Anybody who has watched the movie adaption of the popular Saturday Nigh Live sketch Wayne’s World might recall a segment detailing travel destinations found within the United States. They go through many common travel hotspots such as New York City, Hawaii, and Texas, doing an ad lib about each place before having a picture of Delaware flashed behind them on the blue screen, a development that catches them off guard. Flat footed and without a clue, they flatly say, “Oh hi. I’m in… Delaware?” in response, which belies a common impression that this tiny state is home to nothing of importance to outsiders.
While there certainly isn’t anything in terms of the biggest or largest or most impressive sights/attractions in the world or in the USA here, it is home to some outstanding beaches, charming towns, and a gradual transition to the culture that is commonplace in the American South the further you travel in that direction here. It was also the first state in the Union to ratify the Declaration of Independence, making it therefore the first to break away from Mother England, a fact that many here will proudly proclaim.
If nothing else, Delaware’s status as a place off the tourist trail in America will allow you to connect with people here on a more authentic level, all without being bothered by crowds that can plague other places like the Jersey Shore or the coast of the Carolinas.
What To Do – Culture & History
By far Delaware’s most important cultural asset, the Henry Francis DuPont Winterthur Museum is home of one of the richest collections of American art and antiques in the country. Once serving as an estate for one of America’s leading industrialists (the DuPonts), this expansive property contains 60 acres of well-manicured gardens, multiple rooms with priceless antiques designed in the manner they would have appeared in the 19th century, as well as American and European art, and countless antique books.
If touring this former mansion has got you hungering for more art, you’ll find it at the Delaware Art Museum. While the collection here mostly focuses on American art dating back to the 19th century, other points that make this place unique include its exhibit of English Pre-Raphaelite art, and a nine acre sculpture garden that can be found in the rear of the building.
Rail fans will love a ride on the Wilmington and Western Railroad, which is a rolling museum in the present day. While this short line still accommodates freight traffic, much of its use involves tourists these days, taking them on a ride through the idyllic countryside of rural Delaware, with hardwood trees that burn brightly with vibrant color in the fall, and creeks that rush with vigor in the spring.
As mentioned in the introduction, Delaware was the first colony of the thirteen American colonies of Great Britain to secede from its overseas master, a distinction that is celebrated and commemorated by First State Heritage Park. Found within the state capital of Dover, this historical district protects the Old State House (built in 1791 as its legislative body, a task which it served until 1932), the present state capitol (Legislative Hall), John Bell House (oldest wooden structure in Dover), Johnson Victrola Museum (home to artifacts surrounding the development of sound recording), the Biggs Museum of American Art, and the Woodburn and Hall House (the current Governor’s mansion … tours available by reservation, or on the first Saturday of the month).
Another estate that you might wish to explore should you be passing through the Wilmington area is the Nemours Mansion, another decadent property that the DuPont family left behind in their former home state.This french style country manor occupies 300 acres, and is well known for its French formal gardens that adorn its expansive grounds, which is the largest of its kind in North America.
What To Do – Modern & Natural Attractions
The further south you get on the Eastern Seaboard, the better the sea beaches get. The beaches of Delaware, while not nearly as well known as its counterparts in New Jersey or the Carolinas, definitely fits this mold.
If you seek the resort town experience, then a vacation spent in the Rehoboth Beach area is sure to please. With a mile long boardwalk, plenty of restaurants to appeal to all types, World War II watchout towers, and a wide beach backed in many places by loamy dunes, your time here will be filled with activity from start to finish. Those looking for a more family-friendly experience will love Bethany Beach, while those wondering where the party is at will find it at Dewey Beach.
While in the vicinity of Rehoboth Beach, take advantage of Delaware’s status as a tax-free state by hitting up some outlet shopping centers. Tanger Outlets can be found in the area, offering deep discounts on many popular clothing brands.
Since Delaware lacks big, flashy tourist attractions that other nearby states boast, the biggest draw to a place like this is the slower pace of life that comes from being a largely unknown corner on the country. The charming country towns that can be found as you drive south from the big city of Wilmington and the capital of Dover will charm you to no end.
Authentic American college towns like Newark will make you feel young again.
Diners in places like Bridgeville serving the best darned apple pie you’ve had your life will grant a window for you to converse with locals having their morning/afternoon coffee.
Country stores sprinkled throughout places like Sussex County that still actually serve as a meeting point for the community rather than merely a transactional affair will take you back to a place that you had assumed had long since died out.
Take your time and go through these places with no agenda, stopping to investigate anything that strikes your fancy. You’ll be invigorated by what you’ll find!