If you’re looking for a great family beach vacation destination that’s about a four-hour drive from our area, Bethany Beach in Delaware is a perfect spot. You can cut the driving time significantly by driving to Cape May and taking the Cape May-Lewes Ferry (fees per person and vehicle; reservations recommended) to Lewes, Delaware, which is just about thirty minutes away from Bethany Beach. My kids love the ferry, and it’s a great alternative to driving the entire way when traffic is going to bad.
Bethany Beach is on the Delaware coast, between the larger beach resort towns of Rehobeth Beach, DE and Ocean City, MD. My family has been vacationing in Bethany for over thirty years, and it’s a perfect place for kids. Bethany has a large public beach accessible from a boardwalk with food, shopping and outdoor concerts several nights a week at the bandstand. There is also a town center with more stores and restaurants as well as miniature golf, a children’s playground and a small outdoor area with free Wi-Fi. Bethany Beach Books, an independent book store, (99 Garfield Plaza) has children’s story time on Tuesdays. On Sundays, there’s a Farmer’s Market in town at the corner of Garfield Parkway and Pennsylvania Avenue from 8 am to noon, with lots to offer including locally grown blueberries, peaches and corn.
As much as I love downtown Bethany Beach, one issue with the boardwalk area is that it is difficult to find a parking space, and the parking system requires quarters ($0.25 per 10 minutes), so make sure you bring a pile of quarters. If you need to use a credit card it will be charged the maximum three hour time period, plus a small surcharge as well. Also, the Bethany police are notorious ticket-givers, so be sure to be back to your car on time or you will most likely find a ticket waiting for you even if you’re just a few minutes late.
Many locals avoid the parking hassles by taking advantage of the local Bethany Beach Trolley (twenty-five cents a ride), but I haven’t given it a try yet even though every time I am circling for a spot I promise myself that I will definitely use it the next time I go into town.
For larger commercial boardwalks with amusement park rides and games you can go to Rehobeth Beach’s Funland and Trimper’s in Ocean City — if possible, schedule these visits for week days, because parking in those towns is no day at the beach either. Rehobeth Beach also has a huge outlet center with lots of stores.
For breakfast, my top picks include Jimmy’s Kitchen (1300 Ocean Highway, Fenwick Island), Warren’s Station (1406 Ocean Highway, Fenwick Island) and the Ocean View Family Restaurant (42 Atlantic Avenue, Ocean View). All serve a local staple, creamed chipped beef on toast, also known as S.O.S.
In the town of Bethany, you can get great coffee at The Artful Bean (20 Pennsylvania Avenue), and kids love the Penguin Diner (105 Garfield Parkway), which has quick service and is located right off the boardwalk, and while the food is fine, it’s nothing special.
For lunch and dinner, you can’t go wrong at any of the local seafood places or crab shacks - ordering a dozen steamed “hard shell” Maryland Blue Crabs to crack open and eat is a beloved, and messy, local tradition. I like to get hard shell crabs at Mickey’s Family Crab House (39610 Jefferson Bridge Road), which even offers the option on their Children’s Menu for a single crab for your child to smash and enjoy.
Other favorite restaurants in the Bethany Beach are include:
- Matt’s Fish Camp - definitely try the Hot Bacon Crab Dip, Lobster Deviled Eggs, and Campfire Pie. They also have a great Kid’s Menu. Pictured below, the lobster roll and chocolate peanut butter pie.
- Bethany Blues – this place has fantastic barbeque, serving all the usuals: pulled pork, ribs and brisket.
- Fishkiller’s Lobster Shack – a short drive away, you’ll find locally-caught lobster served from a Food Truck in Dagsboro, DE. Plenty of outdoor picnic tables make it a great lunch spot.
- Grotto Pizza - the local pizza chain has fantastic pizza, which is made with the sauce swirled on top of the cheese. They also have delicious subs and sandwiches, especially their cheesesteaks.
Delaware Seashore State Park has lots of programs for kids as well, you can check out their 2013 Summer Guide here. There’s also the James Farm Ecological Preserve with plenty of walking trails and a sandy beach. We also love to go peach picking at Bennett Orchards, which is about thirty minutes away in Frankford, DE.
There is a great playground near the Bethany Beach boardwalk, which is adjacent to volleyball and basketball courts. A short drive away there is another fantastic playground, John West Park in Ocean View with several climbing apparatuses as well as swings, see saws and a covered area with picnic tables. This playground is shady which makes it a welcome option on hot sunny days.
And what’s a visit to the beach without ice cream? In downtown Bethany you’ll find Kohr Brothers Frozen Custard and Dickey’s, but my favorite place is Bonkey’s Homeamde Ice Cream and Snoballs (35849 Atlantic Avenue, Millville).
Bonkey’s is about a fifteen minute drive away and worth it not only for the icy treats, which include homemade ice cream, rainbow snoballs, and even frozen cheesecake, but also for the plentiful, and free, parking in the adjacent lot.