6 of the best beaches in Delaware: water sports, wildlife, and party towns

6 of the best beaches in Delaware: water sports, wildlife, and party towns

From party zones to calm family-friendly spots, here are the best beaches in Delaware © John M. Chase / Getty Images

With 30 miles of coastline and over 300 miles of dune-lined shores, the beaches of southern Delaware are well worth a visit. The wide, white sandy beaches of America’s second smallest state attract travelers from nearby New Jersey, Washington, DC, Pennsylvania, and Maryland for sunbathing, boating, bird-watching, and more. And once you're off the beach, you'll discover that each town has its own signature charms and character.

Whether you’re looking for adventures on a bike or kayak, or you’re just hoping to lounge on the sand, soaking up the sun with a good book, read on to get to know the best beaches in Delaware.

Popular Rehoboth Beach includes Poodle Beach, an LGBTQ+ hot spot

In Rehoboth, find wide swaths of boardwalk-lined, sandy beaches that run from Henlopen Avenue to Prospect Street. While access to the beach is free, there are no changing facilities here (though there are rinse-off showers on the boardwalk to clean sandy feet), making it mostly populated by locals or week-long renters.

Spare yourself from dragging chairs and umbrellas to the beach and rent them at the blue-and-white huts peppered along the entrances to the beach instead. Baby tents are permitted providing they're smaller than 36 x 36 inches — big enough to give infants and toddlers a break from the sun — but all other tents and cabanas are banned at Rehoboth Beach.

Pack a beach picnic, or hit the boardwalk for lunch. The mile-long boardwalk that edges the beach is lined with restaurants, souvenir shops, and some iconic Delaware beach fare, including Grotto Pizza and Thrasher’s Fries. Beyond the boardwalk, downtown Rehoboth is home to scores of crab shacks and seafood restaurants.

Rehoboth Beach also has a long history as a robust LGBTQ community. At the end of Queen Street, on the southern end of town, find gay hot spot Poodle Beach. The beach’s volleyball courts are popular all summer long, but especially so on Labor Day Weekend, when the Drag Volleyball Tournament takes place.

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6 of the best beaches in Delaware: water sports, wildlife, and party towns

Lewes Beach is protected from the harsh Atlantic surf by Cape Henlopen © VisitSouthernDelaware.com

The calm waters of Lewes Beach make it the best choice for families 

At the northernmost swath of the state’s beaches, where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, find Lewes Beach. Families are attracted to this stretch of public beach for its calm, nearly wave-less waters. Cape Henlopen, just south of this beach, juts out to separate the two bodies of water, protecting this spot from harsher surf.

From charming downtown Lewes, follow East Savannah Road toward the water until you can’t go any farther. Find a lot with ample parking — free in the off-season, ticketed during the summer — plus the beach patrol building with restrooms and outdoor showers. In addition to swimming and sunbathing, the tranquil water makes Lewes the perfect place for water sports. Bring your own, or rent a kayak, skim board, or stand-up paddle board at East of Maui, a two-minute drive from the beach. The shop also offers private or group kite-boarding, surfing, and windsurfing lessons.

Access Lewes by car, or take the ferry from Cape May, New Jersey to Lewes. The scenic backdrop (and full bar stocked with snacks, cocktails, and Delaware-brewed Dogfish Head beer) makes the 85-minute boat ride a delightful way to get to the beach.

6 of the best beaches in Delaware: water sports, wildlife, and party towns

Bethany Beach is popular with families, but there are rules about what games you can play there © threespeedjones / Getty Images

Peaceful Bethany Beach has lovely cycling trails

Bethany Beach, situated between the Atlantic and the Rehoboth and Indian River Bays, is a little quieter than its neighbors. Though it’s frequented by families, with lifeguards on duty from Memorial Day to Labor Day, they have rules against playing ball or flying kites during prime time.

Besides spending time at the beach, Bethany visitors can bring or rent bikes to cruise the nearby trails, or kayak around the Inland Bays. The strip of Delaware Route One highway that bisects town is populated by eateries (some will deliver to the beach), souvenir shops (a good time to note Delaware is home to tax-free shopping), and entertainment like mini-golf and go-karts. Stop into Candy Kitchen for homemade saltwater taffy.

6 of the best beaches in Delaware: water sports, wildlife, and party towns

Dewey Beach has the Atlantic on one side and Rehoboth Bay on the other © VisitSouthernDelaware.com

Dewey Beach is the best place for a party crowd

One mile-long and two blocks-wide, Dewey Beach is situated between the Atlantic Ocean and Rehoboth Bay, a prime spot for taking advantage of both bodies of water. Ocean-sided beaches are fairly narrow, but plenty beautiful. Beaches are free, but there are no public restrooms or outdoor showers, making it logistically more difficult for day-trippers. On the Bay side, find fishing, crabbing, and clamming, plus a marina offering boat rentals.

In between the Ocean and Bay, the town of Dewey has a reputation for being the rowdiest of the Delaware beaches. While it attracts some families, many of the houses here are rented to younger groups of friends who spend weekends in the cluster of bars in the small town. The Starboard is known for its popular weekend brunch, where you can have a Bloody Mary decked out with shrimp skewers and bacon, while concert venue Bottle & Cork has been the town’s beloved entertainment hub for over 80 years.

6 of the best beaches in Delaware: water sports, wildlife, and party towns

At Cape Henlopen State Park, you can borrow a bike to explore the trails for free © VisitSouthernDelaware.com

Cape Henlopen State Park is great for beach activities

For $10 per vehicle ($5 for in-state license plates), spend the day at one of Delaware’s most beautiful — and activity-filled — beaches. Cape Henlopen State Park’s sandy shores are patrolled by lifeguards from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and a bath house with restrooms, showers, and a changing area is located at the northern part of the swimming area. Bring your packed lunch to the on-site picnic pavilion, or buy one at the concession area.

Besides swimming and sunbathing, you can go fishing, play a round on the 18-hole disc golf course, or get an up close look at the area’s ecosystem with a ride around the trails of the park. You can even borrow a bike for free on a first-come first-served basis for a maximum of two hours.

The area is home to WWII history, too — explore it with a tour of Battery 519, and climb to the top of the Observation Tower to take in the panoramic view.

6 of the best beaches in Delaware: water sports, wildlife, and party towns

There are designated surfing spots at Fenwick Island State Park © Brian White / Getty Images

Fenwick Island State Park is the best spot for swimmers and water sports

South of Bethany Beach and just north of Maryland, Fenwick Island State Park is a three-mile stretch of white sandy beaches, perfect for swimming. The barrier island is also home to bay-side beaches, overlooking Little Assawoman Bay, known for calmer waters and stunning sunsets.

On the ocean-side, find designated spots for surfing and surf-fishing (purchase a fishing license at the Delaware Seashore Regional Office at the Indian River Marina). You can also rent beach gear such as umbrellas and chairs at the park, and kayaks, sailboats, and stand-up paddle-boards to float around the bay. The beaches are patrolled by lifeguards throughout the summer, and visitors can find a bathhouse with showers, changing rooms, and a snack shack.

In the summer months, bring a flashlight to the beach at night to spot ghost crabs frolicking around the sand.

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