Updated: Aug 23, 2021
A friend texted me the other day and said, “What's your favorite beach?” That got me thinking, I’ve never really met a beach I didn’t like. We live near the East Coast of the United States, so getting to an East Coast beach is fairly easy for my family.
We've been from Maine to Florida and a lot of beaches between. Each is unique and beautiful. The Maine beaches are rocky and offer little to no sand on which to sunbathe, but they offer an experience that is unlike any other that you'll find. Florida beaches are sandy and warm and have a laid back feeling that makes you sigh with relief.
My friend then asked me about a couple that are within an 8-hour drive from our home. She specifically asked about Cape May, NJ, Rehoboth, DE and Ocean City, MD. All are close to one another but each is completely different from the next.
Let's start with Cape May, NJ. What an iconic place. Cape May, NJ sits on the edge of the cape just below Wildwood, NJ (another really cool beach with amusement parks and miles of boardwalk). Cape May has a lighthouse with 199 steps that is open daily to see the shore from 157 feet above the sand. It was built in 1857 at a cost of $40,000. It still stands as a beacon for ships and is open to the public for a modest fee.
In the beautiful town of Cape May, you will find a Victorian village that welcomes visitors with open arms. The downtown area offers lots of parking. I bring this up because you see, vehicles are not permitted in the downtown. It's a walking area only. Hundreds of small shops line Washington Street with t-shirts, teddy bears, ice cream and wine. You'll be able to find what you're looking for and even some of what you're not looking for in downtown Cape May. But what about the beach, you ask? Of course, the beach is why you came, right? The beach at Cape May is beautiful. There are private beaches that belong to the hotels that sit next to them as well as public beaches in case you aren’t staying in town. Here’s something unique, Cape May doesn't have a boardwalk, they have a promenade. The Promenade runs parallel to Beach Avenue and takes visitors on a lovely stroll past some unique shops where you can get some fudge or ice cream to take along on your walk to watch the waves. When you’re looking for sea shells or sea glass, at Cape May, you’ll find something completely different. They’re called Cape May Diamonds. These tiny pebbles are only found on Cape May shores and resemble small quartz diamonds. Collect as many as you want and polish them when you get home. They aren’t worth much but they sure are pretty.
When you‘re ready to explore, pack your bag and head toward the Cape May Lighthouse but take the right turn instead of left and make your way to the Ferry Landing. The Cape May/Lewes Ferry departs from Cape May and travels across the Delaware Bay to Lewes Delaware Usually six to eight times a day.
If you’ve never been on a ferry, this is your chance! The fees are reasonable and the experience is simply FUN! You drive your vehicle on board and then sit back and relax. Of course you don’t need to stay in your car, you can get out and roam the ship. It’s also the quickest way to get to Delaware. You‘ll see at least one more lighthouse in addition to the Cape May Light. There are also a number of channel markers along the way and depending on the time of year, you can see dolphins playing in the wake of the ship. It’s a wonderful experience no matter what your age.
A couple fun facts about the Ferry: More than 14 million vehicles and 43 million passengers have traveled on the Cape May/Lewis Ferry. (Not all at once of course) The ship line has been in operation for over 50 years. The Delaware Bay passage is about 17 miles across and takes the ship a little over an hour to make the trek between the two states. Here’s a cool fact, no matter what size vehicle you have from bicycle to tractor trailer, you can board the ferry. Passengers can enjoy WiFi, cold drinks and food. Be sure to make a reservation to board because the ferry fills quickly.
Now that you’ve made it across the bay and you’re driving in Delaware, time to head toward Rehoboth. My earliest memory of vacation with my parents was at Rehoboth. The beaches are wide, it has a boardwalk and gives the feel of what a beach town should be like. There are plenty of hotels, B&B’s, and campgrounds from which to chose, depending on your favorite style of accommodations.
Rehoboth sits at the top of the Delmarva Peninsula. It’s the typical beach town. The Boardwalk is lined with shops, pizza places and candy stores. There is an amusement park and a water park in the summer season. What Rehoboth has that many beach towns can’t say they have is a historical area. All the kids in the group just yawned, but this is pretty cool - promise! During WWII the Rehoboth/Cape May area had active military installations. This was an important area for the United States military because this bay offered access to the ports of Philadelphia and Wilmington. Lots of artifacts have been found over the years, especially after large storms hit the coast. So if you’re looking for sea shells, be careful of what you’re picking up. It could be something really cool from WWII.
Something else that Rehoboth offers is an old time bandstand where you can attend free concerts throughout the summer. Regardless of what you‘re idea of summer is, when you travel to Rehoboth, you’ll find it.
As you leave Rehoboth and travel south, you’ll drive through a number of small towns and the Delaware Seashore State Park. Get your camera ready because there are lots of photo Ops along the way. As you drive along Route 1 South, you’ll come into the small town of Fenwick Island. This is important because they have a lighthouse that sits probably 3 blocks from the beach. The Fenwick Island Lighthouse is so cool and here’s why. In front of the lighthouse is a survey marker which denotes the original mark of the Mason Dixon Line. It shows the crest of Lord Baltimore and the crest of William Penn (who owned the land on the north side that is now Delaware). Be sure to get your picture taken standing with your feet on both sides of the line. After visiting the lighthouse, drive a few more minutes south and you’ll arrive at all the glitz and glamor that is Ocean City, Maryland.
Visitors have been traveling to this beach since the 1870’s. Known then as the Ladies Resort to the Ocean, the area had but one hotel. The Atlantic Hotel was opened on July 4, 1875. Remarkably, the Atlantic Hotel is still in business, but now sits alongside hundreds of others welcoming sand searchers summer after summer.
There is always something happening at Ocean City. The OC Inlet offers an amusement park owned and operated by the Trimper Family who have been in business since 1890. Of course the rides have been updated. We took my granddaughter there a few years ago and she had a wonderful time. They have rides for little ones as well as the big kids.
The boardwalk has all the offerings that any other boardwalk has except there are a couple notable standouts. Ripley’s Believe it or Not has an awesome “museum” on the boardwalk. You can grab some BBQ at Bull on the Beach and no trip to Ocean City is complete without getting Dolle’s Caramel Corn hot from the original copper kettles, (They make some pretty good salt water taffy too).
One more must see at Ocean City is the original life-saving museum. The Ocean City Life-Saving Museum sits at the inlet and is open for visitors throughout the season. The building itself is the original life saving station where men were stationed and sent to help stranded ships. That’s the official story, but I can tell you that when I went in there I could swear the place was haunted. I asked the caretaker person at the front desk and she said, ”well, we’ve had some stories.” My story is when my son Mike and I walked into the room where the life-boats are displayed, we saw an older man dressed in a blue uniform. He was only there for a second and then vanished. Mike and I will go to our graves knowing what we saw.
The caretaker lady said, “A number of people have seen him. We believe he was one of the life-savers from the early 1900’s that manned this station.” He certainly gave me the creeps. BUT IT WAS SOOOOO COOL!
For more information on any of the beach towns I’ve discussed go to these websites and tell them The Fun Chasers sent you!
Ocean City Life Savers Museum - OCmuseum.org
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