Think a regional beach vacation is only about loafing on a beach soaking up sun? Think again. Sure, there’s plenty of surf and sand to enjoy an easy road trip away, but in-the-know adventurers and history buffs are discovering so much more.
Climb a World War II spotting tower or bike along Walking Dunes Trail. Hike to the top of a lighthouse and ogle breathtaking ocean vistas (and get a good workout). Or take a patriotic excursion along the Virginia coast in an authentic decommissioned inflatable boat that was once used for surface warfare and special ops in the Middle East and Pacific. And, if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate and skies turn gray, don’t fret. Indoor skydiving will keep adventurers entertained on a rainy day. Here are a few favorite beach towns, with amazing experiences to be had at each one.
Lewes and Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware
Just a 2½-hour drive from downtown Baltimore, Lewes, Delaware is located where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean and offers both bay and ocean beaches for swimming. Low-key, natural beauty and historic are the words most often used to describe this charming, friendly gem. It is ideal for savoring a soulful beach walk, a handful of boutiques and lots of history.
Anglers love the easy access to the bay and ocean thanks to the Lewes- Rehoboth Canal winding past the commercial district, but history buffs should take note, too. Often called the “first town in the first state,” Lewes is where Dutch seamen landed in 1631 and established the first settlement. Many homes and buildings of historical and architectural interest are within a half mile of the town center, including a number of restored homes dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries.
Minutes from downtown Lewes, Cape Henlopen State Park encompasses over 5,000 acres of natural beauty with spectacular bay and ocean vistas, a saltwater lagoon and “The Great Dune” rising 80 feet above sea level. Bring your walking shoes or bicycle, and experience the 2½-mile Walking Dunes Trail. Drop by Fort Miles and the Fort Miles Museum, set among rolling sand dunes. Fort Miles was one of the largest fortifications built in the United States during World War II and protected the tri-state area from enemy ships.
Climb a concrete spotting tower boasting scenic vistas of the sea. High on a bank overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the Fort Miles Historical Area includes six barracks buildings, a fire control tower and the Fort Miles Artillery Park. The secret state-of-the-art installations built within the massive sand dunes of Cape Henlopen were designed to defend against the powerful German navy. Don’t leave without checking out the underground bunker.
Bethany Beach and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
When the kids clamor for sea and sand, plus a boardwalk experience, and grownups crave calm, a little further down Route 1, Bethany and Rehoboth in Delaware offer all of the above.
Both are family-friendly towns with plenty of beach goodies to keep everyone in the family munching, thanks to salt water taffy at Dolle’s, Thrasher’s French Fries and Dickie’s for soft ice cream. For adventurers, unusual adult activities include axe throwing at House of Axe, Rehoboth’s ten-lane facility. This sport is beginner-friendly and a great stress reliever.
Fishing, boating and crabbing are on offer, but you don’t have to catch dinner for yourself thanks to award-winning restaurants. Both towns are known for fine dining, shopping and downtowns worth a stroll. While in Rehoboth, please don’t be alarmed if you see Secret Service around town; this is where the president often takes summer breaks.
Ocean City, Maryland
The cliché, “something for everyone,” could be used to describe Ocean City, Maryland. Once known as a busy, party-heavy seaside town, things are changing. While OC boasts 10 miles of surf and sand to sate the appetite of beach lovers, and its 3-mile boardwalk was voted one of America’s best by the Travel Channel, it isn’t just the beach and boardwalk that’s garnering buzz.
Ocean City is becoming known as a great golf destination thanks to a dizzying number of outstanding courses in the area. Golfers in the know are heading to the Newport Bay course at Ocean City Golf Club for postcard-perfect marsh and bay vistas at every hole. It is often described as the most beautiful golf course on the Mid-Atlantic Coast. Across the bay, The Links at Lighthouse Sound and Bayside Resort and Golf Club offer stunning views of the Ocean City skyline. Bear Trap Dunes Golf Club has 27 holes and manmade dunes covered with wild seagrass. Baywood Greens has been compared to Augusta National for its immaculate conditions and meticulous landscaping. And Glen Riddle is on land formerly used to raise thoroughbred horses. It has two 18-hole courses, one resembling what you’d find in Scotland.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
About 4½ hours from Baltimore, Virginia Beach, Virginia is at the meeting point of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. There are certainly closer beaches, but there are some things you can only experience in this coastal city.
Explore the Cape Henry Lighthouse, located on the active Fort Story Military Base. Climb to the top of the lighthouse and take in an unimpeded view of where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean.
With Virginia Beach’s military history, and as the home of many of the country’s largest, most crucial military bases, it’s no secret that the Navy plays a big role in town. Take a Patriotic Excursion with Captain Jay Leach in a military RIB (rigid inflatable boat) once used by Navy SEALs. These boats are designed to go 30 mph+ in rough seas, handling even the choppiest of waters with ease, so don’t expect a boring, dry ride as you skip and hop over the waves around the entire coastline of Virginia Beach.
Leach provides information about Virginia Beach along with patriotic music as you visit different bases in the area. He’s also an expert at getting everyone up close to the dolphins of the bay. Since these boats sit close to the water, you can’t beat the view.
Should the weather take a nasty turn, try indoor skydiving. No need to jump out of a plane with iFly’s adrenaline-filled experience. This state-of-the-art, mega-powerful vertical wind tunnel creates variable wind speeds in excess of 180 mph, giving the sensation of a free fall. Trained instructors guide you through a variety of fun (scary?) maneuvers.
Or, check out more than 800,000 gallons of fun during a self-guided tour of the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center. Learn about navigating through Virginia’s various aquatic and marine life throughout time. You’ll even get to see rare and exotic cobras, endangered freshwater crocodiles and 300 other species of animals.
The best thing about these adventurous experiences? At the end of the day, you get to relax on a beautiful beach.
Each town has a great one.