Best Beaches in Delaware

Best Delaware Beaches 2024

Though Delaware has its beautiful spots – including some of the mid-Atlantic’s best beaches – its tourist boards have their work cut out.

Most of the images potential visitors have of the state are negative: Delaware is known for the massive chemical plants of the DuPont Corporation and Dover Air Force Base, as well as for tolerating shady business practices – half of America’s largest companies have their official bases in this tiny state, thanks to its permissive tax, banking, and incorporation laws.

To downplay the state’s dubious contemporary image, Delaware’s promoters emphasize its past – for example, as the first ex-colony to ratify the Constitution, it claims the title of America’s First State.

The capital Dover may not keep your attention long, but beyond it the small and amiable resorts of Lewes and Rehoboth Beach mark the northern extent of over twenty miles of unspoiled Atlantic beaches.

Bethany Beach

Nicknamed “the quiet resorts,” Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island boast the most laid-back atmosphere of the Maryland and Delaware beach resorts.

Bethany Beach began life as a religious retreat and over the past 100 years, its residents have fought hard to keep it a sanctuary. Until a few years ago, it was illegal to sell liquor in Bethany Beach. There still are no bars in town.

Beach Dancer at Bethany Beach, DE
Beach Dancer at Bethany Beach, DE by Ryan Biller

Bethany Beach was deliberately planned to be an oasis, a retreat for members of the Christian Church – also known as the Disciples of Christ of the Washington, D.C., Area, and Pennsylvania. Its members were not looking for a town but for a quiet place where they could build a permanent seaside retreat for like-minded Christians across the United States.

The long stretch of unspoiled beach and the fact that the area was a fair distance from any large settlements made it ideal.

The land was purchased by the Christian Missionary Society and the community chose its name shortly thereafter. H.L. Atkinson won a nationwide contest when he suggested the new town be called Bethany Beach. His prize was a beachfront lot.

Bethany Beach offers families and other travelers an impressively calm alternative to the bustle of Ocean City to the south and the sophistication and shopping of Rehoboth to the north. It’s a great place just to sit back and enjoy the beach.

Dewey Beach

Head south from Rehoboth and you hit Dewey Beach. It’s a more casual suburb of Rehoboth with a trolley connecting the towns in the summer.

From its start, Dewey Beach was different from Delaware’s other resorts.

Founded as a religious retreat, Dewey Beach had bylaws that prohibited diversions such as dancing, drinking and card playing within a mile of the enclave.

Dewey Beach
Dewey Beach

Just to the south in 1877, William Fountain built the Douglass House Hotel, where alcohol was served, in Rehoboth City – now called Dewey Beach. For other early visitors, the land that became Dewey Beach was the place where tourists could launch a sailboat on Rehoboth Bay, go duck hunting, and fish in the surf.

For years, the town has been a party destination. The same is true today. Dewey is noted for its nightspots. Ruddertowne, in particular, draws young crowds for its party atmosphere.

But the beach is good and the Rehoboth Bay is only a couple of blocks from the ocean.

Fenwick Island

Fenwick Island sits at Delaware’s southern tip. Its shoreline includes both Little Assawoman Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a family place determined to maintain its peaceful way of life.

For years, Fenwick Island was virtually inaccessible from the north or south, until Route 1 connected it with its neighbors.

Situated between the Atlantic Ocean and Little Assawoman Bay, Fenwick Island is an ideal place for all kinds of water sports, from crabbing to kayaking.

Fenwick Island State Park, Delaware
Fenwick Island State Park, Delaware by Lee Cannon

The town beaches are guarded from Memorial Day to Labor Day, as are the beaches at Fenwick Island State Park.

Primarily a town of single-family vacation homes, Fenwick Island also boasts an increasingly diverse business district, which offers everything from top seafood restaurants to shops filled with unique crafts and home accessories.

The resort has several attractions of historical interest, including the DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum, the Fenwick Island Lighthouse, and the Transpeninsular Line Monument Stone.

The lighthouse dates to 1854. The monument stone was erected in 1739 to end a century-old dispute between the founding families of Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Lewes Beach

Whether you come down Hwy-1, or cruise across on the ferry from Cape May, New Jersey, Lewes makes a good introduction to the Delaware coast.

Its natural harbor at the mouth of Delaware Bay has attracted seafarers ever since a Dutch whaling company set up a small colony here in 1631.

Lewes’ current role as a summer beach resort hasn’t obscured its substantial history, outlined in the mock-Dutch Zwaanendael Museum, in the heart of town on Savannah Road at Kings Highway.

Lewes Beach
Lewes Beach

Along the canal, keep an eye out for the Overfalls Lightship, which lit the entrance to Delaware Bay until 1961, and, lined up along the top of Memorial Park, the array of cannons, one said to be from an old pirate ship.

Though Lewes can justly boast of being “the First Town in the First State,” most people come here for its beach rather than its history.

There’s an extensive strand along the usually calm Delaware Bay at the foot of the town, while three-thousand-acre Cape Henlopen State Park, where the bay meets the open ocean just a mile east of the town center, offers the chance to camp beside the biggest sand dunes north of Cape Hatteras.

For a nice day out or a possible next leg of your journey, take the seventy-minute ferry trip across Delaware Bay from beside the state park to the pleasant Victorian beach resort of Cape May.

Except on peak summer weekends, Lewes is quiet enough that you should have no trouble finding a motel room along Savannah Road. Most of the restaurants, not surprisingly, feature seafood.

Rehoboth Beach

A nonstop parade of motels and shopping malls along the six miles of Hwy-1 links Lewes with Rehoboth Beach, Delaware’s largest and liveliest beach resort, which merges into Dewey Beach at its southern end.

Crowded all summer, but nearly empty the rest of the year, Rehoboth – which started life as a Methodist revival camp, and attracts so many escapees from DC that it’s known as the Nation’s Summer Capital – is more family-oriented than other beach towns, lacking the nightlife of Ocean City but making up for it with miles of clean and uncrowded sands.

Rehoboth Beach
Rehoboth Beach

Rehoboth has less of a history than Lewes, though its wooden boardwalk is one of the last on the East Coast. It stretches along the Atlantic to either side of Rehoboth Avenue – always “The Avenue” – which acts as the main drag, its four short blocks clogged with souvenir shoppers browsing through the usual array of T-shirts and seaside kitsch.

Beyond the beach and boardwalk, Rehoboth offers a range of attractions and activities to explore. Indulge in delectable seafood at one of the many restaurants, from casual fish shacks to fine dining establishments. Discover unique boutiques and art galleries that showcase the talents of local artists, offering a chance to take home a piece of Rehoboth’s charm. For those seeking adventure, nearby state parks provide opportunities for hiking, biking, and wildlife spotting.

Most of the restaurants and nightspots are concentrated here, with Thrashers French Fries stands and burger bars mixed in with the mock-Caribbean beach shack decor of the Back Porch Cafe, 59 Rehoboth Ave, and the gaudy Mexican touch of the Iguana Grill, a block north at 52 Baltimore Ave.

After dark, the action shifts to the anglophile environs of the Country Squire, 19 Rehoboth Ave, which has the largest beer selection for miles.

If shopping is your passion, Rehoboth has the largest concentration of outlet stores in the Delmarva area, with more than 140 famous name shops like Nike, Donna Karan, Gap, and Coach, where, as in all of Delaware, you can shop tax-free.

Cape Henlopen State Park

This expansive park is located at the mouth of Delaware Bay, offering stunning views of both ocean and bay waters. The white sands and gentle waves make this a perfect spot for swimming or sunbathing. Plus, if you’re looking to explore more of the park, the nearby trails offer miles of scenic walking paths.

Cape Henlopen State Park beach looking north July 2022
Cape Henlopen State Park beach looking north by Dough4872

Visitors can also take a tour of the historic lighthouse, which offers spectacular views of the bay. With plenty of shops and restaurants dotting the surrounding area, Cape Henlopen State Park is the perfect place to enjoy a day in the great outdoors. Whether you’re looking for an idyllic beach getaway or simply want to appreciate nature’s beauty, you’ll find it at Cape Henlopen State Park.

Fenwick Island State Park

As its name suggests, Fenwick Island is located on the southern tip of Fenwick Island, which was once an island in its own right, before the 1889 construction of the lighthouse bridge connected it to the mainland. The state park offers visitors two miles of pristine white sand beaches and crystal clear waters, perfect for swimming, fishing, kayaking, and other water sports.

Fenwick Island State Park
Delaware beaches: Fenwick Island State Park by Nouhailler

For those seeking more than just a day at the beach, Fenwick Island State Park offers plenty of activities and nearby attractions. Campers can enjoy modern electric sites, rustic cabins, and primitive camping with access to restroom facilities. Guests can also explore the surrounding area on foot, bike, or horseback via nine miles of multi-use trails. Visitors can also take advantage of bird-watching tours and interpretative programs hosted by local park rangers throughout the summer.

Delaware Seashore State Park

South of Rehoboth, Delaware Seashore State Park stretches for miles along a thin, sandy peninsula, split by Hwy-1 and bounded on the east by the Atlantic and on the west by various freshwater marshlands.

Delaware Seashore State Park is one of the most stunning beach locations in the state. This park features a wide array of activities for visitors to enjoy, from fishing and crabbing to boating and swimming. There are miles of shoreline with plenty of room for sunbathing, picnicking, and bird watching.

Cape Henlopen State Park Beach Lewes Delaware
Cape Henlopen State Park Beach Lewes Delaware by Michele Dorsey Walfred

The park also provides access to Delaware’s only off-road biking and hiking trails, connecting the shore with inland freshwater ponds. Camping is allowed here as well, allowing visitors to truly enjoy all that nature has to offer. This park offers a unique chance to experience the beauty of the Delaware beaches along with nature’s best amenities.

Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge

The Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge is a breathtaking beach destination on Delaware Bay. With miles of tranquil shoreline, this protected area is a prime spot for bird-watching, kayaking, and other outdoor activities. The area is teeming with life, including over 320 species of birds, as well as numerous reptiles and amphibians. Visitors can explore the wetlands via a network of trails and boardwalks, or relax in the dunes or sandy beaches.

Coastline at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge (DE)
Coastline at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge (DE) by U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Northeast Region

The refuge also offers educational activities such as birding tours, nature walks, campfire programs, and more. With its diverse wildlife and wild beauty, Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge is an ideal location for those seeking an outdoor escape – one that can be enjoyed year-round.

Final Word

We hope you enjoyed our blog post on the best beaches in Delaware. Delaware may be a small state, but it is home to some hidden gems when it comes to beautiful beaches. From the serene shores of Cape Henlopen to the vibrant atmosphere of Rehoboth Beach, there is something for everyone. We encourage you to take the time to explore these beaches and discover the natural beauty and charm that Delaware has to offer. So pack your sunscreen, grab your beach towel, and get ready for a day of sun, sand, and relaxation on Delaware’s stunning coastline.

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