head restaurant in downtown Rehoboth.
The beer’s odd name refers to a location in Maine, but Dogfish is tremendously invested in Delaware. Their charitable efforts return a huge amount of money to local organizations each year through their Benevolence efforts. For example, they’re currently brewing Pontoon Lagoon, a gose-style ale made with local ingredients, and a portion of each sale goes to the DE Center for the Inland Bays.
Go Biking…for Free!
Cape Henlopen State Park has a free borrow a bike program. Pick one up at the Seaside Nature Center and explore the park’s trails. Bikes are available on a first come, first served basis, courtesy of the Friends of Cape Henlopen.
You might run into President Joe Biden. He and wife Jill recently pedaled the 5.2 mile Gordons Pond Trail that runs from the park to Rehoboth. The First Couple has a beach house in the area.
The trail runs by one of the 11 WWII observation towers that dot the Delaware coast. Built between 1939 and 1942, the towers were staffed with 8 soldiers. They’d scan the Atlantic for enemy U-boats. If one was sighted at multiple locations, the target’s coordinates could be fixed for an attack, if needed.
Get Your Art On
The entrance to the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington is graced by an installation by the popular American glass artist, Dale Chihuly. So, technically, you could approach the front of the museum, ooh and aah, and be done with it.
But you’d be missing out. The Delaware Art Museum has a lovely permanent collection. Check out the romantic paintings of the British pre-Raphaelites. Open Wednesdays through Sundays, when admission is free.
Art lovers will also want to check out the Biggs Museum of American Art and the collection of American Decorative Arts at Winterthur Museum is not to be missed.
Vroom! Dover International Speedway
Opened in 1969, the Dover International Speedway regularly hosts NASCAR events. Check their schedule to see if you’re lucky enough to be in town to catch a race.
If not, you can put your helmet on and drive the track in a full-size Indy-style racing car. Got a need for speed? This is your chance to cross one off the bucket list.
Not into racing? The Dover International Speedway is also the host site for the very popular Firefly Music Festival, set to return in the fall of 2021.
Just a few miles west of Delaware’s beaches are the state’s many farms. According to theUSDA, Delaware ranks right behind California in per farm sales! Road stands pop up in season so you can pick up sweet corn, watermelons or lima beans to bring back to your beach house rental for dinner.
Or head to Good Earth Market and Restaurant. Shop for produce to take home and stay for a farm to table meal prepared by Chef Nino Mancari.
If you drove to Delaware, another way to celebrate the soil is to stop at a local nursery. I love doing this to find plants I don’t find locally. My favorite find from this trip was a golden coreopsis named Jethro Tull which just happens to be my hubby’s favorite band. It made the perfect souvenir.
The Open Suitcase Tip: If you do pick up a local plant, check the zone guide on the marker. For example, a perennial in Delaware will probably only last as an annual in my New York garden.
Jungle Jim’s Waterpark
If your family loves Jungle Jim’s is the largest in Delaware. Located in Rehoboth, the park offers a twilight rate after 3 pm, so you can save some cash. Head there after enjoying sun and fun at the beach.
Golf in Lewes
Want to teach the kids to golf? The Midway Par 3 in Lewes is perfect for introducing the sport to young children. If you have teens, head to the American Classic Golf Club. It’s anything but stuffy. Golf carts are painted with flags and loud golf attire is encouraged.
If you’re just looking for fun, there are many mini golf courses in the beach towns, including a very fun Viking-themed one in Fenwick Island.
Kayak Rehoboth Bay
The waters of Rehoboth Bay are ideal for kayaking. During your trip, you might see an osprey fly overhead with his fish lunch dangling from his talons. I was amazed by the clumps of mussels clinging to the base of the sea grasses. There are a number of rental locations along the bayfront. A kayaking lesson with a guided excursion at Delmarva Board Sports in north Dewey Beach is $45; it’s a great option for beginners.
I’m a sub-beginner, so strong afternoon breezes made my paddle a challenge. My guide was very patient and kept up a stream of encouraging conversation so I was able to make it back to shore – he offered to tow me in but the sheer thought of surrender made me wince! Book an early morning or late afternoon trip when the Bay breezes are more reliably calm.
Visit the Hagley Museum and Library
The Hagley Museum and Library is located on the banks of the Brandywine River in Delaware, the site of E.I. du Pont’s gunpowder works. Although now known as one of the wealthiest dynasties in the US, the family emigrated to the US during the French Revolution with a whopping debt owed to investors. They struggled financially until the Civil War erupted and there was a need for large quantities of gunpowder.
Although most of the indoor exhibitions, including the Eleutherian Mills mansion, are closed due to Covid, visitors can explore the 235-acre property and see the mansion’s exterior and garden, the collection of antique weather vanes and a Conestoga wagon used to transport the gunpowder. You’ll learn about the apprentice program for workers. Half of their 5 cents per hour wage was retained to encourage them to complete the 4-year training program. At the conclusion, the retained wages were returned to them, with interest. The docents I met were all ex-employees of the company who proudly declared they worked for “Dupont’s”, because they thought of the massive global conglomerate as a family business.
Check the Hagley website for the latest Covid-19 protocols, guided tour schedules and special events. For example, the Hagley, in a partnership with Dogfish Head Brewery, hosts Bike & Hike & Brews days and your leashed dogs are welcome!
Another Brandywine historic property to visit is Nemours Estate in Wilmington. You can wander the 77 rooms in the mansion, revel in the formal French gardens or drool over the collection of antique cars.
Take a Ride on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry
Looking for a fun way to begin or end your Delaware vacation? Book a trip for you, your family and your car on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. The 85-minute trip across Delaware Bay gives the family driver a break and may help you avoid summer traffic.
The ferry runs 365 days a year. Summer visitors should book well in advance. I was shut out on a recent visit when I tried to buy a ticket the day before. The ferry only holds 100 cars. The 2021 one-way price for your car is $35; passenger pricing ranges from $10 to free for kids under 6.
The ferry can hold many more foot passengers than cars, so it’s possible to book a spur of the moment roundtrip day trip to either Cape May or Lewes. There is public transportation to the downtown areas available from both ferry terminals. In Lewes, Cape Henlopen is an easy walk or bike ride from the terminal.
Looking for a more elegant water voyage? Check out the Kalmar Nyckel, the Tall Ship of Delaware. It’s a full-size replica of the Swedish ship that founded the first European settlement in the Delaware Valley in 1638. The Kalmar Nyckel is positioned in different locations; check the website for sailing information.
Meet the Lemurs at the Brandywine Zoo
Kids love to see the lemurs at the Brandywine Zoo in Wilmington DE, particularly if they are fans of the “Madagascar” animated films.
The Zoo’s a bargain. Parking’s free and adult admission is $7. Kids under 3 are free.
Get Snap Happy on the Delaware Discoveries Trail
Some might think of Delaware’s small size as a drawback. But vacationers can really tour the entire state in just a couple of days. And Visit Delaware has provided a super fun way to road trip your way from the Brandywine Valley through western farm country and down to the beaches. The Delaware Discoveries Trail includes 11 locations with gorgeous murals, designed for posing and posting to Instagram.
Tag your photos #DelawareDiscoveries. And, if you visit 4 or more, submit your photos to Visit Delaware to receive a painting kit designed by the Developing Artist Collaboration group, Dirty Hands.
Take a Train Ride
All aboard! The Wilmington & Western Railroad offers scenic rides throughout the year. Many are themed events; there are princess trips and ones featuring super heroes. The train rides are a very popular activity in the Brandywine Valley. Make reservations in advance to ensure you get a seat!
Catch Your Dinner!
Delaware is known for its super fresh seafood. Not gonna lie. I ate some form of fish every day during my recent visit. What’s more fun than ordering off the menu? Catching your own! It’s easy to round up clams and crabs for a vacation meal you won’t forget.
Old Inlet Bait and Tackle rents clamming rakes for $10 a day ($30 deposit) and recommends heading to Tower Road, south of Dewey Beach. A license is required.
Have your own crabbing gear? Holts Landing State Park has a pier specifically designed and built for crabbing on Indian River Bay. Recreational crabbers are limited to one bushel per day.
One For the Birds
Migratory birds use Delaware as a pit stop during their annual flights, making the state a popular destination for birders. Don’t own binoculars? Book a guided trip with naturalist Jim Rapp of Delmarva Birding Weekends. Jim’s passionate about his feathered friends. You’ll definitely be swept up in his enthusiasm.
You can enjoy this activity at any time of the year, even in winter. In cooperation with the Dogfish Head Inn, Jim runs a January weekend where you might see over 100 different birds plus seals and other wildlife. Alternatively, June offers sunny weather, baby eagles and late spring/early summer flowers in bloom.
Watch a Baseball Game
Looking for an inexpensive and fun night out with the family? Go to see the Wilmington Blue Rocks, a single-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals.
Frawley Stadium is located on the beautiful Wilmington riverfront, field box seats are $17 and there are promotional events all summer long, including fireworks, giveaways and chances for the kids to run the bases.
Feeling Lucky? Visit Delaware’s Casinos
If you enjoy gambling action on vacation, Delaware has three casinos: Delaware Park, Dover Downs and Harrington Raceway. And each of them has a racetrack too. Delaware Park features thoroughbred racing. If you’ve never seen these magnificent horses run, it’s worth a visit.
The casinos also offer a variety of dining and live music venues to round out an adult night out.