Weekend's 2005 Beach Guide
Fenwick Island & Bethany
Friday, May 20, 2005
The louder Ocean City and Dewey Beach get, the more fitting the phrase "the quiet resorts" seems for Bethany and Fenwick Island. They still feel like villages, despite the explosion of opulent beach houses along the highway and west along routes 26 and 54, and what seems like the imminent extinction of the smaller canal-side homes and permanent-resident RVs. They pride themselves on remaining a sort of genteel oasis, crisscrossed with pedestrian walks, restricted beaches and tasteful shopping. Music is muffled, the boardwalk is intentionally abbreviated, and the parking is as rigorously policed as the speed limits. They're the resorts with family values, except for the high prices.
Even the locals sometimes forget that the whole area -- Ocean City, Fenwick, Bethany -- is part of the same barrier island that formerly stretched all the way through Assateague Island and was divided only relatively recently by water eroding the Indian River and Ocean City inlets. The brassy commercial strips around northern Ocean City and Dewey Beach have become barriers themselves, not only between Maryland and Delaware but also between blue collar and white.
The Delaware beaches, which boast some of the cleanest sand and best surf in the area, are hidden in plain sight. Although Route 1 runs right through both the Delaware Seashore State Park (between Dewey Beach and Bethany) and Fenwick Island State Park (between Fenwick Island and Bethany), they remain only sparsely populated, and mostly by locals. On the west side, the various marshlands and inlets, including Montego Bay, Assawoman Bay, the Indian River and the 2,000-acre Assawoman Wildlife Area on the west side of Little Assawoman Bay, are ideal for birding, fishing, wildlife and even rare wildflower tracking. And at sunrise and sunset, the light shows are astonishing.
Sedona is still king of Bethany's cuisine row, though modern eclectic American rather than Southwest these days (26 N. Pennsylvania Ave.; 302-539-1200), but new on the scene are a pair of regionally minded siblings: Blue Coast (nee Redfin) on Route 1 in North Bethany (302-539-7111) and NorthEast Seafood Kitchen , importing a little up-country fishing-coast cuisine such as lobster rolls, fried clams and braised monkfish, off Route 26 in Ocean View (302-537-1785). Even in an area with plenty of barbecue, Bethany Blues gets a lot of local votes (6 N. Pennsylvania Ave.; 302-537-1500), and its decor is waaaay beyond the pits. Off-duty cooks and wait staff hit last call and "dune fries" -- seasoned french fries topped with bacon, cheese, scallions and ranch dip -- at the Cottage Cafe on Route 1 in Bethany (302-539-8710) or quahog chowder at David Twining's Nantucket down the highway in Fenwick Island (302-539-2607) . . . . It may not have the sunset views or the tank-top displays of Hanna's Hideout Tiki Bar down the street, but even at happy hour, Smitty McGee's pub-and-grub crowd is a little more relaxed (Route 54 west of the causeway, Fenwick Island; 302-436-4716). . . . Clothes make the Bethany woman at the linens-and-blings Clouds for Women (in the Bethany Town Center on Garfield Parkway at Atlantic Avenue; 302-537-6845) and the drape-and-shape Japanesque (16 Pennsylvania Ave.; 302-539-2311). . . . Resort-style home decor gets a tasteful boost at Of All Things (26-B Pennsylvania Ave., Bethany; 302-539-0891), an adrenaline rush of color and whimsy next door at MLB Design Associates (302-537-9794) and a gardeners' hedonism look at Carolina Street (on Route 1 at Carolina Street, Fenwick; 302-539-2405). . . . Coastal Kayak will either lead you through the Assawoman area or teach you how to oar for yourself (across Route 1 from Fenwick State Park; 302-539-7999). . . . Quick-march through local history by stopping at the Fenwick Island Lighthouse (146th Street west of Coastal Highway; 302-539-4115), and while you're there, look by the fence for the Transpeninsular Line stone, which since 1760 has marked the line between Lord Calvert's land grant -- i.e., Maryland -- and William Penn's (Delaware). Titanic buffs, check out the shipwreck and sea-battle souvenirs at the DiscoverSea Museum on Route 1 just to its north (302-539-9366).