While most tourists who make the long drive down Delaware’s State Route 1 flock to the lively gay mecca of Rehoboth Beach, nearby Lewes provides a calmer, more neighborhood-y retreat (still popular with gay and straight tourists alike) ideal for a few peaceful days spent shore-side. Founded in 1631, Lewes (say “LOU-is” if you don’t want to sound like a newbie) is the oldest town in the oldest state in the Union — a fact that translates to tons of charm, gorgeous historic buildings, and pleasant little inns with lots of character. The newest property in town is the 24-room Hotel Rodney, a swank but homey spot that gives absolutely no indication of having once been both the flophouse and the bus station it was. No, all you see are well-appointed, big-enough rooms that offer a comfy combination of antiques and modern amenities — the perfect home base for both relaxing and setting off to explore the area. Nature lovers will enjoy nearby Cape Henlopen State Park, with its miles of trails, nature preserve, and family-friendly protected beaches , while shoppers have plenty of boutiques (think estate jewelry, handmade clothing and accessories) to keep them busy come afternoon stroll-around time. Lewes bars and restaurants lean toward the low-key, so for a party night out — if you’re interested in that sort of thing — it’s off to Rehoboth for you. 142 2nd Street, Lewes, Delaware, 800-824-8754, hotelrodneydelaware.com.
Expect to pay: From mid-June to late September, rooms at Hotel Rodney run from $140 to $325 a night, and there’s a two-night minimum stay for Saturdays and holidays. (In the off-season, though, rooms are available for as low as $80 — and Lewes remains a charming little getaway well into fall and early in the spring.) The most popular activities are some of the most affordable — or free! — and meals vary (see below).
Be sure to: When you tire of romping on the beach, you ought to explore the beautiful hiking trails and dunes of Cape Henlopen State Park, the entrance to which is on the edge of the town. Or bring lots of sunblock and catch your dinner — sea bass are plentiful — on one of the fishing boats departing from the marina. Public boats run around $75 per person for a full day, plus $7 rod rental. (For a more VIP vibe, rent a charter for you and seven of your friends for $895.) For something different, let loose at the Saturday-night karaoke dance party at the Purple Parrot in Rehoboth, just a 10-minute drive
Eat at: Béseme, on the hotel’s ground floor, has excellent burgers of the beef, bison and lamb variety for $12 (302-645-8108, beseme.biz). And locals rave over the meaty crabcakes at the popular tavern
Jerry’s, just up the block (108 2nd Street, 302-645-6611, jerrys-seafood.com). Though Lewes’s Buttery Restaurant seems to be the town’s main advertised “upscale” option, the gay and glamorous head to Nage (rhymes with “Taj,” not “rage”), which is just a short drive from Lewes. Don’t let the nondescript strip-mall appearance fool you: The bustling vibe, eclectic fare (signature lemon shrimp Caesar, grilled fish, and spectacular chicken and dumplings) and inventive spirit (they even make their own vermouth!) pack them in year-round (19730 Coastal Highway, Rehoboth Beach, 302-226-2037, nage.bz).
Take this advice: Leave early in the morning or in the evening to avoid the generally abominable Route 1 traffic.
Like your coast a little classy? Try this. Make it more civilized — don’t forget your Top-Siders — with a trip to the upscale but easygoing Harbor View Hotel & Resort on Martha’s Vineyard. Just steps away from the heart of historic Edgartown, the Harbor offers rooms (starting at about $385 a night during the summer) that are posh, and a porch perfect for pre-dinner drinks, with rocking chairs overlooking a harbor where oysters are caught, to be served at the Water Street restaurant inside (131 North Water Street, Edgartown, Massachusetts, 800-225-6005, harbor-view.com). Or for something a little less far-flung than the Vineyard, dash off to the Hamptons’ Mill House Inn, a 1790 country home (from $250 a night) in a charming little seaside town. The place has been extensively renovated and fitted with all the comforts you’ll require, including a much-ballyhooed breakfast (31 North Main Street, East Hampton, New York, 631-324-9766, millhouseinn.com).