Rehoboth Beach’s Best Kept Secret: The Off-Season

It sounds counterintuitive to head to a town historically billed as “the nation’s summer capital” when it’s too cold to enjoy the surf, but Rehoboth Beach’s winter charm is undeniable.  The town is increasingly populated post-Labor Day; there is more than enough to see, do, and eat to make an off-season extended weekend of it.  The town offers year-round events, although it is just as relaxing to go without a particular plan in mind.

It is a perfect town to just stroll downtown or on the beach.  The feeling on the street is small-town friendly; there are not nearly as many people out as would be in July and August (it is winter on the Atlantic Seaboard after all), but the feeling of joviality runs high.  Just about everyone seems happy to be in Rehoboth, in spite of the cold winds coming off the Atlantic Ocean.  The beach itself can seem packed for such cold weather.  Even family dogs are ecstatic to be allowed back onto the Boardwalk and the public beaches during daylight hours (but please still pick up after them).

Starting with the Christmas tree lighting just after Thanksgiving, Rehoboth Avenue twinkles.  Rehoboth Avenue is the closest thing Rehoboth has to a “grand boulevard” – if it is not the widest street in town, it certainly feels that way.  More shops and restaurants are open than have been in the past (although most retailers that are open close by 6 or 7 at this time of year).

Many of the sit-down restaurants (especially those with bars), on and off the Avenue, appear crowded for a summer town over a winter weekend.  Sounds of laughter and clinking cutlery spill out onto the streets, inviting the passersby in for a friendly drink or a meal.  Even sitting alone does not feel quite so lonely in these places; in fact, many of them feel more relaxed than during the summer rushes.

Some of Rehoboth’s fine dining restaurants offer tasting or prix fixe menus for New Year’s Eve itself, but be sure to check and reserve in advance, especially if New Year’s Eve falls on a weekend.  The same goes for the fine dining and more casual restaurants along Route 1, and in nearby Dewey, Lewes, and Milton.

A few of the more casual restaurants along Rehoboth Avenue (such as Go Fish!, Grotto Pizza, Nicola Pizza, the Thrasher’s location on the North side of the street) remain open for lunch and early dinner, but don’t count on them for a quick late-night snack (as one might during high summer).  In the blocks around Rehoboth Avenue, other casual spots remain open for breakfast and lunch (such as coffee shop Dave and Skippy’s on Wilmington Ave, and the stalwart Sammy’s Kitchen, further up on Wilmington, which serves up softly poached eggs, buttermilk pancakes, and plentiful coffee, among many other diner staples).  

If strolling along the beach between meals proves too cold, the Rehoboth Beach Museum, near the roundabout on Rehoboth Avenue, stays open on weekends throughout the winter.  A tour of the Dogfish Head Brewery (slightly further afield in Milton), complete with samples, is a fine way to spend an hour.  (See the bottom left of their site for tour information.)  Nearby Lewes (which bills itself as “the first town in the first state”) offers more dining and shopping options, as well as walks through the old neighborhoods.

Shopping is easier than expected during the off-season as more independent shops are staying open year-round.  Browseabout Books, the last bookstore standing on the Avenue, does a brisk business in books, gifts, and coffee.  The events board out front stays full, even in the off-season.  Other shops, on and off Rehoboth Avenue, offer up clothing and creative home goods.  Shopping can be as good during the off-season as it is over the summer, although the shops will close much earlier.  (For the veritable shopaholics among us, the Tanger Outlets on Route 1 remain open as well, also on slightly reduced off-season hours.)

Say you forgot your toothbrush or want to have your own coffee on hand: Grocery and sundry shopping can be tricky without a car during the off-season.  Longstanding Dinah Lingo’s Grocery and Lingo’s Market both close at or shortly after Labor Day Weekend; the Rehoboth Beach Variety Store (formerly the Rehoboth Beach Pharmacy) and Grubb’s both operate under very limited hours.  The supermarkets on the highway run normal supermarket hours.

It’s not the time of year to bring a bathing suit and a bottle of sunscreen, but a winter weekend in Rehoboth can be a close, easy cure to the winter blahs.  Plan a trip around a particular festival, or not – either way, you’ll have a breath of salty air and a great meal.  It might not even be as quiet as expected – it is a far cry from an empty summer town during the winter months.

The practicalities

This post is the very broad beginning on (probably many) more to come on Rehoboth Beach (write what you know, right?).  Here is some very general information to help with planning.

Getting there: This is an easier weekend trip for East Coasters (especially in the Mid-Atlantic region).  Friday traffic along Route 50 and over the Bay Bridge is far less onerous during the weeks between Labor Day and Memorial Day.  For a more extended weekend for those farther away, consider flying into Baltimore or Wilmington DE (and renting a car from there).  For those in nearer New England who would rather drive, the Cape May-Lewes Ferry runs year round.

Staying there: If you’re not so lucky as to have a friend with a house in Rehoboth, many – if not most – of the hotels in and around Rehoboth stay open year round, especially on Route 1.  Hotels further away from Rehoboth Avenue will be less expensive.  For brand loyalty types, the highway boasts such brands as Econo Lodge, Holiday Inn, and Comfort Inn, to name a few.  Closer in are standalone hotels and motels.  Rehoboth also does a booming business on AirBnB year round.

Planning Inspiration: Be sure to visit this informational page (it’s kitschy, but chock full of handy information, including a yearly calendar of events), or the City of Rehoboth’s website.  For food inspiration, The Rehoboth Foodie is a good jumping off point (although this writer certainly has a few favorite restaurants to come).  A quick search through Trip Advisor’s Rehoboth page also offers more points of inspiration.

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