Sitting at the southern lip of Delaware Bay, Lewes is a vacation and sportfishing center that traces its roots back to 1631, when it was settled by the Dutch West India Company as a whaling port. Though this colony lasted only two years, Lewes calls itself the “First Town in the First State,” commemorating its history in the false-gabled brick Zwaanendael Museum (102 Kings Hwy., 302/645-1148, Tues.-Sun. Apr.-Oct., Wed.-Sat. Nov.-Mar., free) at the center of town. Lewes also harbors huge sand dunes, a fine stretch of beach, and a campground with showers in 3,000-acre Cape Henlopen State Park (302/645-8983), east of town at the mouth of Delaware Bay. Expect relative peace and quiet here, since many visitors, arriving off the Cape May ferry, simply rush through Lewes to the beach resorts farther south.
Fronting the open Atlantic, Rehoboth Beach was founded in the 1870s when church groups bought beachfront land, established the town, and extended a railroad line south from Lewes. The highway frontage along Hwy-1 is over-full of franchise food and factory outlet malls, but the heart of town along Rehoboth Avenue is the place to go. With its summer-only but lively Sputnik-era Funland Amusement Park (302/227-1921, hours vary May-Sept.), where the attractions include bumper cars, a nighttime haunted house, and a tidy boardwalk running along the broad beach, Rehoboth has somehow retained a small-town feel despite the many thousands of bureaucrats and power brokers who descend on the place during the summer, escaping the sweltering heat of Washington DC.
The DC connection helps explain the town’s profusion of good (and some expensive) restaurants. Lining the main drag are casual, kid-friendly places like Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats (320 Rehoboth Ave., 302/226-2739), which has great food and killer beers in Delaware’s oldest brewpub. There are also the traditional delights of Thrasher’s French Fries and sundry beer-and-burger joints along the boardwalk.
Places to stay include some quaint old B&Bs and a barrage of highway chain motels, plus local ones like the Beach View Hotel (6 Wilmington Ave., 302/227-2999, $97 and up), on the boardwalk.