A Playground reader recently asked us about family fun in Bethany Beach; not having been as recently as we would have liked, we turned to one of our network of plugged-in writers, Anna Sandler, to get the skinny on this great stretch of kid-friendly beach on the Delaware coast. (Side note: Melissa, a University of Delaware graduate, says: Go Blue Hens!, and be sure to try Grotto’s pizza.)
If you’re looking for a great family beach vacation destination, Bethany Beach, on the Delaware coast, between the larger beach resort towns of Rehobeth Beach, DE, and Ocean City, MD, is a perfect spot. And you can start your trip off with a bonus boat ride, and 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 there’s summer traffic.
My family has been vacationing in Bethany for more than thirty years, and it’s a fantastic place for kids. There’s a large public beach accessible from a boardwalk with food, shopping, and outdoor concerts several nights a week at the bandstand. There’s also a town center with more stores and restaurants, plus 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 every Tuesday. On Sunday, 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.
There are also plenty of opportunities to explore nature in the Bethany Beach area. There’s the Bethany Beach Nature Center, which has Saturday morning programs for all ages at 10:30 am.
Delaware Seashore State Park has lots of programs for kids as well, you can check out their 2015 Fall 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 and blueberry 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.
If your kids want to learn to skimboard, Alley-Oop Skim in nearby Dewey Beach offers weekly three day mini camps from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. My daughters have gone for several weeks for the past two summers, and it is now one of their favorite things to do at the beach.
There are also two-day Keiki and SUP camps offered by EcoBay Kayaking Adventures, which also received rave reviews from my kids. For surfing, there are early morning lessons from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. with Brett at Surf Sessions ($50 for the first lesson, and $25 for subsequent lessons) in Ocean City, which is great for older kids and teens, too.
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. Rehobeth Beach also has a huge outlet center with lots of stores.
Top Eats in Bethany Beach:
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 an option on their Children’s Menu for a single crab for your child to smash and enjoy.
More to Chew On in the Bethany Beach area:
- 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 BBQ, 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.
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.
As much as I love downtown Bethany Beach, one issue with the boardwalk area is that it’s 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 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.
High Season is Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, but Bethany Beach is a beautiful spot to visit in the fall as well. Beaches in Bethany are guarded weekends from Labor Day until the end of September, and in nearby Ocean City the beaches are guarded daily until Sunday, September 27. Fall also has several not-to-be-missed events: the Bethany Beach Jazz Funeral on the boardwalk at 5:30 p.m. on Labor Day Monday, the Bethany Beach Boardwalk Arts Festival from 10 a.m to 5 p.m. on September 12, and Sunfest in Ocean City with live music, crafts and food from September 24 to 27.