Ocean City may be tons of fun, but some days you just want to do something different. Reserve a day or two of your vacation for a day trip north to Delaware, the "small wonder" state that offers many relaxing diversions.
Fenwick Island/Bethany Beach
Coastal Highway, which is Maryland Route 524 while you're in Ocean City, becomes Delaware Route 1 once you cross the state line. As you drive north, you'll cruise through the quiet resorts of Fenwick Island, South Bethany and Bethany Beach.
Since the area is much less congested with cars and commercial establishments than Ocean City's Coastal Highway, the four-lane, divided thoroughfare is a perfect place for biking, jogging or power walking. It's fairly straight and level with wide shoulders, and it's lined with trees and magnificent private homes, particularly on the ocean side.
Unfortunately, these communities have locked up big stretches of the beach that are off-limits to the public. But you can still get to the ocean. In fact, the huge (and often nearly empty) parking lots you'll see on the ocean side are for Fenwick Island State Park, a beautiful 3-mile stretch of Atlantic seashore hidden from the highway by a series of grassy dunes. The Fenwick Island beaches have new shower and bathroom facilities and lifeguards on duty during the season.
A little farther up Route 1, just two miles south of Rehoboth, is a stretch of island terrain that makes you wonder what Ocean City would be like if it weren't so filled with buildings. The Delaware Seashore State Park is a narrow strip of land with seven miles of ocean beach on one side and the Indian River Bay on the other side. There are relatively few buildings, and the dunes are alive with piping plover, osprey and an occasional bald eagle.
Fenwick Island and Delaware Seashore state parks are the only places in the state where surfing is allowed.
Rehoboth is a lovely seaside town that has long attracted sophisticated beachgoers from Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia. These days, however, it's attracting lots of shoppers, thanks to the Ocean Outlets, a 71-store factory outlet center that straddles Route 1 just north of Rehoboth Avenue.
With cut-rate retailers ranging from Pierre Cardin to Toy Liquidators, the outlets are attracting patrons from many areas. A quick survey of license plates in the parking lot shows shoppers from as far away as New York, Indiana and Ontario.
The outlets promise -- and seem to deliver -- reductions of 20 percent to 70 percent on their name-brand merchandise. Plus, there's no sales tax in Delaware.
Stores now open in the Ocean Outlets center include Reebok, Bugle Boy, L'eggs, American Tourister, Oneida and Pfaltzgraff, Gitano and Van Heusen. Half the stores, known as the Bayside Outlets, are on the west side of Route 1; the other half -- called Seaside, naturally -- are a short driving distance across the wide highway.
In-season outlet hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Call (302) 227-6860 for more information.
Cape Henlopen State Park
A 3,020-acre peninsula juts out of lower Delaware's northeastern shore, bounded by Delaware Bay on the west and the Atlantic Ocean on the east. This is where you'll find Cape Henlopen State Park.
The park features the 80-foot-tall Great Dune, the highest sand dune between Cape Hatteras and Cape Cod, and a sea bird nesting sanctuary. At the Seaside Nature Center, exhibits will help you identify the wildlife found along Cape Henlopen's two scenic nature trails. The center also features aquariums, films, // lectures and demonstrations and is open year-round.
A favorite stop on the nature walks is a refurbished World War II observation tower, from which you'll look out at the full beauty of Cape Henlopen. The tower is open from April to October. The park also boasts a fishing pier, bath house and tennis and basketball courts.
Just one mile west of the wildness of Cape Henlopen lies the civilized tranquillity of Lewes (pronounced Lewis). Billing itself as "the first town in the first state," Lewes sits on land discovered by Henry Hudson in 1609. Naturally, the town's historic buildings are a prime reason to visit.
Built in 1931, the Zwaanendael Museum commemorates the Dutch whalers who settled the town 300 years earlier. The museum's exhibits provide a complete history of the town and a bit about the state as well. It's open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sundays from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is free.
At the Zwaanendael, pick up a copy of the self-guided walking tour. The town's historic buildings, so quaint and well-maintained, make a pleasant day's wanderings. Most of the sites on the tour date from the mid-18th Century.
Cape May/Lewes Ferry
Lewes is connected by a fleet of ferries to its historic twin, Cape May, N.J. The five vessels each hold up to 800 passengers and 100 cars, and feature snack bar service and a small gift shop.
The trip from Lewes to Cape May takes about 70 minutes. It's a pleasant voyage, as sea gulls escort you across the Delaware Bay. Once across, you're about a 10-minute drive from the lovely and historic (but crowded) New Jersey town.
In the summer, ferries depart from each terminus about once an hour from 6 a.m. to midnight. The one-way fare is $18 for a passenger car and driver, $4.50 for each additional person over age 6, and $2 for passengers under 6. Bigger vehicles like campers cost more; bikes and motorcycles cost less.
You don't need reservations, but arrive at least a half-hour before the ship pulls out because you'll have to queue up to drive aboard. If you're at the terminal early, stop inside for visitor information, clean restrooms and souvenirs. For more information, call (302) 645-6313.