The East Coast is chalk plentiful of beach towns from the Northernmost tip of New England sweeping down to 90 miles apart from Cuba in the Florida Keys. The challenge is not about finding a beach, but about finding the “right” beach town to invest your hard earned vacation time and money. For me, I’m always on the look out for those picturesque beach towns where it is peaceful and one can avoid the hoards. It is like thrift shopping, you have to be quite motivated, do your research, and be willing to dig through the clutter. These kinds of places are few and far between and kept under the radar.
I grew up vacationing on the Eastern shore, cruising those windy roads of farmland and gazing at the blue skies, as we eagerly anticipated our arrival to our oceanic playground. As the years have passed, tourism has grown significantly across these once sleepy communities of the Maryland and Delaware coast, provoking our desire for an alternative family vacation haven beyond the usual suspects. Enter the charming village of Lewes, Delaware.
A vibrant, year-round community with maritime roots, people visit this little hamlet for a taste of history sprinkled with some sun and sand. Mere miles from the famous shore destinations, it offers a tranquil respite from the countless tourists in large part due to its location on the Delaware Bay rather than the Atlantic Ocean. Here at the “mouth,” where the bay meets the larger sea, one wouldn’t realize you were not directly on the ocean unless you looked at a map. Your reward is a quieter beach and calmer waters, allowing you to really settle into that vacation mindset.
No matter the season, life goes on in this little enclave, setting itself apart from its neighbors as a year-round community. Over the decades, many part-timers have made it their full-time home after being captured by the area’s laid back, community-oriented vibes. Artists, professionals, activists, history buffs, naturalists, and entrepreneurs reside here, which is indicative of the intellectual depth and diverse persona to not only be a splendid destination, but also a place one could call home.
Embark on your vacation by strolling through a well preserved slice of history at Shipcarpenter Square — a block of authentically restored homes from the 18th and 19th centuries. From there duck your head into Biblion, a sanctuary for your inner bookworm before grabbing a handcrafted cone of ice cream from the iconic King’s. Outside King’s you will find a natural congregation point where you can chat with the lively local folk and visitor alike, engaging you in the spirit of Lewes. Continue your journey on foot or by cycle, meandering from downtown through the neighborhood of Lewes beach. Dig your toes into the sand as you find your way across the dunes, finally basking in the peaceful nature of Lewes Beach.
Local Highlight: Dogfish Inn
105 Savannah Road, Lewes
If you are a beer connoisseur of any kind, you likely have heard the name Dogfish Head Brewery. The first microbrewery to emerge out of Delaware, it is famous for its killer pale ale. With familial and entrepreneurial roots in Lewes, the owners could think of no better place to open a boutique retreat that would support and celebrate the local community and landscape.
Set in a revamped old motel on the edge of historic downtown, the overall design of the Dogfish Inn is rustic and minimalistic, embracing a nature-centered concept. As you enter the lobby, you are reminded of those days at camp — walls adorned with retro pennants and a custom communal table ready for a feast — beckon your inner child. Sleeping chambers keeps it simple and outdoorsy, while celebrating Lewes’ shipwreck legacy with different renditions of the Lightship Overfalls, a significant local shipwreck, in each of the 16 rooms. There are no devils in the details at this outpost and from the lobby to the rooms, an emphasis is placed on unique artisan goods that will enhance each guest’s experience. Dogfish provides classy extras without any extra coin, allowing you to enjoy your trip without additional baggage [mostly physical, inquire about the emotional], whether it be decked out with a stylish metal ice box at the beach or sailing down the boulevard on the complimentary beach cruisers. And when you return each night, settle down at the “cowboy cauldron” to recharge with fellow folk and friendly staff in the crisp sea air. Not only are the “off-centered” innkeepers sharp in their role as gatekeepers of the tales behind Dogfish, but they also moonlight as storytellers of local history and peddle the talent of other local proprietors. Attitude is everything in life and with a motto of “Welcome to Lewes, Mother Nature Let’s Do This…” Dogfish could become your new spirit animal.
- Rooms starting at $249
- Rates are seasonal (high, low, shoulder)
- Above the lobby is the larger “cottage sweet” for groups
- Get the full Dogfish experience by adding on the Brewery Tour package
- Dogfish loves to collaborate with other folks, so check their website/Facebook page for special projects in the works
- Connect to the stories of their artisan partners here
- Dog friendly (!!) in some rooms
- Instagram @dogfishbeer
Other Local Spots Along the Path…
- Old World Breads (32191 Nassau Road): Located off New Road on the outskirts of town, you can’t help but get onboard with a local business that displays a sticker reading “Bread, Not Bombs” on its entry doors. Baker Keith partners with farmers in the local and regional food system to source quality ingredients with a passionate emphasis on ancient grains and sustainability. It’s hard to choose from among the diverse array of scrumptious goods, so you might as well make it a daily habit so you try it all. You can also find them at the weekly farmers market. Instagram @oldworldbreads
- Zwaanedael Museum (302 Savannah Road): Unabashedly proud of its roots from all directions, it is befitting that Lewes has a museum to celebrate its original founding as a Dutch colony. A walk through the Zwaanedael will connect you with maritime history — full of pirates and shipwrecks. On certain days you can be shuttled out to explore the remains of the British warship, the DeBraak off of Cape Henlopen. Open Tuesday-Sunday.
- Lewes Farmers Market (Saturdays, George H.P. Smith Park): A happy and healthy catalyst for your Saturday morning, this market is one stop you’ll want to make a weekly tradition. Peruse seasonal and creative flavors for your palate brought to you by neighborhood farmers. Instagram @historiclewesfarmersmarket
- Touch of Italy (101 Second Street): Good ole Old World Italian charm with a nice little wine shop to boot. Here you can pick up prepared goodies from the big glass case or take a seat and stay a while in the cafe with full service. Go for the tasty meatball subs.
- Old Screen Door (209 Monroe Ave): If quirky decor is what you seek, look no further. Located across from Lewes’ new public library, this unique shop houses a mix of vintage and refurbished pieces that will satisfy any eclectic tastebuds.
For further details on current happenings in Lewes, follow local businesses on Instagram and check out the Lewes Historical Society https://www.historiclewes.org/