Hear about travel to Delaware as the Amateur Traveler talks to Mara Gorman from MotherOfAllTrips.com about traveling to her small but historic adopted home state.
Mara says, “you should come to Delaware because it’s easy to get to if you’re on the East Coast and it’s small so it’s easy to see a lot of it a relatively short period of time. There’s a tremendous amount of history here from the Revolutionary war on. The Dupont family arrived in Delaware in 1800. People tend to think of Dupont as just a chemical company here in Delaware they’ve been big benefactors. They created museums, they were benefactors of education, they build roads, they built schools. So there’s a lot of history in Delaware around that family.”
“We were the first state to ratify the constitution. We also have really amazing beaches. I think the Delaware beaches are the nicest is on the east coast and they often get overlooked because people go to New Jersey or Maryland.”
Delaware is on a peninsula with part of Maryland, and a small bit of Virginia called the Delmarva peninsula between the Atlantic and the Chesapeake Bay “which is a very rich historic area as well. There’ve been native people here for quite a while. There’s a real history of fishing in the Chesapeake. That does inform the history here and the things that people like to eat, like oysters and crabs and things that you can catch in more shallow waters.”
If you had a week to spend in Delaware, Mara would recommend splitting it up between upstate and downstate. Start in northern Delaware because that is where you would arrive from elsewhere. “See some of the museums. There are three very significant Dupont museums in northern Delaware, starting at Hagley, which is the place where the Duponts first settled. It’s their first home, and it’s where they made their fortune which they made by manufacturing gunpowder during the war of 1812. Their gunpowder was cheaper, and the Americans didn’t have access to the British gunpowder during that war.” Mara also recommends visiting the Nemorus Museum and the Winterthur Museum, which “Is the most significant collection of American decorative arts in the United States, possibly in the world.”
The town of New Castle is also worth visiting. “It’s beautiful. It’s a perfectly preserved, maybe five blocks by seven blocks, Colonial town. It’s the site of William Penn’s first landing in the New World. There’s a beautiful Episcopal Church and a beautiful Presbyterian church, and they’re both among the oldest in the country. In the churchyard of the Episcopal Church are where you can see some of the graves of the people who signed the Constitution. There are several house museums in New Castle, including the Read House, which is one of the finest examples of” Philadelphia-style architecture. “There’s even an older house called the Dutch house because the Dutch were the original settlers.”
Then for the second half of our week, Mara gives us suggestions for how to enjoy the Delaware coast, beaches, and seafood downstate.
DK Eyewitness Travel Guides – One of my favorite guidebook series
Mother of All Trips
The Family Traveler’s Handbook
Passports with Purpose
New Castle County
Hagley Museum & Library
Nemours Mansion and Gardens
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
New Castle, Delaware
Immanuel Episcopal Church
Read House & Gardens
The Dutch House
Delaware Nature Society
Ashland Nature Center
Coverdale Farm Preserve
Delaware Children’s Museum
Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts
Hotel Du Pont
World Cafe Live at the Queen (closed)
La Fia Wilmington
Old State House
Biggs Museum of American Art
John Dickinson Plantation
Dover International Speedway
Cape Henlopen State Park
Delaware Seashore State Park
Dogfish Head Brewery
Beer, Wine and Spirits Trail
Chris: Today the Amateur Traveler talks about mansions, beaches, museums and the history of the DuPont’s as we go to the state of Delaware.
Chris: This episode of Amateur Traveler is sponsored by DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. These colorful guidebooks are filled with great information and are one of my favorite guidebooks. I have 20 of them here on my bookshelf, learn more at DK.com. Amateur Traveler episode 452.
Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host, Chris Christensen. We’ll hear more from our sponsor, DK Eyewitness Guides in a little bit, but first, let’s hear about the little state of Delaware. I’d like to welcome to the show, Mara Gorman from motherofalltrips.com, the author of The Family Traveler’s Handbook, and also as we mentioned last week, from Passports with Purpose. Mara, welcome to the show.
Mara: Thanks for having me, Chris. I’m happy to be here.
Chris: Mara has come to talk to us about Delaware. Poor little Delaware sometimes gets left out but not on The Amateur Traveler.
Mara: That’s very kind of you. I actually had someone ask me one time if Delaware was a state or if it was just a town in New Jersey.
Chris: Or a county in Pennsylvania, that’s the other one I’ve heard.
Mara: Yes. I informed her that no. In fact, it was actually its own state, and it’s not even the smallest state.
Chris: No, it’s not.
Mara: It’s the second smallest state.
Chris: And the only state without a national park, last heard.
Mara: Correct. They’re working on that, but the fact that it doesn’t have a national park doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a lot to see, especially on the historical side of things. That’s what they’re working on, creating sort of a big historical national park.
Chris: Excellent. Why should we come to Delaware? What should we see, do, and eat?
Mara: You should come to Delaware because it’s easy to get to if you’re on the East Coast. It’s small, so it’s easy to see a lot of it in a relatively short period of time. There’s tremendous amount of history here from the Revolutionary War on. The DuPont family arrived in Delaware in 1800 and basically founded the state. So people tend to think of the Du Ponts as just being a chemical company but here in Delaware, they’ve been big benefactors of everything. They’ve created museums. They were benefactors of education. They built roads. They built schools. So there’s a lot of history there around that family that’s actually really very fascinating.
We were the first state to ratify the Constitution. Signers of the Constitution and The Declaration of Independence are buried here. You can see their graves and visit places where they lived. We also have really amazing beaches. I think the Delaware beaches are some of the nicest on the East Coast. They often get overlooked because people go to New Jersey or Maryland.
Chris: When we talk about the beaches, I sometimes hear that whole region, that peninsula. So you’re on a peninsula with a little bit of Maryland and a little tiny bit of Virginia.
Mara: Right. That’s because of the Chesapeake Bay. That’s called the Delmarva Peninsula, which is a very rich historic area, as well. There have been native people here, obviously, for quite a while. Then, there’s a real history of fishing in the Chesapeake. People speak in dialect, not as much in Delaware because we’re sort of a little away from the bay. But yeah, we do consider ourselves part of that peninsula. That does inform the history here and the things that people like to eat, things like oysters, crabs, and things that you can catch in more shallow water.
Chris: What would you recommend for a one-week itinerary around Delaware?
Mara: You asked that question earlier and I was thinking about it because I’ve never thought of it that way since I live here.
Chris: You’ve done more of a 17 year literary, you’re saying.
Chris: We may not have that much time.
Mara: Right. No, I wouldn’t assume that. You could easily do a week here. It could be very fun. I would recommend splitting it up between upstate and downstate. That’s how it’s referred to here. We only have three counties in Delaware. New Castle County is the northernmost county. It is where the bulk of the population is. It is the part of the county that I-95 cuts through. Fun fact: we only have 12 miles of interstate in Delaware, and our state capital, Dover, is the only state capital in the continental United States that is not served by an interstate highway. You would start probably in northern Delaware because that would be where you would arrive from elsewhere and see some of the museums.
I mentioned the Du Pont family earlier. There are three very significant Du Pont museums in northern Delaware that you would want to visit. Starting at Hagley, which is the place where the Du Ponts first settled. It’s their original home. It’s where they made their fortune, which they made by manufacturing gunpowder during the War of 1812. Their gunpowder was cheaper and the Americans didn’t have access to the British gunpowder during that war. There’s a museum there, where you can see the gunpowder yard and also the family’s original home. And then, you can travel to two other Du Pont museums that are nearby that are more recent. One of them is called The Moors. That was founded or built by A.I. du Pont, who started also a children’s hospital. The house is on the grounds of the children’s hospital.
That has some really amazing artwork, and the tours there really offer insight into the family and the family’s history. Then, you can go to Winterthur, which is the most significant collection of American decorative arts in the United States, possibly in the world. That was founded by Henry Francis du Pont, who was an avid collector and horticulturalist. The garden there is really amazing, as well. So I would recommend starting there, seeing those museums, and dining out in Wilmington, which is the biggest city in Delaware. There’s some really nice state parks. If you wanted to get outside, you could a little bit of hiking, nothing steep because the state’s pretty flat but very pretty.
Chris: Let’s do this in a little more detail here, then we’ll do downstate in the second half of the show. So first of all, you sent us driving all over northern Delaware, upstate.
Mara: Which is about a 10 mile, not even, five-mile radius.
Chris: That’s what I was going to say.
Mara: Yeah. The top of Delaware, it’s kind of a funny shape. The reason that it’s that shape is because the original capital was in New Castle, which is just out of Wilmington. The Mason-Dixon line actually is in this part of the country, is the Delaware border.
Chris: It’s the Delaware/Maryland border.
Mara: Yes, and Pennsylvania. Where it curves at the top – it kind of has a curve, like a half-circle – every point on that half-circle is 12 miles from the New Castle Courthouse, which still stands as a historic building. That was the line that Mason drew. Everything that I’m talking about right now is within that area. If you were in a hurry, you could go to all of those museums in the same day, and you would drive maybe 10 minutes between each one, depending on the traffic. So it’s very compact.
Chris: Yeah, it does have a look of somebody took a protractor and gave you a border.
Mara: Yes, that’s exactly what he did. You can go hunting around and find markers. I live in Newark, where the University of Delaware is, which is on the other side. So New Castle’s by the Delaware River. I’m on the other side of the state, closer to Maryland. You can go out around and poke around and find markers for the Mason-Dixon line.
Chris: So you’re way at the other side of the state?
Mara: Way? It’s 12 miles away. Everything is 12 miles. That’s an important number to remember.
Chris: And we should say you are in Newark, N-E-W-A-R-K, not to be confused with Newark, New Jersey, which is spelled the same way.
Mara: Correct. That is how we distinguish ourselves, is by saying we are from New Ark. I just mentioned New Castle, and that’s actually another thing that I would recommend people see in northern Delaware. It’s the town. I lived there when I first moved to Delaware. It’s beautiful. It’s kind of like a perfectly preserved five blocks by seven blocks, colonial town.
Chris: Right on the Delaware River.
Mara: Right on the Delaware River. It’s got roadhouses. It’s actually the site of William Penn’s first landing in the New World. He actually landed in what is now Delaware, first. There’s a statue of him there, and there’s a beautiful Episcopal Church and a beautiful Presbyterian Church. They’re both among the oldest in the country. In the churchyard in the Episcopal Churchyard is where you can see some of the graves of the people who signed the Constitution. There are several house museums in New Castle, including the Reed House, which is one of the finest examples of, I believe it’s Georgian architecture. Just as fine as anything that you would actually see in Colonial Williamsburg.
Chris: So Georgian would be mid 1800s?
Mara: There’s an even older house called the Dutch House because the Dutch were here. They were original settlers. That dates from, I believe the late 17th century. George Washington attended a wedding in New Castle. So he slept there. Lafayette was there at one point. The courthouse is a museum that you could go in. It’s very pretty. It’s a very charming place to walk around. When Oprah Winfrey filmed the movie Beloved, they actually filmed part of it in New Castle. I was there at the time. They came and they covered up all the modern signage, which there actually isn’t a lot of modern signage. I guess it’s just more than you would think if you’re trying to make it really look colonial. They have a lot of rules there. You can’t change the outside of your house without permission.
Everything that you do, you have to get permission. You have to have wooden shutters and that kind of thing on your house. That would be an afternoon, just strolling around there. There’s actually a restaurant in New Castle called Jessop’s that serves sort of traditional colonial food, which is quite good. It’s things like chicken fricassee and shepherd’s. They serve it on pewter plates, which is kind of fun. I don’t know how really authentic it is but it’s yummy. That’s right by the river, too. Then there’s a park that’s right on the river, with a path that goes for several miles where you can walk. The Delaware River is not in every way the most scenic thing because there is a fair bit of industry built up. The walk there is pretty nice. You can avert your eyes from some of the more industrial things that are sort of off on the horizon.
This seems like a good time to take a break, and talk about our sponsor, which is DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. We’ve been talking about these guides for a couple months on the show. I hope you’ve had a chance to check them out. If you haven’t, it would be great if you’d go into your local bookstore, go over to the travel section, and pick up one of the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. Notice the wonderful illustrations that I’ve been talking about, especially those cutaway views, which are some of my favorites we talked about last week. There being cutaway view of the Cathedral in Seville, for instance. And then also, look at the neighborhood plans, like the one we talked about last week of the Barrio Santa Cruz, again, in Seville. I don’t happen to have a guide in front of me today because I’m recording this on the road. So I need your help. I need you to be picturing some of this on your own. So go in your bookstore, and pick up one of these.
Also, notice the quality of the paper. That’s one of the things I’ve always enjoyed about them, and the quality of the illustrations. Again, especially if you are visually oriented like I am, I find that if I just leaf through the book, I can spot places that I may not have known about but that draw my eye. That’s tough to do if the guidebook is all just words, but the words are good, as well, in DK guides. So check out DK Eyewitness Travel Guides at DK.com. Here’s an odd question and I don’t know the answer to it. We generally, in the U.S., consider it The South, traditionally, historically, to be south of the Mason-Dixon line. You are to the right. You are east of the Mason-Dixon line because it takes this left turn. So I have not traditionally put Delaware in the South, even though Maryland clearly just to the left of it, is in the South.
Mara: Yeah. I think that’s an accurate thing to say. I feel like Delaware doesn’t really know where it lies, as far as those things. I think it’s a little independent-minded in its own way. It’s a funny place in that way. Downstate feels much more southern, I will say. They actually call it lower slower Delaware. That’s the name for it here.
Chris: Well, it’s much more rural.
Mara: I mean, everybody calls it that in western Delaware. There is a little bit of an identity crisis here as to where exactly Delaware fits into the bigger picture. I do think it tends to feels a little provincial sometimes. It doesn’t know if it goes with Philly. It doesn’t know if it goes with Baltimore. People sort of drive through it very quickly, and don’t really know what it’s all about. I think you definitely get that feeling if you live here. I don’t really know. Sometimes I feel like I’m in the South. Sometimes I feel like I’m in the north. I don’t really know.
Chris: Well, partially because you’re pretty centrally located. I just ran into Mara in D.C. You had driven down for a meetup, travel meet up. I’m, “What are you doing here?” It’s like it’s just not that far. Well, Philly’s not that far. New York City really isn’t all that far. You’re kind of in the middle of things.
Mara: That’s very true, actually. To return to the initial question of why you should come here, it’s very easy to get to if you’re anywhere on the East Coast. We’re right on the corridor, and it’s just not that far. You can be in downtown Washington D.C. in an hour and 45 minutes, again, depending on the traffic.
Chris: But you could also even take the train there. You’re on the Amtrak.
Mara: You could take the train. We’re right on the Amtrak. Philadelphia is about a 45-minute drive. I can be even less, depending on how fast you drive. New York is two hours away. We are on the train lines. The train is a little expensive. Right now, they’re kind of working on the commuter lines and improving them, especially the connection to the Maryland commuter line, which is called The Mark. We’re getting stops here. We do have some stops here for SEPTA, which is the commuter line for Philadelphia. There aren’t a lot of trains but you can definitely do it affordably. Amtrak can be a little bit expensive, like, kind of ridiculously so. It is easy also to drive, truly. You just get on 95, and go where you want to go.
Chris: Okay. Anything else? Other sites we should see while we’re in upstate?
Mara: One thing that I like that I think a lot of people don’t know about is the Delaware Nature Society, which was started by some prescient individuals in the late ’60s. They have several different locations upstate. They have one called The Ashland Nature Center, which has some really lovely walking trails, and a lot of information in their visitor center about the native plants and animals, if you’re interested in that. Which can be something that you overlook in northern Delaware because it’s kind of suburban. They also have a working farm that is nearby called Coverdale Farm, which is beautiful. When it’s open, you can go and see the animals. They offer classes, workshops, and activities. You can be a member and do those activities. But if you go to their website, you could also do it. If you’re not a member, you just pay a little more. So if you were planning a trip, you could look ahead, see what they had going on, and see if there’s anything you were interested in. Their naturalists are wonderful.
They lead really great tours. They also have, in downtown Wilmington, an environmental center now. That is in this marsh. It’s wetlands that they finally figured out they really shouldn’t develop anymore because it’s bad for everybody if the wetlands get overdeveloped. Because then everything floods. That’s a really fascinating place too because you can go, and see this natural environment in the middle of an urban environment. They recently just discovered that they have otters there. That’s not very big. It wouldn’t take a lot of time but it’s pretty centrally located. It’s about five minutes from the interstate. So it would be easy to fit that into your day, especially if you were staying in Wilmington or around that area. The other thing is, for people who have kids, Delaware has an excellent children’s museum, which is nearby to that urban environmental center that I mentioned. I really like the Delaware Children’s Museum.
It gets overlooked because Philadelphia has a Please Touch Museum, which is pretty well known, and it’s bigger. But the one in Delaware is really very nice. Part of what’s nice about it is that it’s designed to appeal even to kids as old as 11 or 12. So if you’ve got a six-year-old and a 10-year-old, you could go there. They would both have things to do and would enjoy it. That’s also like five minutes off the interstate. Right by where that is, you have the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts. It’s not a museum. It’s like a gallery that shows different local contemporary artists. They also will run free children’s programs on the weekends. So if you do a little planning and look at these places online, you can find the different programs that are going on and do some of that kind of stuff.
I think a tourist wouldn’t necessarily think to do. Every program I’ve ever done at any of the places that I mentioned, I found to be completely worthwhile. I’ve done them alone, and I’ve done them with my kids.
Chris: Excellent! Well, is it time to head downstate, then?
Mara: I think so. I guess the one thing I feel like I should mention is in Wilmington. There’s a lot of revitalization going on in Wilmington. Wilmington just recently got some very bad press. It was in USA Today. It was listed as murder town USA or something. It’s got one of the highest homicide rates for cities of its size. It’s not a big city, and don’t ask me the population because I’m always bad about that kind of thing. I don’t know but it’s a smaller city. It does have a high homicide rate but the fact is where that is happening, is not neighborhoods that you’re going to visit or necessarily end up in. Joe Biden will talk all the time about how he’s from Wilmington. He’s from a very nice area that’s right outside of Wilmington but he’ll say he’s from Wilmington if you ask him.
Everything is really small in Delaware. And yes, all that stuff that’s sort of unsafe is close to the stuff that’s not, but you don’t really see it when you’re in the areas that are safe. So the main area of Wilmington, they’re really working to revitalize, and to get people to spend time in. There are a couple of theaters there that show all different kinds of performances. The Hotel du Pont, which is a famous hotel, has a long running theater that shows touring Broadway shows. You can also go to The Grand and The Baby Grand, which tend to show standup comedians and musical concerts. Down the street is The Queen. Philadelphia has a big independent radio station called WXPN. They showcase all independent music. They’re at the University of Pennsylvania. The Queen is their outpost in Wilmington. So you’ll get a lot of really good independent music playing there. I’ve seen Aimee Mann there. It’s a great place to see a show.
Right across the street is a restaurant called Lithia [SP], which is one of the best restaurants I’ve ever eaten in anywhere. It’s really a hidden little gem. Everybody in Delaware knows about it. It’s a place that people should come from out of the state to eat at. I’m not sure that they do but they should.
Chris: What is the type of restaurant?
Mara: It’s farm to table, just very inventive.
Mara: The chef/owner used to run a place called Talula’s Table, which is actually in Pennsylvania. At one time, I think it was named the best restaurant in the United States or one of. It’s a place that it takes a year to get into. The husband and wife that ran that place split up. He came to Wilmington and opened Lithia. They have a bakery there. They make all their own bread. They interior is beautiful. It’s all sort of unfinished wood, very bright, very well lit, the big windows. The food there is just dreamy. I had the best mushroom soup the last time I was there. Mushrooms are indigenous to this area. It was so incredibly delicious. It was as good as anything I’ve ever had in New York, or Philadelphia, or Washington D.C., for sure.
Chris: And by the way, the population of Wilmington is a little over 70,000. So that is not that big.
Mara: Thank you. I would have gotten it totally wrong. I would have been like, “200.” Regardless of what you read in USA Today, it’s a very safe place to visit. I take my kids there all the time.
Chris: I’m just looking, by comparison if it were in California, it would not be in one of the 100 biggest cities in the state.
Mara: Right. And it is the biggest city in Delaware.
Chris: Right. Interesting. I say one of the 100 biggest because I only had a list of 100 and it [inaudible 00:21:28].
Mara: Delaware is not big and you feel that here, which is kind of a nice thing.
Chris: Do we need to talk slower as we head to lower slower Delaware?
Mara: Well, yeah. I mean, people down there probably do talk slower.
Chris: So we’re talking about a more rural section of Delaware?
Mara: Correct. It is more rural. It’s largely farms. Dover, which is the capital, is a pretty sleepy place. It is served by Route 1, not by I95. That’s how you get there, is you drive down Route 1. It’s got some really interesting historical stuff there. The entire area around the state house is this rhyne [SP] that has historic buildings and little museums. The first Saturday of every month, the state runs programs there that are themed. I think usually in February, which is Black History Month, the theme would be The Underground Railroad, which ran through Delaware. They’ll have people there who are re-enactors. They’ll have educators there who will lead tours, who can tell you things, and it’s all free. There’s also a Museum of American Art there, which has a very nice, if not large, collection called The Biggs Museum. Just outside of the main part of the city is the Dickinson Plantation. John Dickinson is a very interesting character because he was actually opposed to American independence but was a signer of The Constitution. He doesn’t get remembered because of some of his stances. He changed his mind but he was actually very significant during The Revolutionary War.
You can go to his house and tour it. They’re doing a lot of work on him right now. I think his reputation is going to be revived and people are going to be talking about him. That’s a place that you can visit. Of course, the other thing that’s in Dover is the Dover Speedway, which is where the NASCAR races are twice a year. So if you want to avoid being there during NASCAR, it would behoove you to look at the NASCAR schedule and not come. I think one time is in May. The other one I think is sometime in the fall, maybe September. A lot of people come to Dover when that is going on. You probably want to avoid it at those time. Unless NASCAR is your thing, in which case you should come because I think it’s easier to get into than some of the other venues.
Mara: Although, I don’t actually know that but I know people who go. They seem to always be able to get tickets and go. So it’s definitely possible.
Chris: For those who are outside the U.S., NASCAR would be auto racing, obviously. In particular, it tends to be stuck cars, I want to say.
Chris: So cars that you could buy, you just wouldn’t drive them this way without getting a ticket.
Mara: Right. The drivers become celebrities. They have pit crews. The pit crews come out and change all the tires really quickly. If you like stuff that goes fast, it’s probably pretty exciting to watch.
Chris: Right. It is a very popular sport in the U.S.
Mara: It is.
Chris: Although, not apparently with either you or I.
Mara: Yes. I know that the weekend when they have the races, literally the population of Dover quadruples or something. It’s thousands of people who come to watch.
Chris: Excellent. I grew up outside of Laguna Seca in California, which is a Formula One racetrack. And again, I’ve never been there either.
Mara: Well, I mean it just depends on what you’re interested in, right?
Mara: I just don’t have a big interest in cars. If you were doing this itinerary and you were going to come for a week, I would say you’d probably want to spend three days in northern Delaware. You can stop in Dover. Dover’s on your way down to where the beaches are, which is what you would be going down to do in southern Delaware. So you could stop there easily. From Wilmington, it takes about an hour and a half to get to Dover. You could stop there, poke around, look at some of the museums, have lunch, and then just keep going. Again, to reinforce that Delaware is small, you can be in Wilmington, go to Dover, make it down to the beach, and it would all happen in the same day, in half a day. We’re the opposite of California.
Chris: Exactly. It takes a little while to drive from one end of the state to the other here. You mentioned the beach. Do you have a favorite beach in southern Delaware?
Mara: I do. So the beach towns in Delaware kind of go in a line, which is how the beach towns tend to be along the coast. So the northernmost one is Lewes, which is spelled L-E-W-E-S but is pronounced Louis, not Lews [SP]. Lewes is the most historic one, in terms of having 18th and 19th century history. Again, it’s where the Swedish and the Dutch first settled. That’s a lovely little town. I love the town beach in Lewes because it’s on the bay. When you have little kids, that’s a really great beach because there’s not big waves because it’s further up the Delaware Bay. The further south you go, the more you’re out on the open Atlantic. Lewes also has a really lovely state park called Cape Henlopen State Park, which has a beautiful beach. A tip that I would give is if you’re going to be in Delaware and be at the beaches for more than four or five days, buy a state park pass if you’re there between March and November. It’s actually cheaper. You’ll pay less for parking and for use of the state park if you do it that way than if you paid each day that you go.
Chris: You mentioned if we’re going to be there. When is the best time, you think, to come to Delaware?
Mara: I think that the best time to come to Delaware is probably May and October, would be my two favorite times to come. The summer is pretty hot and the beaches are pretty crowded, just like they are everywhere. But I have done some really nice trips to the beach area, in particular for Memorial Day Weekend, which is kind of before the season starts. I’ve even done where we’ve stayed the whole week. So we started from Memorial Day Weekend and stayed through maybe that first week of June. It’s not crowded yet, and the weather tends to be less hot and humid, and very nice. The water, of course, the Atlantic is cold in May. In the fall, the water is warm. The Atlantic often is warmer in September than it is in June, July and August.
The beach area in Delaware in the fall is lovely. The weather is really mild. It’s not as crowded. The water is warmer. If you get a warm day, in terms of the air temperature, which is likely to happen in September and October, you could even go swimming still. Those are my two favorite times. It tends to be a little bit drier, especially in October because the humidity here can be pretty bad in the summer.
Chris: When you say crowded, what is the definition of crowded at a Delaware beach? Is it as crowded as the Jersey Shore?
Mara: No, it’s not. I would say categorically it’s not. That is an argument for making that your beach destination in the summer. It is less crowded than New Jersey, for sure. But at the same time, because it’s smaller, there’s basically one road to get there from each direction. So the traffic can be bad. I feel like you can game it, though. You just don’t want to be driving down there on a Friday.
Chris: On a Friday afternoon, yeah.
Mara: You don’t want to be leaving on a Sunday night.
Chris: On a Sunday night, right.
Mara: If you drive down there on a Friday morning, or on Thursday night, and then leave on Monday morning, then you won’t even hit a lot of traffic. The beaches themselves won’t be as crowded as they are at some of the other places on the East Coast. Holiday weekends, I’m sure Fourth of July weekend is really crowded. I never go down there then because I live here, so why would I? There are a bunch of different beaches. I mentioned Lewes. Then just south of Lewes is Rehoboth Beach, which has a big boardwalk and also has sort of a real town. It’s a very different type of town than Lewes. It feels like a 1940s or ’50s resort town. That’s what the architecture looks like. It’s much bigger, so there’s a lot more shops and restaurants. That’s where people who come to the Delaware beaches from Washington D.C. tend to go. Continuing down from there, you would hit Bethany Beach, which is a smaller community. I’ve never actually stayed in Bethany. Although, people have told me that’s also a really nice place to stay with families.
Further down from there is Dewey, which is known as the one where all the college kids go. That’s where they go. They work and hang out.
Chris: Got it. Okay.
Mara: That’s where the party bars are. There’s another state park down in the Bethany/Dewey area, which also has really beautiful and big beaches where you’re not paying a lot to park. Particularly, if you have state park sticker then it’s free. They have things like changing facilities and showers. You can also get a fishing license and go fishing, and lots of different things that you can do. It’s a little spread out, which is kind of nice. I do think that that alleviates the crowds. People have beaches that they like. They tend to go to those. It’s a very mellow scene in Delaware, for the most part I would say.
Chris: One thing we should say while you’re there, you’re just over the border into Maryland and into Virginia, is also Chincoteague and Assateague Island. They’re actually more accessible from here than they would be if you were in the mainland of Virginia or of Maryland. Those are the islands best-known for the wild horses we’d have to say but national wildlife refuges. So fairly close to Bethany Beach, which you were describing right now.
Mara: That’s right. Chincoteague is one of my favorite places in the world. I would definitely recommend going there. Read Misty of Chincoteague, whether you’re an adult. If you have kids, read it to your kids because the town is still totally like that book, which is kind of crazy. We had a guy give us a boat tour there who his father was an extra in the movie when they filmed the movie. You can see the wild horses and there’s this beautiful national wildlife refuge. It’s really gorgeous. The drive from the beaches in Delaware over to Chincoteague is probably 45 minutes. So you can stay in Delaware where there are actually more hotels. Chincoteague, part of why it is nice, actually, is there’s not a lot of places to stay because they’ve preserved it, drive over there, see it, and go back.
Chris: I guess that begs the question of while we’re in southern Delaware, we are close to the rest of Delmarva, this peninsula, are there other spots that you would recommend we see as long as we’re down here?
Mara: That’s a good question. I mean, Chincoteague and Assateague would have been the two that I would really mention.
Mara: There’s a place that I’ve never been. I think it’s called Smith Island. It’s a place in the bay where they still speak the original Elizabethan dialect. It’s this really unique way of talking that they only talk that way there. It’s one of the few places that’s on my list in this area that I haven’t made it to yet. Supposedly there’s some foods. There’s a cake that they make there that’s really delicious that you can only get there, pretty much. I think it’s called Smith Island Cake. It’s a layer cake. That’s a place that’s fascinating to me. If you get away from the beach towns, just north of the beaches in Delaware is Milford, which is where the Dogfish Brewery is. Dogfish Head Beer is, of course, one of the best beers. Sam Calagione, it’s an Italian last name, he was this advent of the new beer scene with all the microbreweries. He was one of the founders of that. Dogfish Head was one of the first breweries that was like that. You can go and visit the brewery. They now have a hotel in Lewes. They have a restaurant in Rehoboth.
Chris: How interesting. Okay.
Mara: You can do a beer and food tour. People do, actually. Breweries have just been popping up all over Delaware. The state has actually created a beer and spirits trail where you can go on the state tourism website and print off a thing that tells you all the different breweries to go to. That’s up-and-down the state.
Chris: Oh, interesting.
Mara: So you can do it at the beach and up in New Castle County, as well.
Chris: Excellent. Before we leave downstate, and start talking about just some general questions, anything else we should see downstate?
Mara: So in Lewes, again, on the historical side of things, they have a couple of really interesting little museums there. So if you have a rainy day or a time when you just are tired of being at the beach, there’s a whole little village area, a market green, where they have a really wonderful farmers market on Saturday mornings that I highly recommend visiting. All around there are these little historic buildings. Some of them I think were there originally and others are ones that they brought there. It’s sort of a very small version of Sturbridge Village or something like that from Massachusetts. There’s like a doctor’s office and a post office, and that kind of thing. So that’s kind of cool. In the state park that I mentioned that’s in Lewes, Cape Henlopen State Park, that was one of the lines of defense for the United States during World War II. The park is actually built on what was an Army base. The last time I was there with my family, we did a tour where there’s this huge underground bunker, maybe one of the biggest bunkers that the Army ever built.
You can go in this huge bunker and see these big guns that they basically had pointed at the bay.
Chris: For coastal defense.
Mara: They were trying to make sure that the U-boats didn’t come up the bay and up to Philadelphia, which would’ve been disastrous. There’s this whole military history there. There’s actually parts of the park where they don’t let you go because of mines. I think they’ve gotten a lot of the mines out of there but not necessarily all of them. A word of warning would be that if you see a sign not to go somewhere in that park, it’s best to listen to it.
Chris: Don’t go there. Follow the rules.
Mara: There are land mines in there still. Again, that would be something where if you looked at the park website before your trip, you could see what programs they’re running. They seem to do it pretty regularly in the summer, especially on the holiday weekends. You could have just a really interesting tour basically for free.
Chris: You mentioned holidays. Any particular day of the year that Delaware is the place to be?
Mara: There is a day that I would recommend going to Delaware. I actually wrote about it earlier this year for Map Quest. It is called Separation Day. It is only celebrated in Delaware. It’s the second Saturday in June.
Chris: This isn’t for couples who are getting separated?
Mara: It is not. It is a celebration of Delaware separating from Pennsylvania. Originally, Delaware was part of Pennsylvania.
Chris: Was a county in Pennsylvania.
Mara: The three lower counties of Pennsylvania was what was Delaware. On Separation Day in New Castle, they celebrate it by having this sort of big town wide party. It’s a piece of Americana to go to this party because New Castle Sailing Club has races. So you can watch the sail boats race. There’s an antique car show. There’s a beautiful baby contest, maybe like the last of such a thing that’s left in the United States, with an MC that talks about, “Oh, isn’t she beautiful? Look at those cheeks.” It’s really funny.
Chris: No swimsuit competition in the beautiful baby contest?
Mara: It’s just a lot of fun. It’s just this big festive time. Everybody’s out on the battery, on the park there on the river. That’s a nice time of year to be here, anyway. The weather tends to be good. So I definitely recommend that people. I think that’s very unique to Delaware. It’s something that you wouldn’t experience anywhere else.
Chris: Excellent. What’s going to surprise me about Delaware?
Mara: I think probably the size. I think people are often surprised by how close things are together but also how much there is here in such a small space. I do particularly feel like the story of the Du Pont’s is very surprising to people. They don’t realize. You hear the name Du Pont and you just think about this chemical company but they’ve been incredibly important in American history. If you’re interested in revolutionary history, like immediately after the Revolutionary War in early American history, they’re really significant. You can learn so much about that here, in a very short period of time, just by going to these really amazing museums. Winterthur in particular is a very surprising museum because it is a major collection that just doesn’t get talked about.
Chris: I have to admit. I’ve never heard of it.
Mara: Yes. It’s huge. The museum has 175 rooms full of American decorative arts. You don’t see all of them, obviously. You do guided tours. They had an exhibit of costumes from Downton Abbey, which has been tremendously popular. People may have heard of it because those costumes were there. They actually tripled their attendance this past year with that exhibit.
Chris: Oh, interesting.
Mara: The gardens are one of the best examples of this style of garden that it is, anywhere in the world. It’s a natural type.
Chris: It’s not an English style garden [inaudible 00:39:10]. It’s very boxy.
Mara: It looks like it just happened but it didn’t. It’s all very by design. That was all Henry Francis Du Pont. All of the stuff in the museum is just so beautiful. It’s all 18th and 19th century American stuff. That’s the thing that’s interesting because it’s from America. It’s all made in America. If not made in America, made in England, but it was used in America. You don’t see a lot of places where there’s a museum that’s so dedicated purely to American stuff of that era. And it’s beautiful, just absolutely beautiful. So I think that surprises people because they just have no idea that it’s there.
Mara: It’s actually a pretty important museum.
Chris: Before I get to my last four questions, anything else we need to know before we pack our bags and head to Delaware?
Mara: You should be prepared for some of the traffic. There are a lot of people in a fairly small area here, so just be aware. People here can drive a little aggressively. I know New Jersey has the reputation for being a place where people drive aggressively because nobody knows about Delaware. They actually do it here too quite a bit. I definitely would say that. I would say bring rain gear, as well. Particularly in early spring or late fall, it can be pretty rainy. We actually just went through a very long stretch where it was gray and rainy for quite a while. It’s nice out today. It’s a very temperate climate here. The other thing to be aware of is that we do get snow, not consistently, but if you’re coming in the winter, that is something that can happen here. I don’t know if people are aware of that. We do get the nor’easters [SP] that come up. We get the coastal storms.
Mara: So we can get quite a bit of snow in a short period of time. So you should just check the weather before you come. But if you come in the late spring or in the fall, really, you can count on having pretty nice weather.
Chris: Excellent. Last four questions. You are standing in the prettiest spot in all of Delaware, where are you standing and what are you looking?
Mara: I think you’re standing in the middle of old New Castle. You’re looking at the spire of Immanuel Episcopal Church on the Green, which I will admit. I’m a little biased because it is my church but it is just this beautiful serene place. It’s beautifully planted. There are willow trees. There’s this white spire and this big green that stretches out in front of it. It looks the same as it did 200 years ago. There are very few places that you can say that of in the United States.
Chris: Excellent. One thing that makes you laugh and say only in Delaware?
Mara: Well, it’s the accent. Delaware has its own accent.
Chris: I don’t know what a Delaware accident sounds like.
Mara: Most people don’t. The way you know if someone’s from Delaware – and I don’t know if I can do it justice because I’m not from Delaware but I have lived here a while – is how they say the word water, which is how I would say it. It’s probably how you would say it: water. If someone’s from Delaware, they say worter [SP], like, W-O-R-T-E-R, worter. My kids were both born here. My two sons are Delawareans. My older son is 12. He has just a little bit of that accent. That we will see.
Chris: Finish this sentence: You really know you’re in Delaware when what?
Mara: I think you really know you’re in Delaware when the landscape changes quickly on you. When you go from these rolling hills that are in the northern part of the state, and all of a sudden, you’re in this very urban landscape and there’s all this industry. But then in 15 minutes, you’re driving and you’re on the campus of the University of Delaware, which looks like it could be in Charlottesville, Virginia. Another 15 minutes south, and you’re in farm fields. It’s like a place where everything is compressed, and it’s all sort of close together. It changes very quickly.
Mara: There’s a lot here. That’s what I would say. People don’t realize how much is here, in such a small place.
Chris: If you had to summarize Delaware in just three words, what three words would you use?
Mara: Thomas Jefferson’s name for Delaware, which I’ve always loved, was a “small wonder.”
Chris: Well, see? There you go. You managed to do it in two words.
Mara: But I didn’t come up with it, Thomas Jefferson did. But I actually think that’s a good description of the state. I mean, small would definitely be in there. Small but significant, I guess if you want me to use three words. I would say small but significant. It’s played a big role in American history in a lot of different ways, kind of quietly without people realizing it.
Chris: Our guest, again, has been Mara Gorman. Mara, where can people read more about your travels?
Mara: They can read about my travels at the Mother of All Trips, which is motherofalltrips.com. I also wrote a book called The Family Traveler’s Handbook. There’s information on my website about where to get it but you can also look it up on Amazon because it is certainly there.
Chris: Excellent. I think we have done a review of it on Amateur Traveler, as well. We’ve done a review of a lot of the books in that series. I honestly don’t remember if we’ve done that one or not. If not, we probably will.
Mara: Oh, great.
Chris: So Mara, thanks for coming on the show and telling us of your love for Delaware.
Mara: Thank you so much for having me, Chris.
Chris: I’m going to throw in a second sponsor spot here at the end but that’s for my project. That’s for bloggerbridge.com. If you happen to be working for a company that’s interested in working with influencers, that’s bloggers, writers, podcasters, photographers, content creators in general, and you’re not sure how to get started with that, we’ve just announced a new feature for Blogger Bridge, which is Blogger Bridge Lite.
BloggerBridge Lite is particularly targeted at location-based companies. I think of small DMO’s or tourism boards, hotels, restaurants, tour groups, spas, that sort of thing. With the Lite version, which is only $200 a year, you can both get notifications when bloggers or other content creators are coming to your city, which gives you the chance to reach out to them. You can also publish one opportunity at a time that maybe will put you up for a free night in exchange for a blog post or something along those lines, like a museum pass for your city. So if you work for any company that’s interested in working with bloggers, maybe you have opportunities for them, including paid opportunities, go to bloggerbridge.com and check out the lite version. There’s a recording of a webinar we did last week about all the features.
With that, we’re going to end this episode of the Amateur Traveler. If you have any questions, send me an email to host at amateurtraveler.com, or better yet, leave a comment of this episode at amateurtraveler.com. The transcript of this episode will go up in about a month and is sponsored by Jay Way Travel: your guide to Eastern European travel. Don’t forget to check out our main sponsor who is DK Eyewitness Guides. You can follow me on twitter @Chris2x, and as always, thanks so much for listening.
Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.