Reaching the Beach 2016

By Margarita Raycheva | Posted on 05.03.16 – Destinations, Feature, Travel

The sun is out, the long winter has finally ended and you are probably itching to dig your toes in the sand by the ocean. Fortunately, you don’t need a plane ticket to escape to an exciting beach destination.

Whether you prefer secluded beaches or busy boardwalks, quaint ocean towns or exciting nightlife, you can find it all within a few hours’ drive from Frederick. From the southern tip of the Jersey Shore to the entrance of the Chesapeake Bay are several beach destinations, each with their own distinct flavor that can put a different spin on your weekend getaway or summer vacation.

Ocean City, Md.

With a new Prohibition-themed distillery debuting in June, a new hotel opening in July, a fully operational Performing Arts Center and a range of free, family-oriented events, Ocean City will be serving a full plate of summer fun for the 2016 summer season. “We really strive to be family friendly,” says Jessica Waters, communications manager for the town of Ocean City.

From the ever-popular OC Air Show which returns on June 18 and 19 with aerial demonstrations by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, to the OC Sandfest, which takes place Aug. 22-29 and highlights the skills of master sand sculptors, the city has a full calendar of events for visitors of all ages.

Families who visit the city this summer can bring a beach blanket and enjoy free movies on the beach at two locations on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; watch fireworks on Mondays and Tuesdays; or relax listening to live music and watching the sunset during the Sunset Park Party Nights on Thursday or the Northside Park Sundaes at the Park on Sundays.

For a more grown-up kind of fun, adults can visit the new 12,000 square foot Seacrets Distilling Company, which opens in June as part of Seacrets’ ever-expanding entertainment complex. Designed like a Prohibition Era speakeasy, the distillery will be the first of its kind in Maryland and will offer daily guided tours and tastings, so visitors can follow the liquor-crafting process from grain to barrel.

One of Ocean City’s best known entertainment venues, Seacrets started in 1988 as a small tiki bar and grew to become an entertainment complex with 19 bars and six stages.

The new distillery will take on the production of Seacrets Sprits—the venue’s own line of craft liquors launched in 2014, which now includes six types of spirits: spiced, coconut and white rum, clear and blood orange vodka and gin.

Virginia Beach, Va.

Though it is best known for its oceanfront beaches and picturesque 2.5-mile boardwalk, Virginia Beach offers a range of diverse vacation experiences. Visitors can choose among three beaches, explore 18 acres of state parks and even go on “pick-your-own” trips in local farms. “If you know what to look for, you can get a lot of different vacation experiences all in one trip,” says John Meyer, media and communications coordinator for Visit Virginia Beach.

For those who prefer to stay away from the summer crowds, Sandbridge Beach offers a surprisingly serene, island-like environment. Located 15 miles from the main resort, the area offers miles of quiet sand dunes and ocean-view rental homes. Visitors can go biking and kayaking or explore the neighboring Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

For those who prefer to be in the middle of the action, the main resort area offers numerous summer festivals, shops, free music events and a rich dining scene, best known for fresh, locally sourced seafood specialties like rockfish and oysters, Meyer says.

Be sure to check out the cafes and galleries in the new ViBe Creative District, which was established formally last year and now continues to attract artists from all across the region, Meyer says. Craft beer enthusiasts can also tour a growing number of micro-breweries. New this year is the San Diego-based Green Flash Brewing Company, which will be opening a 58,000-square-foot facility, complete with a 100-barrel brewery, tasting room and beer garden.

Commune, the resort’s first farmer-owned restaurant, is another newcomer on the local dining scene this season. Featuring a locally sourced, harvest-centric menu, the restaurant is a zero-waste operation, which sources all of its ingredients from an on-site 2,000-square-foot garden and local farms.

For an unforgettable and distinctly local experience, take the new Pleasure House Oysters’ Chef’s Table Tour, which outfits oyster lovers in waders and takes them into the Lynnhaven River to tour a working oyster farm. Guests get to sample freshly pulled oysters at a pop-up table set directly into the water.

Oyster farmer and Pleasure House Oysters owner Capt. Chris Ludford started the chef’s tour last year and will be offering them twice rather than once a week this summer season. Each tour is custom-built depending on the tide, and early reservations are required. “It’s pretty amazing—it is not your regular tourist attraction,” Ludford says. “You are right in the middle of a working oyster farm.”

Bethany Beach/Fenwick Island, Del.

Known as the “Quiet Resorts,” Bethany and its neighbor Fenwick Island offer a calm alternative to the bustle of their bigger and busier neighbors Ocean City and Rehoboth Beach.

With its long-running hometown Fourth of July parade and a full schedule of free public events on the boardwalk bandstand, Bethany Beach promises a homey feel and plenty of daytime fun. “It is a quintessential little beach town,” says Kristie Maravalli, executive director for the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce.

One of the newest hotels is the Bethany Beach Ocean Suites Residence Inn, which opened July of last year. Equipped with a spa, an indoor/outdoor pool and 112 suites with private balconies and oceanfront views, the hotel is not too large and has been a welcome addition to the area, Maravalli says. “It is a high-end boutique hotel,” Maravalli says. “It has really increased our year-round tourist industry.”

For those interested in off-the-beach entertainment, the open-air Freeman Stage at Bayside, offers a full lineup of theater and dance performances, children’s shows and live music from national recording artists. Shows this season include performances by the Beach Boys, Melissa Etheridge, American Idol winner Phillip Phillips, the “Empress of Soul” Gladys Knight and Grammy Award winner Yo-Yo Ma.

Rehoboth Beach/Dewey Beach, Del.

A vibrant old seaside town, Rehoboth offers a charming main street, numerous restaurants, artsy boutiques, as well as a mile-long beach boardwalk.

The town, which used to shutter up after Labor Day, has been growing in popularity over the past two decades, says Carol Everhart, president of the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Rehoboth Beach now is a favorite destination for thousands of visitors from Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Washington, D.C., who come for the beach, the boardwalk and Delaware’s tax-free shopping, Everhart says.

Neighboring Dewey Beach, on the other hand, draws a younger crowd of adventurous travelers with its popular nightclubs, music scene and bars.

“I have seen it change from seasonal to a year-round destination,” says Everhart who has lived in the area since 1979. “We now operate for 52 extended weekends.”

The Chamber of Commerce now organizes free Monday night movies and Wednesday night bonfires on the beach in Dewey all summer long and is constantly looking for new ways to entertain the summer crowds, Everhart says.

A new event aimed to boost the area’s appeal this year is the chamber’s inaugural “Beach Goes Blue” celebration. Designed to kick off the summer season, the June 4 event celebrates everything blue, from live blues music to locally picked blueberries.

While participating restaurants will offer blueberry-flavored treats like pancakes and muffins, local stores will offer blue-tag specials and a blue light show will illuminate the beach at the end of the day, Everhart says.

Another attraction that is new to Rehoboth this summer is Chesapeake & Maine—a new seafood restaurant from the owners of the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. The new eatery is the second Rehoboth restaurant for Sam Calagione, the nationally recognized brewer and creator of Dogfish Head brand craft beers.

Located right next to the original Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats, the new eatery offers sustainably sourced seafood from Maine and the Chesapeake Bay and incorporates distinct Dogfish Head beer flavors in a number of entrees. The restuarant also spotlights a new line of scratch-made spirits from Dogfish Head Distilling Co.

Cape May, N.J.

Known for its classic jazz festivals, fine wines and Victorian architecture, Cape May is the nation’s oldest resort and definitely not Snooki’s Jersey Shore. With more than 600 preserved historic buildings, the entire city carries a National Historic Landmark designation and offers numerous family-friendly activities.

Visitors can tour historic homes, take guided nature walks, ride on a trolley through the city’s historic district or climb the 199 steps inside Cape May’s historic lighthouse for a panoramic view of the cape and the Atlantic Ocean. “You can walk down the street and feel like you are in a different era,” says Susan Krysiak, communications coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic Center of the Arts & Humanities, a nonprofit that operates three historic landmarks—the lighthouse, a World War II Lookout Tower and the Emlen Physick Estate, a restored Victorian mansion.

Dedicated to promoting tourism and historic preservation in the area, the center also organizes free public events, lectures and talks as well as signature local celebrations such as the Cape May Music Festival, which showcases world-class orchestral, chamber, jazz and brass band music and The Cape May Craft Beer and Crab Festival on Aug. 6.

Debuting this summer are the self-guided tours of the Physick Estate and Cape May’s first Hops Festival on June 25.

A unique Cape May attraction, which began last year is the exclusive “Dinner and Fireworks” experience, which will allow two dozen visitors to watch the area’s Fourth of July fireworks on July 3 and 4 from the best possible vantage point—the top of the Cape May lighthouse. Included in the price is a five-course dinner at the Red Store restaurant, followed by a trolley ride to the lighthouse. Priced at $100 per person, the limited event will continue this summer if the weather cooperates, Krysiak says “We sold out last year,” she says.

Cape May however, is not just all history. Nature and wildlife lovers can take whale or bird-watching boat tours or observe various species of migratory birds and butterflies at the Cape May Bird Observatory.

If you prefer spending time by the ocean, be sure to visit Sunset Beach, where even the youngest visitors can comb through the sand for polished quartz, known as Cape May diamonds.

The Wildwoods, N.J.

For a nostalgic taste of Americana pop-culture, try New Jersey’s Wildwoods—the birthplace of The Twist and the center of Doo-Wop in the 1950s and ‘60s—known not only for flashy neon signs and kitschy space-era architecture, but also for its wide beaches and world-class amusement parks.

“If you want a real Jersey Shore experience, the Wildwoods is it,” says Ben Rose, director of marketing and communications for the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority. “This is Virginia Beach and Ocean City on steroids.”

Named among the country’s top ten beaches for families by Family Vacation Critic in March and the “Number One Destination on the Rise” for 2015 by TripAdvisor, the Wildwoods boasts sandy beaches and an award-winning boardwalk, which serves as a backdrop for more than 180 annual festivities and one-of-a-kind events, such as the Wildwoods International Kite Festival, the National Marbles Tournament and the Ultimate Frisbee Championships.

The Morey’s Piers amusement complex offers three waterfront waterparks and three piers featuring more than 100 rides, roller coasters and the largest Ferris wheel on the East Coast, Rose says. The amusement park has reopened for the summer season with a longer and more extreme track for its Grand Prix Go-Kart Raceway and a new, two-level 27-hole mini-golf course built to mark the 100th birthday of mini-golf.

With more than 300 eateries just on the boardwalk, the Wildwoods is an ever-expanding haven for foodies. A new brewery, 5 Mile Brewing Co., is opening in the fall, while the new Anglesea Night Market and Mobile Food Night on July 21 and Aug. 18 will celebrate the growing popularity of food trucks.

The Wildwoods also host the annual New Jersey State Barbecue Championship, a three-day competition and celebration of food and blues music, which brings 150,000 visitors to the area in July. “The event is incredible,” Rose says. “They start setting up two days before.”