The two seaside towns of Lewes, Del., and Cape May, N.J., are miles apart by highway and divided by their state borders. But because of the Cape May/Lewes Ferry, they are also close neighbors on opposite shores of the Delaware Bay and a natural combination for a two-stop vacation by the sea.
Lewes and Cape May are linked by more than a ferry ride. Both are quaint little towns flavored with history, where visitors can enjoy a quiet beach vacation. There's plenty to do, from boating, fishing and swimming to shopping, hiking and sightseeing. But the atmosphere is laid-back and an exciting evening might be a stroll into town for an ice-cream cone or a horse and buggy ride under the setting sun.
It's about a 110 mile drive from Baltimore to the southern terminal of the ferry, which is located in the town of Lewes -- site of the World Championship Punkin' Chunkin' contest which tests the mettle of pumpkin hurlers every November. Settled by the Dutch in 1631, Lewes was originally a whaling colony that remains a seafaring town to this day.
Fishing and tour boats depart regularly from its city pier, which is located on the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal in the heart of town. Full-day fishing trips from Fisherman's Wharf are $31; half-day trips are $18. The marina also offers dolphin watching cruises on Saturdays during the summer as well as a harbor cruise and an evening fishing trip.
A topsail schooner named the Jolly Rover carries passengers on two- and three-hour sailing voyages daily. The cost for the afternoon sail is $15 for adults and $13 for children; the sunset cruise is $18 for adults and $15 for children.
Back on land, visitors can enjoy a view of the countryside near Lewes while riding in vintage passenger cars pulled by a steam train. The Queen Anne's Railroad operates along a restored section of a railway that linked Kent Island, Md., and Lewes at the turn of the century. During the summer months, departures begin at 2 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. The cost for the one-hour trip is $7 for adults and $5 for children. Friday and Saturday dinner train rides are expected to begin later in the summer. Call (302) 644-1720 for information.
There are lots of intriguing shops in town as well as interesting old buildings to visit at the historic complex. Most of the buildings were moved here from other locations because of their significant architecture or history. There's an early 18th century one-room farmhouse, a country store built in about 1800, an early settler's cabin, a doctor's office and a house that was struck by a cannonball during the bombardment of Lewes in the War of 1812.The Zwaanendael Museum was built in 1931 as a careful adaptation of a city hall building in the Netherlands and reflects the Dutch cultural influence on the town.
Other historic buildings were moved to town from the country and now are private homes of Lewes residents.
There are bed and breakfast inns, cottages, town houses, condominiums and small motels for overnight guests. And for camping enthusiasts, there's Cape Henlopen State Park, which is located one mile east of Lewes. The campground is open April 1 through Oct. 31 and the cost is $13 per night. Reservations are not accepted, but travelers may call (302) 645-2103 for a daily update on campsite availability. Day visitors to the park pay $5 per car.
State park nearby
Cape Henlopen State Park is a 3,200 acre, triangle-shaped park with 2 1/2 miles of Delaware Bay shoreline and 3 miles of Atlantic Ocean shoreline. The treacherous waters off of the point of Cape Henlopen are the resting place for several hundred shipwrecks.
There are many diverse areas to explore in the park, from maritime pine forest to salt marsh and sand dune. A slide show is presented at 6 p.m. Fridays to provide visitors with an overview of what there is to see and do in the park.
There's a guarded ocean swimming beach and a bay fishing pier, which is open 24 hours daily. Seven miles of hiking trails stretch through the park, leading to a pine forest and a bay sand dune area. Four-wheel drive vehicles are allowed on the beach for surf fishing only. Annual permits are $100.
During World War II, the park was the site of Fort Miles, which was built to protect the bay from enemy ships and submarines. Visitors to the park today can climb to the top of a restored military observation tower for a beautiful view of the area.
The park's Seaside Nature Center is open daily during the summer months and offers lots of programs for the public. Visitors can go bird-watching or seining in the shallow waters of the bay to collect and study marine animals. A historical tour begins at the observation tower and there are hayrides on the beach on Friday evenings.
Ferry to Cape May