1. Where to Stay
Recession-driven cancellations make it easy to score a last-minute beachfront house. Look for rentals on Jack Lingo Realtor (starting at $110). Remember: Rehoboth has the artsy gallery community, Bethany is particularly family-friendly, and party-all-night singles storm Dewey.
Start your day with a free yoga class at the Delaware Inn (from $180), a bright, newly renovated B&B. In addition to an organic breakfast, they will pack a pâté-and-crostini-filled picnic basket for the beach.
Forgo wicker-and-rattan shacks for a sleek suite at Hotel Rehoboth (from $329). You don’t have to lug beach chairs and a cooler, either—the hotel shuttle will give you a lift.
2. Where to Eat
Chef Nino Mancari has a tattoo of Alice Waters on his arm, and her influence is felt in his Salt Air Kitchen. Eat locally sourced dishes in a beach-friendly dining room, where driftwood is a major motif.
Hop on the Jolly Trolley, a twice-an-hour shuttle connecting Rehoboth to Dewey, and snag an outdoor table at the Lighthouse Cove. Watch the sun set over the bay as you listen to the live jazz accompanying your meal.
3. What to Do
The 2,825-acre Delaware State Seashore has been ranked among the cleanest beaches in the country. Tan, swim, or read at Rehoboth’s free public beach. Rent umbrellas and beach chairs from the concession stand near the Rehoboth Avenue entrance (from $5); during the sun’s peak, stroll the mile-long boardwalk for arcade games and saltwater taffy.
Rent a board from Bethany Surf Shop ($25 per day) and find the break just north of the Indian River Inlet Bridge. Consult the tides before you go — beginners should avoid the stronger waves that hit at high tide.
In the afternoon, stash the longboard and hit Dewey Beach, consistently rated one of the best skim spots on the East Coast. Take an hour-long lesson with Alley-Oop Skim Camp ($75 plus rental) to help you avoid beginner pratfalls like bruised shins.
Bring your dog (and a leash) to the designated stretch of Seashore State Park just north of the surfing beach. On Dewey Beach, your pal can play in the waves before 9:30 a.m. and after 5:30 p.m. In the meantime, leave them at Doggies at the Beach, a no-cage kennel with open-air play areas and a doggy day spa ($25 for full day).
Get a permit from the Dewey Town Hall (105 Rodney Avenue, 302-227-6363; $30) a day before your beach bonfire (quantities are limited). Pick up firewood and s’mores supplies at the Food Lion supermarket on Highway One. BYO sweatshirt.
4. Insider’s Tip
Delaware has no sales tax—a good reason to spend rainy afternoons at the Tanger Outlets in Rehoboth, where you’ll find Calvin Klein, Kenneth Cole, and Michael Kors’ factory stores. Afterward, check out jewelry from a rotating roster of local artists at the independent boutiques lining Rehoboth Avenue.
5. Oddball Day
Get off the sand and head bayside into Lewes, the state’s oldest town, founded in 1631. Get breakfast at the Historic Lewes Farmers’ Market (Saturdays, 8 a.m.–noon), where sweet local peaches imported from Bennett Orchards are ripe for the plucking. Stroll down Second Street to the triangular-topped Zwaanendael Museum, named for the original Dutch colony, to see the Zwaanendael Merman—a nineteenth-century sailors’ hoax made from ivory and fish bone and topped with a shrunken monkey head. When you regain your appetite, pop in for lunch a few doors down at Béseme, where you can vary your lunch with everything from Serrano-wrapped shrimp to pork tenderloin by ordering from the small-bites menu. Spend the afternoon stocking up on Delaware’s other favored export, wine, at Nassau Valley Vineyards. Cap your self-guided tour with a free wine tasting (noon–5 p.m.), and pick up a bottle of sweet Delaware White, made from 100 percent local grapes and finished with apples ($13).
Check surf conditions and tidal times with the Indian River Inlet Cam.
The Delaware Beaches Twitter feed has constant updates on everything local, from what’s at the farmers’ market this week to how traffic looks on Route One.