By Amy Trotter Houston
Slather on the sunscreen, pack up the pails and shovels, and shove that smart phone to the bottom of the bag – we’re going to the beach!
Within a couple of hours of Washington DC, travelers can find themselves marveling at the vast expanse of Atlantic Ocean while digging their toes into the warm, soft sand. Something about going to the beach unleashes the kid in just about everyone. Maybe it’s the unbridled crashing of ocean waves on the shore or the thrill of finding a perfect seashell. Perhaps it’s the heady smells of caramel corn, salt water taffy, and cotton candy. Or maybe it’s the unique satisfaction of racing across hot sand and into cool water. Whatever the sensation, a beach vacation is likely to bring back memories and create new ones.
Come along and explore these Mid-Atlantic beaches where family fun is the key to a memorable day outing or vacation.
One of the most iconic beaches is Rehoboth Beach, a welcoming beach community with excellent restaurants. Kids will love the vintage rides and arcade games at Funland on the boardwalk. Afterwards, enjoy a slice of Grotto’s pizza, a lump of Dolle’s salt water taffy, and cup of Kohr Bros’ frozen custard. Get wet and wild at Jungle Jim’s Water Park which, in addition to water slides, has a go-kart track, bumper boats and batting cages. Browse boutiques such as Downtown Cowgirl, which offers fun women’s fashions, or seek out deals at Tanger Outlets. Stay at the lovely Boardwalk Plaza Hotel with its unique Victorian décor, and dine at nearby Eden Restaurant. Remember that shopping, dining and entertainment are tax-free in Delaware.
A few miles north of Rehoboth Beach is Cape Henlopen State Park, a nature lover’s paradise of sand dunes and seabirds. Stake out a claim on the beach and build a sand castle complete with a moat, and line the towers with shells, rocks, and pieces of driftwood. Check out the 18-hole disc golf course, or explore the nature center and wander along one of the nature trails or bike the three-mile long paved trail looping the park. Standing sentry along the Delaware coast, and hard to miss, are several World War II-era observation towers. These concrete monoliths were originally designed to protect US shores from attack. Today one tower at Cape Henlopen is open to the public daily from 8:00 a.m. to sunset. The reward for climbing to the top is a spectacular 360 degree view.
A 15-mile drive south, Delaware Seashore State Park has access to both the ocean and to the calmer waters of Rehoboth Bay that are perfect for kayaking. Those wishing to fetch their own dinner can go fishing, clamming, and crabbing. Within this park is an area that locals call “Tower Beach”, so named because one of the WWII observation towers stands here, but this one isn’t open to the public. The stretch of beach here has a bathhouse, marina, and picnic pavilion, and is generally quieter for those looking to get away from the maddening crowds.
Ocean City and its three-mile long wooden boardwalk is a quintessential beach destination. Be sure to take in the view from atop the Ferris wheel. For over 100 years, Trimper’s Amusements has been a traditional stop for beachgoers. With rides and games for kids of all ages, this family-run establishment is not to be missed. Check out the haunted house, and marvel at the beautifully carved animals encircling the big merry-go-round. A short walk away is the Ocean City Life-Saving Museum illustrating the work of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, a precursor of the U.S. Coast Guard. Learn more about shipwrecks, daring rescues, and local history. A walk along the boardwalk will tempt the taste buds with Thrasher’s French fries, Fisher’s Popcorn, and doughnuts from Fractured Prune. The health conscious can stick with chocolate-covered strawberries and fresh-squeezed lemonade.
But wait! A beach vacation doesn’t have to mean seeking out the nearest ocean. Resort town Chesapeake Beach on its namesake bay is a splendid alternative to the ocean. Visit the Chesapeake Beach Railway Museum located in the local train station to learn about the history of the railway and resort during the heyday of the early 20th-century. Take it a step further and traverse the Chesapeake Beach Railway Trail, a boardwalk trail over marshland with interpretative signs. It follows the old railway, is pet-friendly, and makes for a nice stroll or bicycle ride. The trail is located behind the Chesapeake Beach Water Park, which has water slides, a lazy river and all sorts of fun water activities. Surfing enthusiasts will want to visit Bruce “Snake” Gabrielson’s Surfing Museum and Surf Art Gallery located three miles south on Highway 261/Bayside Road. Dedicated to the sport and culture of surfing, the museum and gallery are curated by Huntington Beach, California surfing legend, Bruce Gabrielson. This private collection features longboards, surf-themed art and photography, and memorabilia. Visits are by appointment only. Call Bruce at (240) 464-3301 for more information. While there, be sure to ask for a few tips or, better yet, sign up for surfing lessons.
Stay at the Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa with rooms overlooking the water, charter a fishing excursion, and then play on the beach when you return. Enjoy good seafood and great views at Rod ‘N’ Reel Restaurant located within the resort. Chesapeake Beach offers a variety of shopping venues and a Friday Night Farmers’ Market.
Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean meet at Virginia Beach, which is comprised of three beaches each with a different feel. Sandbridge Beach is quiet, and a nice place for families to rent a house and enjoy glorious sunrises, while Chesapeake Bay Beach has calm waters and access to the nature trails of First Landings State Park, or climb to the top of Cape Henry Lighthouse located within Fort Story military base. Well-known Oceanfront Beach includes the high energy boardwalk with family-friendly attractions and nostalgic eateries. Take a beach cruiser to Atlantic Fun Park, a free-admission carnival, or get your giggles at one of the fun houses. Munch on savory kernels from Jody’s Popcorn or salt water taffy from Forbes Candies. Along the boardwalk, stay at the Holiday Inn North Beach with a kid’s activity center, movie theater, and Splish Splash Lagoon, and dine at Waterman’s Surfside Grille.
Beside those three beaches within Virginia Beach city, there are plenty of fun places to visit. Thrill-seekers ages five and up will like The Adventure Park at the Virginia Aquarium with multiple zip lines. Learn about water environments at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center with more than 800,000 gallons of aquariums, a National Geographic 3D movie theater, and live animal habitats. Experience a unique setting by picking up picnic supplies and heading to Mount Trashmore Park, a 165-acre green space formed from compacted layers of solid waste and clean soil. Enjoy the picnic and be sure to gather up any garbage before leaving. Near the beginning of the boardwalk at 2nd Street is JT’s Grommet Island Beach Park & Playground for EveryBODY, a park that is 100 percent wheelchair accessible and designed for children and adults of all physical capabilities.
About 20 miles west of Virginia Beach, fishermen, women and kids will like Ocean View Beach in Norfolk, Virginia. Dangle a line from the Ocean View Fishing Pier or charter a boat and spend a day on the water reeling in fish. The pier has a full service restaurant. The surrounding beach fronts shallow water for kids to play in and lots of sand for building castles and burying ornery siblings.
Enjoy the Fun
Whether spending a week by the water or opting for a ‘daycation’, the fun of a beach destination is incalculable. Dive right in. Play miniature golf, look for silly souvenirs, and tip buskers on the boardwalk. Give in to the desire to dress up for an old time photo or let a caricature artist capture the moment on paper. Finally, and most importantly, always remember to wait a decent amount of time after eating a funnel cake before clambering onto the roller coaster.
More information on where to stay, where to eat and what to do: